Tag Archives: Hobbit

“WoW” movie gets “Moon” director

Could it be true – is Hollywood starting to get the whole ‘hire a good director = half-decent film’ idea finally?

I wish my beard looked as cool as that...

I wish my beard looked as cool as that…

Duncan Jones, director of the superb “Moon” and “Source Code” has signed on to direct the long-stewing adaptation of Blizzard’s MMO powerhouse, “World of Warcraft” (why, you don’t suppose that the runaway success of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” had anything to do with this surprising development, do you?) and that’s clearly brilliant news.

He’s played WoW and is a self-described gamer (fan of the property, formerly in a Brit-based Call of Duty clan) which indicates that he might just have an idea of how best to marry the disparate worlds of live action film making and the wibbly-wobbly, digital realm and not just default to knocking together some sub-Tolkein tropes and letting the CG guys do the real heavy lifting.    Make no mistake – it’s perfectly possible to make a good movie from video game material and I suspect that someone who knows the culture might be in a better place to helm an adaptation than some dude hopping up from commercials and music vids to his first feature gig.

Nerds - stand up and be counted! Who doesn't love a bit of raiding?

Nerds – stand up and be counted! Who doesn’t love a bit of raiding?

IMDB lists an Ian Fleming biopic on Jones’ to-do list, but producers are apparently keen to get this rollercoaster on the tracks this autumn for a bow sometime in 2015 – strike while the +10 to Melee Damage Iron Sword of Sundering is hot, and all that.  Is it too much to hope for for a Leeroy Jenkins shout-out?

You’ll be unsurprised that Gabe and Tycho have some good advice on what not to do with this movie…

 

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2012 in review – Reeling in Films

As each year rolls to a close, I find myself desperately Googling lists of films which opened in the year in an effort to determine what I actually saw at the cinema.  You may encounter a similar situation – did I really enjoy that movie this year or did it come three years ago and I’ve only just caught up with it?

That said, I’m pretty sure that I can post a solid top five movies of the year – all of which are mostly perfectly defensible.  Ahem…

1) Brave

Women with bows and/or arrows - you couldn't avoid them in 2012 pop culture

Women with bows and/or arrows – you couldn’t avoid them in 2012 pop culture

I hated “Cars” so much that I purposefully avoided “Cars 2” when it opened last year.  I know people who loved both movies, but I’m firmly of the belief that I’ll only see it when it ends up free to watch on TV.  I’m happy to say that “Brave” reaffirmed my belief in Pixar’s storytelling abilities and seemed, at times, made for me.

Set in Scotland? Check.  Strong-willed heroine with character layers and imperfections?  Check.  Knockabout comedy and thrilling action sequences?  Oh yes.   Amazing voice cast? Emma Thompson, Kelly McDonald, Billy ConnollyCraig FergusonRobbie ColtraneJulie Walters – check-a-mundo.

And how bold of Pixar to essentially pull the rug from underneath you in the cinema and deliver a film which is quite different from the one advertised – there’s plentiful adventure to behold in this film but also a really interesting meditation on family and obligation which the trailers didn’t exactly shy away from but certainly managed to undersell.

My favourite Pixar movie is “Ratatouille” but this glorious adventure runs it a close second – if you didn’t get to see it in cinemas, I heartily recommend picking it up and wallowing in master storytellers weaving a brilliant yarn.  I’ve not loved an animated feature as much since “How To Train Your Dragon”, which is high praise indeed.

"Fanboys?  Let them eat Mjolnir!"

“Fanboys? Let them eat Mjolnir!”

2) “Avengers Assemble”

Joss Whedon – the vindication!  You may have seen this film once or twice.  I saw it three times theatrically, a couple of times since on Blu-Ray (full disclosure – I own two copies of it, as the UK release ditched various features and a Whedon commentary track).  The culmination of the first phase of Marvel’s Movie Take-Over didn’t disappoint, pitting the cast of bickering heroes against a galactic scale threat and finding a way, finally, to bring the Hulk to thrilling life via Mark Ruffalo and some absurdly brilliant CG wizardry.

