The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies review

So this should be, in theory, the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s middle earth double trilogy extravaganza. In some ways I’m relieved. Instead of The Battle of the Five Armies maybe this should have been called Elves v Orcs: The Final Smackdown, although as events happen before The Lord of the Rings it’s not really a final anything.

HBT3-fs-346534.DNG

The title gives away all you need to know. Following events of the last film where Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves – led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) – managed to wind up the dragon Smaug, who then took off to torch the nearby Laketown, home to the manly Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), we pick things up mid action where the dragon is wreaking havoc.

Bard does his thing with a bow, some elves pile in to help and the dwarves, realising the dragon (spoiler!) is dead, retreat into the mountain to claim the gold for themselves. We then end up in a sort of Middle Earth Mexican standoff, with elves and laketown men outside the mountain demanding the dwarves give up some of the booty. At the same time Sauron is on the rise (initially as a necromancer hellbent on keeping Gandalf locked in some sort of birdcage) and so he sends orcs and trolls and other beasties to claim the mountain for its strategic value.

Thorin-Oakenshield-the-hobbit-battlee-of-the-five-armies

With this (hopefully) being the final outing of Middle Earth, you can see Peter Jackson and the gang have put a lot of love into the making of this film and they really don’t want to let this world go. Yet go it must. And with the final film being basically an epic battle, the challenge was to ensure the audience can find a way in – if it’s just elves and dwarves smashing into orcs then we’ll have moved too much into Michael Bay territory, which no one wants to do.

The key to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was that, at every step of the way, you really cared about each and every one of the characters. They got lots of screen time to develop, so that when they got into battle situations you wanted them to make it. I am not sure the same can be said as much for The Hobbit trilogy, particularly this final film. As ever, Bilbo is our way in and the story is (mostly) told from his point of view. With so much going on in terms of dragons, battles and so on, he gets a little lost, in the same way he did in the preceding film, The Desolation of Smaug.

battle-of-the-five-armies

Granted, he gets a few good moments, but it almost seems (despite the film being the third in a bloated trilogy) that he doesn’t get the time on screen we’d like him to have. Also, Jackson doesn’t tug on our heart strings in anywhere near the same way he did for the Rings films. Perhaps it’s just the nature of this type of story. It’s a journey to a mountain, a face off with a dragon, then a big battle. And that is that.

In order to inject a bit more emotion for the audience Jackson introduced a female elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) in the last film. She got a bit of a love story with the best-looking dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), and that was further developed this time round. Book purists will probably sneer at this, but I honestly didn’t mind it. She was a good addition as a character and helped give the audience an emotional outlet – as Tauriel’s chemistry with Kili felt genuine, unforced and refreshing in an otherwise testosterone laden environment.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Throughout the five armies battle (dwarves, elves, men, orcs and, er, bats and eagles possibly?), the most interesting battles were the one on one contests, as we can relate to them. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) gets his fair share, as do a few of the dwarves and elves, leaving the best one to Thorin, facing off against what can only be described as a giant orc with anger management issues.

Originally this story was written as a children’s book, an adventurous romp with perhaps a few scary bits, but overall something that was designed to entertain. I think perhaps, in order for Jackson to tie up the two trilogies, he’s moved the tone quite quickly from adventure to something altogether darker and more brooding. There’s a few moments where the playful exuberance you’d have hoped he would bring to it comes out (the barrels down the river sequence in the second film springs to mind), yet these are occur less and less as the trilogy wears on.

hobbit-battle-five-armies-gandalf-galadriel

There’s basically no fun to be had in this final film at all. You could say it’s a big battle so that’s to be expected, but just the odd line or two to lighten to mood wouldn’t have gone amiss. Jackson managed this perfectly well in the Rings trilogy, why not here too?

Ultimately, there’s some inventive moments to this film (Thorin’s descent into madness is quite well handled for example), yet it half collapses under its own seriousness. And you get the sense that the filmmakers are so sad that they’ll no longer be making these movies anymore, their sadness seeped through into the film’s overall tone – which made for a slightly depressing ending in a way.

