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Tag Archive: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles Cloaks & Daggers

Review by C.J. Bunce

How often have you wished you had access to detailed photographs of the costumes and props of your favorite sci-fi or fantasy franchise?  Maybe for making your own costume, or maybe just to see up close what it might be like to be the actor wearing that cloak or holding that sword?  Covering both The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Weta Workshop has managed to top its previous accounts of the making of The Hobbit series with its fourth deluxe hardcover work, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers.

Daniel Falconer, Weta Workshop senior concept designer and creator of this latest behind the scenes account of Peter Jackson’s version of Middle-earth, first brought us The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art & Design, then The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Creatures & Characters, and earlier this year, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design.  But this fourth book in the series is even better–packed full of photos and commentary by the art designers, costume designers, prop makers, costumers, actors and other crew members that created each new set, room,  world, civilian clothing, soldier armor, and each prop, be it elaborate or necessarily mundane.

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles Cloaks & Daggers page e The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles Cloaks & Daggers page f

Costume designer Ann Maskrey recounts acquiring and modifying hundreds of fabrics for use when writer J.R.R. Tolkien may have given only little indication as to what an individual character or entire race of creatures should be wearing.

Bilbo and the Hobbits of the Shire, the Wizards Gandalf and Radagast, Thorin and his band of dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Humans, and key locations from the story–Mirkwood, Lake-Town and Dale–each gets several pages to highlight the detail required to visually build a world to make the fantastical believable.

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles Cloaks & Daggers page c The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles Cloaks & Daggers page d

Hand-written letters, books, maps, and signage of various fonts, food, tables, rugs and chairs, purses, swords, hats, buttons and clasps, cloaks and boots, staves, belts and buckles, vambraces, lanterns, instruments of all kinds, knits and macramé, pipes and axes, armor and maille, helmets, wigs, and beards, metalwork, glassware, silks, and saddles, rings and The One Ring–every element is covered by subject, and yet even this exhaustive volume only scratches the surface of what was required for the films, according to the book’s contributors.  And endless close-ups of fabric swatches and the actual costumes, giving readers an almost hands-on experience with the design, construction, and fabric selection process.

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles Cloaks & Daggers page a The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles Cloaks & Daggers page b

Because of the nature of The Hobbit tale and its many named Dwarves, the Dwarves get the most elaborate costumes of any race of the five Middle Earth movies created thus far.  The designs on each piece of armor, each metal fitting, scale maille, and leather work is simply stunning.  And if you’re a fan as much as we are of Sylvester McCoy’s wizard Radagast, you’ll be amazed to learn how his seemingly ripped, worn, and ratty apparel actually includes multiple layers of the finest fabrics, embroidery, and exquisite trim.

Originally released just weeks ago in a limited signed edition, the same exact edition minus the autographs can be purchase through Weta in New Zealand directly here and through Amazon.com here.  The last entry in the Peter Jackson six-film Middle-earth saga, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, will be released in theaters December 17, 2014.

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Hobbit Chronicles Smaug Art and Design cover

The latest installment in Weta Workshop’s hardcover series focusing on the art and design of The Hobbit movies provides the most-in-depth look yet at the developmental stages of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastical world to the big screen.  Through hundreds of pencil sketches, detailed accounts of the thoughts behind decisions, painted concept art and costume development, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles–Art & Design provides a comprehensive account of the mastery in bringing ideas to life.

The structure of the book follows our heroes’ journey through the film, in chapters like “Queer Lodgings” (Beorn the Skin-Changer’s house), “Flies & Spiders,” “The Woodland Realm” (the elves), “A Ruined form of Life” (the Orcs), and “Inside Information” (all about Smaug).  Each chapter provides a focused look at the unique worldbuilding for each disparate part of the film, from set design to backstory to costumes.  Many chapters offer better looks at details that were only glimpsed briefly in the film, like the city of Dale in its heyday, seen onscreen only in flashback.  It’s an opportunity for those parts of the filmmaking–given just as much thought and work as anything in the movie–to be seen and admired in their full glory.

