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The Hobbit- A Film Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey … one embargo to bind them.When the film projector rolls and the sprawling vistas of Middle-Earth spill across the screen, it’s as if we’ve never left.  Yet, the opening sequence throws us into new settings that further the history of Tolkien’s kingdom.  The moment The Hobbit begins, we’re transported into the rich halls of the dwarves, the Mediterranean-esque town of Dale and the desolate country ravaged by Smaug the pillaging dragon.  Then finally, the familiar territory of Bag End in cozy old Hobbiton lets you exhale.

I don’t think I’ll need to convince that many readers to see The Hobbit.  Chances are you’ve made up your mind to see the next Tolkien epic from the moment Twitter feeds whispered of another film venture.  My job will be more like a travel guide as you trek back to Middle-Earth via Peter Jackson and his New Zealand crew.

For fans of the book, you will at times loathe and venerate this script like Smeagol and his alter ego Gollum.  Jackson is faithful to well, the journey and the back story of the dragon decimating the dwarven kingdom of Erebor.  Much of the dialog is taken directly from the text as well.  Having read the book several times I was prepared for changes and like Bilbo, just went along for the adventure.

In some ways, this film feels broader than the journey of the Fellowship, possibly because the Ringwraiths were so hot on the hairy hobbit feet that you barely had time to take in the scenery.  In The Hobbit, the pace is slow at first, and the green hills and forests become a character themselves as the company wends their way across Western Middle-Earth.

If the first quarter of the movie feels slower paced, Jackson must have thought he needed to make up for it in a hurry.  Once the first battle with trolls begins, the “out of the frying pan, into the fire” chapter title seems to fit the entire rest of the film.  From Goblins to multiple skirmishes with Orcs, the evil creatures are out in force; a prelude to the darkness creeping back into the world that will consume the Rings trilogy.  Throughout the film connections begin that pull these stories together such that the term prequel seems too basic.   This is not just a prehistory but a saga of its own (literally, thanks to Jackson stretching it to three films).  If you see the film in 3D, be ready for the gritty, almost tangible movement.  The film was shot in 48 frames per second so the effect is like a motion simulator ride at times.

As cheesy as the dwarves seemed in previews, in the film the camaraderie works, odd hair and all.  After the initial over-the-top introduction of the dwarven party, the group becomes an entertaining lot and you even start to recognize the thirteen as individuals with distinct personalities.  Richard Armitage, a surprisingly unknown powerhouse, owns the role of Thorin, the dwarf leader.  Another screen-stealer is Martin Freeman.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Bilbo than this unassuming Brit.  Middle-Earth wouldn’t be complete without Ian McKellen as Gandalf, still as feisty a wizard as ever-if not more since this is ironically his younger self.   Aside from the dwarves, much of the cast is refurbished with added scenes of Galadriel and Saruman, Frodo and Bilbo the elder version.  Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), the wizard with bird droppings in his hair was a character a little too quirky to enjoy, but his addition to the story will have purists reeling for another reason.  Movie buffs only will appreciate the explanation of the cryptic clues about the Necromancer.

I always look forward to the music of Middle-Earth, provided by Howard Shore.  The leitmotifs of each race are continued in The Hobbit, with the addition of the deep march of the dwarves.  Sadly, it felt a bit stale with only the dwarven melody, taken from their song of longing for the Lonely Mountain, as fresh sound material.  Snatches of Rings Trilogy music play throughout as if there was a simple cut and paste from the computer files.

It’s easy to take a fine tooth comb and pluck out all the additions to the text and the overwhelming similarities between the Rings film and The Hobbit but you’re still left with an amazing piece of artistry.  The digital and special effects that go into this franchise, the score and costumes, the attention to detail in every set make the movie beautiful to watch.  This film is exhilarating from beginning to end, either from the action or the delight of being back in the hobbit hole in Bag End.  Seeing young Bilbo stumble his way across battlefields and find a strange ring that changes the world is an everyman journey that resonates whether you’re a Tolkien geek or not.             Image

