The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12/21/12)

The HobbitMovie Two Hundred Ninety One

A young hobbit accompanies a group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain home from a dragon in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

On his 111th birthday, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) decides to write his memoirs for his young nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood). He describes how the dwarves lost their home in Lonely Mountain to a fearsome dragon named Smaug. A younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is tricked by wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to hosting dinner for thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Bilbo is enlisted for his role as the ‘thief’ although he has never stolen anything in his life. After a change in heart, Bilbo decides to make the journey to help the dwarves and the group sets out for Lonely Mountain.

There are a few things that I need to get out of the way about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – the 3D 48 frames per second treatment, the need for three movies, and how it compares to Lord of the Rings.

First, the native 3D 48 frames per second filming of The Hobbit is a first in the industry. Doubling the rate of a standard film at 24 fps, the initial reaction to The Hobbit is a bit jarring of an effect. I suspect that a few of the scenes were not actually shot in 48 fps and were sped up to this speed. I say this because early on, there are some camera pans that seem incredibly, almost comically, fast. A few of Ian Holm’s movements seem jagged and weird too. I’m not sure if my reaction is simply because I hadn’t adjusted to the speed or if I’m correct and they were artificially increase in post-production, but I will say that I was quite pleased with 48 fps about 90% of the time and it is likely the future of cinema. The use of 3D is absolutely splendid as well.

Since Peter Jackson is interjecting backstory from other Tolkien works, apparently namely from The Silmarillion, in The Hobbit. While this doesn’t bog down the story for An Unexpected Journey, it does beg the question why The Hobbit, a relatively short book, needs three movies. In my opinion so far, it doesn’t. There are a few parts that slow down the pacing and there are some scenes that seem entirely superfluous. Yes, the extensive Tolkien mythology is bolstered, but keep that stuff in special features on a blu-ray set or something. This first film alone is close to three hours long and knowing there are two more, likely equally long films coming is kind of off-putting.

The obvious comparisons to Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy are not entirely appropriate since The Hobbit is a much different source material than its successors. However, in practice, The Hobbit on film feels far too close to Lord of the Rings for its own good. The Hobbit is serious but it does have a bit of a sense of humor to it, which may rub some folks the wrong way. It’s a shame The Hobbit film(s) weren’t made first because it would set the stage for Lord of the Rings without relying on it instead of the other way around.

In the end, I quite liked The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It’s far from a perfect film on its own and I always struggle to judge a film like this as a part or as a whole. Technically, this is 1/3 of a single film and it remains to be seen if the whole thing is worthy of your time. For now, I’d recommend The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be seen in 3D and 48 frames per second, but be warned that it’s no Lord of the Rings.

I give it 4 animated Hobbits out of 5.

Continue reading

Life of Pi (11/25/12)

Life of PiMovie Two Hundred Seventy One

In Life of Pi, a boy must survive on a small life boat with a tiger and discovers a sea of wonders.

A novelist (Rafe Spall) visits an adult Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) to hear a story that will supposedly make a great book and make him believe in God. Young Pi, originally named Piscine Molitor after a French swimming pool, has a strong fascination with all religions. His family owns a zoo but his father decides to sell the animals and take his family to Canada. Now a teenager, Pi (Suraj Sharma), travels on a ship with a full crew, many animals in the cargo area, and his family. During a violent storm, Pi is able to get on a life boat along with a frantic zebra. The zebra breaks its leg in a fall, but the life boat is drifting away while the ship sinks. An orangutan finds its way to the boat and is brought on board, but a hyena makes trouble for two animals. Then the Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker, emerges from beneath a tarp on the boat and Pi must survive the open seas alongside the beast.

If you want to read my Life of Pi preview, you can find that here. I still have not yet read the novel Life of Pi, but seeing the film certainly increased my interest in doing so. Life of Pi is one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve seen and while the plot is low on action, I would struggle faulting it too much. To think that Richard Parker, the tiger, is almost entirely animated is simply staggering. Most of the imagery is fantastical and at times even surreal but that all pales in comparison to how amazingly realistic that tiger looks.

We saw Life of Pi in 3D and it would be hard to recommend seeing it in any other format. The use of 3D is mostly subdued, though at times things do fly at the screen. I don’t think it’s too late to see this in theaters and I strongly urge everyone to try to see it in 3D before it’s too late. It’s weird to think that an existential film about a teenager and a tiger trapped on a small boat would be a special effects powerhouse, but it truly is a wonder and it also happens to be a beautiful story.

If I had to choose a downside to Life of Pi it’s that the ending is far too swift. If you aren’t paying close attention to the dialogue in the final scene you will miss out on what Life of Pi is really about. I’m not sure how closely this mimics the book, but there could have been some floating at sea trimmed to beef up the finale. I’m not sure if you will have your faith in God affirmed by the end of Life of Pi like Pi proclaims, but the story will likely stay with you regardless of your faith.

I give it 5 amazing CGI tigers out of 5.

Continue reading

Wreck-It Ralph (11/8/12)

Wreck-It RalphMovie Two Hundred Fifty Three

A video game villain wants to be treated like a hero and jumps into other games to win a medal in Wreck-It Ralph.

The game Fix-It Felix, Jr. is home to game villain Wreck-It Ralph aka Ralph (John C. Reilly) who, after 30 years of service in the same arcade, decides he is tired of always being the villain and wants the recognition of a hero. When the in-game building residents throw Fix-It Felix, Jr. (Jack McBrayer) a 30th anniversary party without inviting Ralph, Ralph crashes the party and smashes the cake. Ralph then decides he needs to win a medal to prove his worth as a good guy. Ralph learns that the new neighboring game called Hero’s Duty gives out medals to the winner so Ralph decides to leave his game in search of a medal. After taking a medal and accidentally launching a spacecraft, Ralph and the cy-bug enemy from Hero’s Duty are launched to a neighboring racing game called Sugar Rush where Ralph must retrieve his medal from Venellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman)by helping her win the race.

Wreck-It Ralph may very well be the perfect movie for me, a video game loving movie nerd. It combines my great love of video games, hits big on nostalgia for retro gaming and arcades, and also has that great Disney touch. There are so many sly nods to video games over the past three decades that it’s easy to miss most of them. Wreck-It Ralph is to video games as Toy Story is to toys and that is perhaps the best way I can describe the movie. While Wreck-It Ralph relies on knowledge of some video games, it is really only for the setup of the film, once Ralph leaves his game he is in the video game worlds created for the movie in Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush, though both of these games are heavily influenced by actual video games.

I do not usually defend 3D in movies as I find it superfluous in nearly all instances, but Disney treats 3D with a sense of care. There are no gags in Wreck-It Ralph with random stuff flying at the screen just for the sake of 3D, the 3D is mostly used just to give scenes a particular depth to them. While I still could do without 3D, I would rather have it benefit the movie rather than be obnoxious.

One comparison Wreck-It Ralph is destined for is how it fares against Pixar animated movies. While Wreck-It Ralph may lack that extreme level of polish, I would be surprised if people could really tell this wasn’t a Pixar movie. The story gets a bit bogged down towards the end, but the pacing never plods along. Even young kids with no real knowledge of older video games will not have the setup go over their heads. For example, there are several Q*Bert jokes that should work for all audiences, regardless of if you remember Q*Bert.

Disney has a winner with Wreck-It Ralph and I hope that its a movie that remains high on people’s favorites for the studio. I think it has the potential to be a classic, though once the video game references start getting old, they will either be the good type of nostalgic or archaic. Hopefully the former, but I’m already in love with Wreck-It Ralph and can’t wait to watch it again.

I give it 5 awesome official websites out of 5.

Continue reading