There & Back Again: Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit reviewed

Bag End, as used in the Lord of the Rings films.
Bag End, as used in the Lord of the Rings films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Lovers of Middle-earth: welcome home. Peter Jackson’s first instalment of The Hobbit is the next-best thing to a nostalgia trip, other than actually rewatching The Lord of The Rings trilogy.

 

Haters of Middle-earth: The Hobbit isn’t going to make you like it better. So do yourself a favour and maybe wait for Quentin Tarantino’s latest, coming around Christmas.

 

While some people have accused Peter Jackson of ‘cashing-in’ on The Hobbit by stretching it to three films, if you have actually read the book you would know there is actually a wealth of material to be tapped.  Author J.R.R Tolkien after all created quite a detailed world, with some of the swords having more back story than some of the characters in the film.

There are many things alluded to in the book that are never really fleshed out in the LOTR books that came later, but revealing those things would spoil it for those who haven’t read it.

The Hobbit’s vistas and stunning scenery certainly will transport you back to Middle-Earth as it was, though enhanced with 3D magic. It was shot in HFR 48fps 3D but it isn’t necessary to watch it in that format to enjoy it. The 3D does add some element of realism to it, though my personal preference is to view it in IMAX as the wider screen really does help you ‘fall into’ the movie. Be prepared to flinch when flames or projectiles come your way.

Not that fire and debris flying about is a spoiler as this is a fantasy film. What fantasy film is complete without some measure of messy battling happening? The action sequences are fun, fast but somewhat ridiculous. Nothing like the epic march of the Rohirrim in Return of the King or Aragon doing some major swashbuckling in Fellowship of the Ring.

As far as casting goes, Peter Jackson was right in saying Martin Freeman was perfect for the role of Bilbo Baggins, the loveable everyman. Or make that ‘everyhobbit’. His performance is nuanced and subtle; so balanced that you just can’t imagine anyone else who measures out just the right amount of pathos and brevity, whatever the need of a scene.

The best bit of the film is of course when Bilbo meets Gollum: the setup of LOTR. To Jackson’s credit, he adds enough little in-jokes that make The Hobbit a very plausible prequel to the earlier trilogy.

But though The Hobbit is fun, it suffers from the typical Peter Jackson bloat. Too many lingering long shots, extra backstory and extraneous characters (Did we really need Sebastian?) and the film would have benefited from more rigorous editing.

Still, as a friend of mine said, I’m glad to declare The Hobbit is certainly not The Phantom Menace to this generation’s Star Wars. It’s much, much better but the only sad bit is that Jackson settled for an adequate film instead of creating a great one.

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In The Hobbit, lies my hope

When the last LOTR film came out in 2003, I felt both joy and grief. For three years, December had meant a new Lord of the Rings film. The Return of the King, I knew would be the last and possibly best of the LOTR trilogy, and would mean an end to my looking forward to Peter Jackson bringing a world I loved so much to the screen.

Then The Hobbit film rights came up and Peter Jackson said that, no, he wouldn’t be directing it this time.

Hasn’t anyone told you to never say never, Pete?

When he eventually ended up helming the film, I wasn’t surprised. Why bother with a new director, really? I shudder at the thought of anyone else doing it. Jackson understood what so many other Hollywood directors didn’t about the franchise: that the material, really, doesn’t need much mucking with.

(I still haven’t quite forgiven him for what he did with Faramir’s character in the second film and for making the otherwise not-really-all-that-talented Orlando Bloom a star)

The Hobbit is at heart a children’s story. But without The Hobbit, the Lord of The Rings wouldn’t have started. As a “prequel” it has far more heart than the ridiculous Star Wars prequels put together.

I know Tolkien’s often criticised for being moralistic and pushing too much of his agenda into his books. But unlike C.S Lewis’ Narnia series, the overt proselytising doesn’t come across. Gandalf isn’t Jesus, even if he does come back to life after a great sacrifice.

What The Hobbit does try to put across is that even the littlest of people, in the biggest of worlds, can have an impact. Bilbo chose to show mercy to Gollum instead of killing him and in his own way, set the course for the future of Middle Earth.

It’s something that we often forget, in the daily run of our lives, that we can do things that matter in the long run for a bigger reason, for bigger causes than we are.

I expect the next two films to make the next two Decembers worth waiting for.

By Asgard, it’s the Thor movie review!

Chris Hemsworth as Thor as depicted in the upc...
Image via Wikipedia

I saw Thor on the long Labour Day weekend and thought it was a decent film.

My more geeky friends were calling it horrible and panning it as though it was another edition of Scary Movie. If you were expecting another “Iron Man” or “Batman Begins” you will be disappointed but if you want a fun superhero film, then this fits the bill.

As a writer and mythology buff, I was worried about how Thor would turn out. I’d also grown up reading Marvel’s Thor comics as well as watching the animated series and understood that this would be a very hard property to bring to the screen.

Thor, in Marvel’s mythos, is the son of Odin, king of the realm of Asgard which is pretty much Godville – populated by a breed of superhuman or gods, if you like. With his mighty hammer Mjolnir, he defeats evildoers while still having time to make googly-eyes at his mortal love Jane Foster.

