The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- The review

Only while sitting in the cinema did I realise how incredibly excited I was for this film. The beautiful music, the stunning visuals and the whole world that J.R.R Tolkien had created made me excited and captivated in its genius. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tokien’s masterpiece, had been adapted for cinema several years ago now, and its predecessor/prequel is finally here, after years of director changes, cancellations and delays. Is it worth the wait, and the hype?

I believe so. The Hobbit is a treat, and despite the cracks and over-long nature it just about manages to not beat, but nearly match the wonder of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. Martin Freeman was a strange but now proven excellent choice for the young Bilbo Baggins; he displays the confusion and fear, but then bravery and courage that Bilbo develops so well, a remarkable performance by a brilliant actor. He just seems perfect for the role, and although it’s classic Martin Freeman, a very similar character to his roles in the Office and Sherlock, he feels right for the part, and you won’t look at him in other roles without imagining those funny little Hobbit ears. Inspired casting surely, although that’s not to say he steals the show. Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandelf the Grey, giving a warm and loving performance as the famous wizard once again. There is no sign or mention of some of the more famous characters of the Lord of the Rings, for which I am glad. I’m sure Peter Jackson was sorely tempted to have a mini Legolas or Aragorn run about as a cheeky reference to his past work. Thankfully he doesn’t, and the series saves its dignity. Sadly though, none of these performances mean much when compared to the reprisal of Andy Serkis as the tortured creature of Gollum. He steals the show, bringing a CGI induced brilliance to the role, brilliantly portraying the split personalities and working off Martin Freeman exceptionally well. Some would say Andy Serkis’s part is minimal, because Gollum is a CGI creature. I disagree. I don’t think the character, or indeed the film, would be quite the same without Andy Serkis. Consider the show stolen.

What of the visuals? They never disappoint. Whether it is a deliberate distraction from the sometimes lack of meaningful story is a debatable issue, but nothing but wonder can be exclaimed for this film. Probably the most stunning film I’ve seen since Avatar, and The Hobbit also uses the same brilliantly subtle 3D that Avatar did to bring the world to life. Unlike a lot of 3D films, this isn’t constantly chucking things in your face to remind you you are in a cinema wearing stupid glasses. It uses subtle 3D, like insects flying around or birds to make you feel totally immersed in the world. Only once or twice did I actually go out of my way to notice the 3D, and that was when the film threw something in my face, an axe here or an Orc there. But this was kept at a minimum, and the decision to pay extra to see the film in 3D proved to be the right one. Superbly well crafted by Peter Jackson, and the CGI boys deserve a big pat on the back. Visually stunning, and some would argue this saves the film.

There are flaws to the formula sadly. The main complaint is that every penny is being forced out of me for this experience, for such a small, and originally intended children’s book, a trilogy seems incredibly unneeded. The book is actually shorter then The Fellowship of the Ring, which Peter Jackson managed to convert into one film with absolutely no trouble at all. Why, ignoring the obvious reason of a money making scam, Peter Jackson couldn’t do the same for this, is a mystery. At times this film seems forced, as if Jackson is making up stupid situations just to make it seem like something is happening. Plot twist! Bilbo left his hanky at home! Good two minutes wasted there Jackson. At times it was actually noticeable how forced the film was, and yet at the end of it a fair part of the book had been covered. The encounter with Gollum, a very important part of the book, has been completely covered in this film. How they can properly fit the amount left into a trilogy I’m not too sure, and the fact that this film feels much too long makes me question some of the decisions made here. At one part, with about two and a half hours gone, I was happy because I thought the film was about to end perfectly. Oh wait! Another huge and epic battle is being squeezed in. Hooray! At parts of this film it feels like we are watching an extended cut, where the director put in all the deleted scenes. Some of this really needed to be cut, and does take away enjoyment of the film.

Worries for the future of the trilogy aside, is there anything glaringly wrong with this particular film? The fact it lasts so long is the main issue, but that aside there is not a lot here you won’t enjoy. Some of the characters are very weak, a few of the dwarf members in this fellowship of sorts are nigh on invisible half the film, serving only for a few cheap jokes. A large part of the film is back story and flashbacks; while these are very enjoyable they do sometimes feel like time wasting by Jackson. Overall however, the film is incredibly well made and enjoyable, for the most part better then I could have hoped.

