A new trailer. Alas, the quality is rather low, but HBO should have their official upload soon.
Given the material of the book, this has the potential to be the strongest season. And hopefully, with the decision to split it over two season, it means we can avoid the rather rushed and jumbled nature of the second season. They have no reason to rush, so every moment should have fantastic build-up and pay off. It'll be interesting to see them also embellish on character interactions, especially those there were only slightly focused on in the book – or that didn't appear at all! As it stands, the production has stepped up: there's finally a scope to the show matching that of Martin's text. I'm really enjoying the aesthetics we're seeing, it appears so much more cinematic. There's a gritty, verite styling to it – a bit like a road movie – and given how much travelling there is this season, that is ideal!
On a second look, the Hobbit is a film that seems to be attempting two things. The first is a grand adventure taking place in a world of mysticism and magic, the second is the thematic heart of the story: driven through character relationships and conflicts. I think what made the Lord of the Rings films work so wonderfully was their success in combining these two elements, and not only combining them, but doing each exceptionally well individually. In the original trilogy there was always this sense of realism. A feeling that, no matter how fantastical the imagery may be, everything you saw on screen might be real, it could have existed. There was a grit to Middle-Earth and the people who inhabited it. The trilogy had spectacle, but it also add weight and moments of genuine pathos. There was a real bonding between the characters, a real sense of friendship and fear and love.
In relation to the Hobbit, I think the film is successful in the first part of its endeavour. Jackson does capture a sense of the world, a sense of history and culture and adventure. His attention to detail is admirable: the reconstruction of the green, rolling hills of the Shire, the twirled and seasonal architecture of the elves. The rough and grotesque structures in Goblin town. It's all very well done, though perhaps too polished at times and missing the man-made grit from Fellowship of the Ring. A small trait I did like about the Hobbit was the inclusion of rather small, additional information: names, rituals and histories being thrown around between characters, and the film has the gall to put no real weight or emphasis on it. It's just there as an accepted part of the world.
Tonally lighter than the Lord of the Rings, the film allows itself more time to indulge in humour. For the most part, I like this very much. It adds a certain quirkiness and jovial nature, silly songs and goodhearted banter take up much of the time at Bag-End. Although, once again, the belching humour struck me as Jackson's juvenile sensibilities and completely out-of-touch with Tolkien. There is a sense of adventure pulling through here, there is a feeling of uncharted excitement played alongside a more determined melancholy. Tonally, I feel the film is sound. It between fantastic set-pieces, placing a lot of emphasis on chases and fights. This does lead to a very thrilling climax involving orcs, wargs, fire and heroism, but I have to confess that sometimes it just feels too indulgent. Jackson never seems to miss a chance for more action and he'll pour plenty of effort into creating these elaborate fights. Yet for all the spectacle, it can't help but feel that sometimes these run on far longer than necessary. The “Warg Scouts” sequence in particular was one that I felt dragged out to its very limits. On the other hand, I do applaud the sense of humour and fun that was found in the shenanigans of the three trolls. It felt a bit more uniquely done,relying on the funny interactions between Bilbo and the trolls.
The Hobbit is long, very long, and there's a rather impressive list of things that could've been a) cut or b) at least shortened considerably. The scenes at Rivendell especially seem drawn out. The White Council is something that ultimately feels very pedestrian in its execution, and rather forced in its tension. There's no reason given for Saruman's scepticism except for an overtly obvious “bad guy in the making” signal. Carrying on, I have to say that the Azog storyline might be one of the weaker aspects of the film. Understandably, due to the decision to split the novel, they required some sort of antagonist for Part I, but Azog feels like a cardboard cut-out of a hundred other villains. He lacks an interesting agency, his inclusion in the story seems odd, misplaced - simply being there for the sake of being there, and there's no logic given as to how he knew about the dwarves quest or whereabouts. Jackson's tampering with the lore leaves some plotholes.