Cate Blanchett – modern day screen goddess

blanchett galadrielA few days after seeing the latest in the Middle Earth saga, The Hobbit, I realised a particular scene involving Blanchett had burrowed its way firmly into my subconscious.

Taking place in Rivendell, it focused on a tender moment between Gandalf and Galadriel, as they discussed the rise of a potential necromancer.

As it had been quite a few years since the LOTR trilogy I’d half forgotten how ethereal and captivating Blanchett had made Galadriel. Few actresses could have portrayed the elven queen the way she did.

This got me thinking of other characters she’s played that have had a similar impact on my subconscious, albeit for various different reasons. Galadriel aside, here’s my list:

Katharine Hepburn – The Aviator (2004)

Playing such an iconic individual was never going to be easy. Blanchett, though, made it look effortless, with a captivating and compelling performance. She clearly revelled in the part too, adding layers to Hepburn that delighted and surprised in every scene. So much so, that the results deservedly won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

life aquatic cate blanchettJane Winslett-RichardsonThe Life Aquatic (2004)

Securing a part originally written for Kate Winslet, hence the character’s name, she played a reporter who draws both the affections of Owen Wilson’s Ned and Bill Murray’s Zissou.
Her character’s relationship with Ned was wonderfully sweet and affecting and gave the film a lot of heart.

Irina SpalkoIndiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Granted her character is a one-size-fits-all, clichéd Russian baddie, but this type of adventure action movie is a guilty pleasure, so surely that’s the point? That said, in a role that could’ve been one-dimensional, Blanchett gave Spalko depth and intensity. Her climactic ‘I vant to know’ scene cemented a place on this list.

marissa weigler cate blanchett hannaMarissa WeiglerHanna (2011)

Directed by Joe Wright, this dark, intelligent, fairy tale-esque action film played like a Brothers Grimm version of a Bourne film. Or a thinking person’s Kick-Ass. Here, Blanchett played an immoral and ruthless CIA agent, bent on chasing down Saoirse Ronan’s teen assassin Hanna. Another over-the-top villain? Possibly, but still a great performance.

Daisy FullerThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

To say this film divided people is an understatement. From two reviews I read earlier – both well-respected critics – one gave it one star and one gave it five. Love or hate the story, it’s difficult to fault Blanchett’s beautifully nuanced performance, as the love interest to Brad Pitt’s increasingly youthful Benjamin Button.

There and back again – Martin Freeman’s tale

the hobbitI recently heard – well, a few weeks ago – that The Hobbit would not be a single film, but a trilogy. Apparently the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy will be drip-fed to us Middle Earth fans in three instalments. The first, An Unexpected Journey, is out this year. Secondly, The Desolation of Smaug, is out in 2013. Finally, the third instalment, There and Back Again, is out 2014. That should keep fans busy at least.

In some ways this decision – presumably by Warner Bros – is both good and bad. There’s more than enough material in Tolkien’s world for a trilogy to happen. The cause for concern is that it was announced after filming. At least that’s how I understand it. So it’s essentially getting turned into three films in post production.

Some say this is a bad thing, an afterthought, a chance to cash in. Perhaps it is, however there is no need to fret little Tolkinites and Tolkinistas, it’s Peter Jackson. He knows what he’s doing. In case we need reminding, let’s just watch the trailer for the upcoming film below.

Something that’s had nearly 20 million hits and over 100,000 likes suggests that, whilst expectation is huge, this film will be truly epic. I’m quite excited at the thought of another trip back to Jackson’s Middle Earth – whether that’s as a single film, a double whammy, or a trilogy.

Anyway, this post so far has literally been my ramblings as usual. What I wanted to discuss was Mr Martin Freeman aka Bilbo Baggins – that tricksy hobbit!

Peter Jackson aside, a massive reason for my excitement about this film is his casting. I’m SO glad they chose him. It’s been discussed before by others the reasons he got this part – his comic timing, everyman qualities, the awkward, hesitant nature he instils into characters. Don’t believe me? I’ve compiled some of his best moments for your enjoyment.

