June 26, 2011
Action, Adventure, Film
1933, 2005, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Ann Darrow, Carl Denham, CGI, Evan Parke, Fay Wray, Film, film music, Howard Shore, Jack Black, James Newton Howard, Jamie Bell, Jessica Lange, King Kong, Kyle Chandler, Lady in the Water, Lord of the Rings, Max Steiner, movies, Naomi Watts, Oscars, Peter Jackson, picture, poster, review, score, soundtrack, Thomas Kretschmann, Venture, Werner Herzog, WETA
How do you go about trying to top the greatest film of your career? Never mind that said film only won 11 Oscars, made over $1 billion worldwide and is already considered one of the masterpieces of cinema. And yet after taking the world by storm, Peter Jackson turned to revive a failed project from his pre-“Lord of the Rings,” namely a remake of the film that he had seen at the age of nine and that inspired him to make movies in the first place. The 1933 version of “King Kong” starring Fay Wray was revolutionary in its own right, completely changed the face of cinema’s visual effects and offers one of the most iconic scenes ever committed to film. A rather faithful tribute to that classic escapist adventure, Jackson’s take bloats the tale to epic levels, constantly pushing the envelope of digital technology and recreating the world’s favourite 25-foot gorilla and the world he inhabits one pixel at a time.
At the height of the great depression, megalomaniac movie director Carl Denham (Jack Black) charts an expedition to an uncharted and deserted island to film an adventure romp. Chased out of New York by the studio executives and the police, Denham and his mismatched crew chart course for Skull Island, this last blank space on the map on a rusty old ship named the “Venture”. Last minute cast member is fledgling actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) who jumps at a chance to work with writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody, looking dishevelled as usual). A love affair soon blossoms between the pair. Against all odds, Denham finds the island and the crew go ashore but soon find that it’s not so deserted after all. Prehistoric natives manage to capture Ann and in a Temple-of-Doomesque ritual offer her to the beast of the jungle – the giant gorilla of the title. Not content with leaving her at the mercy of this monster, Jack leads a company to bring her back, encountering all the creatures of the island that include dinosaurs and some very nasty creepy-crawlies. From an excellent opening montage of 30s New York to the drama on the ship, the film starts very promisingly. Indeed, by allowing over an hour of running time before Skull Island even shows on the horizon, Jackson gives himself a great opportunity for character building, humour and atmosphere. The Venture’s crew are a shady lot: Thomas Kretschmann’s Captain Engelhorn, Andy Serkis as Lumpy the cook, Evan Parke and Jamie Bell as a great mentor/student duo. There’s also an excellent turn by Kyle Chandler as lead actor Bruce Baxter. Indeed the opening act is full five star material.
However, as much as Jackson can showcase his talents at the beginning, most of Kong’s most interesting aspects are sidelined come the jungles of Skull Island. The director has decided on all-out action here but as the creatures and corpses pile up, the film’s flaws become more and more, and painfully obvious: The over-reliance on CGI yields some badly rendered shots (remember that this film won an Oscar for visual effects), the sheer number of VFX shots clearly just too much for the usually excellent Weta Digital. Far more problematic is the running time. Like one of Carl Denham’s safari pictures, the film simply goes on for a few reels too many. The middle section in particular sags under its own flab and even come the climatic Empire State sequence, the aeroplanes circle one time more than necessary. Drawn out like this, there will come a moment when every viewer realises the nonsense of what is essentially a love story between a woman and a gorilla. At that point, either nervous laughter or hysterical giggles will be inevitable. It’s a tricky situation because Jackson is clearly a geek in love with his material but unlike “Rings” he has let the fanboy within get carried away. It’s a huge shame because there’s so much to like about this version of “King Kong.”
Such as? Kong himself is well done, with motion-capture courtesy of Andy “Gollum” Serkis and great effects work, though it’s a fine line between human and animal emotion. The live-actors do well too. Naomi Watts, a worthy successor to Fay Wray and Jessica Lange. Jack Black too is clearly having a ball as the crazed Denham, a great tribute to directors like Werner Herzog. It is a pity that most of the great supporting cast aren’t given as much exposition later on. The scenes in New York also benefit from awesome production values and the “look” of the picture, dinosaur stampedes aside, is fantastic. In the end it’s just not enough.
