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Tag Archive: JRR Tolkien


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Review by Art Schmidt

Peter Jackson’s final installment of his screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit is a breathtaking piece of film which aspires to the almost insurmountable heights that his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King achieved.  The goal is a worthy, if almost unrealistic one, and Jackson spares no expense in trying to soar to those heights where he took us ten years ago.

I’m of two minds about this movie, and have been struggling to combine them into a single piece for you, our faithful readers.  But like Jackson with this trilogy, I am not quite up to the task.  And so, like Jackson, I will split something that should be in a single piece into multiple pieces, and although I am aware that they will likely not equal the sum of what a whole, single review should, I will try nonetheless because I have too much to say on the subject and am utterly unable to edit myself.  Much like a certain director we all know and admire.

Review by a fan of fantasy cinema

The Battle of the Five Armies is a really good film.  Is it great?  Well, that will be up to each viewer, honestly.  It is big and bold, and gives good screen time to the multitude of characters we have come to know over the course of the last two films in the trilogy.  The movie opens where the previous film left off, a different approach from other films in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, which tended to open with flashbacks or clever recaps to bring the viewer back into the world of Middle-earth which may have faded slightly since the previous film.  Not so here, as the audience is plunged directly into the story right where we exited it last year.

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The dragon Smaug, scary and crazy in the second Hobbit film which bears his name, is magnificently rendered and feels vibrantly alive in the dark theater, the screen aglow with dragonfire and the air electric with his howls of rage and vengeance.  Benedict Cumberbatch captures the right amount of menace and vanity, bringing the drake alive in ways that superb CGI just could not do on its own.  The poor people of Laketown would surely stand in awe of Jackson’s creation if they were not fleeing for their very lives before it.

Martin Freeman knows how to play the everyman, which is essentially what Bilbo Baggins represents.  An everyday man who is snatched up from his comfortable if boring life and thrown headlong into the exciting, unpredictable and oft-times dangerous unknown.  His subtlety and good humor shine through his portrayal of the Hobbit and it is to Freeman’s credit that he can simultaneously stand up to the chiefest and greatest of calamities and also stand up for himself to Thorin, pointing out the sickness that everyone else can see but dare not mention.  The dwarves are also a humorous, entertaining lot, but far too much time would be required to provide the multitude of them a lot of individuality or backstory.  The few who are selected for the spotlight are well worth the time.  Lee Pace, Richard Armitage and Luke Evans play three leaders of different races whose loyalties lie to their people but with widely different styles and personalities.  As with the previous films, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and even Christopher Lee as Saruman himself all put in appearances, though not in a way most might expect!

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Armitage as Thorin

At last we get to see a few moments of Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins facing off against the dragon named Smaug (that’s pronounced “smOWg” not “smog,” per Bilbo) in the full-length trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, part two of the three-part epic movies series that began last winter with the brilliant The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Even better, we get to hear Benedict Cumberbatch’s chilling, dragon-toothed lines as he seeks out Bilbo in his lair.

Surprisingly, we see a lot of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas opposite newcomer Lost’s Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in this trailer–likely indicating the elves will play a large role in Peter Jackson’s expanded vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel.  Another newcomer, Luke Evans, who plays Laketown human Bard the Bowman, also looks to be a key character.

Mountain Dwarf

Richard Armitage is back as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, along with Ian McKellen as Gandalf.  Wonderfalls’ Lee Pace returns as Elvenking Thranduil and Ken Stott as elder dwarf Balin.  The nasty Orc Azog is back, too, played again by Manu Bennett, who we met as Slade Wilson in CW’s Arrow TV series this year.

Check out this great trailer for The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug:

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Alice in Wonderland cover

Fans of classic fantasy and manga will be interested in a new adaptation of Alice in Wonderland by Filipino comics creator, writer and illustrator Rod Espinosa.  The new hardcover edition from Dark Horse Comics collects Espinosa’s four-issue series from 2006 in a nicely designed storybook form and is scheduled for release January 30, 2013.

So how close does Espinosa get to the original Lewis Carroll work, considering it is not a complete word-for-word adaptation and it reveals the story in manga form?

Espinosa Alice interior page

Espinosa’s take on Alice–adapting both story and art–approaches the realm of picture books, revealing a possible entry point to Alice for little kids.  If you’re not outright reading the original work to a kid not old enough to read, and the kid needs pictures to hold his/her interest (as Alice herself does) and he/she holds a fondness for manga or anime, this may be tailor-made for you.  And as book design goes this volume is right up there with several well-done Archaia Publishing books–known for their nice presentations–such as David Petersen’s Mouse Guard series and Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl.

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It is likely that no filmmaker today shares more with his fans than Peter Jackson.  And there may be no fan base more loyal and appreciative than fans of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and its coming two-part production of The Hobbit.  Instead of waiting for the DVD release Jackson has been releasing early looks at the filmmaking process at thehobbitblog.com.  Now halfway through production of the two films–The Hobbit–An Unexpected Journey, due at year-end, and The Hobbit–There and Back Again, due out in 2013–Jackson & Co. have crisscrossed New Zealand with two film crews, re-creating locations from the LOTR trilogy and filming in newly selected places, too.

Jackson has released six production videos, but the last two, including production video #6, released last week, immerse the viewer into the unreal, impossibly beautiful landscapes of mountains and snow-cover, rain, and the brightest greens found anywhere on the real Earth.  But beware, before watching the two on-location documentaries, you may decide to sell everything for plane tickets and a permanent move to New Zealand.

Beyond the first four documentaries, the two on-location productions are 12 minutes in length each, and despite Jackson stating  that he can’t show us much, we get to see Martin Freeman in costume as Bilbo Baggins discussing film locations, Ian McKellen (Gandalf) chatting up New Zealand, as well as a whole swarm of new actors of Middle Earth playing dwarves.  The vistas and villages almost make this documentary stand by itself as a mini-vacation.

The highlight of production video #5–the first on-location documentary–is Elijah Wood returning as Frodo Baggins at age 30 to Hobbiton–11 years after he first played Frodo at age 19.  The village of Matamata has been rebuilt since the LOTR films as a permanent encampment by the production for tourists to visit for years to come.

The new production video #6 shows ad hoc interviews with the new dwarf crew, as well as the second unit director, Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the LOTR films.  The production zigzags from town to town, with plenty of aerial shots showing the real locations and where they will end up in Middle Earth.

The 24 minutes of footage, along with soundtrack, has the feel of a travelogue of a national park like Yellowstone.  The humor of the crew and Raiders of the Lost Ark “travel by map” shots across the north and south islands of New Zealand also play better than the average DVD extra footage–something like Bruce Brown’s Australian film Endless Summer a free-wheeling surfing documentary classic from 1966.  Just like Endless Summer showed surfers traveling the world, the incredible opposites of grand landscapes of New Zealand reveal a world’s worth of differing ecology, geography, and seasons, that make New Zealand truly seem like a different world.  And the new actors give us a peek at how funny the new characters will be.

Here is the first on location documentary (production video #5):

And here is the new on location film (production video #6):

The earlier released production videos are available at thehobbitblog.com.

These video releases are fun and sure to whet the appetites of Tolkien fans until the December release, with more videos expected before then.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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