  1. Tim kisses Dawn – The Office
    I’m not talking about their proper kiss where he finally wins her over. No, in this instance – in relation to why he’s going to be a great Bilbo – I mean the moment where he first kisses Dawn. Awkward, tender and sweet.
  2. Arthur’s factory trip – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    The sense of wild-eyed and innocent wonderment he shows here suggests he’ll be a great Bilbo, in terms of giving the character that sense of adventure.
  3. Dr Watson – Sherlock
    In case you were concerned he doesn’t have the emotional depth to play Bilbo, watch this scene in BBC’s Sherlock.  He won a BAFTA last year for his portrayal of this character.
  4. John gets his kiss – Love Actually
    Putting Martin Freeman and Joanna Page (Stacey from Gavin &  Stacey) together for this film was pure casting genius. Both totally sweet and adorable. You end up pulling a big, stupid grin when they kiss for the first time.
  5. Tim gets rejected – The Office
    I probably shouldn’t just make this a list of his top moments from The Office, but I had to include one more. The moment where Dawn rejects him is hard to watch. You wish you could save him the embarrassment.

We’ll just have to hang on until the first Hobbit instalment is out this December. I feel I should leave you with some sort of fantastic sign off. So, in the words of Looney Tunes, that’s all folks!

Andy Serkis and the case for motion capture

Ok, ok, I know it’s been done, but I want to present my case for the use of motion capture. I suppose the reason for this is I recently saw two films which I felt, really help its case: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Adventures of Tin Tin: Secret of the Unicorn. Both good.

The case for: Andy Serkis
Simple as that. If it wasn’t for Mr Serkis and his excellent work we’d quite possibly never have had the following characters: Gollum (Lord of the Rings), Kong (King Kong), Captain Haddock (Tin Tin), Caesar (Planet of the Apes).

Now perhaps another actor could have stepped into the void, but sometimes it just takes a unique individual to achieve the type of performances he achieved.

I’ve read articles where Serkis has spoken about how other actors he’s spoken to in the past thought that what he did was voiceover, like animation. You speak into a microphone with no movement – at least none that gets recorded, then the ape or whatever it may be gets animated in afterwards. These are big A-list actors that thought this way.

Admittedly this was a few years ago, perhaps perceptions have changed. Although if you take IMDb for example, it shows his credit on the first Lord of the Rings as ‘Gollum (voice)’, which goes to show there’s still a way to go. Or maybe IMDb just need to update their website.

It’s also worth noting that motion capture is different to live actors on a digital background, think Sin City or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

angelina jolie beowulfThe case against: dead eyes
The two biggest problems in the early days have been summed up well in this article, which argues that Tin Tin is the last shot for motion capture. It argues the two main issues were a) dead eyes and b) making the world feel believable, especially how the characters move.

For me, films like The Polar Express (2004), King Kong (2005) and Beowulf (2007) laid the foundations for what followed. They could not have been expected to get it right first time.

King Kong at the time seemed an impressive stride forward. It didn’t have to be as intimate as Beowulf, which was hit and miss in terms of drawing you into a believable world. Angelina Jolie was relatively easy to capture, because she’s beautiful. Ray Winstone as a fit, young warrior, not so much.

The blue revolution
Avatar (2009) pushed things forward. The Director, James Cameron, went to great lengths to achieve realistic movements of the actors, including showing us the emotion contained in their eyes. Considering Avatar came out just two years after Beowulf, this was a phenomenal achievement.

Yet even Avatar wasn’t as intimate as say, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). In terms of realistic movement and the range of emotion in the ape Caesar’s eyes, it was truly impressive. Serkis popping up yet again.

tin tin andy serkisThen what we had were two giants of modern cinema and storytelling come together – Spielberg and Jackson – to give us the next step, Tin Tin (2011). Initially, within the first five minutes of watching this film, I was unsure. It seemed quite glossy to me. Then I realised that wasn’t an error, it was how they had designed Tin Tin’s world.

