Aisle of the Damned: 12/22/17- O hai, Luke

Yep, it’s the hap-happiest season of all: Star Wars movie release time! Oh, and Chanukkah or something is going on too. Bryan and Kent discuss Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the petulant reaction of a certain section of fanboys.

Not satisfied with that, they also discuss The Disaster Artist, with James Franco taking on the role of Tommy Wiseau, the auteur behind The Room.

We also have a slew of trailers for upcoming 2018 films and a big discussion of the biggest shake-up to hit Hollywood in years: Disney’s buy-out of Fox’s entertainment division! Plus, Quentin Tarantino is beaming into Star Trek, the National Film Registry has picked 25 new entries and some GI Joe news.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Supernova- Chewbacca

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Someone learned to use photoshop!

The Hobbit series continues to pale in comparison to its Lord of the Rings predecessors while still being far from a complete waste of time.

The Desolation of Smaug is a step-up from the previous film in terms of keeping things moving and justifying its run time. The appearance of Smaug himself certainly doesn’t hurt, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice pouring through the theater speakers like melted black licorice.

Just a note before I get into the meat of this review; I’ve heard some folks complaining about the way Smaug isn’t real enough. As part of this particular story, that doesn’t really bother me personally. Though since Peter Jackson is trying so hard to turn this story into the kind of epic that the previous films encompassed rather than the quaint adventure tale that actually makes up the book, I can understand why some people may be unhealthily focused on how an imaginary creature doesn’t look real enough. (Despite the fact that there are no such things as dragons. Not the fire-breathing and/or talking kind, at the very least.) For me, Smaug works because I feel the personality of the creature emanating from him. This is the most difficult thing for computer effects people to capture. The kind of lightning in a bottle that Ray Harryhausen brought to almost all his creations, despite the fact that no one would ever accuse him of realism. In this case, I felt it.

When it comes to the main storyline, the parts of the book that take the longest (staying with Beorn, the shape-shifter, or the imprisonment by the elf king) are done and over in a flash, while things that are not even in the books are given plenty of screentime.

Take Tauriel, for example. A character created for the films and portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, she actually works better than some of the things taken directly from the slight tome that the film is based on, maybe because she better fits the kind of film Jackson is making.
But the kind of film Jackson is making is a fun one. The action scenes (which conversely are much longer than they are in the books) manage to be the kind of roller coaster ride he’s famous for. In the instance of the famous barrel ride down the river, almost literally so.

The other good thing about this chapter is that the dwarves are managing to differentiate themselves. Personalities assigned to them are beginning to shine through. I can’t really fault the first film for having a tough time with their characterization, because there’s very little of it in the book. Sure, there are a few bits here and there for a select few of them, but in most cases, the fact that there are so many seems to exist only for the comic relief of listing their names in Tolkien’s book.

It is perhaps not ironic but at least an overlooked effect of this improvement that leads to the Hobbit of the title seeming less like a lead character of his own film and more like part of an ensemble. Especially between the dwarves and the side-adventures of Gandalf that are pushing the prequel aspects of the story much farther than one would expect. He comes in direct contact with forces and visions that make you wonder why he wasn’t better prepared at the beginning of Fellowship of the Rings.

So all in all, it’s a slicker, more action-oriented ride than the first film with less overt direct references to the original trilogy. But it also has the worst, most anti-climactic ending of any of the Tolkien films since Fellowship. In the end, if you didn’t like An Unexpected Journey, Smaug most likely will not change your mind about the Hobbit trilogy. Even with the improvements, it’s still overlong and it still is trying to make the story into something that it’s not. There and Back Again promises to be more of the same. But at least now we know what to expect of these films. A good time at the movies. Just not the earth-shaking time we had expected two years ago.

(Three and a half damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

You shall not pass gas!

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first; no, The Hobbit does not show justification for being broken into three movies, let alone the run time of this one. Yes, it’s still absolutely worth seeing.