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A chapter on the Elves of Mirkwood showcases the costumes for King Thranduil, Legolas, and Tauriel, as well as the woodland realm where the dwarves are imprisoned during the film.  There’s a special focus on the wine cellars where the dwarves make their dramatic barrel escape.  Much time is given to the development of Tauriel, a new character created for the movie. Comments from Evangeline Lily (Tauriel) provide insight into her character: “Tauriel had to embody the grace of Galadriel and Arwen, while representing the fighting stealth and power of Legolas and Elrond.”

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Radagast the Brown

If you had any doubts about this year’s Planet Comicon being the biggest and best comic book and pop culture convention in the history of the region, you might not have been paying attention.  With William Shatner, nearly the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lee Majors, Firefly’s Jewel Staite, John Ratzenberger from Cheers and The Empire Strikes Back, Zoie Palmer from Lost Girl, and Walking Dead’s Chad Coleman, plus an onslaught of comic book creators including Neal Adams and James Robinson, you’ve got a busy weekend ahead of you.  But if you need more coaxing to make the drive or flight into Kansas City March 14-16, 2014, here it is.  Sylvester McCoy, the lovable Radagast the Brown from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and Doctor Who’s Seventh Doctor has joined the slate of headliners for this year’s show.

Sylvester McCoy

McCoy is currently in theaters in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as the wizard of the woodland creatures–one of the best realized characters of Peter Jackson’s monumental fantasy trilogy.  He was last seen in the 50th anniversary special The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, along with David Tennant, Peter Davison, Paul McGann, and Colin Baker.  If you missed this one, watch it online here.  McCoy if a very funny guy.

Seventh Doctor

Before that you might have seen the Scottish actor in Doctor Who: The Movie, where he made his last appearance as The Doctor, before getting killed in San Francisco and regenerating into Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, or the mini-series Doctor Who: Death Comes to Time, or one of his many audiobooks for Big Finish Productions.

Sylvester McCoy Planet Comicon

So what are you waiting for?  Get your tickets now and get your Doctor Who and Middle-Earth fix at Planet Comicon 2014.  Get all the details at the con’s website here.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Miss Fury Dynamite Comics

We tried on for size almost every new book that was released from comic book publishers like Dynamite Comics, Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, Archaia/BOOM!, and Image.  We tried to sample the best of all that Marvel and DC Comics had to offer, too, and although we didn’t have enough time to review everything we did try to put out there for your consideration those titles we thought our readers might like to check out, especially those with a sci-fi, fantasy, or retro bent.  Our pull list included issues from Afterlife with Archie to Django Unchained, from Liberator to Larfleezeand from Velvet to The X-Files.  This past month we have reviewed the year-long run of the best of these titles, as we narrowed our selections to 21 of the very best entries in genre entertainment outside of TV and movies, which we revealed here yesterday.  So here are the rest of our picks for the Best of 2013.

Kane Starkiller borg by Mike Mayhew

Best Borg Appearance — Kane Starkiller, The Star Wars.  Borgs showed up everywhere this year, from the lead characters on Almost Human, to Doctor Who, to countless comic book series including Justice League and RoboCop.  Our favorite appearance came from the young mind of George Lucas as he created the original script that would later be edited into the original Star Wars trilogy.  And through Dark Horse Comics’ The Star Wars monthly comic book event we learned one of his best ideas was merged into other roles and one of his best characters entirely cut.   That character was Jedi Kane Starkiller, who would reveal his cyborg chest implants that kept him alive, later to heroically give up this life-saving technology to save his friends.

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Best Comic Book Series — Miss Fury, Dynamite Comics.  A uniquely crafted tale, a compelling and seductive superhero, great action panel after panel, sourced in a long-shelved classic character of the Golden Age of comics.  Rob Williams and Jack Herbert’s Miss Fury is a carefully rendered update that rings true to the edgy spirit of the world’s first female superhero.  Beautiful panels set up an ever-changing time and place and pull readers along for the ride.  And stuck-out-of-time Marla Drake and her alter ego Miss Fury could not have looked better, whether carving out her place in the 1940s or as she was teleported into the future.  It’s a series no one should miss.

