Film Review: The Game (1997)

Release Date: September 3rd, 1997 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Anna Katarina, Mark Boone Junior, Tommy Flanagan, Spike Jonze, Daniel Schorr (cameo)

A&B Producoes Lda., Propaganda Films, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 129 Minutes

Review:

“They just fuck you and they fuck you and they fuck you, and then just when you think it’s all over, that’s when the real fucking starts!” – Conrad

I don’t think that I’ve seen this since the theater but I remembered really liking the hell out of in the ’90s and I had always meant to revisit it because Fincher’s other two ’90s films (not named Alien 3) were pretty much masterpieces.

This one doesn’t live up to the quality and iconic status of Se7en and Fight Club but it is a good filling within the ’90s Fincher cinematic sandwich.

The big selling point for me, at least when this came out, was that it starred Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. The thought of seeing those two great actors together made this picture a “must see” for me. Plus, the trailer intrigued me.

For the most part, this is a thrilling ride where you don’t really see what’s coming and how deep this “game” will go. It gets bigger and more complex with each twist in the plot and it’s a lot of fun, seeing it play out.

The problem with the film, though, is knowing that it’s just a game. Granted, the movie does its damnedest to make you question that and it really pushes the bar in pushing Michael Douglas’ Nicholas over the edge. However, I thought that the big reveal was really obvious, even before I knew the ending. In fact, I thought it was obvious from the trailer but I still was captivated enough to see how far the story would push things.

Overall, the plot doesn’t disappoint but being that so many things are so over the top and elaborate, the picture leaves me with more questions than answers. It would’ve been cool to see how all of this was pulled off but you don’t really get that and just have to accept that this is just the work of powerful pranksters with unlimited funding.

From a visual standpoint, the movie looks good and I’d say it’s less stylized than Fincher’s other movies. I’m not sure if he felt like he needed to be more reserved in that regard or of it was the work of the producers. But out of all Fincher’s movies, this one is the least Fincher-esque, as far as the cinematography goes.

As should be expected, it’s a picture that is superbly acted and the leads are truly great, here.

In the end, this is still fun to watch, even after knowing what the ending would be. As I stated earlier, I knew it was just going to be a game beforehand but that doesn’t make it a bad thriller. The big thrills still work and this is an intense movie that still packs a punch.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other David Fincher films of the ’90s that aren’t Alien 3.

Film Review: Se7en (1995)

Also known as: Seven (alternative spelling), The Seven Deadly Sins (working title)
Release Date: September 15th, 1995 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Roundtree, Richard Schiff, Mark Boone Junior, Michael Massee, Leland Orser, Hawthorne James, Reg E. Cathey, Charles S. Dutton (uncredited)

Cecchi Gori Pictures, Juno Pix, New Line Cinema, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” – John Doe

I was blown away by this movie when I first saw it, back in the ’90s. I would watch it pretty regularly for about ten years. However, it’s been at least a decade since I’ve seen it and even though I knew I loved it, I somehow underestimated it and forgot how great it actually is.

Fincher made a solid trio of movies in a row in the mid-to-late ’90s between this, The Game and what I consider his magnum opus, Fight Club. Being that I still hadn’t reviewed these films, I figured I’d start with the first.

Fincher had a very distinct look with his movies and while it might not appear distinct and unique nowadays, that’s because a lot of less capable directors came in and stole his aesthetic. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say. I would also add that theft is the weakest form of creativity but if you’re going to steal, steal from the greats.

While I’m not a massive Fincher fan, his later ’90s work is pretty fucking exceptional.

Se7en is well acted, well directed, looks incredible and features a story so dark, fucked up and mesmerizing that it’s hard to turn away from the screen, even if you’ve seen the movie a dozen times.

This motion picture is the result of having all the right people from top-to-bottom, behind and in front of the camera. As far as the actors go, they all played their parts perfectly. They felt like real people in a real situation. The relationships between the characters come across as genuine. I loved that the new partners were at odds with one another but knew they had a job to do in spite of their personal issues and differences in their approach to police work and their philosophies on the universe and our place in it.

The score by Howard Shore is one of the composer’s best and when you really look at his body of work, this included, he’s such a versatile composer that it’s sometimes hard to tell that you’re listening to his music. It’s always good but it never takes over a film and just blends in with it, accenting it in a great way.