One point I do feel strongly about however is the ordering of Tolkein’s work. I personally feel that the decision to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy first and then have the Hobbit second brings with it suffering to emotional impact. If we had known Gandelf like this first, would we have had a stronger response to his ‘death’ in The Fellowship of the Ring? Undoubtedly. If we had seen Saruman as the wise and great chief wizard in this first, rather then a good guy for around five minutes in the Fellowship of the Ring, would we have reacted stronger to his switch to Sauron? Yes! And if we had fallen in love with Bilbo like this, and fleshed out his story with such detail before the Fellowship, would we have been sadder and more shocked at his fragile and possessed state? Of course! Instead, the characters didn’t matter as much when these events happen, and now we finally begin to know them it’s too late. Although it’s a minor suffering, it’s a real shame. Even Gollum would have been seen in a different light. I do think that this would have improved the franchise as a whole, and if they had done it as Tolkien intended (he wrote the Hobbit for his children way before he wrote the Lord of the Rings) I think the benefits in terms of characterization and emotional impact would of been huge.

Best Bit

Seeing Gollum and Martin Freeman engage in a battle of Riddles, just as the book intended. I nearly jumped off my seat and shouted “Perfect!”, as it was just as I had imagined. Superbly done Peter Jackson.

Worst Bit

The overwhelming feeling the film is made to swipe your cash more then to live up to J.R.R Tolkien’s works. The prospect of three more three hour long films for such a short book is ridiculous. A scary prospect for what the series will become.

Overall

A film that just about lives up to the hype, albeit it with some flaws. The casting and particularly the CGI is superb, with the Bilbo and Gollum scene standing up there with the other incredible Middle Earth moments. However, it is way too long, and the prospect of a trilogy is genuinely frightening. An epic, but ever so slightly flawed masterpiece. With a heavy heart I cry “Bring on The Desolation of Smaug, Peter!”

4/5

Four Billion Dollars and No Hope Left: How George Lucas has sold his soul

I think everyone remembers when they first saw A New Hope. At that time it wasn’t Episode IV, it was simply a masterpiece. Call me a nerd, but when the suns rose on some alien planet with Luke Skywalker gazing at the horizon to the rousing music of the series, everyone just sensed they were seeing movie magic, a classic, a masterpiece of sci-fi like no other. All hail George Lucas many cried, as he followed it up with two of the most perfect sequels ever, the beautifully moody The Empire Strikes Back and the necessary epic finale, Return of the Jedi (We will ignore the inclusion of Ewoks). No one could ruin this fantastic series. But George Lucas, it’s creator, gave it a bloody good go.

Before I get on to my main point, I need to give a bit of a backstory that leads up to current events. These tragedies took the form of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Episodes I, II and III. I’m struggling to sum these up for people who haven’t seen them yet. A travesty. A farce. Shit. Form them into a legitimate sentence, with a few more adjectives and perhaps you will comprehend what these films meant for the series. Basically created for George Lucas to steal nerd’s money (he claimed it was to explain how Anakin became Darth Vadar, which became uninteresting after Jar Jar Binks was introduced), they were three of the worst films I’ve ever seen, with dodgy CGI, terrible plots, the worst actor ever in Hayden Christiensen, and the lack of any soul. It felt like something that was designed to laugh in your face while it stole your money, not something that was supposed to please the fans, or even entertain. The series died the day Return of the Sith was released, a finale so ludicrous and cringe worthy it could have been mistaken as a decent parody effort. No interest could be retained, no drama was upheld, it was dull, boring, lifeless and criminally, painstakingly bad. It’s hard to really sum up how to put the disappointment of loving the original trilogy with Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, to staring at horror of the ‘adventures’ of a bearded Ewan Mcgregor (because he is wise, so he must have a beard!) and a plank of wood labelled ‘Hayden Christiensen’, learning a new emotion for each film (two). Such a contrast of quality undoubtedly prompted more then a few angry letters to the Lucas household, piling up as he stroked his beard with money and laughed in our faces. Now that those dire topics are over, I can procede to my main point. Which take the form of Episodes VII, VIII and IX.

On the 31st of October 2012, Lucasfilms announced they had sold the rights for the Star Wars series to none other then Disney, who then swiftly announced their plans to continue the series, with Episode VII (presumably a direct sequel to Return of the Jedi) to be released in 2015. For the small sum of $4.05 BILLION. The devil offered, and George Lucas rubbed his hands and signed on the dotted line.