The second part of the Hobbits gambit is a little more hazy to answer. The attempts to explore the conflicts of the characters is sort of there, but only half-developed. Bilbo, on one hand, is a very well-drawn character in the film. Yet his interactions, outside of Thorin and Gandalf, don't amount to much. We're given a few moments with some of the other dwarves, but only Bofour is given any significant weight, and even then only for one scene. The dwarves are mostly treated as one big homogeneous group – which might work for a few laughs, but makes watching them for three hours a bit stale. Perhaps the most regrettable thing is that that excellent marriage of both aims that made his the original trilogy so powerful could have been rekindled here: this is highlighted through the riddles game with Gollum. A quiet scene which relies entirely on tone, characterisation and skilled direction. We're even treated to a moment of genuine pathos when we see Bilbo choose to spare the miserable cretin. If this level of quaint beauty and nuanced direction had been adhered to throughout, we might have ended up with a stronger film overall. If the Hobbit had been one feature film, the lack of distinction between the dwarves, and their treatment as one undistinguished group could be forgiven. But with the Hobbit now having a playground of up to 9 hours, it seems as if more time should have gone into establishing these cheerful fellows beyond their facial topiary.
Still, what we're given is a tonally consistent and enjoyable adventure that features some highly engaging set-pieces and likeable protagonists. It doesn't exactly measure up to the quality of what we were given in the Lord of the Rings – but perhaps that can be forgiven, those were lightning in a bottle: ground-breaking in almost every way, and for now remaining triumphant as the best adventure and fantasy pictures out there. The Hobbit is a good, if bloated, addition to the franchise and I think that, despite all flaws, an Unexpected Journey indicates that we may have more spectacular set-pieces and stunning world-building to anticipate. I say, with full confidence, bring on Smaug the Terrible!
It's always a little weird when you don't watch a film for a long time, you return to it and uncover certain thoughts that you never really realised before. I always thought of Part I as being very plot-heavy, lacking a thematic core, yet watching it now I see the signs of a definite theme: the loss of innocence. From the very opening with the trio being forced to radically change their lives and abandon what they hold dear, to using their own magic in a more visceral and dangerous manner. This idea ultimately culminates with the death of Dobby. As for Part II, I felt I appreciated its thematic drive much more this time. The concept of unyielding devotion, stitched together through numerous interactions and key scenes, gives rise to a very poignant swansong. *Warning Yates masturbation following*
David Yates is a really excellent visual storyteller: If there's one thing I credit him with, he really understands the importance of misc-en-scene. Take the scene when Voldemort's army surrounds Hogwarts – it's done in one sweeping master shot which conveys everything: the size of his horde, his servants submission to him, the castle looking small and frail. It's a great contrast, especially to how massive it looked during the 'Statues' sequence. Another fine example, which won't go down well here, is the use of jump cuts. It's a really great way to stress the pain that Harry goes through. It's sharp, it's noticeable, it's effective. There's also something to be said about the colours in his film: the use of an almost underwater, eerie Slytherin-like green when Voldemort 'speaks' to Hogwarts, the way his camera disorientates itself breaking the 30-degree rule and using very stretched lenses. The greys in Part I, creating a post-apocalyptic aesthetic. I'd go into the Prince's Tale here, but I'd be writing for days.
Yates' films move like a symphony: I believe I've said this before, but he's one director that really has a fluidity to the structure of his films. It doesn't really register to me as going through arcs, but more like moving through progressions and moods. A sublime example of his beautifully sown transitions is the opening of Courtyard Apocalypse, the drum beats enter as Harry speaks, and we're taken to a sweeping shot of the castle in ruins. Or how, as Ron throws the cloak over Griphook and Harry, we cut to an establishing shot of the Gringott's hall. It's all remarkably smooth. There's literally countless example of this throughout both Parts – another is the Lovegood house blowing apart, then cut to Ron cursing Xeno.
The Narrative Problems: For all the praise I can shower, I don't think we landed the greatest writing. There's some seriously poor dialogue, things are awkwardly introduced or poorly explained. The mirror is the shining example here, it just turns up with no proper explanation what-so-ever. The other thing is that I find Part I quite uneven in the beginning. By all means, the Obliviate and Malfoy Manor scenes are fantastic. And then we get to the 7 Potters. But the Sky Battle is exhilarating...and then the Burrow is underwhelming. There's this problematic stop-start dynamic, which is actually rather tiring. It feels like the film doesn't really kick-off until the Ministry break-in.