Additionally, the songs used throughout the film are great, especially the tracks that were used by David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails, as they both fit absolutely perfectly within this picture’s atmosphere.

There’s nothing bad I can really say about this film. My only really gripe is that I’m not a huge fan of the ending. But I’m a traditionalist that doesn’t want the bad guy to win. While he meets his demise, his plan is executed to perfection and while I knew that Brad Pitt’s character was flawed by his emotions and idealism, there’s still that part of me that wishes he would’ve been stronger. Granted, I’ve never had my wife’s head put into a box. Also, this came out in the edge lord ’90s.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: David Fincher’s other ’90s films not named Alien 3.

Film Review: After Hours (1985)

Also known as: Lies (script title), A Night In Soho (working title)
Release Date: September 11th, 1985 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Joseph Minion, Joe Frank
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Thomas Chong, Linda Fiorentino, Teri Garr, John Heard, Cheech Marin, Catherine O’Hara, Dick Miller, Will Patton, Bronson Pinchot, Martin Scorsese (cameo)

Double Play, The Geffen Company, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, come on, let’s go find my statue, man. It’s got to be around here someplace. That makes me sick. You know, that statue is the first thing in my life that I ever bought! See what happens when you pay for stuff! Somebody rips it off.” – Neil

How have I never seen this film until now?

While this has been in my queue for quite awhile, I only really heard about it a few years ago. And honestly, that’s kind of unfortunate, as after seeing it, it’s now become one of my all-time favorite Martin Scorsese films.

I think it was forgotten due to it being a straight up comedy, as opposed to his more popular crime films, many of which have received a sort of legendary status as the years have rolled on. However, in its own way, After Hours is just as great and deserves more recognition than it receives.

To start, I’ve always really liked Griffin Dunne since first seeing him as a kid in John Landis’ ’80s horror classic, An American Werewolf In London. Apart from that film, I’ve liked him in everything I’ve seen him in, as he has real charisma and he’s just really damn likable. Taking him and throwing him into this “yuppie in peril” comedy story, just enhances the film greatly in a way that would’ve been hard to achieve with just about anyone else. Dunne is simply perfect as this character.

This is also a big ensemble piece, as the story has so many great characters that weave in and out. It’s well cast from top-to-bottom, however, and there really isn’t anyone that doesn’t pull their weight and give something great to the film.

The story is about Dunne’s Paul, who meets a girl, goes off to see her in Soho and ends up having a series of mishaps that balloon out of control to the point that they would make Larry David jealous. The film slowly escalates but it does so really well, as you eventually get to a point where things are completely bonkers. However, within the rules of this film, which evolve with the story, everything works well and there’s a real magical, charming quality about the movie.

I could see where the finale might be a bit much but I thought it was perfect and brought everything full circle in a rather poetic way.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot as this is probably best enjoyed not knowing much about the details. In fact, even though I always post a trailer at the end of my reviews, if you’ve never seen this, I’d skip the trailer and go into this film completely blind, as I did.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other “yuppie in peril” movies, specifically comedies and from the ’80s.

Film Review: Videodrome (1983)

Release Date: February 4th, 1983
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman

Filmplan International, Guardian Trust Company, Canadian Film Development Corporation, Universal Pictures, 87 Minutes, 89 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

“The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.” – Brian O’Blivion

Some movies can be batshit crazy but then there are a select few that go beyond that. Videodrome is one of these films, as it is a complete and absolute mindfuck.

This is also a David Cronenberg film from his early days, so intense, disturbing body horror should be expected and in that regard, this movie does not disappoint and it boasts some incredible special effects even though the film had a fairly scant budget.

Overall, this and The Fly are just about tied for being my favorite Cronenberg film. However, this one takes a slight edge, simply because its contents have stuck with me more over the years. At an early age, it penetrated my psyche and it’s roamed around in my head ever since. Maybe I have one of those Videodrome caused brain tumors and it’s just been growing very slowly for decades?