At the eleventh hour, Howard Shore’s score was rejected and James Newton Howard was drafted in as a replacement with literally weeks to write a score to a three-hour film. The reasons will probably remain forever in the secrets vault of Hollywood and while Shore probably wrote great music, Howard’s replacement is amazing, especially considering the time constraints. Famously, the composer never met the director until the film’s premiere, the pair conversing through video chat, one in Los Angeles, the other in New Zealand. Though he cannot quite rival grand master Max Steiner’s epic score, Howard’s score overflows with character, providing a relatively straight action score. The music’s main themes are presented at the outset and crop up again repeatedly. Highlights include “Defeat is always momentary” which plays to Denham and “It’s in the subtext” which is a slowly building suspense cue that plays over Anne and Jack’s first kiss. The motif for Kong is a brass pattern, heard primarily in “King Kong” and again in “Something Monstrous…” The climatic cues “Beauty killed the beast” are simply numbered with haunting female vocals almost equalling Howard’s career high-point “Lady in the Water.” While it’s regrettable that Shore’s music was rejected, Howard’s score is among the best of 2005 though the Oscar remains elusive for the composer.
If only Jackson had been able to maintain the thrills and suspense of that first, sublime hour, this could have been a truly great film. As it stands, this “King Kong” is overlong and will remain a mixed bag for viewers.
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November 30, 2010
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Film
DVD, Extended Edition, Film, film music, Howard Shore, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Noble, Lord of the Rings, movies, Peter Jackson, picture, review, score, Sean Bean, soundtrack, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Return of the King, The Two Towers, Tolkien, Tom Bombadil
This is a review of the 2003 4-disc Extended Special Edition. For my review of the cinematic cut click here.
Living up to the expectations set by its predecessor, Peter Jackson and Co’s presentation of “The Two Towers” in its extended form, is an absolute mammoth of a picture. Coming in at 223 minutes (compared to the 179 theatrical cut), both Tolkien and film fans will be delighted to be able to explore the canvas of the story and its making in awesome detail. Just like the films continue to set new standards for cinema, so have these extended DVD sets defined just how these “director’s cuts” should be made. Jackson has argued that “director’s cut” is not in fact the right term to describe this extended edition as it is simply a different and longer interpretation of Tolkien’s source text.
And as has been noted when reviewing “The Fellowship of the Ring” Extended Edition, several sequences have been restructured to accommodate the extra material although in this second chapter it is, most of the time, a case of extension and insertion rather than reediting. These extra scenes add a bit of everything: There’s more battles, blood and gore with a sequence at the gap of Rohan where Theoden son was fatally injured, more humour, largely through Merry and Pippin with a neat little Tom Bombadil tribute at Fangorn. For purists and obsessive fans there’s also some great back-story scenes, mainly enlarging Faramir’s part through his brother’s victory at Osgiliath and subsequent departure for Rivendell. Thus Sean Bean gets another chance to make his mark on the series, his part of Boromir cut short by some Uruk arrows at the end of “Fellowship” and we get our first glimpse of John Noble’s Denethor. His father role will of course come to fuller development in “The Return of the King”.
In certain places however, the extra material confounds the different plot strands. The pacing is slowed even more in a film that was already a little slow in it’s middle section. There’s even more walking around endlessly in Emyn Muil for Frodo and Sam, never getting any closer to Mordor whatsoever. If you’re prepared to sit out the awesome running-time however, you will be truly rewarded at the end as Jackson has in no way lost his talents for storytelling. The score too, is seamlessly incorporated into the existing material. Never before has a composer gone back to rewrite and rerecord portions of his score to suit a special edition. And Shore’s job is by no mean a cut and paste one, the new music sounds like it was always meant to be there. All this combined makes for a truly mouthwatering finale and climax in “The Return of the King”.
Non-fans will probably complain at its length but really this is moviemaking at its glorious best. Offering more of everything, this box-set deserves its place in our collections alongside the trilogy’s bookends and among the greatest fantasy films of all time. No fantasy films do it better.
November 29, 2010
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Film
Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill, Billy Boyd, Brad Dourif, David Wenham, Dominic Monaghan, Elijah Wood, Film, film music, Fran walsh, Gollum, Hardanger, Howard Shore, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Rhys-Davies, Karl Urban, Lord of the Rings, Miranda Otto, movies, Orlando Bloom, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, picture, poster, review, score, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, soundtrack, The Complete Recordings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Return of the King, The Two Towers, Tolkien, Viggo Mortensen, WETA
Even while “The Fellowship of the Ring” was still on it’s theatrical run in late 2001 and early 2002, loved by critics and audiences the world over and almost instantly finding its way onto most best film lists, we were quick to realise that this awesome three-hour epic fantasy was but an opening salvo. The true scale and the real battles of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy would only become apparent in the second two chapters. And while any doubts in Peter Jackson’s filmmaking talents were quickly cast into Mount Doom, “The Two Towers” is still considered the somewhat difficult middle chapter, lacking both the strong opening and conclusion present in the trilogy’s bookends.