Peter Jackson’s decision to milk the remainder of J.R.R. Tolkien’s oeuvre that was available to him has been controversial to say the least. Having just read the novel beginning to end for the first time (an aborted attempt was made back in high school when it was assigned reading) I can say that a lot has been added to extend it. For good or ill, single sentences or mentions are expanded to full special effects laden sequences. Not to ruin the ending of the story for you, but there’s a battle, just as one would expect, and it has about four pages of description, in past tense as a recollection, no less. I figure this will account for nearly the entirety of the final film. I have not read The Silmarillion or the various scraps of his father’s work that Christopher Tolkien, angry with Peter Jackson for exploiting his father’s work, has compiled and released posthumously to… exploit his father’s work. Therefore, I can not tell you how much of this material is from those volumes.

Regardless, The Hobbit is a different animal from the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy for which it serves as prequel. Not for lack of trying, however. Characters that did not appear in the original novel make not altogether unwelcome cameos and at times the action is so spot-on in its mimicry, it is almost like Jackson is pointing to the screen saying, “Look, look! Remember that?”

While there are certainly exciting action sequences, the majority of the film seems almost like a walking tour of Middle Earth. Once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem comes when the film’s tone seems at odds with itself. The novel is essentially a very good children’s book. Let’s call a spade a spade. And as such, it is filled with whimsical touches that seem out of place with much of the tone set in the original film trilogy. This would not be a problem if Jackson didn’t seem so intent on carrying over so much of that previous tone.

One place the film excels over the book is that of characterization. Ian McKellan is, of course, still fantastic as Galdalf the Grey. Taking Ian Holm’s place (once a Saving Private Ryan-in reverse framing device is employed) as Bilbo is Martin Freeman who is, as one would expect given his turns in fare such as The Office and Sherlock, perfect for the role. He plays the character very close to the book, all his naiveté, bumbling and charm intact. At the risk of upsetting Tolkien disciples, it’s interesting that people have been complaining about the dwarves’ lack of personality in the film as, while they are spread thin given the sheer number of them, there is far more to them than the dwarves in the book. Perhaps readers don’t remember that most of them don’t even seem to have lines in the slim tome, let alone discernible persona. This helps show why Guillermo del Toro, before bolting the project, found it his biggest worry in adapting the film. Given what they had to work with, I found the solution of giving them personalities based often, at least in part, on their appearance, to be an excellent short-hand.

The stand-out sequence of the film is, as is to be expected, the famous “Riddles in the Dark.” When Bilbo finds the ring that will cause no end of trouble to his kin, his interplay with Gollum is tense, creepy while simultaneously being funny and altogether outstanding.

The first of the Hobbit films (and I would suspect the other two as well) have all the qualities of Peter Jackson not running a victory lap, but a victory-rerunning-of-the-race. It seems like a bit much, but it’s much better than nothing, if that makes sense.

Now as to the technical aspects of the film; these were where I was truly disappointed. I know that CGI has advanced in the decade since Lord of the Rings bowled me over. However, the effects simply don’t look it in a lot of places. I put this squarely on the use of the high-speed frame rate of 48 frames per second that Jackson made the film with. There are so many issues with the lighting and overall look of the film, that I will say it was absolutely a mistake to begin using it with these films. Perhaps with more experimentation the problems will clear up, but as of now, the process adds nothing over what I have otherwise seen of IMAX or 3-D presentations and detracts much in terms of the look of the film. To be clear, I saw the film twice, first in IMAX 3-D with the high frame rate and once on a regular movie screen in 2-D, so I could compare them. The 3-D of the IMAX screening was some of the least impressive I have ever seen. On more than one occasion, I was struck by a sheer lack of depth to the image. For instance, when the dwarf band emerges on a cliff overlooking Rivendell, it was like they were standing in front of a matt-painting. Even mediocre conversion jobs that I’ve reluctantly seen have been more impressive. I’ve heard people describe the issues with the HRF process that it “is too real.” I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve never seen anything in real life look like that. Everything seems to have a waxy coating to it. As I do recommend seeing the film, I also highly recommend seeing the film in the regular frame rate. Many of the visual issues still exist because of the filming process, but they are not as glaring, thankfully.

(Three and a half out of five stars)