Anyway, the plot of the film follows a television producer who is always on the hunt for fucked up content to air on his cable channel. This was made during the early days of cable and like the early days of the Internet, shit was like the Wild West. This also takes place in Canada, so I’m not sure what restrictions they had, as they weren’t under the rule of the FCC like cable channels in the United States.

On his quest to find fucked up content, the exec is introduced to a show called Videodrome. The show is devoid of plot and doesn’t seem to have much purpose other than being torture porn for some sickos that want to watch captive people go through horrific physical pain.

We do find out that there is a big conspiracy afoot and that the creators behind the show have a sinister agenda. It is up to this exec to try and stop them but his exposure to the show creates strange changes in his mind and body. It’s hard to decipher what is real and what is a hallucination and ultimately, it is never really clear and it makes the movie one hell of a crazy ride.

The linchpin that holds all of this together is James Woods, who plays the exec. His performance is convincing, authentic and so believable that you don’t find yourself questioning the insane developments within the film. You just go along with him on his personal, unique trip through sensory hell.

Cronenberg did a stupendous job in creating a world that feels both foreign and familiar. But beyond that, the mastery of the special effects he employed and dreamed up is uncanny and impressive. The melting, morphing television scene is still one of the greatest effects sequences I’ve ever seen on film. Even knowing as much as I do about practical effects, it’s a moment that still baffles me and I almost don’t want to know the magic trick.

Videodrome is a classic and a real gem of its era. It achieved cult status and deservedly so. However, I feel like it’s now being lost to the sands of time, as younger generations don’t seem to care about anything predating the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The world is currently in a sad state in regards to mainstream art and this film just reminds me of a time when filmmakers overcame challenges, didn’t give a fuck about the censors or the Hollywood system and just made whatever the fuck they wanted to make.

Videodrome makes me yearn for a long overdue filmmaking renaissance.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other David Cronenberg films of the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Release Date: December 1st, 2003 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee (Extended Edition only), Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only), Bruce Spence (Extended Edition only), Sean Bean (Extended Edition only)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 201 Minutes, 254 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 263 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 192 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” – Aragorn

Having taken a break from seeing this for several years helped me look at this film, and the two before it, much more objectively. I loved this film when it came out and I watched the Extended Editions of all three films almost monthly for a few years. But I actually haven’t seen this now since before the first Hobbit movie came out in 2012.

My biggest takeaway from seeing it now is that this is a perfect film, at least in the form of the Extended Edition. There’s nothing I would change, add or take away from it. It is a great adaptation that took a few liberties but all those liberties worked and made this a richer story in a cinematic sense.

The acting is superb and everyone in this film was at the top of their game. But really, there are two actors who carried this film, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Mortensen was the perfect choice for Aragorn and if you aren’t willing to follow him into battle after watching this movie, you might be dead inside.

However, Sean Astin is the real star of this chapter in the franchise. As Samwise Gamgee, he is the true hero that sees things through. When Frodo, the one chosen to bear the burden of the ring is emotionally and physically drained, it is Sam who carries on, getting Frodo to the finish line by literally carrying him on his back up a flaming volcano. It’s one of the most badass and touching moments in motion picture history and really, all the credit has to go to Astin for just how damn good he was in this film. Where the hell was the Oscar nomination? I know that this was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won all eleven but it was short one for Astin’s performance.

I also can’t deny the greatness that was Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in this chapter.

The special effects are still top notch and at the time that this came out, this film had the best effects of all-time. Everything was great over the course of all three movies but the grandiose scale of this epic picture called for a massive amount of effects work. Everything was executed masterfully and it’s almost unbelievable to think that these movies came out just a year apart from each other.

This is a story about friendship, honor and loyalty and it’s hard to think of a better example of these things in any other film. The Return of the King knocks it out of the park in that regard and is pretty inspirational because of it. It taps into the best qualities of human nature, overcomes immense adversity and sees hope and goodness succeed in the face of enormous and seemingly unconquerable darkness.

Again, The Return of the King is a pillar of perfection. It’s so good that I wish I could give it an 11 out of 10 rating.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Release Date: December 5th, 2002 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean (Extended Edition), Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 179 Minutes, 235 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 228 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 171 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak I fought with the Balrog of Morgoth… Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountain side… Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time… The stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as a life age of the earth… But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I’ve been sent back until my task is done.” – Gandalf

I have seen all of these movies probably a dozen times but it has been several years now since revisiting them. From memory, I always thought of The Two Towers as the weakest of the trilogy but it is still a masterpiece and a perfect film for what it is: a bridge between the beginning and the end.

