Category Archives: Fantasy

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Daring, charming, and epic in scope The Hobbit is High Fantasy the likes of which Hollywood rarely does well. The first movie in the prequel trilogy to the very successful Lord of the Rings is every bit as faithful to the source, and unashamedly more immature in its story telling. Be warned, this is true fantasy however, absent of the maturity that make Rings so popular with any audience. If the critical reaction to date is anything to go by then its larger appeal will undoubtedly be debated for some time.

The Hobbit tells the story of a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, roped into an epic adventure. The Dwarven city of Erebor has been captured by Smaug, a dragon. A small company of Dwarves along with the wizard Gandalf have set out to recapture the city and its hordes of gold , but to do so they need the services of a burglar. For unknown reasons Gandalf has chosen Bilbo and thus the tale begins. It’s a story that is both a stand alone adventure and one that establishes how the The One Ring came to be in Bilbo’s possession.

An Unexpected Journey runs at roughly two hours and forty-five minutes covering only the first six chapters of the book. It manages to fill up its running time by reveling in every detail and expanding upon it by exploring the wider story as it relates to the events in Lord of the Rings.  It’s the kind of detail you don’t need if you didn’t know the events of Rings, but seeing as most people now do, the additions do a nice job of tying the two movie trilogies together.

The film has been slammed for being too long, if you’re not in love with the source material then you’ll feel that it’s roughly thirty minutes too long. But the crime is not as great as the drawn out ending of Return of the King, at least the “extra” material comes at the start, so by the end of the film you’re not feeling its running time at all. Regardless, it doesn’t make the movie bad, not at all.

It’s an astounding achievement to bring this story to life in all its glory. The locations of Erebor, Rivendell, The Goblin City, and a host of others feel authentic and magical at the same time. The gorgeous New Zealand landscapes are again the perfect place to put Middle Earth. There is much more Fantasy this time round. It’s thick, and fast! Swords have names and the enemy cower at their sight, Elves ride giant Elk, and the Dwarven kings wear more bling than a modern day hip-hop artist. It’s also thick with the childish fun of the book, but it never quite becomes absurd and it’s always enjoyable.

Martin Freeman is a delight as Bilbo, he is as believable as the Hobbit as you could expect and his timing is impeccable. Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf and he is just as good as I remember, while Richard Armitage makes a noble leader of the Dwarves. The rest of the ensemble cast are adequate, but they never quite fill out with the depth of the ensemble in Fellowship of the Ring. The real star however is again Andy Serkis as Gollum, he steals the show when he arrives. I really hope the Academy can find a way to reward him, he’s crafted one of the most memorable characters of all time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film for its entire running time. I loved that it took the time to revel in the little things, a theme of the story, and that it wasn’t ashamed of its Fantastical elements. The film never quite reaches the emotional peaks of Fellowship of the Rings for me, even though it follows it format quite exactly. I appreciate this will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but The Hobbit always was a small but fun children’s book. This is likely the best film adaption we’ll ever get, and considering the way the Tolkien estate regards films this trilogy is likely to be the last Tolkien films made in our lifetimes.

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Review: Snow White & The Huntsman

We’re not short on the reinvention of age old fairy tales on both the big and small screens right now, and if you love the story of Snow White you are swamped right now. So does Snow White & The Huntsman have anything going for it that means you should pay it any attention? In a nutshell it doesn’t. While an interesting take on the tale with some wonderful creature design, this version is a long,  sleep inducing, borefest with few redeeming qualities. The film avoids my worst rating of one star purely for its produciton quality, creature design, and the talents of Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth.

In this version of the fairy tale the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) murders the king shortly after their marriage and imprisons his daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) in a tower. When the Queen seeks immortality by consuming her still beating heart Snow White escapes into the Dark Forest. The Queen has no power in the forest and so forces a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) into the woods to find her in exchange for bringing his wife back from the dead. It’s a much darker take on the original fairy tale, but it’s so poorly executed that you could be excused for dismissing any originality out of hand.

Right from the beginning the film is void of any charisma, it’s slow and without any sense of purpose. Unfortunately it gets worse as the film progresses. There is no character development outside of token segments that are void of anything interesting or revealing. Characters don’t really converse with each other in any depth either, they merely speak exposition to the audience. In a good story, the audience can work things out by taking in the characters and their actions. In this film, there are no actions to understand, it’s just an endless series of statements about what’s going on.

Theron and Hemsworth do their best to bring a sense of depth to their characters and they both achieve a sense of being in a film devoid of any sense of what it is. It’s a pity neither of them is given much material to bring any life to the production. I also need to mention Stewart who gets a bad rap for her roles in theTwilight movies, she’s quite decent here. I am not sure about her appeal as thefairest in the land, but at times she shows a presence I thought she wasn’t able to achieve.