Launching us straight into the action, with literally no introduction or summary of what has previously happened, Jackson treats the film exactly as it should be: One long story, simply subdivided. And from the outset it becomes clear that the continuation is altogether more complex and considerably darker. Where “Fellowship” functioned as a road movie of sorts, “The Two Towers” sees our heroes take on separate journeys. And unlike the book where the plots are clearly separated, it makes sense to have the different strands be intercut. Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) continue their long journey towards Mordor, tracked and then joined by the twisted and deceitful Gollum, played to perfection by motion capture pro Andy Serkis. Thus, using a combination of performance, voice and computer magic courtesy of Weta, Gollum aka Smeagol is without a doubt Jackson’s trump card for “The Two Towers”. Not only does the gangly creature look and behave in a manner that is photo-real, it is also the sort of pioneering work that has permanently changed the parameters of what is possible. And while the technical aspects of Gollum’s inception will be praised by most, it is important to note that like the rest of the trilogy, Jackson never gets carried away with a gimmick like this: Gollum is a fully fledged character, and one of the trilogy’s strongest pulling points in terms of different emotions. All kudos to Serkis here – it’s an utterly fantastic performance. The One Ring also is growing more powerful. It begins to take hold of Frodo who sees, in Gollum, what he may become if he should fail in his task.
Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd) meanwhile, after managing to escape captivity, find their way into Fangorn forest and befriend one of Tolkien’s greatest creations: a walking, talking tree. Not a tree technically, an Ent. The Hobbit duo still provide most of the film’s humour but are now forced to fend for themselves, no longer are the other heroes around to protect them. Together they must persuade the Ents to go to war and aid their friends, a task proved difficult by the fact that Ents are by nature very slow and thoughtful. It’s in these scenes in particular that “The Two Towers” sometimes loses the edge and exhilarating sense of adventure that “Fellowship” possessed. The pacing is slowed right down, through the Ent bits but also through Frodo’s encounter with Faramir (David Wenham), brother to the deceased Boromir (Sean Bean). There’s a lot of walking hither and thither, without ever getting any closer to destroying the Ring. Jackson is being highly faithful to the book of course, which isn’t a bad thing and viewers will be so caught up in the story, that the three-hour run-time will still fly by. “The Two Towers” is by no means above criticism in this regard but the problems are minor and it should be remembered that with a film before and after it, it fulfils its purpose excellently. In fact keeping these meandering storylines in check is testament to the writing genius of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
Finally, we follow the journey of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli who track the Uruk-hai holding Merry and Pippin captive and are thus introduced to the world of men, namely the kingdom of Rohan. Aided by the new and improved Gandalf (Ian McKellen returns from his “death” in Moria as Gandalf the white), they travel to Edoras to aid the besieged Rohirrim in their battle against Saruman’s ever growing threat. Several new faces join the cast here including Bernard Hill as King Theoden, Karl Urban as Eomer, Miranda Otto as Eowyn and the ever creepy Brad Dourif as Wormtongue. It’s an outstanding ensemble. Development comes also with the introduction of a love-triangle of sorts, with Eowyn making eyes at a Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who is troubled ever by his love left in Rivendell who, if Hugo Weaving has anything to say about it, will sail to the Undying Lands and be parted from him forever. Fans of the book (and the appendices in particular for most of the love story was mined from there) will eagerly lap it up. As a result, the pacing the the middle act slows somewhat before it all culminates in the all-action battle of Helm’s Deep when all minor problems will be forgiven. Like Gollum, there are some really jaw-dropping effects and pure cinema on show here, really upping the ante and raising the bar higher yet again. We didn’t think that was possible but well, we have been wrong before…
As everything in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is consistent, so is its music, composed by Howard Shore. There are not enough superlatives out there to describe just how good, well researched and executed his music for the series is. Taking the the very solid and Oscar winning base of music from “The Fellowship of the Ring” Shore develops these themes and adds in new ones as well. There is a theme for Eowyn, another for Gollum and, perhaps most significantly, Rohan’s signature theme: As the whole Rohan society is based around ancient Scandinavian cultures, Shore writes for the Hardanger fiddle and a beautiful theme that soars above the images. It just feels like the music was always there, belonging to that world. The action music is developed further also: Isengard’s 5/4 pounding is relocated even further into the bass and some of the Lorien themes reappear for the elves at Helm’s Deep in a much more militaristic manner. Once again, there are two versions of the soundtrack available: The regular album and the Complete Recordings four disc set. While the casual listener may be satisfied with the single disc offering, film score fans should really shell out for the Complete Recordings which presents all the music in the film – there’s plenty of material that didn’t make the cut on the regular album.