Whedon’s voice remained undimmed by the demands of the multiple characters – much to the chagrin of his vocal detractors – and he managed to miraculously balance the demands of mythology, actor screen time, the expected summer movie explosions-per-second ratio and his own fan base to deliver a superhero smack down for the ages.  If you ever read comics as a kid, this movie was pitched directly at you and realised in vivid detail those action figure battles you sketched out at eight years old in the school playground.

Plus, you know, Shawarma.

Genre cannon fodder, meet your puppeteers...

Genre cannon fodder, meet your puppeteers…

3) “Cabin In The Woods”

It really is better if you know as little as possible about this film before you see it, such is its puppyish determination to take what you know and love about horror cinema and then twist it, delivering a glorious, genre-warping ride which celebrates the scare-flick even as it places some of its more objectionable stylistic tropes under an exacting microscope.

Best ending of the year?  Quite possibly.

4) “The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists”

More jokes per minute than any movie this year and most of them are brilliant...

More jokes per minute than any movie this year and most of them are brilliant…

The latest from Aardman Animation arrived in cinemas in the spring and departed with indecent haste, which says to me that a great many people didn’t get to enjoy this joke-stuffed, superbly inventive pirate adventure and that’s a great shame.  This is a hilarious movie, with fantastic performances from Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman and David Tennant, staggering levels of detail crammed into each gorgeous frame of this stop motion work of art and a really infectious sense of off-kilter humour – it is, in essence, a Monty Python movie for kids and if that doesn’t recommend it to you, I really don’t think that there’s any hope for you.

=5) “The Woman In Black”

What Harry Did Next

What Harry Did Next

A genuine breath of swampy, slightly decaying air, “The Woman In Black” capitalizes royally on our fear of creaking furniture in quiet old houses, of unexplainable noises late at night, of the thing that you glimpse for a second from the corner of your eye and delivers a bone-chilling, restrained journey into terror which eschews gore for melancholy, substitutes atmosphere for flashy jump scares and shows the idiots cranking out PG-13, pseudo ‘found footage’ schlock just how to genuinely unsettle an audience.

Daniel Radcliffe is superb in the lead as haunted young lawyer Arthur Kipps, wrestling bravely with events that he can never hope to understand and confirming that his will be a long and storied career if he continues to make smart choices like appearing in this film.  He’s already an audience identification figure for a generation of movie-goers and this film trades on that, using his iconic, essentially decent countenance to draw us into a Victorian milieu which is swiftly and convincingly drawn as a stultifying and closed-off nightmare – Kipps’ job-stipulated stay in a possibly haunted, rickety old mansion seems positively inviting by comparison.

More scares per minute than any other film in 2012?  I should say so.

=5) “Resident Evil: Retribution”

Evil goes virtual, more like...

Not so much a film as cinematic DLC. Yep, a bit of a tough sell…

Suck it haters!

 

In dispatches, I should also mention the likes of James Bond adventure, “Skyfall”, Christopher Nolan‘s audience dividing but audacious trilogy-capper, “The Dark Knight Rises“, Peter Jackson’s little movie that could, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, genius bare knuckle, sci-fi adaptation, “Dredd”, gleefully daffy TV remake “21 Jump Street”, putative epic sci-fantasy adventure “John Carter”, vamps versus werewolves franchise entry “Underworld: Awakening“, Ridley Scott‘s return to the “Alien” universe in “Prometheus”, addled fantasy revisionism “Snow White and the Huntsman“, mumble-core superhero fable, “Chronicle”  and Sony’s promising, web-slinging reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man”.

And 2013 brings us a new “Star Trek”, “Elysium”, “Oblivion”, “Riddick”, “Iron Man 3”, “After Earth”, “Pacific Rim”, “Ender’s Game”, “Thor: The Dark World” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” from merely the Sci-Fi and Fantasy film spheres – there’s a huge movie at the multiplex seemingly every month and I’d guess that I’ll get to see a mere fraction of those titles at the movies next year.

Which is kind of where we came in, isn’t it?

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Further Into Darkness

Lovely "Star Trek Into Darkness" images (c) Paramount Pictures

Lovely “Star Trek Into Darkness” images (c) Paramount Pictures

There’s a new trailer for J.J. Abrams‘ second “Star Trek” adventure, “Into Darkness”, which is technically the first proper look at the film – last week saw a teaser trailer and a nine-minute prologue which unfurled ahead of selected IMAX screenings of “The Hobbit“.