It also ups the ante quite a bit and is more epic in scale, as the two final battles alone are bigger than anything we saw in the first film, apart from the intro that showed the fall of Sauron millennia earlier.

But, really, the climax to this motion picture is absolutely amazing. If you are a fan of epic battles, this does not disappoint. If you are a fan of fantasy, this should definitely satisfy your palate.

All the key players are back and that includes Sean Bean’s Boromir, who died in the previous movie. Granted, he is only in a couple of flashbacks in the Extended Edition but it’s great to see him and to get more context in regards to how Gondor is run and the relationship between Boromir, Faramir and their father.

The return of Gandalf and the shift in power away from Saruman and to him is a really great moment that helps turn the tide towards the light. Ian McKellan was superb and his character’s evolution was incredible. The continuation of his battle with the Balrog is one of my favorite cinematic moments of all-time.

It is Viggo Mortensen who steals the show, however. While he was great in the first picture and was perfectly cast, he truly shines here and anyone watching this film would want to follow him, which is great considering what his role is in the goings on of Middle Earth and how this series ends in the following film.

If you are going to watch these films, you should always watch the Extended Editions, as they provide more story, better context and a heftier helping of the meat and potatoes. The Extended Edition of The Two Towers offers a lot of extra footage that isn’t in the original theatrical version. It isn’t so much that it makes it a different film but it certainly makes it a better one.

The Two Towers is perfect. It is a masterpiece like the other two pictures in the trilogy. It is the weakest, sure, but I’d rather be the weakest film in this trilogy than the best film in the Transformers series.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Release Date: December 10th, 2001 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis, Sala Baker, Peter Jackson (cameo)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 178 Minutes, 208 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 228 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 171 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“[Gandalf is standing on the bridge, in front of the Balrog] You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. You shall not pass!” – Gandalf

This was a definite treat to revisit, especially since I just revisited The Hobbit trilogy beforehand. I wanted to watch them in chronological order for the first time but having now seen this again, a film I have probably seen a dozen times already, I have an even greater appreciation for it, as it’s truly perfection.

Unlike those Hobbit movies, The Fellowship of the Ring and its two sequels, didn’t have identity issues. It has a consistent tone throughout and it knows exactly what it needs to be and how to accomplish that. This was Peter Jackson at his absolute best and this is a timeless movie and will continue to be for generations.

Being that this was the first major live action adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, makes its level of perfection something truly special and a feat that proves that the impossible can be possible. I should state, though, that the Soviets and the Finnish did their own live action adaptations before this but no one has really seen them and they weren’t done with the resources and budget that allowed this story to really live and breathe the right way.

I’ve tried to think of negatives for the sake of this review but the acting is superb, the directing and cinematography are flawless and the special effects are better than anything else that predates this film. Also, the issues that exist with The Hobbit films don’t exist with this one.

We have real human beings in prosthetics and makeup as the orcs and goblins. Also, the film isn’t afraid to rely on some other practical effects. Sure, there is CGI galore but the film doesn’t default to it and it’s why this looks better than The Hobbit films, which started coming out 11 years later.

The best thing about this film is its spirit. You immediately care about these characters, all of them, they mesh well pretty exceptionally, and none of them look stupid like most of the dwarves in The Hobbit. Gimli, the main dwarf in this story, looks like a real character and not a cartoon caricature.

Also, you care about the journey and how it is taking a toll on everyone in the party. You feel their emotions, their stress and their burden in seeing things through no matter what the cost.

The action is stupendous and the big battle at the end of the film is incredible. Also, the wizard battle between Gandalf and Saruman is incredibly badass.

Howard Shore, who scored all of these Tolkien pictures, did a much better job at creating the themes for these films than The Hobbit trilogy. The music here hits the right notes and it’s all become pretty iconic.