After that, I was lost in a good way! The story was classic Spielberg, a standout character, perhaps, was Snowy the dog. Although Serkis (again!) as Captain Haddock gave a captivating performance. Watch his eyes when memories about his past begin to resurface.

The furry revolution
So after apes, blue creatures and comic-book Belgian detectives, next came a teddy bear, Ted (2012). Again, pushing motion capture further than before. Seth Macfarlane voiced and performed. Not only does the bear seem to ‘fit’ into the real world perfectly, but it’s also the first time motion capture has been used in a comedy film. A critically well received comedy film too.

Again, like with all technology – particularly 3D in the last few years – we’re bound to get a lot of studios and Directors jumping on the bandwagon, churning out any old rubbish. For now, we’re mostly getting decent, solid stories (Tin Tin) and exciting action (Planet of the Apes), and now comedy (Ted).

So the future of motion capture is looking bright. As Andy Serkis describes it, ‘photography didn’t replace painting, it’s just another medium’.

Let’s finish with the adult trailer for Ted (you have to log in to You Tube to view this one, worth it though). Love Wahlberg’s quick-fire delivery of a list of white trash female names. Nothing to do with motion capture, just funny.

Who are the top 20 most intense actors of recent times?

charlie bronson

I do like an intense character and performance when I’m watching a film. Someone who literally rivets and welds you to the screen, look away at your peril. Some people probably like their films bright and breezy. I don’t mind those too, but there’s something about intensity that leaves a lasting impression. You remember those performances.

As such I thought I’d offer a couple of lists of actors and actresses that have had me mesmerised, entranced and – at times – a little frightened. I’ve most likely left off a lot of vintage performances and characters, but this is MY list so I’m allowed. Let me know your thoughts. Who would you have liked to have seen included?

In these lists I’ve put links to clips from some performances you might not have seen before, or maybe just want to revisit. Remember though, best not watch alone though, these lot are intense!

The guys

  1. charlie bronsonDaniel Day Lewis (Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting, Gangs of New York; Daniel Plainview, There will be Blood)
  2. Heath Ledger (The Joker, The Dark Knight)
  3. Tom Hardy (Charles Bronson, Bronson)
  4. Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman, American Psycho; Batman, The Batman Trilogy)
  5. Kevin Spacey (John Doe, Seven)
  6. Christopher Walken (Vicenzo Carcotti, True Romance; Frank White, King of New York)
  7. Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men)
  8. Christopher Waltz (Col. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds)
  9. Vincent Cassel (Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine)
  10. Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills, Taken)
  11. Jeremy Renner (Sergeant William James, The Hurt Locker; Jem Coughlin, The Town)
  12. Gary Oldman (Drexel, True Romance)

The gals

  1. helena bonham carter harry potterHelena Bonham Carter (Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland; Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter)
  2. Cate Blanchett (Galadriel, Lord of the Rings)
  3. Marion Cotillard (Mal, Inception)
  4. Angelina Jolie (Lisa Rowe, Girl, Interrupted)
  5. Melanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus, Inglourious Basterds)
  6. Charlize Theron (Aileen Wuornos, Monster)
  7. Famke Janssen (Xena Onotopp, Goldeneye; Jean Grey, Xmen: The Last Stand)
  8. Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

So, there’s my list. You’ll notice there’s more men than women, I’m not sure why. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency – particularly in Hollywood – for studios to shy away from films with intense, female leads. I wonder if they are more of a risk commercially? I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more to do with a lack of decent scripts for women, ones that don’t play to stereotypes.

One thing I’ve noticed is how top actors portray intensity – for me – it’s in the eyes. I think it’s what separates great actors and actresses from the rest. If you allow yourself to be drawn into their gaze, there’s so much depth there. Depending on the character they’re playing, it can be equally exciting, captivating and terrifying. Watch Pacino in The Godfather, making the decision to kill with his eyes. A lesson in intensity.

Right, I need to go watch some comedy now to level out. It’s all got too much. I’ll finish with artwork of Marion Cotillard, not because it’s intense, but because it’s simply beautiful – and that’s all the reason you need.

Marion Cotillard artwork