Unlike the first chapter “The Two Towers” has a few minor problems, which are all ironed out by the end. In overall consideration however, these will make little impact on “The Lord of the Rings’” place among the greatest trilogies and films of all time. And because it is all one story, “The Two Towers” does an excellent job of building on “Fellowship’s” opening and sets us up perfectly for “Return of the King’s” dramatic finale. Genius filmmaking.
How does “The Two Towers” rank in the LotR trilogy for you? If you have any thoughts on my review or anything at all please do leave a comment, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to the RSS feed. Much appreciated – thank you! Until next time, all the best.
October 9, 2010
Adventure, Fantasy, Film
DVD, Extended Edition, Film, film music, Fran walsh, Howard Shore, Lord of the Rings, movies, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, picture, review, score, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers
This is a review of the 2002 4-disc Extended Special edition. For my review of the cinematic cut click here.
The theatrical cut of “The Fellowship of the Ring” runs to 178 mins. So if you thought a three hour movie is long, think again. As a special early Christmas present for fans before “The Two Towers” was released in December 2002, we were presented with this gorgeous DVD box-set which included a half hour’s worth of extra footage, some all new score by Howard Shore and two discs stuffed to the brim with special features documenting every aspect of the production.
It’s made quite clear that Peter Jackson was personally responsible for putting this DVD set together as it’s filled with the same meticulous attention to detail that made the original film so special. He clearly already had this in mind when editing “The Fellowship of the Ring” for the cinemas and was thus able to get away with dropping some great scenes that fans of the book would love but don’t contribute hugely to the story. With the immense amount of material that was shot it’s very nice to see some of these scenes reinstated. But what of this extra footage? Can it improve an already perfect film? Firstly it should be noted that the new scenes and music merge flawlessly with the cinematic cut, but not just extra scenes plonked in between existing ones but rather whole sequences re-edited with the bonus scenes. This does take away from the movie experience somewhat in terms of pacing but my verdict is as follows: As a film fan I must prefer the theatrical cut. The story just flows along nicer and for LotR illiterates might be easier to understand but as a fan of “The Lord of the Rings” I can really appreciate these scenes: The passing of the elves, some more Aragorn at Weathertop, and Lothlorien has been extended to include the gift-giving scene. So it’s not just the action and battles that get extended, every character in the fellowship is fleshed out more thoroughly.
The special features too are in compliment to and not in repetition of the stuff on the regular release. These documentaries give a unique insight into the making of the films and some of the incidents that are already legendary such as an encounter between a shard of glass and Sean Astin’s foot. The audio commentary also, provided by Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens is interesting as it is entertaining. This is truly the way DVD releases should be done.
October 9, 2010
Film, Adventure, Fantasy
Andre Lesnie, Bad Taste, Billy Boyd, Braindead, David Cronenberg, Dominic Monaghan, Elijah Wood, Enya, Favourite Film, Film, film music, Fran walsh, Harry Potter, Howard Shore, Ian McKellen, John Williams, London Philharmonic, Lord of the Rings, Miramax, movies, New Line Cinema, New Zealand, Orlando Bloom, Oscars, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, picture, review, score, Se7en, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Silence of the Lambs, Star Wars, The Complete Recordings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Frighteners, The Philosopher's Stone, The Return of the King, The Two Towers, Tolkien, Viggo Mortensen, Warner Bros.
The trivia and lore surrounding the making of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy are almost as expansive as Tolkien’s mythology itself. The sheer love and passion with which the filmmakers approached the epic trilogy are reason alone to name it the most meticulously made motion picture series of the decade and to safely book its place among the top films of all time. Considering then that “The Fellowship of the Ring” is merely an (albeit three hour long) opening act, the bar is set very high indeed. Because from the moment that Galadriel’s voice comes drifting out of the dark, whispering in elvish, we are drawn into a fantasy world unlike anything seen before: Forget Star Wars, forget Harry Potter, forget that cutesy 1978 animated version. This is serious, hardcore fantasy, a world rooted as firmly in the reality of a European dark age long forgotten as in its very faithful adaption of the source material. This is the one Middle Earth to rule them all.
