The desolation of Peter Jackson?

the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaugAs titles go, it’s divisive I know. Now I’m not trying to start an argument but… has Peter Jackson been given too much creative freedom on The Hobbit trilogy? Is he wandering the wastelands of creativity, choking on his own noxious gases of invention?

Having just seen The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug I cringe a little inside when I ask these questions because: he’s a phenomenal director and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy are among my favourite films of all time; I highly rate Jackson as a director in general and think studios should allow creative people to do what they do best; and finally, I like the story and characters J.R.R. Tolkien created – to spend more time in Middle Earth is a privilege.

Yet… yet, something is not quite right with this trilogy. Judging something that’s part of a series is never advisable, but a film is still in a film in its own right, even if it’s part of a trilogy. I suppose one of the main problems I have – which was a problem from the get-go – is that, not only is each film too long, but also that we have three in the first place. Now Jackson has said having three is great because there’s so much material to draw from, not just the main book but The Silmarillion and other supporting material Tolkien dreamt up. Ok, if that’s the case, why invent characters?

Go see the film and you’ll notice a certain she-elf in a fairly prominent role as part of a love triangle. She was never included in Tolkien’s tales. Granted she’s a nice addition as a character and balances out the male-heavy lineup, but she wasn’t needed. taurielthehobbitShe’s filler to pad out the story so Jackson can have three, excessively lengthy films. And that’s just one example, there are more from The Desolation of Smaug and An Unexpected Journey, but we’ll be here all day if we go through them.

However… Now that we’ve got the bad stuff out the way, let’s look at the good. Ranting and raving like an angry dwarf aside, there’s a lot to love about this second instalment of Bilbo’s tale. More action, more adventure, with some great set pieces – in particular the way the company escape the elves of Mirkwood in barrels down the river, this is Jackson at his finest.

Also, despite him not featuring much in this part of the books (filler again), it’s nice to see Legolas back. Indeed he gets some great set pieces, including a face off with a brutish orc, reminiscent of one of Aragorn’s fights from the original trilogy.

And let’s not forget the showpiece of this particular tale, the slumbering yet deadly beast… Smaug. He needs to look big, fearsome and genuinely scary, and he does. Hats off to Jackson for brilliantly bringing him to life. Voiced (almost unrecognisably) by Benedict Cumberbatch, the final third of the film almost becomes the Smaug show, with hobbit and dwarves trying to stay a step ahead of his wrath and deadly fire.

There’s other nice touches too. Laketown is well realised; a damp and dismal fishing village that has seen better days. It also gives us an introduction to Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), who fits effortlessly into Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth. bardandlegolasHe gets some key scenes and will no doubt have more to do in the final film too.

From the final instalment it would be great to see more character development, as this seemed to take a bit of a back seat this time round in favour of the action and moving the story along, but that’s a small point.

All in all, my misgivings aside, it’s a very good second film with much more of a swing in its step than the first. Tonally, it’s darker, and therefore closer to Rings – something which will no doubt continue to develop in the final chapter. So, in answer to my initial question, Jackson’s desolation really depends on your point of view. Keep the focus on Bilbo and the characters and he embraces the goodness of the Shire, indulge in long, lingering shots of countryside and needless exposition and he goes the way of Mordor.

Best twenty films of 2012

It’s been an epic year for films across a variety of genres. This list reflects my taste in films so I hope you enjoy. Sorry Twilight, you didn’t make the cut!