There is a reason why this film gave birth to Tolkien Fever in the early 2000s. Everything about it was just right and it was a real example of filmmaking and storytelling perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 3 (working title)
Release Date: December 1st, 2014 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Aidan Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 144 Minutes, 164 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“You are changed, Thorin! The Dwarf I met in Bag End would never have gone back on his word! Would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin!” – Bilbo Baggins

While this trilogy lacks when compared to its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings, it was still better than most big budget movies of the last decade and I was pretty excited about revisiting the third and final chapter, even though The Desoltation of Smaug was weak by Tolkien movie standards.

And this is the best of the Hobbit film series.

This is also the shortest of the three movies and I think that says a lot about the structure and flow of this film, as a short novel didn’t need to be stretched out into three really long movies.

This one jumps right in where we left off, as Smaug flies out to destroy the nearby town on the lake. My only real complaint about that though, was that the battle with Smaug was a cliffhanger and once you get to it here, it’s resolved in just ten minutes. I thought that the Extended Edition would rectify this a bit but it didn’t. Still, the opening of this film is fantastic and one of the best sequences out of all the Peter Jackson live action Tolkien movies.

Once that’s quickly resolved, the rest of this movie pretty much just deals with a gigantic fantasy battle of epic proportions. Everything leading up to this was the real story and most of the context. This film just decides to throw down and give us a real war, up close and personal. And while that might not seem like the makings of a great film, this is still really good and definitely the most fun Hobbit film to watch.

And it’s not just action for the sake of action, there are some real creative things that come into play. I love the elves shooting a massive volley of arrows only for the dwarves to respond with their “whirly bird” giant arrows that immediately destroy the elves attempt at a strong and deadly offense.

Additionally, the battle and every phase of it serves the story well, moves things forward and finds time to explore the main characters and their true motivations while making them all sort of find the spot where they need to be going forward in life.

Apart from the giant battle and Smaug, there is the big confrontation in the evil castle that sees Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel do battle with the spiritual forces of Sauron. This was one of the Peter Jackson additions to the story that wasn’t in the book but this was a satisfying finale to my favorite plot thread in these films. Jackson did a stupendous job with this portion of the Hobbit series and even if it wasn’t initially supposed to be there, it fits very well within the overall story arc of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I also like how this movie wraps up, as it doesn’t give us a really long, overly drawn out resolution like The Return of the King.

The Battle of the Five Armies might not be Lord of the Rings good but it is still a pretty fine fantasy epic motion picture. And it has really got me excited to want to revisit The Lord of the Rings trilogy once more.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 2 (working title)
Release Date: December 2nd, 2013 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Stephen Colbert, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Aidan Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 161 Minutes, 186 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“There is something about you. Something you carry, something made of gold… but far more precious…” – Smaug

I’ve been rewatching these, as I haven’t seen them since they were in the theater. And like the Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films, I’m hoping that the Extended Editions of this trilogy help to make the films richer and give them more depth and context.

Where my disappointment with An Unexpected Journey was somewhat fixed, the Extended Edition of The Desolation of Smaug didn’t do much to make this film any better and in fact, stretched it out more than it needed to be.

The extended scenes in the previous film seemed to make things better. But here, it drags out some of the scenes that could have been even shorter in the theatrical version.

All the stuff that featured Smaug was pretty good but it felt really stretched out in this film. But as I said in the previous review, they didn’t need to stretch out a short novel over a nine-plus hour trilogy. It’s friggin’ overkill, even with the narrative additions to the plot that weren’t from the original book.

Watching the extended version splits the movie up onto two discs. In all honestly, it showed me just how inconsistent the film is. The first half is not very good but the second half is much better.

The first half of the film was dragged down by things that didn’t need to be there. I get that Beorn is in the book but his inclusion in the film was unnecessary and didn’t really serve the plot in any meaningful way. They spend a half hour on this and all that comes out of it is that the dwarves get some ponies to ride for about two minutes. Just cut the whole thing out. It didn’t fit in the film, it slowed things to a crawl and it didn’t help the narrative and should have been omitted just as the Tom Bombadil stuff was left out of the Lord of the Rings movie adaptations.

Also, the forest with the giant spiders was a pretty weak sequence overall and even though giant spiders exist in Middle Earth, it felt more like a rehash of something we already saw just a few years earlier in one of the Harry Potter movies. Although, it does serve the purpose of pushing Bilbo towards being more of a badass.

