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

Advertisements

Alien (12/20/12)

AlienMovie Two Hundred Ninety

The crew of a ship returning to Earth investigates a strange signal from a small planet and discovers the horrors of Alien.

The Nostromo is traveling back to Earth from a mining expedition with a crew of seven but picks up a strange signal from a planetoid LV426 and are forced to investigate. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Kane (John Hurt), and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) set out to investigate the signal where Kane encounters a strange egg that opens up and a creature attaches itself to his face. Brought back on-board the Nostromo, the creature eventually pops out of his chest and the rest of the crew has to find it. Along with the rest of the crew, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Ash (Ian Holm), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), and Parker (Yaphet Kotto), they are trapped with the alien creature on board when they discover that Ash is actually an android and the discovery of LV426 was actually a secret directive from their employer.

In this post-Prometheus world we live in, I imagine people will either strongly side with Alien or welcome the “prequel” with open arms. Watching Alien again after several years actually made me appreciate Prometheus a bit more from a broad view. On its own, however, Alien is still a terrifying and claustrophobic film that has aged incredibly well and manages to maintain its status as one of the best sci-fi/horror movies ever made. Also, having watched the director’s cut of the film from the blu-ray anthology set, I didn’t notice any real differences in the film.

Much has been made of Ripley as a strong female lead for a film but in Alien, much of her survival is based on being at the right place at the right time. If she had gone out onto the planet, she might have ended up like Kane. She could have been killed by Ash, but Parker is there to help. If she had gone with Parker and Lambert in search of the alien, she might have been killed. There are obviously situations in which she is smart and strong, but in 1979, Ripley was not much better equipped for a situation like this than anyone else on-board the Nostromo.

I’m not a big fan of defining genres of films and Alien is a shining example why. Is it sci-fi or is it horror? Frankly, it’s both but I would argue that it’s more horror. The setup of Alien is not very different from a film like Texas Chainsaw Massacre where a group of people stumble on a bad situation and have to survive. The only difference here is the location is space, hence the sci-fi connection. Other films in the series take a different path, to varying results, but Alien proves to be a favorite among many fans of the franchise – and with good reason.

Personally, I prefer the more action-oriented sequel, Aliens, but Alien is a film that utterly chills me every time I watch it. I know the twists, I know the parts that make me jump, but they still have a profound effect on me even after multiple viewings. I’ll change what I said at the beginning of the this review; Alien is definitely one of the greatest horror films ever made.

I give it 5 chestbursters out of 5.

Continue reading

From Hell (11/11/12)

From HellMovie Two Hundred Fifty Nine

The hunt is on for an investigator to find the identity of Jack the Ripper in From Hell.

After the kidnapping of a prostitute in London, followed by the murder of another nearby, Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) and her peers find themselves part of a large conspiracy and manhunt for the killer. Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) becomes involved and through his opium binges, gets visions of the case. Several more prostitutes are brutally murdered and Abberline suspects the killer is medically trained, and involves a royal family physician, William Gull (Ian Holm). Soon, Abberline finds the hunt for Jack the Ripper is more intricate than he imagined.

While I’ve never read the graphic novel that From Hell is based on, I honestly can’t say that I would look forward to it. I was always put off by its length (nearly 575 pages), despite my interest in the Whitechapel murders and Jack the Ripper. From Hell is a serviceable movie, though it plods along for far too long in the middle and by the end, the pacing was ruined and I didn’t care so much about the outcome. Even though I had seen this film before, I had forgotten the finer details of the plot, including most of the ending.

One thing that really stood out in From Hell is the widely varying accents of the actors. While some of the actors are, in fact, British, Depp and Graham are obviously not and they both choose very awkward manners of speaking. While this isn’t the type of detail that would normally ruin a movie for me, I found myself disinterested in the plot and focusing on their forced accents. At least it made From Hell go by quicker.

Still, as far as Jack the Ripper movies go, From Hell is one of the better ones I’ve seen. While the Whitechapel murder cases are famously unsolved, From Hell does have a sound theory on who the killer was. It’s a theory that makes a lot of sense, but is brought down a bit by the rest of the movie. From Hell is definitely recommended for Jack the Ripper fans, but looking at just the movie, without the lore, it’s bland and uninteresting.

I give it 3 substituting absinthe for opium out of 5.

Continue reading