Clint Barton Hawkeye by Fraction

Best Comic Book Writing – Matt Fraction, Hawkeye.  Last year revealed one of the best comic book series we ever read, focusing on that “other” superhero archer, the second tier Marvel Comics superhero Hawkeye.  Matt Fraction gave us the most interesting set-up and look into the daily life of a superhero who isn’t Captain America or Iron Man.  This year he kept up the momentum in his Hawkeye monthly series, providing stories that challenged readers, each issue taking a different peek into Clint Barton, another costumed superhero called Hawkeye, and their trusty dog.

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Hobbit book Chronicles from Weta

We have reviewed many incredible books about movies here at borg.com.  Beginning with Special Effects: The History and Technique and its master class in film study to the book on movie posters The Art of Drew Struzan, to the recent Syfy Channel Book of Sci-fi, we have discussed a variety of the very best books on films and filmmaking, but also the best books on specific productions that the market has to offer.  If you missed them, here are links to some of the best books out there:

Each of these books had great content and a great way of sharing it with the reader, making for an immersive experience for the true fan.  And there are even more great books in our review pile, from Raiders of the Lost Ark and even more from Star Wars.  Then we laid our hands on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design, thanks to the folks at Weta.  In my view Weta is the best magic and fantasy shop in the world.  Where we once were dazzled by the spectacles created by Industrial Light and Magic as the coolest, newest cutting edge movie factory, since The Lord of the Rings trilogy ILM has been replaced by the artists, the painters, designers, sculptors, modelers, costumers and builders at Weta studios in New Zealand.  Their elaborate sets, props, costumes, make-up–you name it–in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made for the most incredible fantasy world put on film.  Ever.  So it’s awesome that Weta put together a book that not only highlights The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s wondrous creations, but the actual artists that made it all happen.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design was compiled by Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer.  In itself it has the look and feel of a prop from the film, from its finely tooled cover to its pull-out, glow in the dark Thorin’s map inside the front cover to the three page fold-out of Bilbo’s contract.  It’s the first book in a series to cover different artistic aspects of The Hobbit movies.  Containing 1,000 images of concept art, sketches, a cross-section of the 9,000 paintings created for The Hobbit, props, costumes, hair designs, and sets, it reveals the vision behind the Weta departments that created them.  Unlike any book I have seen before, it has a key code that credits each department, designer, or artist that developed what you see in the photos.  Some of these are tried and discarded face applications and wigs, like this one for the dwarf Oin:

Hobbit chronicles Oin spread

Other pages focus on characters’ props, including pencil designs, paintings, and detail that any cosplayer would love to delve into for his or her favorite character, like these hand props for the dwarf Ori:

Hobbit Chronicles props

Other pages show the elaborate costume designs.  And all include commentary by the artists who came up with concepts and designs.  Production designer and Academy Award winner Dan Hennah sums up why this focus on the artists make so much sense: “Film is a collaborative medium and requires the complete attention of every person involved to find the images that will make the final cut.  Each artist is encouraged to bring their individual vision to the project and work it in with others to make a cohesive part of the big picture…. For a fantasy movie to succeed, it must transport the viewer into a totally believable world where Dwarves, Dragons, Wizards, Elves, Goblins, Orcs, Trolls and hobbits all exist in a seamless mix of complimentary environments.”

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The book begins with views of Hobbiton, which had to be re-created from The Lord of the Rings in exacting detail and fleshed out for expanded use in The Hobbit.  We find Bilbo and his costume designs and concept art for Bag End.  It moves on to Thorin and his band of dwarves in comparison art showing final designs down to each dwarf’s boots.  Dwarf by dwarf we’re given access to trial shots of each dwarf, all used to develop the final look for the film.  Each belt, purse, sword and shield is shown for each character, again, with explanations why one design was chosen over others from Dan Hennah, “3 foot 7″ Costume Designer Ann Maskrey, Academy Award Winners Peter King, and “3 foot 7″ Make-up and Hair Designer and Weta Workshop’s Design and Special Effects Supervisor Richard Taylor.