Then there was the whole sequence of the dwarves getting captured by the elves, escaping really easily and then giving us the barrels down the river scene, which is the worst part of any of these Lord of the Rings related films. That whole scene is the worst kind of cringe and it pulls you right out of the movie and almost makes you embarrassed for liking these films. It felt like over the top Disney blockbuster schlock.

Also, the dwarf and elf romance felt really forced and awkward as hell.

Once you get to the second half, things get much darker tonally, which contrasts the goofiness of the first half so greatly that it doesn’t feel like the same movie. But this is the superior half, even if it is also drawn out too much.

I really liked Luke Evans as Bard though. I also enjoyed the bits with Stephen Fry.

The best part of the whole film is when the dwarves finally reach the mountain and Bilbo Baggins comes face to face with Smaug. For fans of the BBC show Sherlock, this is extra exciting, as Bilbo is Watson and Smaug’s voice is Sherlock. At least I thought that was a cool aspect of this film’s casting. Luckily, both men also were brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last few years.

I can’t say that this is the worst of the three Hobbit films, as of yet. I still need to rewatch The Battle of the Five Armies. But from memory, I think I did like that one better than this chapter.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.

Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 1 (working title)
Release Date: November 28th, 2012 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Aidan Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 169 Minutes, 182 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” – Gandalf

When these movies first came out, I was really disappointed with them. Granted, they were still mostly enjoyable but they lacked the magic that made Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so spectacular a decade earlier.

I finally revisited this, as I got a great deal on the entire set of Hobbit films in their Extended Edition format, which is also the versions of the Lord of the Rings films I own. And like the other Extended Editions, this beefed up version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey became a better, more fleshed out movie.

Also, I’ve had six years to let this movie digest and I did find it more palatable this time around. Although, some of my issues with it are still there.

To start, this feels like a disjointed film, tonally. It’s as if it isn’t sure what it needs to be. Frankly, the tone of Lord of the Rings was perfect and this should have mirrored that. There isn’t really any reason why it couldn’t, as it had the same creative team behind it.

The film suffers from being too hokey at times and its the kind of hokey that is cringe. The dwarves look goofy as hell, the humor is usually off key or unnecessary and the musical bits, whether or not they exist in the book, really bogged this movie down and made it exude Disney level cheese but really bad Disney. I’m sorry but Aragon and the Mouth of Sauron didn’t break out into song and dance in Return of the King.

There’s also weird moments like the dwarf snoring and breathing moths in and out of his nose. And then there are strange, unnecessary things like Radagast the Brown having bird shit crusted to the side of his head. I also can’t leave out the insane physics of this movie and how the dwarves and Bilbo are seemingly indestructible and have incredible balance between the Stone Giants fight scene and sliding down a massive rock chute without splattering all over the place or breaking every bone in their bodies.

Another thing that hurts the film is that it relies on CGI much more heavily than its predecessors. The Lord of the Rings films had a bunch of guys in fantastic orc makeup and they looked real and totally badass. Here, we have computer animated orcs that look more like video game characters than something organic on the screen. Granted, I love that Manu Bennett plays the orc leader.

But the reason why CGI orcs don’t work for the film is because practical effects, if they can be utilized properly, just look better. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was heralded as being a huge step forward in special effects on every level. The Hobbit movies, however, are just stagnation.

The film has some strong positives though.

All of the new main characters were well cast. I loved Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin. It was also really cool seeing Lee Pace as the Elvenking, Thranduil. He wasn’t in this chapter very much but his role gets bigger in the two pictures after this one.

I also liked the additions to the story, at least in this film. The side story with the Necromancer is really cool and I liked seeing Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond come together to discuss the rising darkness in Middle Earth.

The problem with this trilogy, which becomes more apparent in the second and third film, is that this didn’t need to be a trilogy. The Hobbit is a short book when compared to the Lord of the Rings novels. This could have been expanded into two films and even included some of the additions to the story but three movies spreads the narrative too thin. Especially for movies roughly around the three hour mark.

An Unexpected Journey doesn’t quite work in the way that it should but it is still a hell of a good time for fans of Lord of the Rings.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.