The films highlight however are the creature design and special effects, they are utterly amazing. From the Troll to the fairy sanctuary, this world is a wonderous place full of things I’ve never seen. It’s the kind of visual treats that a film like this doesn’t deserve to achieve. Clearly the film makers have a great eye for it, but it makes you wonder how they can get those things so right and fail so completely at almost everything else.

Snow White & The Huntsman as a concept has a lot going for it, and on paper I have no doubt it looked a winner. The reality of it however is far from something worth paying for. My wife fell asleep around the middle of the movie, when she woke up asked what she had missed, I said “well nothing really” … I do have to add however, as I left the cinema a man behind me mentioned to his partner that he really enjoyed the movie. I don’t get it, but to be fair, at least someone enjoyed it.

 

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Review: The Avengers

Every now and then a big budget special effect extravaganza gets the formula right and delivers genuine fun action filled entertainment. The Avengers is one of these movies. It’s the perfect blend of a clever script, great dialogue, and classy actors with great delivery and timing. It’s not Shakespeare and it’s plot doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny, but you won’t care about that by the time the credits start rolling.

Marvel have been building to this movie for some time, laying the groundwork in the films Ironman, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America. It’s not just the characters that come across into The Avengers but some elements of the plot too. The strange glowing cube from Captain America called the “Tesseract” is the target of Thor’s bad guy Loki who seeks to use it to open a portal to Earth allowing aliens to invade and enslave us all. Loki also wants revenge for the events in Thor by attacking the planet his Brother loves so dear. It’s nothing special, in fact it’s the exact same plot (save for minor differences) with the absolutely terrible Green Lantern of 2011.It just goes to show that plot is not really what these kinds of blockbusters are all about.

Director Joss Whedon manages to bring all these superheros and weave them all into a very clever character-centric popcorn action flick. It’s really quite refreshing and surprising to have the major players in a special effects extravaganza base their digital beatings on meaningful character development. The movie doesn’t get carried away with itself and manages to build clever scenes together based on the strengths and weaknesses of each comic book hero. It really is a bit of a comic book nerds dream, but it’s done in such a way that anyway can really enjoy it.

The script however, and the sheer number of players, makes it very difficult for anyone to really shine and frankly no one is bringing their A-game here. There is enough passion in the delivery to be proud of the performances, but sadly you won’t remember any of them after the credits roll. Speaking of which, stay until the end of the credits for a sneak peek at the bad guy for the sequel. Yup! That’s right, Marvel clearly have a second movie in mind even before screening the first.

That should indicate to you this movie is really about getting you to part with your hard earned cash, rather than any artisitic merit. At least this time, unlike many Hollywood blockbusters, it’s really worth it.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Seven Books, Eight Movies, Ten years! It’s arguably the biggest entertainment phenomenons of the last decade, and it’s definitely the most lucrative, but does the final film do it justice?  The finale is at it’s sublime best when it’s most faithful to the source material, but struggles when it departs. It’s a fitting end, one that will not disappoint, but truth be told, you’re better off with the book.

Starting precisely where previous film finished, little time is wasted establishing plot points instead jumping straight to the action that was painfully missing from part one. Harry’s made an educated guess as to what are Voldermort’s final Horcruxes and he makes a play to find and destroy them. It takes the trio on a ride into Gringot’s Bank, and back to Hogwart’s for the final showdown between Harry and Voldermort.

Director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves have gutted a lot of story, detail, and many character moments, to get to the final showdown allowing it to dominate most of the film. It might not please many fans of the novel but some latitude should be given to a movie based on such a complex book. However, perhaps it’s telling that the film doesn’t stir much emotion or sense of awe until it gets back to it’s roots.

It’s when the film gets back to the core of what makes the central players tick that the film finally strikes a chord. When the final revelations are revealed and the horror of the inevitable conclusion dawns, the film moves from popcorn fun to something genuinely moving. In these moments it is most faithful to J.K. Rowlings novels and you will be very thankful that it is.

I’ve felt the films have steadily declined since the third installment Prisoner of Azkhaban, becoming much more dull and drab and devoid of fun. I’m disappointed Yates still couldn’t do justice to the admittedly complex story and great characters, but he gets close, at least this reviewer is happy the most important moments were preserved.

Yates is a strange choice for these films, and frankly he’s not a particularly exciting Director. Stilted in his story telling and devoid of imagination, his scene construction is poor and he struggles to convey key plot points in a way that matches their meaning. He’s relied too heavily on your knowledge of the books, and at times gutted much of what I found to be the most fascinating parts of the story. Perhaps better hands may have mastered the ensemble cast and rich story, but most audiences really won’t care for these criticisms.