Costume Envy-Marie Antionette

I love costumes and fabrics.  Rich silks, sumptuous brocades; folk styles, characters, I drink it in.  That’s why I was captivated by the movie Marie Antionette-you know, the strange 80’s soundtracked Sophia Coppola flick.  The film is barely strung together with a plot, rather it’s held together with thread.  For an entire two hours, I felt like I was watching a documentary love letter to French fashion and excess.  Most of the  movie budget I’m sure went to costumes.  I don’t think Kiersten Dunst wore the same frock twice-and she wore a lot of frocks.  Here are some of my favorites:

John Carter of Mars Movie Review

 An epic sci-fi adventure close to home

Based on the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter is a difficult movie to sum up.  Never having read the book, I can tell that it must be more complex than the fill makers bargained for.  There were questions left unanswered and intricate back stories that were only hinted at in the film.  The storytelling seemed to settle into itself after the first quarter of the movie.  Nevertheless, John Carter is an engaging film that displays a surprisingly seamless digital world.

John Carter tells the story of an unlikely hero who finds himself transported to a war-torn Mars where factions of humans and aliens vie for his help.  Suddenly, Carter is a champion who can literally leap tall buildings in a single bound (thanks to low Martian gravity and lighter bone density than the other humanoids).  While trying to survive and get back to Earth, he saves a scarcely clad Martian princess and sort of befriends an alien race, all the while struggling through flashbacks of his post-Civil War, outlaw life.  Throughout the story, god-like humanoids called Thurn briefly point out that they fix the destiny of the solar system.  Sound tricky?  It is.  This is all interwoven with a complex set up of a mysterious death, a mousy heir to a fortune named Ned and a very brief history of the peoples and conflicts of Mars.  Like a Western, the plot is slow to begin but sprawling once the cowboys and Indians are introduced.

This is a sci-fi, action adventure with epic battles, romance and humor.  No small-budget was used to create the massive effects and sweeping vistas of the red planet.  I had my doubts as to how many green-screen moments I would notice but the real beauty of John Carter is in the world it creates.  The landscapes of Mars were gritty deserts that felt like a National Geographic special more than a movie at times.  CG aliens were believable and it never felt like human characters were just talking to a tennis ball on a stick.  Maybe this was because Pixar alumni Andrew Stanton directed this meticulously crafted digital film.

Another refreshing attribute of John Carter is that it doesn’t rely on star power to bring powerful characters to life.  Relative newcomer Taylor Kitsch carried the film as Carter, though not without the help of a very truncated wardrobe (this is where the film saved big bucks).  Bare chested and thigh flaunting, Carter grew into a complex hero as the Martian sun bronzed his abs and emblazoned his spirit.  Lynn Collins who played the female lead Dejah Thoris, was just as plucky and nearly naked.  Star power came from off-screen in John Carter, featuring Willem Dafoe as the honorable alien clan leader Tars Tarkas and Thomas Hayden Church as the alien villain Tal Hajus.

Something about this film left me wanting more from the story and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  Maybe it was the ending that seemed to wrap up all too quickly or the vaguely developed mater villains the Thurn.  What won me over was the neat package of action, characters and sci-fi elements that made this film epic.

Supposedly an inspiration to George Lucas and his little sci-fi western, the story of John Carter is deeper than it appears to be at the onset of the film.  Cheesy dialog gives way to intriguing plot twists.  The big green Martians have personalities beyond the pixels.  With the power of Disney moviemaking behind it, John Carter was given the scope Burroughs’ story deserved if not all the depth he authored.  If you can make it through the first convoluted fifteen minutes or so, you’ll be well-rewarded.  Just do what the person sitting next to me did-inconveniently check your iphone and pretend you’re the only one in the theater.

 

Easter Eggs!  Congratulations, you’ve made it to the bottom of the post.  Now it’s time to collect your reward (such as it is…)

 

Alternative first lines:

Who says white men can’t jump?

Yes Virginia, there are people on Mars.

The first thing you need to know about John Carter is that nobody wears pants on Mars.

And so we begin…

I’ve wanted to do this for a while and I kept thinking I’d wait till the opportune moment (insert Jack Sparrow image in your mind) but ever the procrastinator, tonight I said “No More!”  This blog will commence so that I might share my thoughts in the form of reviews, cooking and entertaining tips and anything else I care to say because dang it, I have a keyboard and a brain.  Enjoy interwebs.  I’m sure we both will never be the same.