  • Skyfall
    skyfall-craigStrangely there are people who don’t like this film and say it’s not classic Bond. I think it’s the closest to Fleming’s Bond since Connery. To celebrate 50 years of Bond, the dream team of Mendes, Craig, Bardem and Dench pulled out the stops to make this film truly special.
  • Argo
    Can’t believe people still give Affleck a hard time for his early career. How many decent films does he need to direct before people will admit he’s a real talent? First Gone Baby Gone and The Town and now this. A proper, intelligent thriller.
  • Moonrise Kingdom
    This film is a great companion piece for The Life Aquatic, my favourite from Wes Anderson. As always, a great cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton. Although focus is on the two, young actors who confidently carry the story. A sweet and quirky tale.
  • Looper
    Rian Johnson and Gordon-Levitt are fast becoming a match made in heaven. First Brick and now this time-travelling sci-fi tale of assassins. This film had an interesting mix of futuristic and retro, plus it marked Gordon-Levitt out as a leading man in the making.
  • Silver Linings Playbook
    SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKForget Hunger Games, this ranks as my favourite Jennifer Lawrence film, just edging Winter’s Bone. She has great chemistry with Bradley Cooper, both of them playing flawed characters in this acerbic, edgy and alternative type of rom-com. Highly recommended.
  • Chronicle
    Earlier this year this film was released and flew somewhat under the radar. Shown in found footage style, the best way to describe the first half is Jackass with telekinetic powers. It then goes darker as it builds to an epic finale. Thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.
  • Dark Knight Rises
    The final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s game-changing bat franchise. Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Gordon-Levitt as Boy Wonder in the making. This was an emotional, visceral ending to the best set of Batman films of all time.
  • Avengers Assemble
    Despite my last comment regarding Batman, Marvel Studios has firmly staked its claim as the lighter, more upbeat side of the superhero world. Joss Whedon pulling off an incredible trick to balance a film with a host of big characters, letting them all shine equally.
  • Ted
    ted
    Macfarlane knows his comedy. This film was his vision and really paid off. From script and direction through to mo-cap acting, he was the driving force. Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg added their dramatic and comedy talent to make this one of the funniest films of the year.
  • Life of Pi  
    Ang Lee’s tale of a young boy shipwrecked at sea with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker is a visual masterpiece. Taken from a Booker prize-winner novel, it makes you question the nature of belief and how you perceive the world. An uplifting and life-affirming tale.
  • The Raid: Redemption
    Combine the talents of a Welsh Director and up-and-coming action star in Iko Uwais and you get an unexpected, kick-ass treat. Introducing us to pencak silat, an Indonesian form of dance and self defence, it’s breathtaking to watch when used to beat up bad guys.
  • The Hobbit
    Peter Jackson has worked wonders yet again. The dwarves are great and Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo. His ‘riddles in the dark’ scene with Gollum is brilliantly scripted. If you’re even a fleeting fantasy fan you won’t want to miss this exhilarating tale.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
    beasts
    Critically well received, this fantasy film has drawn comparisons with Pan’s Labyrinth and is well worth seeing. It tells the tale of six-year-old girl Hushpuppy who, when looking after her ill and hot-tempered father, must learn the ways of courage and love.
  • Rust and Bone
    It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Marion Cotillard – there’s a permanent picture of her on my blog. Here she beautifully plays a killer whale trainer who forms an unlikely romance with a bouncer. Jacques Audiard directs this passionate and moving love story.
  • The Master
    Possibly a career-best film from Paul Thomas Anderson and performance from Joaquin Phoenix? Ultimately, this film is about the fascinating interplay between war veteran Freddie (Phoenix) and movement leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
  • Seven Psychopaths
    seven-psychopaths_07
    From the Director of darkly comic film In Bruges, this tale of kidnapped dogs and gangsters is hilariously scripted and brilliantly acted. With a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson.
  • End of Watch
    Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena put in the hours with cops on the beat in South Central LA to form a real bond prior to filming. The results paid off, as this thriller cop movie has real believability and chemistry between the two leads.
  • Magic Mike
    Ladies of Tampa‘, croons Matthew McConaughey, before he smashes his guitar and strips in front of a horde of screaming ladies. This film, though, belongs to Channing Tatum. Before acting he was a stripper – this film gives an intriguing glimpse of life back stage in that world.
  • The Grey
    It’s Liam Neeson, he’s cold, he’s angry, wolves are trying to kill him. In a minute he’s going to get really mad – what’s not to like? This bleak adventure sees a bunch of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash – in the middle of a wolf kill zone.
  • 21 Jump Street
    21 jump street
    Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill team up in this cop buddy comedy remake. Tatum is – surprisingly – very funny, with great comic timing. Jokes are often set up and don’t pan out how you might expect, which is a good thing. Also, Johnny Depp has an outstanding cameo.

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.