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Friday, December 14, 2012

'The Hobbit,' 'Star Trek' and more

Let's see if I can come up with as many bullet points on the movie as there are people in Thorin's company.  In no particular order.  (Spoilers, natch.)

1. Straight out of the book.  Lots of little things (like the origin of golf) and then some bigger things, like songs.  I'll admit it.  When I read The Hobbit now, I skip the songs.  But when those first trailers hit with the mournful Lonely Mountain song, I was entranced.  That's in the film, of course, along with a couple more.  That surprised me.

2. LOTR setup.  Of course, it was nice to see Ian Holm and Elijah Wood back as Bilbo and Frodo, pre-Fellowship, but I'll be honest: I don't think it was necessary.  I have two caveats to this, though.  One, this allowed old Bilbo to read the famous opening lines to the book.  Two, it allowed for a nice transition from old to young Bilbo.

3. High Frame Rate.  I saw it first in Digital IMAX 3D and then in the controversial 48 frames-per-second HFR 3D.  The 3D was very well done throughout in both formats.  Oddly, the CG characters in the HFR version seemed more "real" than in the regular 3D.  Perhaps it had to do with the games my brain was playing with HFR in the first place.

You see, a lot of people have complained of "Keystone Cop"-style speeded up movements.  That's not actually the case.  What's happening is pretty simple.  Your brain is expecting to see a movie the way it always has: at 24 fps.  In 24 fps, you see motion blurs and other artifacts of that speed.  At 48 fps, motion blur is nearly absent.  The tells that make a movie look like a movie to your brain aren't there, so the occasional bursts of speed someone has on screen look unnatural to you.  In fact, it looks more realistic than any other movie you've ever seen, but, again, your brain isn't expecting that.

I recommend you see it in 24 fps first and then HFR after that, if you want.   If you see it in HFR first, you'll be too busy trying to figure out what your eyes are seeing and you won't really be paying attention to the story.

Enough of HFR.

4. Gollum.  When you consider that it's been nearly ten years since a computer farm in New Zealand had to crank out the 1s and 0s to make the warped hobbit junkie, you'll realize that there had to be some leaps in realizing the character since then.  But when you see it on screen, your mind will be blown.  He looks straight-up real.  There are a few times where Gollum is straining and squirming to think of an answer to Bilbo's riddles and you just know lil' Sméagol exists somewhere.  It looks so good you'll want PJ & crew to go back to LOTR and insert the new Gollum.

5. Music.  Howard Shore is back and on his game again.  I've seen a couple of reviewers bemoaning the lack of "new" music, but I'm at a loss to grasp this.  Yes, there are certainly reprises of LOTR themes: Rivendell, Lothlorien, Shire, Ring, etc.  But these are new variations on those themes, most often.  Add to that the new dwarf music (based on the great Lonely Mountain song) and there's plenty of new music.  I've seen the movie twice but I can't say for certain, but you know there's a Smaug theme in there.  And a Radagast theme, too.  I will point out an odd musical choice (to my ears, anyway) that doesn't exactly aid my point about new music.  Near the end, as the trees and wargs burn, Thorin steps away from the tree to confront an orc ... the score here is, essentially, the same that was played for the Nazgûl as they hunted Frodo and stormed the Prancing Pony in Fellowship.  I would have thought some variation on the Moria music might make more sense (chanting male choirs and such), but what do I know?

6. Smaug.  Skip on if you want to be surprised.  You don't see much of him in this, of course.  Some destruction of Dale and Erebor at the beginning and then a nice little tag at the end (pre-credits).  No voice is heard; just growls and roars.  We don't see much of him at the end, so I can't say if it appears that gold and gems have become embedded in his scales.  Also, his skin seems dark gray instead of the reddish hue he is most often painted as having.  Perhaps that's just because of the lighting in the scene.

7. Azog.  Again, spoilers.  Skip ahead if you want.  In the appendices to Return of the King, we learn all about Azog the Defiler.  In the text, he is killed by Dáin Ironfoot, Lord of the Iron Hills, after Azog killed Thorin's grandfather.  Here they leave Azog's slaying to Thorin.  I don't have a problem with that.  It makes the revenge aspect of the story more personal for Thorin.  Here's my problem, though: (spoilers again) Thorin lops off Azog's arm and that's it.  The huge orc is still kicking and screaming when he's dragged back into Moria but Thorin assumes he's dead?  That doesn't make sense to me.  If Thorin had lopped off his arm and then stabbed him in the gut ... and then if his body was carried, lifeless, into Moria, sure.  Here's a question I have, though: what about Bolg?  Bolg is the big bad of the big battle coming later ... if Azog is still alive, where does that leave Bolg?  (According to the end credits, Bolg is in the film, but I don't remember seeing him.)  Here's a cool thing, though: what if the Necromancer is responsible for Azog's reappearance?

8. Necromancer.  They're playing him nice and quiet in this film, which is good.  There's a cool scene at Dol Guldur but that's about it.  I'm really hoping we see him live up to the "necro" part of his name in the next movies.

