Peter Jackson's expanded take on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit comes to a conclusion in a battle epic packed with enormous action sequences that oddly distract attention from the much more engaging central plotline. By the time it thunders to its satisfying conclusion after nearly two and a half hours, there's a sense of balance restored, providing some powerfully emotional moments along with the thrills. But there's a lot of chaotic mayhem to get through first.
The action picks up immediately, as the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) roars into Laketown causing further desolation before being stopped by the heroic Bard (Luke Evans), who then leads the survivors back to their long-abandoned city in the mountains. Meanwhile, dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) has reclaimed his throne and Smaug's enormous stash of gold, which consumes his soul with greed. But he abandons his promises to Bard and the elf leader Thranduil (Lee Pace), who assembles the elf army against him. So Thorin calls in a dwarf battalion to take them on. Meanwhile, the hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is trying to diffuse the situation and snap Thorin out of his avaricious funk. And wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) discovers that two waves of ruthless orcs are descending on Thorin.
All of this strategising and squaring-off feels fragmented and uneven, as Jackson cuts back and forth between the sprawling ensemble cast while trying to build momentum toward the earth-rattling collision of these five armies. Thankfully, there's also a lot of interpersonal stuff going on to hold the interest. Elf warrior Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is still caught up in a romantic triangle with his intended Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and her forbidden love, the unusually hot dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner). And there's some comic relief from Alfrid (Ryan Gage), a weaselly human who worms his way into Bard's inner circle for some inexplicable reason. Best of all is the push and pull between Bilbo and Thorin, which is very nicely played by Freeman and Armitage.
Continue reading: The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies Review
With wittier action and a few more sharply defined characters, this second episode in Peter Jackson's trilogy is more engaging than the somewhat over-packed An Unexpected Journey. Once again, the key to enjoying the film is to distance it from the beloved novel: this is a big adventure movie as opposed to Tolkien's light-hearted romp. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
There isn't much actual plot, as we are between the set-up and conclusion, so the film consists of a series of set-pieces as Bilbo (Freeman) and his band of dwarves continue their journey to reclaim the dwarf throne in the Lonely Mountain. Gandalf (McKellen) heads off to confront the shifty, shadowy Necromancer (Cumberbatch), while Bilbo and crew head into the creepy Mirkwood, where they confront gigantic spiders before being captured by wood-elves. This is where they meet Legolas (Bloom), whose feisty sidekick Tauriel (Lilly) falls for sexy dwarf Kili (Turner) as they continue their journey to Lake-town. There they get help from Bard (Evans) as they launch their final assault on the mountain, where the dragon Smaug (also Cumberbatch) is napping on the dwarves' vast treasure.
Jackson directs with a spark of energy and humour that holds our attention even when things begin to look a little too digitally animated (basic laws of physics apparently don't apply in Middle Earth). And each sequence also provides some depth of character, especially in the overall journey of Bilbo, nicely played by Freeman as a guy who is only just discovering his own ingenuity and bravery. By contrast, McKellen's plot is much darker as he faces off against unnerving evil. As in the first film, the other strong character is Thorin (Armitage), the heir to the dwarf throne grappling with the idea of a return to power.
Continue reading: The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug Review
This first chapter of Peter Jackson's new Tolkien trilogy takes us back to the familiar settings and characters, inflating a simple journey into an epic adventure in the process. This film also looks strikingly different, shot both in 3D and 48 frames technology, double the definition of film. But it's the story we're really interested in.
The events take place 60 years before The Lord of the Rings, when Bilbo (Freeman) is a younger Hobbit enjoying a quiet life. Then he meets the wizard Ganfolf (McKellen) and everything changes. Suddenly he's invaded by 13 riotous dwarves led by Thorin (Armitage), who has decided to lead an expedition to reclaim their homeland from the sleeping dragon Smaug. Bilbo reluctantly agrees to help them, and their journey kicks off with a series of adventures as they are chased by wolf-riding orcs, captured by greedy goblins and terrorised by gigantic mountain-monsters. They also call in for help from the elf leaders Elrond and Galadriel (Weaving and Blanchett), and try to convince the sceptical wizard Saruman (Lee) to back their quest.
The film opens with familiar characters as the older Bilbo (Holm) chats with Frodo (Wood) before we flash back to the start. And Jackson continues to link the two trilogies like this, with connective characters and events as well as developing the simple novel into a much bigger epic, complete with tenacious villains. All of this is hugely involving, with tense moments that are nerve-shredding as well as scenes of dark emotion and broad humour. The best sequence is Bilbo's encounter with Gollum, which vividly reveals the progress in performance-capture technology over the last decade. We can even more clearly see Serkis in Gollum this time, and it gives the film a real kick.
Continue reading: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review
This film is packed with involving performances, even though Jackson takes a bloated approach to what should be a quietly emotional drama. And in the end, the production design is so lush that it swamps the story's themes.
In 1973, Susie (Ronan) is a happy 14-year-old just beginning to blossom. Her crush on a fellow student (Ritchie) is about to culminate in her first kiss, but she's instead brutally murdered by a creepy neighbour (Tucci). Her parents (Wahlberg and Weisz) are distraught, and Grandma (Sarandon) needs to come help care for Susie's younger siblings (McIver and Christian Thomas Ashdale). Susie watches all of this from "my heaven", longing for her parents to recover their balance and aching for some form of revenge.
The central theme is that Susie's yearning for vengeance is preventing her parents from moving on, and it's also keeping her from resting in peace. As the months and years pass, she struggles to let go of her connections to her family and also to dislodge her killer's hold on her. This intriguing idea is more suited to a small-budget filmmaker forced to find subtle, creative ways to depict the interaction between the afterlife and the living world.
Jackson, of course, has no budgetary constraints, and indulges in constant eye-catching effects that are drenched in colour and symbolism. This luxuriant approach seems odd for a story this fatalistic; it's not likely to be a commercial hit no matter how glorious the digital artistry is. While some viewers will connect with the raw emotional tone, concepts of the cruelty of fate and the fragility of life are lost.
Even so, Ronan delivers another knock-out performance packed with nuance and meaning even though many of her scenes only require reaction shots. It's in her eyes that the film comes truly to life, as it were. The other standouts are Sarandon, who brazenly steals scenes in what's essentially a thankless role, and Tucci, who never resorts to stereotype in his portrayal of a sinister loner. Jackson, on the other hand, continually applies cliches around him, from shadowy angles that generate palpable suspense to a ludicrously over-the-top coda that erases any subtlety the film might have.
And it's expectations that director Peter Jackson has clearly found himself having to address in this movie. Given that all three films in the series were shot simultaneously, Jackson doesn't have much opportunity to introduce new stuff with each movie. We're well familiarized with the main characters and the primary settings, so much of the weight falls on the new people and creatures introduced in this episode to carry the story.
Continue reading: The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers Review
How do you satisfy a legion of fans, some of whom have been waiting almost 65 years to see their absolute favorite work of literature put to film? More often than not, you don't, and though Peter Jackson's production of The Lord of the Rings is painstakingly faithful and earnest, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the movie will never quite be good enough for the obsessed fans (see also the 1978 animated Lord), just is it will be far too obtuse for those who haven't read the books.
Continue reading: The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring Review
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