Hobbit contract in Weta Chronicles

The book then turns to the flashback scenes of historic dwarves, of ancient battles and armor designs.  We get an introduction to Radagast the Brown, the new wizard we meet in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Two chapters turn to environments chosen, from real life cliffs modified digitally for scene use to a revisit to the elf town of Rivendell.  And we get to see up close trolls, stone giants, and goblins, including the thoughts behind the development of the hideous Great Goblin, and a look at the familiar Gollum.

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The book showcases the art of concept art directors Alan Lee and John Howe, and work from the several artists of the film’s “3 foot 7″ Art Department, Costume Department and Weta Workshop–dozens of creative filmmakers who live and work in Wellington, New Zealand.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design  can be purchased from Weta at their website here.  Their second volume, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Creatures and Characters will be published in April 2013 and we will preview it here at borg.com.  It can be pre-ordered now here.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

The Hobbit gets a few but not enough Oscar nominations

In a year where we saw Hollywood market the worst titled movies to us–Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and yes, Silver Linings Playbook, it’s probably no surprise the Oscar nominations were going to be strange this year.  Like always there are really glaring oddities, and after a lot of speculation that we’d see more of the same with the new round of selections, Oscar again fell into its normal traps.

The key problems with the Academy Awards include the marketing barrage that occurs, productions pushing advertising to encourage votes, and even the desire to position the Oscars toward a new, younger audience that becomes evident in more popular than critical nominees.  Over the course of several years of Oscars you see unmistakable patterns that develop and the Academy Awards nominations, if not by design then at least as a result, is its own club that favors past nominees over new entrants.  Same old news this year and more yawns than excitement.  So let’s see what they got right.

Affleck in Argo

Argo for Seven Nominations.  Argo was nominated for seven categories, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing.  So this is all fitting for such a brilliant film.  But no nomination for director Ben Affleck?  You look at his work on Argo compared to the ultimate films up for best director and you really have to shake your head.

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Hobbit still

By C.J. Bunce

Director Peter Jackson could have sat back with his Academy Awards for the brilliant The Lord of the Rings trilogy and relished in what he had done.  Instead he took on the risk of conquering Middle Earth again, and in doing so he did something I’ve never seen anyone do before, make a fourth entry into a major movie franchise that surpassed all prior films.  And that’s a hefty feat considering what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is being compared to.  But in end-to-end storytelling, cinematography, casting, acting, adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source work, spirit and heart, this first installment of The Hobbit trilogy can’t be beat.

Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins presents a Hobbit in goodness on par with Samwise and with a strength of purpose on par with the King of Gondor.  You cannot rave enough about Martin Freeman’s facial expressions and movements as the put-upon Hobbit.  Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield pulls together the best of Faramir and Aragorn, yet his characterization is fully fleshed out in its own right with a brilliantly laid out character arc that took Aragorn three movies to achieve.

Merry band

It is hard to believe that someone can take a band of 13 dwarves and make most of them individually compelling.  You may get lost in Ken Stott’s wise old dwarf Balin and forget he is a dwarf–this wise soul and sturdy character speak loudly throughout the story.  Aidan Turner’s cocky and plucky Kili will make you laugh at every turn in the way we saw Merry and Pippin in the LOTR movies.  And the nature of The Hobbit story targeted as a younger audience vs the themes of The Lord of the Rings books means many more comical moments here, despite a dark and eerie adventure.  Peter Jackson’s film looks so good that he makes it all look so easy.

Ian McKellan’s Gandalf the Grey is back, and you only wish we could see ten more adventures featuring the best wizard ever presented on-screen.  We also meet a friendlier Elrond of the Elves played again by Hugo Weaving.  An “epilogue” featuring Elijah Wood and original Bilbo actor Ian Holm at the movie’s beginning bridges The Hobbit right up to the scene before Frodo first meets up with Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring.  We also meet Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel again.  Although it is likely these LOTR characters were not needed for this movie, it’s a fun reunion for fans of the earlier films, and it also allows us an excuse to see the splendor and hear the sounds of nature at New Zealand’s Hobbiton.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The 3D imaging and cinematography surpass any film to date in pretty much every way.  Where CGI characters in all past sci-fi and fantasy franchises never quite got right the realism of key characters or at best “almost” got it right, you will not see the same odd movements or doubt the believability of these unreal creatures, especially Barry Humphries’ (Dame Edna!?) Great Troll.  And Andy Serkis’s Gollum looks even better than he did before.