In the end it’s about Harry and Voldermort, Daniel Radcliffe and Ralph Fiennes. The two of them get the majority of the screen time and they get the most material to work with. Radcliffe continues to improve and manages a great sense of depth to the trials Harry is put through, while Fiennes is as creepy and viscous as you’d hope for such a villain. It’s a brutal encounter between the two as would be any encounter between such a vicious adult and a teenager. Alan Rickman is also as classy as ever, and Maggie Smith finally steals a few scenes, but unfortunately the rest of the cast take a backseat, which is a bit of a shame.

In the end however, if you love Harry Potter you’re going to love this final film. It doesn’t ruin the critical moments of the story even if it struggles to bring the rest to screen. It’s always sad to see such original and exciting stories come to an end, but hopefully something else can come and fill the void. I had a feeling this movie could break the magical $1billion dollar mark for box office takings, but now I am more skeptical. I think a lot of people will look back on these stories with fondness, but ultimately the films won’t live on as great classics.

 

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Review: Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The original Pirate of the Caribbean was an unexpected treat, who would of though a film based on a Disney ride could capture the imagination as it did. The second and third instalment diminished in fun and grew in complexity; but does the fourth recapture the swashbuckling ways?

Well if you’re a Pirates fan, then you will enjoy On Stranger Tides! It’s better than the former sequels but still can’t capture the thrill of the first. If you’re not a fan, then you can rest assured you’ve seen all this before and there’s no need to fork out the cash, let alone the extra dollars to see it in 3D.

The ever brilliant Jonny Depp reprises his role of Jack Sparrow in search of the Fountain of Youth, or is he? Well we don’t really ever find out what he’s up to but regardless he’s caught up in a race to find the fountain and capture the life it can grant.

While Depp is as good as ever there does appear to be something missing. Perhaps the fourth trip to celluloid is starting to tire me, but it felt like the character didn’t move anywhere, didn’t develop, and really didn’t do anything.

The same can be said for Geoffrey Rush returning as Captain Barbosa. He’s still as good as ever, but maybe the bland and stale plot really doesn’t give these actors much to stretch their talents.

I welcome the absence of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley, but I loathe the superfluous characters that have replaced them (not literally, merely new characters that may of well been them). There is a lot of stuff in this film that feels like it’s building to a fifth in the franchise, so much is left untold at the end. Perhaps that’s why Sparrow doesn’t seem to care much, his eye is on another prize and that is a story yet to be told.

Newcomers Ian McShane as Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz as his daughter Angelica hold their own, but there just as hamstring by the plot as everyone else. There are some strange and seemingly pointless scenes littered throughout this tale and it can be annoying, it’s not that short a film.

In the end there is enough action and adventure here to quench your thirst, and a few genuine moments of thrilling fun. But I can’t help but feel I’ve seen all this before and too much time is spent setting up plot points for a movie yet to come.

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Review: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith carries a heavy burden as the pivotal film in the new trilogy, in much the same way as The Empire Strikes Back carried the central conflict of the original. It is under this weight that Lucas produces his best work of the original trilogy, but one still plagued by many of his shortcomings.

Essentially Sith is a vast improvement on the previous two films featuring far better dialogue, more character moments, and better action. It is unique amongst Star Wars films for its lack of humour, presence of complicated issues, and the minor yet graphic violence. Lucas has crafted a reasonable end to what has so far been a mediocre saga, in that sense the film is an enjoyable popcorn flick.

The tragedy of it is however the dire political sub-plots that consume a story starving for air, hacking the film into a stilted series of poorly linked exposition and meaningless battle sequences that disappointingly drive the film to its dark conclusion. Ultimately highlighting the many design flaws present since The Phantom Menace such as the lack of a consistent bad guy, or dramatic drive for our main characters.

But even if the characters had clearer motivation, there is little time devoted in Sith for any character to build a rapport with the audience. Much of the film is spent on elaborate effects, shifting many of the more personal confrontations into the realm of visual ecstasy where the prevalent theory is the more amazing the better. Amongst the computer generated optical bombardment the story and drama of the event is simply lost. I yearn for more of the spectacular yet believable theatrical moments such as the speeder chase in Return of the Jedi, something last seen in any form in the Pod race from Menace.

The film does have its moments with much improved performances from Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman, who actually manage to conjure some real romantic spark in their limited time together. Its clear Hayden is much more comfortable dabbling in the fear and anger of the darker side of Anakin. Ewen McGregor and Ian McDiarmid still remain the stand-outs of the trilogy, seemingly the only two actors who had some real fun with their roles. While the casting of Samuel L. Jackson, and the host of computer generated characters like the films bad guy General Grievous, will always seem poorly planned if not a little random.

