The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ryan Gage, Billy Connolly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Sylvester McCoy, Stephen Fry, Manu Bennett, John Tui

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: The highest of high.

fourstar


The Hobbit, as a whole, is hands down one of the most entertaining fantasy films out there, and The Battle of the Five Armies is perhaps the most entertaining piece of the trilogy. The idea that the films are bloated and stretched too thin remains somewhat incomprehensible to me. I can understand if you think the Tauriel/Kili love story is unnecessary — because it totally is — but it also allows for elves to hang around and do a bunch of slick elf stuff, so I don’t really see a problem. In any case, the richness that three films brings to this adaptation is exceptional. I can’t even imagine a one-film version, or even two films. If that was the case, so many of my favorite “unnecessary” moments would be left unseen.

This film picks up immediately after the events in Desolation of Smaug, as Smaug flies towards Laketown to burn it a new one. This is one hell of a thrilling opening, and it whets the appetite for what’s to come… basically two solid hours absolutely bursting at the seems with thrills. I can’t really think of a film quite like it. It’s nothing like either of the previous Hobbit films because the adventure the party set out on is essentially complete. The dragon has been slain, Erebor has been re-taken, what’s left but to dive headfirst into the gold like an unkempt, bearded Scrooge McDuck? Apparently a lot! The Battle of the Five Armies is also nothing like the Lord of the Rings films, so don’t expect anything with the weight of Return of the King just because this is the third film of a trilogy. The Hobbit is and always will be a lighter tale that happens before everything in Middle Earth went to hell in a handbasket, so it’s just wrong to expect it to hit the same way as Lord of the Rings.

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I’m on a Podcast — LAMBcast #249: The Hobbit Trilogy

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It’s that time again! Yesterday, I made my 2nd appearance on the LAMBcast, this time to take about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films. They’re near and dear to my heart, but it always seems like everyone else is less forgiving of them, so I went in ready to defend them. Turns out I didn’t really need to, as everyone on the show actually likes the series. Imagine that! I guess they wouldn’t have signed up for the show if they hated the films, but you never know. I’ll have a written review up as soon as I can get it done. Maybe later today or tomorrow. Anyway, give the pod a listen and enjoy!

If you want to do that, I’ve embedded it below! If you wanna subscribe to the show or listen on a portable device you can head to iTunes, or PodOmatic (and for convenience’s sake those links will take you right to the respective LAMBcast page on each service). And don’t forget to subscribe to the show if you like it!

As always, I love feedback, so if you listen to the show let me know what you think! Thanks for listening!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Hobbit2_1Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Manu Bennett, Lawrence Makoare

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: The highest of high.

threehalfstar


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is both better and worse than its predecessor. While An Unexpected Journey focused on Bilbo and his character arc, The Desolation of Smaug is more about the action and the adventurous journey. Even though we find ourselves exploring previously unseen regions of Middle Earth, there isn’t the same sense of wonder draped over The Desolation of Smaug. We’re no longer just seeing this world through Bilbo’s eyes, and while this leads to some incredible set-pieces and a lot of fun, without the wonder it’s much harder to be dazzled by this film in the same way.

But like how An Unexpected Journey did not dazzle in exactly the same way as Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings films, The Desolation of Smaug is its own beast and should be allowed to flourish in its own way. And it does. Rather well, actually. This is a much darker, almost purely adventure section of the journey, which the film’s muted color palette helps to convey, but coincidentally this is also Jackson’s funniest Middle Earth film. Well… as long as you are on-board with Jackson’s dark sense of humor, where the biggest chuckles come from creative decapitations and other grisly treats. (Is this a record for decapitations in a PG-13 movie? I should think so.)

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King Kong (2005)

kingkong_4Starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan, John Sumner, Craig Hall, Kyle Chandler

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: Surprisingly low. I feel like I just watched this, even though it was like five years ago.