In the mid-nineties Peter Jackson was a director best known for extremely gory and disturbing splatter horror pictures, from his home-grown “Bad Taste” to “Braindead” and “The Frighteners”. Definitely not a household name, and most definitely not the guy Hollywood would choose to direct a blockbuster franchise like “Lord of the Rings”. But then, Hollywood can’t really take credit for this franchise because it was born and bred in New Zealand by Jackson and his fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. After a financial fiasco at Miramax which would have seen the trilogy made as a single movie, Jackson was able to find another suitor for his mammoth undertaking in New Line Cinema, a division of Warner Bros. who thankfully agreed to provide the budget for three full films. Beginning principal photography in late 1999, it was perhaps the greatest shoot ever, three films being shot back-to-back over 274 days with often as many as six or seven units all filming in different places across the two islands which had been cast as the principal character, namely Middle Earth. Had this been attempted in Hollywood, the project would surely have been doomed from the start.
What is extremely significant is that in between all the statistics and the action, Jackson manages to keep a firm grip on both characters and plot, never loosing sight of the human elements within the story, something that can only come from knowing the text inside-out, being truly passionate about the subject and the hallmark of a very talented director. Because at heart, “Lord of the Rings” is a story of very simple values: friendship, courage in the face of overwhelming odds and the destruction of nature. The plot, just in case you’ve been living on Mars or in Mordor, concerns a Hobbit by the name of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) who inherits a magical ring from his old uncle Bilbo. However when the wizard Gandalf (played by the venerable Sir Ian McKellen) discovers that this is in fact the One Ring which was created millennia ago by the dark lord Sauron to rule all of Middle Earth, Frodo along with some Hobbit friends sets out on an epic quest to destroy the ring and thus evil once and for all. He is accompanied by a fellowship of actors extremely respected in their fields but (at the time) largely unknown in Hollywood – Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean – and also some new talent – Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd – all of which combine for some absolutely fantastic character acting.
And for those that might have feared that their vision of the beloved novel might be torn to pieces, those fears soon evaporated with almost every corner of fantasy fandom praising the adaption. Tom Bombadil gripes aside (seriously, he would have been totally out of place in the film), any changes that have been made are entirely justified: The romance between Aragorn and Arwen is given actual screen-time, the threat of Saruman is made real and present early on, and in general the narrative flows much more freely than in the novel. Some newcomers might well wonder at some of the plot turns but thankfully things like combining Rivendell and Lothlorien were avoided. While it might have made sense from a classic plot point of view, never does the story suffer from it. And very importantly we feel like we’re in these places, thanks largely to Andrew Lesnie’s soaring (and Oscar winning) cinematography. Enjoying the best of both worlds between location and visual effects wizardry, the camera swoops effortlessly through Isengard and Moria. Just as it should be, no one visual effect jumps out of the screen shouting look at me! They’re incredibly impressive but never obtrusive, the Moria sequence perhaps the best example of live-action, miniature photography and CG mixed flawlessly into one thrilling sequence. We do feel that this is the highlight of the action and the actual ending of the film is a bit on the small side in comparison. But it should also be noted that “The Lord of the Rings” is one long story, not three individual books, and is meant to be viewed as such. So the conclusion at Amon-Hen is the perfect set-up to lead us into “The Two Towers”.
Canadian composer Howard Shore may too have been an odd choice to many in the industry as he was known largely for his horror scores (“Silence of the Lambs”, “Se7en”) and David Cronenberg collaborations. However Shore spent several years thoroughly researching the text for his music, visiting the sets in New Zealand and eventually recording with the London Philharmonic, a huge choir and several speciality instruments. The results is perhaps on of the greatest achievements in film music ever (so much so that a book has been written about it!): An approach that is thematically interesting and consistent over the three films. Like the films it’s an approach to fantasy scoring rooted in real music and avoiding many of the clichés so often to be found in regular writing in the genre. It can certainly compare with John Williams’ “Star Wars” for scale and depth. “The Fellowship of the Ring” serves very much as the firm ground on which Shore can build his themes, the development of the main Fellowship theme (nine notes, one for each character) clearly traceable throughout the film. Even themes that would only come to full statements in “The Return of the King” such as the Gondor theme can already be heard, completely formed, at the council of Elrond when Boromir speaks. What is also fabulous is that the score has found some mainstream following. Two versions of the score exist, the regular album release which seems to focus more on Enya’s contribution to the film (which in reality is minimal) and an expanded, four disc set titled “The Complete Recordings” which presents all the music in the film in full. It’s an expensive treat but a treat it most certainly is and is well worth shelling out for.
