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Friday, December 13, 2013 02:12 PM
On the Viewer - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
 by Fëanor

I just saw the second Hobbit movie! I enjoyed it immensely. Gonna drop some spoilers on you below, but come on, the book is pretty old, people.

First of all, Martin Freeman is just fantastic as Bilbo. His performance is funny and subtle and deeply insightful. The Mirkwood sequence, though missing some of the neat details from the book, is still fantastic, with wonderful visualizations of the surreal enchantment on the place. The scene where Bilbo climbs the tree and looks out over the top of the forest was always a memorable one for me in the book, and they handled it well here. And the spiders! So creepy! So cool!

I also really enjoyed all the added scenes with the elves. The movie makes clear that there's a lot of history between the Elven King Thranduil (wonderfully embodied by Lee Pace) and Thorin's people - and lots of history between Thranduil and dragons. There's some fun foreshadowing of Legolas' relationship with Gimli, first in a silly scene between Legolas and Gloin, Gimli's father, but also in the unlikely relationship that springs up between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner). Tauriel's character is a wonderful addition to the story, and it's great to see the dwarves fleshed out as individuals. Ken Stott stands out as the wise and sadly knowing Balin, and I like the brotherly bond between Fili (Dean O'Gorman) and Kili.

Thranduil wants to protect his son and his people from danger and disgrace, but his solution to these problems is to simply lock all the doors and let the people outside fend for themselves - and to coldly tell Tauriel to stay away from his boy because she wouldn't be right for him. But Tauriel sees that there's a world outside that has its own beauty and wonder, and that it's in danger. And she draws Legolas out with her to protect it.

The fight that takes place as the dwarves float down the river in their barrels is ridiculously fun, impressive, and exciting, and is definitely the grand centerpiece of the film. Turns out Bombur is a bad-ass! Not to mention Legolas and Tauriel.

Stephen Fry has a fun little part as the scheming, power-hungry, self-important Master of Lake Town, and Luke Evans is great as Bard - a simple man with legendary origins who just wants to protect his people. I thought it was a little silly that they turned what was originally just an arrow that happened to be colored black into a secret dragon-killing harpoon called the "Black Arrow." But whatever, it works.

Gandalf's subplot is very exciting. He and Radagast investigate some old tombs and find them empty. Oh, and the tombs? There are nine of them. Dun dun DUN! Even more amazing, Gandalf walks into Dol Guldur alone and goes head-to-head with Sauron himself. This I had a bit of a problem with, as I feel like Gandalf would have acted differently during Lord of the Rings if he'd found out years before that the Nazgul were abroad, Sauron was rising, and he had actually personally fought Sauron. (I'm pretty sure in the books, Gandalf mentions at one point that he's never personally faced Sauron, but I could be remembering that wrong.) But it was so cool to see I think I'm generally okay with it.

I also really liked the foreshadowing of the terrible effect the ring will have on Bilbo. In one scene, he almost tells Gandalf about it, but then stops himself at the last moment. Then later, in Mirkwood, he viciously beats a monster to death in order to get the ring back, and then freaks out a little about what he's done. Did I mention that Freeman is fantastic?

Oh and hey, there's also a dragon in this movie. He's pretty great. Benedict Cumberbatch does a fine job on the voice. It was nice of Pete Jackson and friends to make the dwarves much braver and more selfless here than they were in the book, and have them actually have a go at fighting the dragon before he takes off to destroy Lake Town.

Really the only thing about the movie that I found disappointing was the sequence with Beorn. One of my favorite bits of the book is the way Gandalf kind of tricks Beorn into taking them all in. He and Bilbo show up first, and Beorn is cranky about it, but is okay with taking in a couple of people. Then Gandalf starts telling him all about their adventure, and as he does, more and more dwarves keep showing up in ones and twos, interrupting the story. Beorn puts up with it because he wants to hear the rest of the story, and by the time they've all got there, he feels like he has to take them in. It's a clever, funny scene and it's completely missing from the movie. There's also a lot of mystery around Beorn in the book and it's only very slowly that Bilbo works out that he's a skinchanger. In the movie, Gandalf blurts it out as soon as they meet him. And then before you know it, Beorn's gone. It seems like they could have spent a bit more time on recreating this scene as it was in the book, and less time adding in a bunch of crazy running around in Erebor that they made up out of whole cloth.