Classic scenes from the original novel, like the arrival of the dwarves at Bilbo’s house and the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum are just simply perfect.  Special effects and new film wizardry present too many examples of incredible cinema to list, but even something as simple as feeling like you’re sitting across the table from a bunch of dwarves is better than the effects of most other films.  Then there are other scenes, like the delicate carrying across a canyon of a wounded dwarf by a giant eagle’s talons, that reflect a fillmaking magic act in and of itself.

Balin

Although some may see the beginning half of the movie as slow, the measured pace will be savored by others, and the pace allows you to see every axe swing in each action scene instead of the blurred battles in most recent action movies.  You can also admire the stitches and buttons and armor of the costumes, the excellent crafted props like smartly forged swords and a key to a hidden door, as well as the stunning environments, including a return to the beautiful waterfalls at Rivendell.  The story then propels at a breakneck pace to the end, including overhead scenes of the band of dwarves as they move through mountain passes, and we meet a quirky and noble new wizard named Radagast the Brown played by Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor!) and his speedy team of sled rabbits who lead a mercenary pack of trolls and wolves away from the story’s heroes on their quest.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo

Two singing numbers by the elves are surprisingly good, one upbeat and one not, and the filmmakers use the more somber, reverent tune by the dwarves in a more upbeat version for the film’s end credits–and it’s a great song.

You’ll want to see this first of three installments of The Hobbit again and again.  The only negative:  the next installment, subtitled The Desolation of Smaug, is not out until December 13, 2013.

Paramount Pictures released word this week that it will provide an extended preview of the twelfth entry into the Star Trek film franchise, titled Star Trek Into Darkness, in theaters in December.

Beginning December 14, 2012, a full 9-minute scene will be debut in IMAX 3D as a world premiere release with the eagerly anticipated release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, part 1 of 3 of The Hobbit film trilogy.  The preview is expected to be the opening of the new Star Trek movie continuing the rebooted adventures of the Star Trek crew helmed by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto in 2009’s film by J.J. Abrams.  The preview will be released exclusively in approximately 500 digital IMAX 3D theaters.

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We’ve seen tons of footage and several trailers for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but this is by far Peter Jackson and Warner Brothers’ most grand look yet at Middle Earth.  So much is shown in this trailer that you might want to think twice before seeing it.  With the previews released earlier this year and the behind the scenes footage released from thehobbitblog.com, I feel like I’ve seen a part of every key scene of the film.  Will I see it anyway?  Of course!  But you have to consider at some point it’s time to stop watching previews–to save some awe for the first actual viewing in the theater–and “get on with the release already”.  Still the sweeping vistas, and grand, epic, classic imagery will be enough to whet your appetite for now.

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Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings movie series and the coming movies series base don Tolkien’s The Hobbit, has confirmed that he will be breaking his two films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and The Hobbit: There and Back Again, into three films.

“We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance,” Jackson wrote on his Facebook page.  “So, without further ado and on behalf of New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wingnut Films, and the entire cast and crew of The Hobbit films, I’d like to announce that two films will become three.”

The Desolation of Smaug and Riddles in the Dark, indicating one of the second two films may take on this subtitle.

Fansite TheOneRing.net suggested a third possible subtitle, The Battle of Five Armies may be in consideration.

My guess?  Maybe they’ll follow the Harry Potter final film strategy and simply have The Hobbit: There and Back Again Part One, and The Hobbit: There and Back Again Part Two.  Maybe not if the third film delves into Tolkien stories outside The Hobbit tale.

So here are the release dates for the now three Hobbit films:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters on December 14th, 2012.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again (or revised title) opens in theaters December 13th, 2013.

The Hobbit (unnamed) hits theaters in Summer 2014.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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