No Ordinary Burglar

The Hobbit movie posterAny movie made from a book that means a great deal to a great many people will likely receive both ardent praise (if it has any merit at all) and ardent abuse (no matter what).  The Hobbit holds sentimental value for me since it happens to be the book my father read to my brother and me when I was roughly 7 or 8 years old and consequently, it’s the first book in which I can remember being entirely engrossed.  I knew Peter Jackson planned to make changes.  I’d heard he intended to take from other of Tolkien’s works and, of course, I assumed some details would be changed or omitted or entirely fabricated.  I had come to terms with the very idea of added/omitted or otherwise altered material before I even walked into the theater.

A lot of folks seem to think this first installment of Jackson’s 3 part adaptation ran much too long, was long-winded and unnecessarily drawn out.  Having recently reread the book, I walked into it feeling vaguely skeptical of the film’s length (especially considering it’s a trilogy) but trusting that Peter Jackson wouldn’t ruin it for us.  Two hours and forty-five minutes later I left, trust intact.  I’ll admit that there were a couple of scenes I could have done without, compiling no more than a half-hour or so, but otherwise the film worked and the things that mattered most to me as a longtime fan of the novel on which it’s based, Jackson got perfectly right.

Truth be told, as long as he managed to nail the segment that correlated to the chapter titled “Riddles In The Dark” I knew I’d be all right with Gollumthe rest of it.  (As long as it didn’t totally suck, that is.  Which it didn’t.)  Andy Serkis deserves a new award, something made up entirely for him and his creation of the motion-capture CGI that has brought Gollum to life.  I am enamored.  “Riddles In The Dark” is one of my most favorite and beloved pieces of literature ever written and seeing it acted out onscreen with such detail, with a picture so clear and crisp, made me feel as joyous as a five year-old on Christmas morning.  The cave, the glow of Gollum’s orb-like eyes in the dark, his silent paddling over the black water in search of his prey – it was PERFECT.

Speaking of perfect, Martin Freeman’s embodiment of Bilbo Baggins is a transformation so wholly accurate, I don’t know that there currently lives (or has ever lived) another actor who could play a better Bilbo.  Ian McKellan is every bit as stoic and enchanting as Gandalf this time around as he was ten years ago in LotR.  And the dwarves!  Jackson brought them to life in a way I could never have envisioned.  Fili and Kili, who happen to be my favorites, look perfectly jovial and Bomber, adequately plump.  Naturally, the only ones whose visual translation seemed absolutely critical are Balin and Thorin himself and there isn’t even the slightest discrepancy there.  And for the record, I enjoyed the extra segments dedicated to Thorin’s back story.  I’m not sure why Jackson felt it necessary to include Azog the defiler.  Tolkien did write about Azog in other works, but he never showed up in The Hobbit.  And it isn’t like there weren’t plenty of obstacles along the way without being stalked by the The Pale Orc.

I can’t say I loved Radagast’s appearance, either, but the only addition that truly irked me was the scene in which Gandalf held a brief meeting of the minds with Galadriel and Saruman.  What did this add to the story?  Not a damn thing.  In fact, it accomplished nothing but stalling the narrative for 10 minutes or so.  It may prove itself valuable later in the trilogy but for now, I can’t see its relevance.

the great goblinI saw it not only in 3D but on a screen that supported the high frame rate, as well.  If you plan to see The Hobbit and there is a theater within 30 miles of you that offers both 3D and the hfr, I assure you: it’s worth it.  The picture is so crisp, so clear and vivid, it’s as if you could reach out and tug on Bomber’s beard or touch Bilbo’s hair.  And the scenes in the goblin’s caves are nothing short of stunning.  Some have claimed that the picture is too clear, giving it an unreal, animated appearance.  Or that it’s obvious when the scene is filmed on set rather than on location.  Honestly, there are just a rare couple of moments where these criticisms hold water.  But the multitude of breathtaking shots more than make up for it.

Whatever The Hobbit may mean to you, I recommend it.  It isn’t perfect nor is it the best movie 2012 gave us.  But it is exceptionally good, so entertaining you won’t check the time even once, and more visually stimulating than anything since… well, Lord of the Rings.

~Nikki

Whispers In The Dark

Just finished re-reading The Hobbit – the first chapter book I remember reading as a child.  My dad read it to my brother and me when we were in single digits and even then, I fell in love with Gollum and all the darkness he represented.  Riddles In The Dark is one of the finest pieces of writing ever written and I am tweaking like a meth-head in anticipation of seeing it up on the big screen courtesy of Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis.  As a kid, I was fascinated by Gollum; I wanted to know how he’d come to live in that mountain and why he’d stayed there.  Why did he speak of himself in third person and call himself “precious”?  Why did he ask himself questions as if some other part of him would answer and what was the deal with his sick obsession with that ring?  Much later, in college, I read The Hobbit again and marveled at Tolkien’s skill in creating a creature so wholly vile and repulsive yet worthy of pity.  A creature whose behavior and mannerisms, whose thoughts and physical attributes coincide so perfectly with a being who’s lived in nearly complete isolation and darkness for decades or more.  A cave-dwelling creature whose one friend is this precious ring, which has served him well, allowed him success as a hunter, thereby saving him from starvation or capture (by the goblins) but which has also caused a level of destruction from which there is no return.  Reading The Hobbit as an adult, Gollum reminds me of a heroin addict living in the sewers, thieving and mugging enough to maintain but never getting even half a step ahead because the need and the absolute love of that which is killing him is too strong to fight.