Despite my friend Calvin’s disappointment with the film, I think Thor has some brilliant acting, a bar higher than most superhero flicks so far. Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of Odin for instance could easily have become melodramatic or high camp but he bears himself with a suitable gravity. There’s a genuineness to the actors’ portrayals in Thor that is missing from films like the recent Iron Man sequel and the latest X-Men installment.

While I believe the script could have been stronger, as far as the direction goes I hope Brannagh returns for the sequel. The CGI is also perhaps the best I’ve seen this year but it doesn’t overwhelm the film.

I give the film a solid 7.5 of 10. Good fun, stellar acting and very entertaining.

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An opus to love – so fragile, so elusive

There are few things as refreshing to the creative’s soul than to meet a fellow artistic explorer. I met one such kindred spirit in Edmund Yeo, also known as The Great Swifty. Last year, he made a series of short films which all won awards – testament to his talent and ingenuity.

An ex-colleague of mine was rather disdainful about Edmund, saying that he thought far too highly of himself.

He obviously didn’t get Edmund at all. He’s a funny soul, who is often misunderstood. If only they could see past the hilarious fascetiousness on his blog and see the sensitive soul with a gift and love for narrative.

Doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally want to smack him. But anyway, the whole point of this blogpost is not to pimp him out but to review Kingyo, my favourite of all the shorts he made last year.

Edmund is studying film in Japan right now and worked on an adaptation of Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata’s 1924 short story, Canaries.

Kingyo doesn’t mean ‘canaries’ in Japan, mind you, but goldfish. There’s a funny story behind that. He sent me the treatment and initial script for the film. I liked it but when it came to a bit where poor canaries would be subjected to some not-very-nice things, I protested.

(No spoilers, I promise)

“Do you really want to _____ the poor canaries?” I said.

“Hmm.”

So he substituted goldfish instead.

On with the review. Kingyo is a love story of sorts, of two ex-lovers who meet in Tokyo. One is a middle-aged university professor, another his former student who is working part-time as an Akihabara maid. For those unfamiliar with Japanese culture, Akihibara maids aren’t real maids – they just dress up like one to please their customers who get a kick out of going around town with a hot chick in a maid outfit.

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Edmund got rather experimental using a split-screen technique throughout the film. It was murder to edit, he told me, but the end result was worth it.

The split-screens became a metaphor of the former lovers – to be so close and yet so far. To be together and yet not together. The separation and distance between them they could not bridge.

Another theme that runs through the play is how sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until it is lost to you forever. Kingyo is a bittersweet tale of love found and love lost. Bittersweet, poetic and very tastefully done.

Kingyo was shown at the Venice film festival to a very appreciative audience. You can also read another review of Kingyo here.

What I like about Edmund as a filmmaker is his love for narrative. He’s very much about story and not so much the arty-farty filmmaker who prefer to give audiences a headache as opposed to entertaining them or telling a story. The latter kind always piss me off.

His talent will definitely see him through in the next few years and the next short he’s coming up with is rather dark, but if it’s anywhere as good as his last films, I can hardly wait.

Kingyo’s a film I heartily recommend and though it’s short, it leaves quite the impression.

It got me a little depressed thinking about love. Must we only appreciate something once it’s lost to us forever? Why must someone walk away before you realise the space he/she leaves behind is so hard to fill?

I think perhaps some people commit suicide because they know that they’ll never be thought about as much, appreciated or loved when they’re alive as much as when they’re dead.

Which is such a tragic shame.

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Everything you Wanted in a summer flick

AngelinajoliewantedmovieNasty. Harder than steel, colder than a glacier, cooler than you. Angelina Jolie is in fine form in my favourite summer movie this year, WALL-E be damned. (Because by the time WALL-E plays in Malaysia, it won’t be summer anymore)

The film’s everything I thought it could be. Loud, fast, brash. But I loved it. I f-ing loved it so much every cuss word in my vocabulary wanted to come out and play.

James McAvoy is darling and pretty convincing as the downtrodden everyman, who suddenly gets the chance to play hero.Morgan Freeman, though, hardly has to do anything. His ‘wise mentor’ role is something he’s done so often, he could probably sleepwalk through the film and no one would notice.

The director,Timur Bekmambetov, was an inspired choice for a film that could have ended up a Pearl Harbour-like disaster under someone like Michael Bay. OK, Bay did manage not to screw up Transformers too much but Timur makes Wanted such a stylish tour de force that you’ll forget about the plotholes that would ordinarily sink a film like this.

A lot of people are quoting the line "What the f-k have you done lately?" Nice. I should get that tattooed somewhere on my body, to cheer me up when I’m in a self-doubting mess.

But how do you manage to acknowledge your own self-worth, capabilities and achievements while at the same time, try to be humble and not be a pompous arse?

Maybe it’s by getting back down to earth and remembering – all I have, was given. That despite my self-destructive youth and former desire to burn myself out of existence, I’ve been blessed.

Lesson learned after all my self-doubt and recrimination:

I might not deserve all that I’m given; I might not achieve all I could be but I can be grateful.

But I can work, all the days of my life, to make the most of everything I have and am.

And also remember…that other people aren’t necessarily motivated to be the best they can be. That if someone doesn’t make much of his gifts, it’s his choice, not mine. That I shouldn’t presume to judge when someone prefers not to be ambitious. That the most important thing isn’t that other people give of themselves, but that I do. All the days of my life.