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You know the story of King Kong; there’s no need to recap it. It’s a story so firmly entrenched in the American psyche that I feel like infants only just born could give a fairly good pantomime version of the tragedy. So for this review, I’d like to do something different and focus on the quote that ends both the 1933 original and Peter Jackson’s remake (and probably the 1976 remake also, but I haven’t seen that since I was a kid). The famous quote is, of course, “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

Ever since I was a kid this line has bothered me. It seemed to resonate with the adults around me, but my young mind just didn’t get it. Clearly the girl didn’t do anything to kill King Kong, so why was she getting blamed? Even in 2005, when I saw Jackson’s version in the theater, I thought largely the same thing. As an adult, I can see that the desired intent is probably to convey that a woman who tries to tame the one she loves will ultimately kill that which she loves about him. Nevermind that she doesn’t actually do any killing, but under this logic she dooms Kong to his fate, and thus beauty “killed” the beast. You could also read it oppositely, that Kong became infatuated with possessing the beautiful girl and thus killed himself by allowing the beauty into his heart. While these explanations might ring true for some relationships, I refuse to accept this as the point of the story, especially in Jackson’s remake.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

returnoftheking_1Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, John Noble, Bernard Hill, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, David Wenham, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Paul Norell, Lawrence Makoare, Sarah McLeod

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High. I love this.

fourstar


Can I give this one five stars? It took 10 years and more than a few re-watches, but I have finally come around on this one. Don’t get me wrong, I always loved the film, but I also always thought it was the weakest of the trilogy. This time I was struck by how powerful a film Return of the King is, and how well it brings everything set forth in the previous films together. But what this recent change of heart proves to me is that there is no truly standout film from the others. They are all interdependent and equal in their greatness, and I will most likely shift allegiances between the three throughout my lifetime.

Opening with Gollum’s backstory provides us with a glimpse of how he became the creature we’re familiar with, and it also allows the film to open in the quiet green of the Hobbit lands. The Two Towers ends with a lengthy battle sequence at night, finishing a film that contains trial after trial for our fellowship. So to begin the next film in a peaceful, happy place (if only for a few moments) is surprising and brilliant. It reminds us a bit of what the hobbits are fighting for, and shows us the depths of despair, all within that first scene. It also skillfully leads us right back into the thick of things where we can finally reckon with the one ring and finish the journey once and for all.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

2002-lord_of_the_rings_the_two_towers-3Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Bernard Hill, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Brad Dourif, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, David Wenham, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Parker

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High. I love this.

fourstar


While Fellowship of the Ring is an excellent opening to the trilogy, The Two Towers has my vote for the best of the bunch. It’s fun to see the Fellowship come together and venture through snowy mountains and deep, dark mines, but once they split and begin their own adventures, the real journey begins. The hopefulness of newfound friends was only a respite from the coming storm of war and villainy, and here in The Two Towers Peter Jackson fully unleashes that force upon viewers. As clichéd as it sounds, this makes The Two Towers the “dark middle” of the trilogy, but eh, what’s a good trilogy if it doesn’t have a dark middle chapter? We have to despair before we can triumph.

I lamented a bit in my review of Fellowship of the Ring that no one had continued the charge with the fantasy film genre, but honestly, after re-watching The Two Towers, I think it’s because no one is confident enough to try to top what Jackson accomplished here. Similar to how I think Jackson is reluctant to return to the splatter genre after Dead Alive — it’s better to drop the mic and walk away than to continue pureeing the dead horse with the lawnmower (so to speak). Imagine you’re a director trying to mount a fantasy epic. Jackson was going up against years of fairly lackluster high fantasy filmmaking, but anyone trying now is going up directly against Jackson. Hell, even uber fanboy Guillermo del Toro couldn’t get The Hobbit going, the studios only resolved their legal issues with the rights when Jackson relented and agreed to make the films.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

the-lord-of-the-rings-fellowship-of-the-ringsStarring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High. I love this.

fourstar


The Lord of the Rings films are the high-water mark for modern fantasy filmmaking. Even now, 12 years on from its initial release, nothing has come close to capturing a world filled with elves, dwarves and magic quite like Peter Jackson did with his adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien work. When I first saw this film back in 2001, I remember thinking that Jackson had opened the floodgates for the studios to green-light tons of thrilling high fantasy screen adventures, similar to how X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man were the jumping off point for the modern explosion of superhero films around the same time.

But someone must have stood at those open gates and yelled, “You shall not pass!” because it never happened. The teen fantasy genre definitely caught fire, but that’s probably more a result of Harry Potter than anything Lord of the Rings did. My only real guess as to why this cinema revolution never happened is that from a production standpoint, the enterprise of producing Lord of the Rings was insane. Green-lighting a genre director with no mainstream hits to adapt one of the most well-known books of all-time, filming an entire trilogy simultaneously with no guarantee that they’ll make even a shred of their budget back at the box office? Those aren’t the kinds of risks that studios like to play with, thus keeping the high fantasy film revolution at bay.

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