But I'm just being a cranky old Tolkien fan. Overall, I really enjoyed the movie, and I'm looking forward to the last one. It should be a doozie!
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not)
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Sunday, December 23, 2012 05:01 PM
(Last updated on Thursday, January 3, 2013 01:49 PM)
On the Viewer - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
 by Fëanor

If somebody asks me what my favorite book is, after I hem and haw for a while, I usually end up falling back on The Hobbit. I'm pretty sure it's the book that not only started my love of fantasy, but of books in general. "Formative" isn't even a strong enough word. So yeah, I was going to have to see the movies based on it, even though they're being made by Peter Jackson, whose Lord of the Rings films I can hardly bare to watch anymore because of how much they diverge from the source material.

I'm happy to say, although the first of the three (!) Hobbit films does in some places diverge quite a bit from the source material, I still enjoyed it very much, because it mostly remains true to the characters and the spirit of the original, and because it's just a really entertaining movie that brings to vivid life so many classic moments from a truly classic book.

(I should point out here that, depending on what theater you go to, it's possible to see the film in a bewildering array of formats, but this review is of the regular old 2D version. I hope to see it again in 3D HFR soon, at which time I may add some extra notes about that format.)

One of the things Jackson is able to incorporate here that he mostly had to leave out of Lord of the Rings is the singing. Tolkien puts a lot of poems and songs into his work, and some of the songs in The Hobbit are really wonderful. Of course, it's not always easy to just drop a song into an otherwise rather straightforward fantasy adventure film, but Jackson manages to fit them in so that they flow with the rest of the action very well. I was very glad to see "Chip the glasses and crack the plates" make it into the movie; it's one of the funnier songs, and makes for a very entertaining scene. And the scene where the dwarves sing "Over The Misty Mountains Cold" together is one of the most moving and well done in the film; it sent shivers down my spine. Even the Great Goblin gets to sing a song!

If you ever wondered what Gandalf was up to all those times he ran off in the book, wonder no more! Jackson has filled in all the blanks, using references in the text itself and the end notes of Lord of the Rings as his guide. Also, although the book features only the one wizard, Jackson manages to fit in references to all five of the Istari that Tolkien mentioned in his various novels and notes (even turning the fact that Tolkien never got around to naming the blue wizards into a clever in-joke), and give screen-time to three of them. Yes, not only do Gandalf the Gray and Saruman the White appear, Radagast the Brown gets his own lengthy subplot, involving a sick hedgehog, giant spiders, a rabbit-pulled sled, and the mysterious Necromancer, whose true identity Tolkien fans know well. Radagast (played by Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, no less) is an odd duck. Tolkien doesn't say all that much about him in the books, except that he's a great lover of animals, so Jackson has a lot of room to invent, and invent he does. Giving the guy a bird's nest on his head with bird crap running down the side of his face seemed to be going a bit far to me, but overall Jackson does pretty well with the character. He also puts Radagast at the center of a couple of rather silly drug jokes in the movie, involving pipe weed and mushrooms. (The pipe weed gag is almost unavoidable, but the mushroom one I did not expect.)

As far as the other wizards go, of course, we all know Saruman goes bad eventually, but it seemed a little weird, though also kind of funny, that Gandalf would already be wincing here when he realizes Saruman is in the room with him. I thought at this point they were still buddies?

Splitting the book into three movies, though perhaps a bit excessive, does make it possible for Jackson to include a lot of the really charming details from the book that he might otherwise have had to leave on the cutting room floor. I realized as I was sitting down to watch the film that I was going to be really upset if he didn't include the story of Bilbo's ancestor Bullroarer Took, who thwacked the head off a goblin so hard that it went soaring through the air and down a rabbit hole, thus winning a battle and inventing the game of golf in the same moment. So I was much gratified when Gandalf told that very story early on in the movie.

I also really enjoyed all the references Jackson managed to fit in to the ancient past of Tolkien's world - Angmar and its Witch-King and the hidden city of Gondolin, among other things. I was also really impressed by the visual effects. Even in the short time that's elapsed since the last of the Lord of the Rings films, technology has apparently advanced quite a bit, and the fully computer-generated characters that appear in this movie, like the Great Goblin and Gollum, are just spectacular. Even though Gollum is a warped, twisted, and inhuman creature, his face and body language (to say nothing of his voice) convey a gamut of authentic human emotions with a level of detail and subtlety that is just astounding. Certainly much of the success of the character is due to performer Andy Serkis, but we no doubt also have a bunch of technicians and computer equipment to thank.