I feel as if I may be being slightly over dramatic, but this is diabolically bad news. I don’t think it is any exaggeration that George Lucas has sold the series out, nor do I think that any continuation of the series is a good idea. Perhaps I would be more accepting if it was a standalone series, something new, fresh and maybe even good? But the news that it will be a direct sequel to Return of the Jedi runs shivers down my spine. What does that mean? The original trio of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford are now 61, 56 and 70 years old respectively, a disaster waiting too happen if they are to be reintroduced. The only way this incredibly stupid plan is going to work is if a new cast are introduced, a cast that can rival the original trio (pressure is well and truly on guys). However, this cosy reality looks unlikely, as of course, Disney just won’t be able to help yourselves. Any company, if given the power to make sequels to such incredible classics would bring back some of the original cast. No doubt one/two of the three will return (although I think Ford can be ruled out, 70 years old and at the end of the day, a cocky supporting character), you cannot believe Disney would not jump at the chance to dress Mark Hamill up in a beard and make him a wise mentor. Maybe make Carrie Fisher as a quite fun old lady (how they explain that without Ford is anyone’s guess, saying they broke up would enrage the fans even more). Can you imagine it? Of course you can, smaller series being continued have these kind of farcical cameos, but never before has it been attempted on this scale. Disney have their work cut out in returning the faith and passion to the series, one stupid slip up or an addition the fans don’t like and you may as well write the whole project off as a disaster.

So here comes the crucial question; is there any chance that it won’t be awful? Does anyone have any faith in Disney? I could be being too harsh, not strong enough to accept this could be a turning point in the series. The reason I just can’t accept this is anything but bad is because of the prequels; the lifeless slumps of movies that completely destroyed my confidence and faith in the series. It should of been left where it was, it should have been preserved and untouched after Episode VI (what should have been the true Episode III) but George Lucas tampered his masterpiece and turned the Star Wars saga from sci-fi classics into a laughing stock. George Lucas is clearly confident that Disney will do a good job. But if it doesn’t work out, and the saga takes another ludicrous turn, will he look at what his once great creation has become and think it was worth it? Four billion dollars can’t buy you respect. And God knows he needs that now.

The definitive review of Bond’s return: Skyfall

Bond is back. After financial issues with MGM, the twenty-third Bond film is released, and it really is something special after all the hype. Skyfall is the real deal, a fast-paced thriller that grabs you by the neck from its opening chase scene and barely loosens its grip until the ingeniously crafted ending. Never before has a Bond film felt so new, and yet so old. It ticks every Bond cliché in the book in honour of the 50th anniversary since Sean Connery’s debut Bond was released, Dr No, and how better to celebrate such a brilliant event by giving us one of the finest films of this generation, hell, any generation. Casino Royale was magnificent, but could have been mistaken for Bourne, Quantum of Solace was unconvincing as a Bond film in any manner, all Skyfall does is perfect the formula of Ian Fleming’s flawed hero for the modern era. It makes it look so simple.

Thank the lord for Sam Mendes. He has single-handedly saved the series, breathing new life into the perhaps tired formula by mixing the brutality of Casino Royale with the fun antics of Roger Moore; a mixture which could have gone badly wrong had it not been for this director’s magic touch. Every scene is shot perfectly, every line is a joy and every cliché is a moment of triumph. I would not have Sam Mendes change a single angle, every location is beautiful (even foggy Scotland) and every addition, new and old, is expertly woven into the unfamiliar world for Bond, a world which Ian Fleming would not have understood or indeed have liked. Yet Sam Mendes has completed the transformation; he has brought Bond back from the brink of the last film to truly stand him tall in the 21st century. And because it is the 50th anniversary of the Bond films, Sam Mendes allows himself to have a little fun. The film is packed to the brim full of clichés, not a reference unscathed as we celebrate all things Bond (and not in the tacky way that Quantum of Solace attempted with the reference to Goldfinger). Q is back for the first time since Die Another Day, and in typical modern world style he is a genius barely out of his teens (inspired casting in Ben Whishaw), a modern day Moneypenny (a glaring criticism of mine I’m afraid, she neither sounds or reacts with Bond convincingly) and even the old Aston Martin returns for a brief spin.  Bond has never been so refreshingly old.

However, the film would not work without its two leads, and for all of Craig’s wondrous effort, Javier Bardem steals the show as the bond villain, Raoul Silva, who can stand tall as the greatest Bond villain of all time. He winces, he pouts, and he monologues, stealing the show from his first scene to his last, proving the perfect match for Daniel Craig’s updated protagonist. His on-screen presence is bold and intimidating, a dangerous but also humorously camp villain, a breathing insight into how far the series has come from its early adventures. You can argue whether this is the best Bond film for decades to come, but surely no one can deny Raoul Silva stands as the greatest Bond villain ever.

