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Non-Review Review: The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies

It has become a stock criticism to suggest that Peter Jackson did not need a full trilogy to adapt The Hobbit for the big screen. That said, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was an unexpected pleasure – a movie not all hindered by the pacing concerns of the trilogy and instead interested in its own central narrative. You could cut the opening scene from The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies onto the end of The Desolation of Smaug and you would have pretty much everything that you need.

While this approach benefited The Desolation of Smaug, it puts Battle of the Five Armies at something of a disadvantage. It is debatable whether there was enough material to support three full films based on The Hobbit – even drawing from other sources in the Tolkien canon – but this is clearly not the best way of structuring those three films. There is a sense that Battle of the Five Armies suffers from the decision to extend the planned duology into a full-blown trilogy.

The not-so-magic dragon...

The not-so-magic dragon…

To be fair to Peter Jackson, he does avoid the ending issues that haunted The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. However, he does that by editing Battle of the Five Armies as a brief epilogue to the previous two films, following by a massive battle sequence. This is quite impressive from a technical standpoint, but there is a sense of fatigue to it all. As the title implies, this is a five-way battle involving thousands of participants; both organic and computer-generated. A lot gets lost in the shuffle, and the plot – as it stands – could be explained in two sentences.

More than that, Battle of the Five Armies is hindered by its status as a prequel. The fact that everybody in the audience has likely seen The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring means that they know all this spectacle is really for nothing. The first two films in the trilogy largely avoided the problem by pitching the story as a working-class version of The Lord of the Rings, allowing characters to engage in quests that are deeply personal even as they ripple to larger events.

A messed-up character orc...

A messed-up character orc…

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Watch! The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Trailer!

The latest trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has arrived on-line. Check it out below. While I’ll concede that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was over-long and quite padded, I enjoyed it more than most. Part of that is down to Martin Freeman’s charisma, but also in the way that Jackson seems to relish the relatively lower stakes of this story. (Musical dish-cleaning sequence anyone?) I’ll admit that I’m curious to see what Jackson’s second installment holds in store. That said, the trailer does seem to suggest quite a lot of superfluous material – a Legolas romantic subplot? really? – but it also teases Benedict Cumberbatch as a flame-throwing pun-wielding dragon. So it’s safe to say the jury’s still out.

 

Watch! The Full 1985 Version of The Hobbit! In Russian!

Okay, since there’s no subtitles this is sort of a bit of a niche thing, but I found it and thought I’d pass it on.

Below is the full 1985 version of The Hobbit produced for Russian television. It is… a little less impressive than Peter Jackson’s adaptation, and not just because it’s in less than 48 frames per second and two dimensions. Still, I kinda admire the ambition of it, even if the results are less than spectacular. Check out how they take down Smaug, for an example, or the way that the action cuts back to the “narrator” before any expensive shots are required.

The whole thing calls to mind the sort of stuff the BBC were doing with Doctor Who at the time, and I can’t quite hate it. After all, the matte paintings are great and at least it seems committed to an idea that would have been technically quite difficult for a big-budget movie of the time, let alone state television.

Check it out below and let me know what you think!

Non-Review Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

I always feel a little embarrassed to admit that I prefer The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings. Don’t worry, I know that by any objective measure of craft The Lord of the Rings is a far more impressive literary accomplishment, but I never really connected with the characters at the heart of that sprawling epic in the way that I empathised with Bilbo Baggins. As such, it’s a massive relief to me that Peter Jackson turns in an endearing and enjoyable, if padded and indulgent, first instalment in his Hobbit trilogy. The technical advances and the somewhat cynical structuring of the film tend to garner a great deal of discussion and debate, but the heart of Tolkien’s introduction to Middle Earth is still here. The only problem is that absolutely everything else is as well.

And that's just the script to Part I...

And that’s just the script to Part I…

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Game of Thrones: Season 1 (Review)

In many ways, Game of Thrones feels like a fitting successor to Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Undoubtedly fans of either work are getting a bit tired of the comparisons, understandably feeling that such a point of reference is a crutch for writers or reviews with little knowledge of the fantasy genre outside those tent poles. Still, it has been a while since an adaptation of such a well-received literary work has managed to make such an impact on popular culture. A decade after the release of the first film in Jackson’s trilogy, I think that G.R.R. Martin’s work builds upon the conventions Jackson taught us to embrace so easily. In fact, the celebrated HBO series works so very well because it so radically and gleefully subverts the audience expectations that were so firmly entrenched by Peter Jackson’s fantasy landmarks.

It’s really Throne me…

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Non-Review Review: The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn

It’s Indiana Jones, but for kids! It’s fascinating that the collaboration of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson should produce something that feels much more like the earlier Indiana Jones films than Spielberg’s most recent collaboration with George Lucas. Adapting Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin was always going to be a challenging proposition, and it’s to the credit of everybody involved that it turned out so well. While it’s not quite perfect, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is undoubtedly Spielberg’s most entertaining family film since Jurassic Park.

Franchise launcher?

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Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald (Review)

In the lead-up to the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I’m going to be taking a look at Hergé’s celebrated comic book character, from his humble beginnings through to the incomplete post-modern finale. I hope you enjoy the ride.

The Castafiore Emerald is famous as an example of Hergé playing with the reader’s expectations of a Tintin book. It’s essentially an exercise in creating suspense out of nothing, with the mystery of the eponymous jewel ultimately turning out to be a rather mundane affair, and instead allowing for all sorts of hilariously mundane hijinks to befall Hergé’s cast with relatively little point to it all. Then, after all, this is fiction, as Tintin seems coyly aware of on the cover, staring our at us with his finger on his lips, smiling like he knows something none of his castmates do. If you can embrace the central pointlessness of it all, and enjoy it as a collection of wryly observed scenes, The Castafiore Emerald is another rewarding addition to a series growing gradually more experimental.

That engagement's news to Haddock!

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