Which brings us to the moment of truth; did Lucas nail the purpose of this trilogy? Was the descent of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader all that we had hoped? In the end, it is really a question of perception, but for this reviewer, the cause of Anakin’s betrayal was weak and feebly constructed. It seems disturbingly lame for Anakin to literally one moment realise the folly in his way, and then surrender to the will of the Emperor in the same breath, without even an irrational reasoning. To then march off and willingly slaughter the innocent, while still believing he is defending the Republic, is probably the most disappointing part of the film.

There is some redemption for the much anticipated turn to the dark side, when Anakin and Obi-wan face off in the inevitable duel reprised in A New Hope. It’s in these last moments of the film that the new trilogy finds itself closest to capturing some of the feeling of the original. It is admirable to note that Lucas has improved as a Director in all facets, particularly in his ability to capture more genuine acting. Were he to re-attempt the prequels now he would probably be far more effective, however given his recent quotes in the press, one wonders if he really cared too much in the first place.

Revenge of the Sith still fails to answer some of the questions the saga has posed thus far, and seems to make a mockery of Lucas’ own mythology, while at the same time bringing a conclusion to many things and establishing a logical link to the original trilogy. It’s in that analysis that this film will probably forever remain stationary, a film that achieves quite a lot, but leaves too much under done and even absent.

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Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is without any doubt the ultimate showcase of how good cinema can get. Not only is Towers a worthy extenstion of the first instalment, Fellowship, but it is a stand alone thrill ride of cinematic genius.

Without warning, without any form of reminder or any chance of catching ones breath, Peter Jackson thrusts us right back into the world of middle-earth and right back into his daring and exciting form of film-making. Unlike most sequals (I guess you can’t really call this a sequal) Towers is a completely different and unique film from the first. Towers presents a darker more unforgiving Mddle-earth and is unquestionably a war epic of truly incredible proportions.

Watching the film the energy that oozes off the screen in the extremely fast paced and action packed three hours gives you a bizz that many people would relate as the feeling they had when watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time all those years ago. The chemistry between each character, aided undoubtedly by the first film is electric and every scene serves to advance the film in a positive and entertaining direction. One weeps at the sheer brilliance of the films complex construction and near perfect cinematic execution. This is the stuff dreams are made of, this is the stuff that shapes the way forward in the future of film.

Towers is not without flaw, with a screen time limit of three hours much of the book has been cut and changed much to the displeasure of many fans and purists. Still the film stands alone all by itself as grand cinema regardless of how prescious the book is. There are some very obvious computer aided effects, especially when watching the Ents, but these are over shadowed by the sheer joy derived form the events on screen. Peter succeeds where most special effects directors fail, he suspends disbelief so that even the most fake of creations is missed as the audience gets sucked into the events on screen. Speaking of special effects, Gollum/Smeagol will undoubtedly go down in history as the very first succesful completely computer generated characters on film. Yes he is obviously created by a computer, but he looks far better than anything else that has ever been presented and the character itself is an absolute treat and completely steels the show. The emotional high point of the film is stolen by Gollum in his two he scenes where he speaks quite disturbingly to himself as each other alter ego.

The acting is all very sifficient and definately above average for any film of this style. Special credits should go to Brad Dourif as Wormtounge who is as evil and cunning as the genius of Peters vision, Elijah as Frodo and Sean as Sam who as a pair make for a great on screen plutonic chemistry defining a lost art of male comradeship, and of course Any Serkis as Gollum.

The film is often very light hearted as John-Rhys Davis discards his sombre Dwarf character Gimli from the first film and settles in as the comic-relief, this is a sharp contrast to the films very dark themes. People die, limbs are hacked, the world falls apart around them, but all the while Peter remains focussed on the task at hand and delivers Tolkiens message with the edge that only he can.

The Films three climaxes, the Battle of Helm’s Deep, the Trashing of isengard and the Siege at Osgilith would all be a single fitting end to any epic film, and then the film leaves you breathless and wanting more… Such torture – if the ending to Fellowship had you wanting more, this willhave you tearing out the seats at the cinema in riot that you have to wait another year… Still to behold the scene at Helm’s Deep will be enough, no words can describe this except to say that it is the biggest most spectacular battle on screen and will not fail tpo satify.

These films are looking to be the defining trilogy of this century and are certainly groundbreaking near perfect cinema. This once weeped for a good portion of the film, I can only hope the experience is as good as that for everyone else. Peter Jackson, Heres to you and yours!

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