I feel such gratitude to Peter Jackson and the brilliant Andy Serkis (and anyone else who was involved) for making the CGI version of Gollum in their fantastic adaptation of the LotR trilogy every bit as sad, disgusting, insane and pitiful as Tolkien intended.  I was nervous, scared even, as I walked into the theater back in 2001 to see The Fellowship of the Ring that Gollum would be misrepresented, that they’d have neglected some detail or exaggerated others.  But the Gollum I saw made me fall in love with the character all over again – a perfect visual translation of the creature Tolkien created.

Now, less than two weeks away from the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I feel no trepidation.  Only eager excitement to see Gollum again and to watch that most beloved sequence of events that compiles Riddles In the Dark, my favorite chapter in the whole tale (from The Hobbit to The Return of the King), unfold onscreen.  I cannot wait.

~Nikki

I Just Can’t Get Enough

I admit there are many movies that I love so much, I’ll watch them over and over and over.  I’ve probably seen Pride & Prejudice more than a hundred times.  Dances With Wolves used to be practically a yearly event in my house.  Every time I happen to see The Shawshank Redemption on TV, I will watch it, even though I own it and have seen it countless times already.  There are some flicks I just can’t get enough of.  Which is why I understand those people out there who will pay theater prices to see a previously released movie again, now re-released in 3D.  Unlike my co-blogger, Titanic isn’t one such film for me, but I thought I’d share with you one film I adore so much, I wouldn’t think twice about paying to see it in the theater again, even without the added 3D visuals.  For me, each of the Lord Of The Rings films was so magical, so awe-inspiring up on the big screen, I’m sure I’d pay $10 to experience each of them all over again.  In particular, The Fellowship of the Ring.  I remember so vividly sitting in the theater, watching the Uruk-hai (those orc/human hybrid things) coming down that leaf-covered hill in the woods and literally sinking in my seat.  They were fearsome, so intimidating, I felt like if I’d have been standing beside Pippin, I would have dug a fucking hole in the earth just to make myself disappear.

And how I all but choked on the emotion following the fall of Gandalf, watching as the hobbits cried atop those mountainous rocks amidst the gorgeous backdrop of lush green forest – Jesus, that was intense.

More than anything, I loved the brief glimpse of Gollum, nothing but his humongous reflective eyes in the shadowy cave.  Gollum may just be my favorite character ever written.  I got chills at that little glimpse and could not wait for The Two Towers to get a good, proper look at him.

I feel that same anticipation now for The Hobbit.  In fact, at the end of the first teaser trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, when I heard Gollum’s hissy voice, chills ran up my back.  I. LOVE. GOLLUM.  I doubt I’ll ever get to see The Fellowship Of The Ring on the big screen again, but it’s hard to feel too bad about that with Jackson’s upcoming adaption of The Hobbit looming ahead.  Seeing Riddles In The Dark adapted on screen is sure to be one of the greatest moments in cinematic history, especially with Martin Freeman playing Bilbo and Andy Serkis reprising his utterly perfect version of that wicked little creature.

~Nikki

You Can Kill The Revolutionary But You Can’t Kill The Revolution

I saw the new movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this weekend and I admit I went into it with fairly low expectations.  Not because I thought it looked bad, but because someone I work with told me beforehand that it was just mediocre.  Maybe my reaction was skewed since the bar had been set kind of low, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It wasn’t stellar; some of the dialogue was cheesy and, though I am a James Franco fan, he really didn’t pull off the whole scientist thing.  It was obvious as he delivered his lines that he wasn’t comfortable speaking the science lingo.  And one character actually uttered (very dramatically) the line: “You know everything about the brain except how it works.”  Seriously?  Who wrote that gem?  On the other hand, the always-outstanding John Lithgow has a small role in which he proves yet again he is an actor of profound ability.  Whatever that man is doing onscreen, whether it’s an outlandish comedic antic or an act of the deepest compassion, he sells it.  I could probably watch him sit in an empty room and stare at a clock for 2 hours.

Other than the over-the-top delivery of the uber-cheesy “scientific” lines, this flick impressed me.  The special effects were damn good and the plot was well thought-out and nicely executed, with a smooth tie-in to the original Planet of the Apes.  Mad chops to Andy Serkis (as in, the genius mastermind of Gollum of the LOTR trilogy) for bringing his performance capture method of acting to Caesar, the main chimp and true star of this film.  His performance and the gorgeous CGI ape won me over immediately.  And I wasn’t the only one.  The emotional bond between Franco’s character and Caesar, whom Franco took care of from his infancy, was so fully developed, I choked up on more than one occasion.  In fact, it surprised me how strong an emotional response I had to the story.

Director Rupert Wyatt did an excellent job of telling this tale from the apes’ point of view.  I admit I rooted for them pretty much the whole time.  By the end, I was more attached to a few of the apes than to any of the humans.  Not that I wanted to see any humans suffer (except Tom Felton, of Draco Malfoy fame, who played a real prick), but the chimps were treated with such a lack of respect and their pain and suffering met with such complete indifference by the humans “taking care” of them, that it felt good to see them victorious.  As a scientist, I’ve seen so many examples of the ways animals are mistreated in the name of medicine.  Not just euthanized and not just given experimental medication, but actually put into diseased states before being cut open to test the efficiency of a new surgical method, for example, or how well someone with, say, diabetes would do while undergoing a certain procedure.  I get the reasons for this.  I know these drugs/methods must be tested before tried on humans, but I can’t help but ask myself if we humans have the right to grossly manipulate and exploit other forms of life for our own benefit.  This is the reason this movie struck such an emotional chord with me.  Because the truth is, after all I’ve seen firsthand and read/heard about secondhand, if the monkeys ever get smart enough to organize a revolt, no one could say we didn’t have it coming.

~N.