But, as I was denied such bounty by the uncaring folk at my local cinema, let us not focus on what we don’t have and instead turn our attention to what we do get.

Yep, no portents of angst or doom in that image...

Yep, no portents of angst or doom in that image…

Which is Bruce Greenwood‘s glum voice over suggesting there may be trouble ahead for Kirk & Co., huge action sequences, portents of dread and lots of furrowed brows on display.  Watching it, there’s a palpable sense that there’s a big elephant in the room with this “Star Trek” sequel – is it following the path laid down by “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and upping the emotional stakes big time (i.e. killing off major characters) or is the speculation about the identity of the villain merely misdirection of the kind so beloved of and oft-practiced by major magic geek Abrams?

The trailer indicates that nobody’s safe in this movie – Chekov‘s even sporting a Red Shirt at one point, for pity’s sake! – and I’m all for that if  this eagerly anticipated follow-up has the courage to deliver on all that Debbie Downer potential.  This is, after all, a summer movie – not a genre known for wallowing in melancholy and bad vibes, man.

You can be in danger – but nobody’s allowed to get hurt.  Or are they?

 

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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” film review

Make mine Bag End...

Some pertinent business to deal with before I start my review proper:

1) The much-ballyhooed 48 frames per second process, which makes its debut with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is more or less unnoticeable.  Advanced reports of the film looking like a TV soap opera, or as though it was shot on digital video, are utter piffle.

2) If you can see “The Hobbit” in traditional 2D, feel free to do so.  I saw it in a 3D ‘LieMax’ screening and felt that the 3D frequently detracted from the experience – several action sequences were rendered impossible to watch comfortably, thanks to our old friend, Mr Irritating Motion Blur.  Mrs Rolling Eyeballs, who saw the film with me, currently rates the film as a 5 out of 10 as she saw roughly half of it – IMAX 3D and people with glasses apparently don’t mix too well.  A 2D viewing may be required for our actual full enjoyment of the film.

3) That 9 minute “Star Trek Into Darkness” prologue?  The “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim” trailers?  Conspicuous by their wholesale absence.  Thanks, Cineworld, for screwing your UK consumers and having the nerve to charge a premium for an experience which is decidedly lacking.

Minor, nerd-entitlement caveats aside, did I actually enjoy the film?

Well, yes.  Yes.  Yes, yes, YES!  It’s Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and a prodigiously talented ensemble in front of the camera and behind it delivering epic fantasy on the kind of scale that fans always dreamed of seeing but rarely experienced before Jackson’s initial “Lord of the Rings” trilogy expanded the possibility of cinematic adventure in the early part of the 2000’s.

Getting over the fact that these movies are inherently episodic and tell their story in a serial fashion – don’t count on getting much in the way of closure until the summer of 2014 – going back to Jackson’s Middle Earth is like visiting a much-loved holiday get away destination and finding everything much as you left it.

Breathtaking New Zealand vistas, Hobbit holes, craggy old wizards and Howard Shore‘s delightfully evocative musical score are very much present and correct – thankfully Mr Jackson has resisted the urge to cast Justin Bieber, pump up the dubstep and ‘fix’ that which isn’t broken.  As I mentioned before, the major add-ons this time around – 3D and 48 FPS – are either a waste of time (3D) or imperceptible (48 FPS), so it does feel very much like business as usual.

The changes to the plot don’t really offer up anything particularly problematic – we get a fantastic prologue which deftly underlines lead dwarven warrior-in-exile Thorin Oakenshield‘s motivations and show us more of Middle Earth than we saw in the “LOTR” trilogy, and the climax imagines the events of ‘Out of the Frying Pan Into The Fire’ quite a bit differently, and really shows how Jackson and his team have rendered three films from a fairly slender piece of source material.

Where Tolkien’s classic tale for children of all ages alludes to action occurring off-screen or dispenses with blood and thunder battles in a sentence or two, Jackson’s film goes to town by mounting elaborate, bravura sequences which pile on the Orcs, Goblins and Warg enemies for our band to face off against.  It’s probably a bit too intense for younger kids, I would guess – this iteration particularly amps up the ass-kicking whilst not exactly down-playing the whimsical nature of Tolkien’s book but emphasizing the heroics in an appropriately cinematic fashion.