9. The Dwarves.  I've seen a couple of reviews that criticize the film for not giving most of them any real characterization.  These same reviews also complain that the first 45 minutes or so drag.  Morons.  At any rate, I'll go out on a limb and say the dwarves feel more realized in the film than in the book.  Yes, Thorin's the leader with a proud history.  Fili and Kili are young and adventurous.  Balin is wise and friendly toward Bilbo.  Bombur is fat.  These apply to both the book and the film, but the film does a good job of giving some time to the other dwarves.  Bofur, in particular, comes off great.  He might be my favorite.  Dori and Ori also have plenty of nice moments.  Gloin and Oin, too.  Supposedly, the expanded edition will have about twenty minutes added in.  I wouldn't be surprised if more dwarf time is included.

10. Goblin Town.  Very huge, very packed with squirmy orcs.  Good action beats, too.  (You'll love the bit with the swinging ropes wrapping around the walkway.)  It's a testament to the technology that I couldn't tell which ones were CG and which ones were makeup.  The Great Goblin, though, is all CG.  His swinging testicle chin, too.  His talking and pontificating are straight out of the book.  It makes sense that they got Dame Edna to do the voice.

11. Elves.  The brief glimpse we get of King Thranduil and his men of the Woodland Realm was intriguing.  Very elvish, but still different than the soldiers of Rivendell, Lothlorien and Lindon we've seen before.  (Speaking of Rivendell, Elrond's armor was very nice.)

While I'm on Elves, let me say how odd and amazing it was to hear words like "Gondolin" spoken aloud.  Much of the LOTR trilogy was focused on the rising world of Men, Hobbit will be focused on dwarves ... the Elves are sprinkled throughout, but we'll never get that true Elvish focus unless The Silmarillion gets adapted.  If I ever get bored, I'll outline for you guys my idea for a trilogy, complete with framing devices and more.

12. Gandalf.  Sir Ian McKellan is fantastic, of course.  Thanks to the story of The Hobbit, Gandalf displays far more magic in this film than he seemingly did in the entire LOTR trilogy.  Yes, I would have liked to see Gandalf use some wizard math on the attackers at Minas Tirith in ROTK but I recall that PJ told McKellan that his staff's batteries were running low.  If I can dork it up a bit, I can tell myself that, maybe, Gandalf was focusing all of his wiz-biz through Narya (the Ring of Fire) to inspire the thousands of Gondorians to fight.

13. Bilbo.  Martin Freeman is the shit.  It's no wonder Peter Jackson was so fixated on getting him for the films.  I've seen a couple of fans complain that Bilbo was too willing to go ... I didn't have a problem with that.  PJ & crew just wrote him with a bit more Tookishness than they expected.  Making him more willing helps us believe that he wouldn't just leave the company at the drop of a hat later on, which he has several opportunities to do.  Also, someone asked about Thorin's embrace of Bilbo at the end.  It more than worked for me.  It will help really contrast their relationship in the third film when Bilbo betrays him.

14. New Zealand.  To quote Tina Fey's daughter, "I want to go to there."  I'd be fine with living there, too.  I had a dream earlier this week that I did live there.  I loved it, except I was frustrated in the grocery store, trying to figure out all of the alien brands and foods.  My wife was annoyed with the accents.  Still, nice dream.

15. Radagast.  Plenty goofy but also cool.  Not the "Jar Jar" some of have said.  Sylvester McCoy disappeared into the part.  Saruman's mushroom line was funny.  Oh, and Sebastian?  Sincere "awwww."

And one more:

16. I'm getting old.  Going to see the midnight showing, followed by another showing at 11, kicked my ass.  Even if I didn't see it at 11, I would still be wiped.  Ugh.  Still, I'll try to do it again next year.  Maybe for Star Trek, too.

The nine-minute preview was great.  The opening in London with parents maintaining a vigil over their sick child ... only to have The Batch show up and offer a life line.  Still no clue about who he is or what his character will end up doing.

Then we whip across the galaxy to the primitive planet Nibiru.  I won't wreck it except to say that all of the main crew has their part to play in a mission to save a group of primitives from a killer volcano.  Lots of Prime Directive talk, too.  That made me very happy.

(One question though: did they say why the transporters wouldn't work?  They may have; I just missed it.)

And the 3D ... holy crap.  If I didn't know that it was post-converted, I would have assumed it was filmed stereoscopically.  Well done.  I only wish we had a better shot of the Enterprise so I could see it in its fully rounded space glory.


Man of Steel - The trailer looked very nice.  I hope it's not as self-important as it seems at this point.  I saw Zod ... and in the next shot, it looked like Kal-El was kneeling.

Great Gatsby - Glitzy.  I'm not very interested.  Sorry.  I'll stick to Boardwalk Empire for now, thanks.

A Good Day to Die Hard - A good day to stop milking that franchise dry.

Jurassic Park 3D - Yeah, I know.  But I'm going and I'll be taking my son, too.

Disappointed that neither screening I saw had the trailer for Pacific Rim or the full regular trailer for Star Trek into Darkness.  Sunday, my wife, my son and I will go have a Hobbit breakfast at Denny's before we see the movie.  Yes, a third time for me; first for them.