The Battle of Hogwarts is awesome...if only there was a little more: I actually forgot how cool it really is. In fact, it's pretty damn spectacular at times. Voldemort tearing down the shield, the Giants pummelling the Knights, those tracking shots. It's so high-octane. I just wish there could have been a bit more of it, maybe 30-40 seconds in the 'Battlefield' sequence of just seeing shit getting blown up. Yates is actually a very good action director, his shooting style is well composed and very clear, he captures a sense of chaos without it becoming confusing. The Snatcher chase is a great number: it looks messy, it is messy, but you can actually follow it, there's still a crystalline imagery and structure to the fight. It's nice that he can make a satisfactory sequence without going over-the-top and over long.
Good at action, great at drama: Characters are essential. Well-drawn, conflicted characters are part of what makes a story so engrossing to me. Yates gets characters. I like that. Very much. The good thing is that Yates has confidence in his actors, he doesn't try to manipulate, or go totally melodramatic. The Ron and Harry fight is a slow-burner, it is mostly done without music, only the sound of rain pattering against the tent. Slowly and slowly building up until they hit breaking point. He really lets them breathe, stretch their legs a little and find a natural, intimate connection. It actually really helps when you hit those climatic emotional points towards the end. The Resurrection Stone, it isn't manipulative, it's actually handled with a very delicate touch. Desplat's score is almost background tinkering. It relies on the strength of the actors and the connection we have to them.
These films aren't perfect, not by any means, and not every scene is masterful. The 'Panic At Hogwarts' bit, for example, felt very forced and passive to me. I felt that There were plot-holes and Bonnie Wright. Yet, at the end of the day, I felt really satisfied with them, enjoyed them immensely and noted a lot of skilled filmmaking along the way. I look forward to David Yates' next project....maybe. I'm not sure about Tarzan...
Next up: Pretensions on the LOTR trilogy, Saving Private Ryan and Dark Knight Rises.
I certainly can't change my pessimism simply to appease people. This is a book I have read, and loved, for many years now, above all else I'd like to see the story brought to screen properly. Three films, each of them possibly over 2.5 hours long, is a sure-fire recipe for bloat, the quick pace that makes it such an enjoyable light read is sure to be lost. The translation is, it comes across as an attempt, not to adapt the Hobbit, but to transform it into another Lord of the Rings – something that it is not.
It isn't so much the idea expansions that I mind, I do support the inclusion of the White Council and Dol Guldur, it's simply that most of it, especially Jackson's grating defence of “using the appendices”, isn't really necessary. A lot of these expansions are invented by Jackson himself, and most of them, quite frankly, seem like excuses to lob on more action scenes. Just looking at the soundtrack, and we get things like 'Warg Scouts' and 'Thunder Battle', or Radagast being ambushed by eight-legged menaces. Not that I'm against action scenes, but if you're going to turn a children's book into a trilogy, I kind of want the reasoning to be a mite more substantial than stone transformers.
Yeah, I watched Hugo on Bluray. I never really had any feedback on how it was in the cinema.
Anyway, starting a Potter rewatch: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - 7-7.5/10
I enjoyed it more this time than I did over a year ago. I found that it paced itself pretty well, balancing the plot with introducing the characters/setting reasonably well (of course, that doesn't excuse the fact that there are a number of scenes that just feel inane: Qudditch being the worst offender). The technical aspects aren't great, the film looks bland and the CG is pretty bad in a lot of places (even the exterior castle shots look off). I'm not sure why the kids performances get so much hate, they're pretty good all things considered, maybe a few lines are a little forced/read out but I don't think they bog the film down in any significant way. One thing that did grate me is Columbus' insistence on showing and telling. Doesn't he understand that there's no need to do both?
Columbus' direction feels pretty, um, pedestrian in general though, there aren't really any moments that I can think of where he uses visuals to tell the story or express an idea or even show off little flourishes of creativity. It's really just a point-and-shoot approach he's taken. Even further, some of his compositions look a touch awkward, there's close-ups of one character where another's head just bobs in and out of frame. Oh, but Williams' score is wonderful. It does help to elevate the 'magical' feelings of the film, at least at key points like the first view of Diagon Alley or entering the Great Hall for the first time. So, yeah, it's not great but it is a pleasant enough viewing.