Graced with 13 Oscar noms and four wins (including one for the score), “The Fellowship of the Ring” is the opening chapter of the most remarkable film story of the 2000s and one of the greatest trilogies in history. Never before has something as grand as this been attempted and probably it will never be attempted again. It gained instant following from millions of fans, critical praise and made quite a taking at the 2001 box office – almost as much as the film that was supposed to be the film of the year, namely “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece in every department from story-telling to acting to costume and visual effects. And it remains my favourite film of all time!
How does this film rank in your Top 10? Please tell me about it and comment! Also please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. Until next time then I wish you all the best!
September 6, 2010
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Film
20th Century Fox, A New Hope, Avril Lavigne, Christopher Paolini, Djimon Hounsou, Ed Speelers, Eragon, Film, film music, Garret Hedlund, Guillory, Henry V, ILM, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Johnny English, Joss Stone, Kenneth Branagh, Lord of the Rings, Master and Commander, movies, Patrick Doyle, Peter Buchman, Peter Jackson, picture, Rachel Weisz, review, Robert Carlyle, score, Sienna, Star Wars, Stefen Fangmeier, Troy
Watching “Eragon” leaves you a little lost for words, pure disbelief and shock at what you have just witnessed, quite possibly gasping for breath as the credits roll. Unfortunately, not in a good way. Your disbelief will not stem from marvelling at the visual experience of a great fantasy spectacle but rather you will wonder how this ever, ever, got off Hollywood production lines or why exactly respected actors like Jeremy Irons signed up for the project. On paper of course it’s exactly what the 20th Century Fox studio execs would have wanted: epic fantasy adapted from best-selling novel in a revitalised genre, certain to tickle the taste-buds of those fans that recently moved from Naboo to Middle Earth. In addition Fox appointed first time director Stefen Fangmeier to the project, an ILM visual effects guru who had worked on projects such as “Master and Commander”, someone then who could be trusted with large set-pieces, talking dragons, sprawling battles and the like. As an added bonus they gave him $100 million to play with. The end product however, is so mediocre it was laughed out of the theatres by audiences and critics alike.
Mentioning “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” earlier was no coincidence for the novel, written and self-published by Christopher Paolini when he was 16, is quite clearly a blend of the two, the characters and plot borrowed, no, blatantly stolen from “A New Hope”. There’s a poor farm boy (Ed Speelers) living with his uncle in a land exploited by an evil empire who is touched by fate and special powers (talking dragon and ‘magic’ for the force). With the aid of elderly story teller Brom (Jeremy Irons alias Ben Kenobi) he sets out to rescue an elven princess held prisoner by the evil if not asthmatic shade Durza (Robert Carlyle) under the command of King Galbatorix (John Malkovich). Oh my, oh my! To be fair to Paolini, the novel is exciting and he has made it his own with the sequels but this does not translate into the film. The screenplay as written by Peter Buchman is quite simply terrible, every scene vying for it’s place among the gallery of best clunky lines ever. Some plot points from the novel have been discarded (such as a trip to the city of Gil’ead) but that only makes it look even more like Star Wars. Pity Han Solo never shows up to lighten things a bit. Although top scripts need to be approved by the studio one can not but wonder how fast asleep the board at Fox were when crackers like “The thing is the word. Know the word, and you control the thing” or “I suffer without my stone” were being written?
Naturally, having something as bad as that as source material, actors won’t be able to do much with it. It’s impossible to tell whether Speelers in the title role is actually a good actor or not, so cringingly embarrassing is the stuff he’s asked for, but there’s not really a lot of emotion for the audience to latch on to. Irons and Carlyle can just about keep things together but neither of them really wants to be there. Clearly the paycheque was considerable or else they wouldn’t be. Many other characters simply pass us by: Sienna Guillory as Arya and Djimon Hounsou as rebel leader Ajihad are little more than ornament while the voice-work of Rachel Weisz as the dragon sounds like it’s been phoned in. Joss Stone who has a cameo as fortune-teller Angela is another hopeless availing of the actor/singer exchange program. Oh and anyone who has seen Malkovich in “Johnny English” will most likely be laughing throughout all of his scenes, the characters aren’t all that dissimilar. The only character of note is the embittered Murtagh. Garret Hedlund who showed such promise in “Troy” does his level best but neither the script nor direction allow him the breathing space required to flesh out an interesting role.