On the performance side, Martin Freeman is superb as Bilbo the Younger.  He’s not doing an Ian Holm impersonation, but instead gives a turn which is funny, touching, quietly decent and layered – I’m going to enjoy following him on his burglary mission and I predict that you will too.  He’s perhaps at his best during the “Riddles in the Dark” sequence, which brings back Gollum for a spell and reminds you how utterly brilliant Andy Serkis is.  New addition Richard Armitage makes a commanding appearance as Thorin, quietly dominating scenes and neatly filling the noticeable, Viggo Mortensen-shaped hole for a heroic, smouldering lead.

I really enjoyed this movie – tech qualms be damned.  And I look forward to seeing more of Smaug, how Jackson stages the battle of the Five Armies and how the extended lore of Tolkien’s epic fantasy cycle is added to what is at heart a fairly simple and linear tale.

A qualified thumbs up for “The Hobbit” part the first it is, then.  Try and find time in your Christmas celebration to see it and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

Related Arcana:

 

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An Unexpected Journey through “Hobbit” art

I’m a big fan of Tor Books‘ blog – there’s always something interesting to read there, be it from their own publishing list or from the wider world of speculative fiction and nerd culture.  Their annual “Steampunk Week” being a particular favourite, which will come as no surprise to anybody who knows me.

As we count down to our eagerly awaited return to Middle Earth, Tor Books’ Irene Gallo examines the work of various artists inspired by Tolkien‘s work over the years…

 

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“Oblivion” pics? Nerd-vana…

Concept art from "Oblivion", via JoBlo.com

Concept art from “Oblivion”, via JoBlo.com

By the time that “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” begins to digitally unfurl for me next Thursday lunchtime, I’ll be well and truly exhausted.

How so?  Why, by the parade of geeky, awesome movie trailers for 2013 fare which have preceded the main show, of course.  As well as footage from “Star Trek Into Darkness”, the humble movie-goer can expect first looks at Zack Snyder‘s ‘Superman‘ reboot “Man of Steel” and now the upcoming Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle, “Oblivion”.

For me, this is a very cool development as I loved the previous movie from “Oblivion” writer/director, Joseph Kosinski, the unloved but splendid “Tron: Legacy“, and these nifty slabs of target concept art promise a genuine science fiction adventure with a sense of scale missing from most cinematic attempts in the genre – to be polite, we can best summarize most Hollywood speculative fiction as action movies in sci-fi drag rather than actual, genuine attempts to tell stories which genuinely engage with science fiction concepts and big ideas.

Of course, this is a big studio film with a notably hands-on star/producer, so there’s every chance that “Oblivion” will deliver on the pretty visuals front and deliver not a jot of substance, but a geek can dream that a 2013 studio film will engage noggin and heart at the same time.

 

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“Star Trek Into Darkness” gets a new poster

Ominous, much?

Ominous, much?  Image via Paramount Pictures

As we wait for either the nine-minute IMAX prologue playing before selected screenings of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, the astute folk at Paramount have elected to steal a march on the marketing for next summer’s “Star Trek” sequel by releasing every geek-centric blockbuster’s must-have item, the enigmatic teaser poster.

Putting on my modish great-coat and a fashionably directional long scarf in the manner of all the best consulting detectives, I note that the poster seems to feature putative “Star Trek Into Darkness” villain, Benedict Cumberbatch, who is of course playing classic “Trek” baddie Gary Mitchell/Khan/Keyser Soze (delete as likely) in the J.J. Abrams directed sequel.

And that scene of urban mass destruction, the hallmark of all contemporary bad guys who seek to threaten our very way of life via the medium of terrorist action – could it be London?  As Empire magazine‘s post on the teaser poster intimated, the background scenery seems to have the ‘Gherkin’ building prominently featured.

England’s capital?  Being destroyed in a summer blockbuster?  Such a thing has never happened before…

A trailer for this must-see geek fest is due before the end of 2012 – I don’t know about you, but I already have my popcorn ready for that one…

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