And perhaps we are reunited with the best Bond girl too. is finally used in the plot, a time for Judi Dench to shine at last. And boy does she do just that. She is cold, ruthlessly professional, and as Bond says when given her name in a word association test, “a bitch”. Yet she is not only the Bond girl, but the Bond mum (never thought I would write that), his mentor and guider, a relationship which is cold but has the undeniable essence of protection for one another.  As her past is explored, so is Bond’s, and maybe this is a risk which was not worth taking. I refuse to divulge any spoilers, but Bond’s past is explored in to, which I could have predicted, and the results are mixed. Sam Mendes and the script just manage to pull it off by the skin of their teeth, but just because its the 50th anniversary of the series doesn’t mean we need to see the man behind the gun, the vulnerable figure is apparent to everyone without snooping around his family home. Maybe a bridge of originality too far for Mendes, but an admirable go at exploring the background of one of cinema’s most uncomplicated figures. Nothing else is wrong with this film, even the normally questionable opening credits being a thing of beauty, Adele’s specifically written theme song being perhaps the best Bond tune ever by interweaving the classic theme tune in between the haunting lyrics. Simply put, everything fits in this jigsaw of a film to present one of the movies of the year, and new hope has sprung up from the ashes. The news that Sam Mendes wants to direct another film, and that Daniel Craig has ‘at least one more in him’ means that a repeat case of brilliance is almost guaranteed. There has never been more reason to be excited about the future of this series.

Overall

Bond is truly back. The Daniel Craig era has been hampered by the evolution and changes that the modern day requires, yet Skyfall is a classic Bond film for the 21st century. Best Bond film ever? Seeing as my previous title holder was Casino Royale, I would have to say yes. It’s big, it’s beautiful and it’s Bond shaken, but not stirred. A masterpiece.

5/5

Taken 2: The worst film of the year?

‘I have no words for that’ my friend said as the credits rolled on the screen, Alex Clare’s music playing when really a track of that quality did not deserve to be on the end of such a terrible film. Me and my friend did not expect anything good when we went into the cinema, and somehow Taken 2 still let us down. He may have had no words to describe how bad Taken 2 was, but I’m afraid I do.

Where to start? Well firstly, I must admit I am a huge fan of the original Taken. It reignited Liam Neeson’s career and delivered one of the finest revenge films of the decade. It wasn’t particularly clever, well directed or original; what it did deliver however was incredibly brutal and satisfying action, and somehow this undeniable brutality and awesome casting in Liam Neeson carried the film all on its own. It was not a film that begged a sequel, nor was it a film that should have had one. But here I am, having just wasted £6.30 on seeing a two hour waste of space, where the best parts of the film were in fact flashbacks from the original Taken. And they lasted around two seconds. But what makes it so unspeakably bad?

There are too many reasons. The plot is somehow worse then the original Taken, the premise being that the many Uncles and Fathers of the men Neeson slaughtered in the first film seeking revenge, this time taking his ex wife, and in a ‘twist’ him as well! This time the daughter has to save him! Oh, how smart! Sadly, this ‘clever’ twist cannot save the film. Seeing his daughter attempt to find him while he talks to her through the world’s smallest phone, which he managed to stuff down his trousers, is dull and flat, proving why they put that actress into the ‘screaming girl’ role in the first film. Another huge let down is the lack of any sort of brutality in this film, leaving behind the winning factor for many from the first. It was what made the first film great, the brutal and graphic deaths making it memorable and satisfying. Take it all out, and what have you got? It’s like taking the dreams out of Inception, making Memento chronological, or having a Simon Pegg film without Nick Frost in it. It just makes no sense, and in their desperation to increase their possible audience with a 12A rating (also known as the most pointless rating in the history of cinema, allowing a 4 year old to see Bond get his balls bashed in with a rope) they have taken everything good out of the series. Any opportunity for grittiness and brutality is avoided, any blood splatters wiped clean, and the 12A rating just epitomizing how low this film has fallen from the lofty original.

I still don’t think I’ve done this film justice on how bad it really is. The baddies of this film are easily spotted, by the simple fact they are immigrants. A scene in the hotel clearly indicates the baddies rich and foreign language has a precise word for ‘flip flops’. Many of the lines had me and my friend laughing out loud, mainly out of despair. The memorable speech of Liam Neeson in the first film isn’t repeated, or even remotely matched, the script incredibly bland and lifeless. The plot has more holes then a Swiss cheese, which coincidentally seems to be the inspiration of every actor in the film. There is even a scene where Liam Neeson is searching for his ex wife to what sounds like the intro of Men Without Hats’s ‘Safety Dance’. The most fun I had in the film was playing an imaginary keyboard to this scene, then laughing, then nearly crying in mourning of the film industry.

Overall

Undoubtedly the worst film I’ve seen this year. A non-existent plot, a horrendous script and laughable attempts at tension and brutality completely destroys the loving memory of the original Taken. Not only is this a backwards step in Liam Neeson’s career, it may well be the death of it. Avoid at all costs. 1/5.

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