Well ok, you might think, so the storyline and characters aren’t exactly very deep but that’s the case in many a movie these days. At worst it’s going to be a brainless action picture with lots of CG to drool at, right? How wrong you’d be. Fangmeier’s disregard for his picture seems complete: As rich as the production design might be, you’ll never notice because it’s all so rushed. The cinematography allows no space for delving into an environment, we never see Carvahall or Farthen-Dur properly, something Peter Jackson managed to do so well with Middle Earth, there we feel like we’re part of that world. The action also; battles and the crucial flying scenes lack imagination. We’ve seen all this before, time and time again. Even worse, the CG doesn’t look photo-real. Saphira is just about fine on the eyes but everything else is an afterthought. Fangmeier just doesn’t seem to care. It might be worth your money to take a bet on how soon he will be directing a major Hollywood motion picture again.
The task of writing music to accompany this mess fell to British veteran Patrick Doyle, best known for his collaborations with Kenneth Branagh on Shakespeare adaptions such as “Henry V”. Fresh off his success on the fourth Harry Potter, Doyle very much extends that epic style to suit this fantasy. Mostly Major-key and triumphant, what we get is an appropriately large orchestral score. Fans of his previous work will most likely enjoy this one as well. Just ignore the horrible Avril Lavigne song thrown in at the end.
Predictable fantasy fare all round with a horrific script that falls into golden raspberry territory. Watch “Star Wars” instead. About this film, all that’s left to say is $100 million well spent!
Sometimes it’s fun to tear up a terrible movie! Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. And you can always follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed and e-mail sub for updates. Until next time, all the best to you!
March 1, 2010
Alice Sebold, education, Film, Irish, Mark Wahlberg Stanley Tucci, movies, Peter Jackson, picture, Rachel Weisz, review, Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
Last week was quite hectic for me and this week isn’t looking much better. The reason is of course that my pre Leaving Cert exams start next week, bright and early on Monday morning with English Paper One. It seems I am destined to go on a rant about the bad state of the education system in this country – apologies in advance. Then again there’s not really much point in complaining is there? Think about it: There’s about three months left until the exams proper and after that I will attempt to outdo even Mel Gibson with my cries of FREEDOM!!!!
So in fact there’s only one thing educationy that I intend to complain about. And that is of course the Irish course. As was kindly brought to my attention earlier in the week, a new Irish course will be introduced for the then 4th year students. What annoys me beyond measure is the “dumbing-down” of schooling and education for those coming after us. Not only has the significance of the oral exam been pushed to 40% but history of Irish has been sidelined altogether and with no substitution. In addition student will now have a choice between Higher Level poetry and a set text like the (in)famous “Peig” or the drama “An Triail.” I’m beginning to understand those old folks when they knowingly shake their heads at the younger generations.
Last weekend my wait finally ended with the theatrical release of “The Lovely Bones” adapted by Peter Jackson from the Alice Sebold novel. Me being my procrastinating self decided on a whim to buy and read the book five days earlier. However I am glad to say the outcome was wholly positive because when watching the film I was confronted by one of those familiar the-book-is-better-than-the-movie moments. Perhaps this is a little harsh and credit must be given to Jackson and his fellow screenwriters Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh as their adaption is quite an intelligent one. The complex source material is confidently handled and the casting is pitch perfect. What struck me was the lack of character development, in particular those played by Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz: Their separation is hurried and we never get under their skin in the detailed manner the novelist does. And as I was leaving the theatre I couldn’t help but think that if a viewer wasn’t familiar with the book then it may seem a very strange story.
Still, it was an enjoyable (if slightly depressing) viewing. And I’m excited that Stanley Tucci got an Oscar nomination for his performance of Mr. Harvey. He looks so suspiciously like the stereotypical creep it’s not even funny! Anyway, I’ll doubt he’ll win because there is certain Christoph Waltz standing in his way.
Intend to talk a little bit about the Oscars in my next post!
Until then, all the best!