Given that the original book was a single story, and had no obvious breakpoints, I was impressed with the way Jackson was able to turn this first film into a whole story in itself, with complete character arcs for Bilbo and Thorin (even if Bilbo changes just a bit too much for my taste). Although not all the dwarves get a lot of screen time, some of them are given a chance to become more deeply realized, individualized characters than they are even in the book. The very end of the film also provides some truly fantastic foreshadowing of what's to come, giving us a quick, terrifying peek at Smaug the Terrible.

(UPDATE: A few things I forgot to mention that are great about the movie - the music, and all the acting, especially Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Freeman didn't seem quite plump enough to me at first, but he's very funny and likable. As for the music, Howard Shore alters and reuses the main themes from his Lord of the Rings soundtracks here to great effect. The music from those movies was one of the greatest things about them so revisiting that sound was a good call.)

Of course, the movie isn't perfect. I would have preferred if the sequence with the trolls had stuck a bit closer to how it happened in the book, although giving Bilbo more of a hand in saving the party does make dramatic sense. And why, after they'd just finished explaining that the swords would glow blue when orcs are near, did they not bother having Orcrist and Glamdring glow blue in the goblin stronghold? I'm hoping that effect gets added for the home video version.

There are also a few added lines of dialog that I feel are a bit lacking in subtlety and could have been cut. But my least favorite change is probably the scene near the end (and this might be a bit of a spoiler, I suppose, so beware) in which Bilbo leaps out in front of an injured Thorin, sword out, to defend him from his enemies, and even wins in a fight with an orc. I see how this makes dramatic sense in the context of the character arc that Jackson has created for Bilbo in the film, but it makes no sense at all in the context of the character of Bilbo as he exists in the book. Even at the very end of the book, during the Battle of the Five Armies, Bilbo never gets into a head-on sword fight with anyone. That's not his way. He's not a fighter. He's the burglar - the quiet, invisible one. It's just not in his nature to go rushing headlong into battle. It's a bit upsetting to see Jackson just completely disregard the essential nature of his main character in this scene. That being said, if I look at the scene separate from the book, and as part of an unrelated movie, the scene actually does work quite well. And overall I feel like Jackson understands the characters well, and has made a fine, entertaining movie about them. Anyway, I'll definitely be back for the sequels.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not)
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Friday, December 23, 2011 12:03 PM
(Last updated on Friday, December 23, 2011 02:20 PM)
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.


UPDATE:
Tagged (?): Alan Moore (Not), Aliens (Not), Animals (Not), Art (Not), Buffy (Not), Children (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Dinosaurs (Not), Game of Thrones (Not), Holiday (Not), LEGO (Not), Links (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Parenting (Not), Products (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Science (Not), Star Wars (Not), The Hobbit (Not), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Not), Tolkien (Not), Toys (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not), Wolverine (Not), Zelda (Not)
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Friday, August 5, 2011 11:16 AM
(Last updated on Friday, August 5, 2011 12:22 PM)
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.


UPDATE:
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Monday, July 18, 2011 02:55 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Art (Not), Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Books (Not), Captain America (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comic books (Not), Craft (Not), LEGO (Not), Links (Not), Movies (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Star Wars (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not), Toys (Not), Video (Not), Wolverine (Not)
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Friday, July 15, 2011 11:25 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Animals (Not), Art (Not), Batman (Not), Clothing (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Godzilla (Not), Harry Potter (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), LOLCats (Not), Mario (Not), Movies (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not)
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Friday, July 8, 2011 09:56 AM
(Last updated on Friday, July 8, 2011 10:33 AM)
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.


UPDATE:
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Friday, June 17, 2011 12:10 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Advertising (Not), Animals (Not), Art (Not), Automobiles (Not), Awards (Not), Books (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Commercials (Not), Craft (Not), Food (Not), Gadgets (Not), Godzilla (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Harry Potter (Not), Kaiju (Not), Links (Not), Lists (Not), Monsters (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Oscars (Not), Phones (Not), Photography (Not), Products (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Song of Ice and Fire (Not), Star Wars (Not), Technology (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not), Twitter (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not), Wolverine (Not), Zelda (Not)
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011 12:44 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

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Friday, April 15, 2011 12:06 PM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Art (Not), Books (Not), Cartoons (Not), Comedy (Not), Facebook (Not), Game of Thrones (Not), Links (Not), Lists (Not), Mashups (Not), Movies (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not), News (Not), Peter Jackson (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Scooby-Doo (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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