Reviews - Cinema
So the festive season has once again come and gone, the forced cheer and eating to excess just about concluded. All that remains is to break all those new years resolutions (most don’t last beyond January second anyway!) and sort out the bomb site that used to be the kitchen, before we have to do it all again.
However there is one regular event on the Christmas calendar that demands somewhat more of our attention. Yes, every year (it’s happened more than once, ergo it’s an ancient tradition steeped in the mists of time) a certain master P Jackson puts out a little fan film for our personal amusement, and it is to this, that this article relates. This years offering is of course The Hobbit Part 2 The Desolation of Smaug.
Now, those of you with any form of long term memory left after the over indulgences of new year celebrations, will remember that I was slightly less than impressed with the first offering in this series (cough, never three films in that tiny book, cough, cough). So it was with some hesitation that I joined the usual band of unmentionables (names have been removed to protect the guilty!) for the opening weekend of this films run. This was the weekend just a week before Christmas, and for some reason that escapes me now, the conclusion was reached that it would be best to see the film in the town centre cinema rather than at the Leisure Park (my usual haunt). The reasoning for this was totally sound, and made sense to all at the time, but once faced with the ultimate calamity that was to be Festival Place’s car park on that dreary, sodden, Saturday afternoon, all rhyme and reason as to how this decision was reached, left me, and I found myself in the gauntlet of the ultimate challenge, to seek the Holy Grail, that Golden Challis that is A PARKING SPACE!!!!
So you can picture the scene, I’m not the most beloved follower of Tolkien’s franchise, or of the first instalment (my opinions of which are on record and I won’t bore you with them again here. I’ll merely bore you with other things instead). (Did that help to get the word count up enough?) (Yup. –Ed)
So what did I make of the film then, after all, that’s what I’m supposed to be writing about (although having got this far, a tiny little piece of my tiny little brain, is wondering if I could actually complete this inane ramble without mentioning the film at all).
First of all let me say that there is hope for Peter Jackson yet. All the things that I disliked about the first film are still here in abundance, however there are two striking differences. Firstly, whilst there can be no denying the fact that this film contains both silly parts and EPIC, hello everyone I’m doing EPIC, in the way that only Peter Jackson can. The two are meshed together quite smoothly. In the first film the two elements grated and just didn’t fit together (a totally personal opinion, and I would strongly suggest that people make their own judgments on this), but here the two join almost seamlessly and work together to draw you into the film (before I found that they had the absolutely reverse effect). Then there is the second difference between this offering and its predecessor. The Dwarves! Yes, I know that the dwarves were all there in the first film, but this time they’ve brought some characterisation with them. Each individual is well defined, just as in the original text, and whilst once again, there are lots of goings on that aren’t in the book, there is nothing that doesn’t add to the story. In fact Jackson has now changed the whole direction of the tale. He’s made it all about the origins of Lord of the Rings rather than the quest. I’m half hoping that he’ll actually end it with the rise of Sauron and his power in Mordor, and maybe even the turning of Saruman.
Still, I digress (again). The film itself is beautifully put together; the only criticisms that I can give it are the opening half hour and the confrontation between the dwarves and Smaug. The first of these issues is simply that things feel a little rushed. When the first film ended (and I sighed with relief) the eagle carried our want-to-be-heroes to a distant peak, far from their pursuing orks, and not far from the lush green embrace of Mirkwood. Now we jump to the very opening of the second film, and we are now told that they were actually dropped off about half a mile away and if they don’t get their skates on then they’ll be Orc spit roast by sun down. This then requires a load of running about excitedly which eats into time on screen. Then everything felt squashed down a bit more than I’d have liked before they can get into the story proper. Honestly, just five minute of character interaction and ‘calm-after-the-storm’ type feel would have been enough. Hey but that’s small beer, and it’s ironic (after my comments on the first film) that my biggest gripe should be that the film needed more added to it! The second point I obviously won’t expand on as it’s well into the story and for anyone that hasn’t seen the film yet, or doesn’t know the story (not that you’ll find it in the book), but all I will say is that things do get very, very silly. However I must stress that this is silly in a good way and as long as you can suspend your disbelief (and you shouldn’t watch this type of film if you can’t) then it merely enhances your viewing pleasure, and shows a heroic aspect to the dwarves that really doesn’t show itself in the book.
In conclusion, this is a humdinger of a film that really does take you on a journey in every sense. And, knowing as I do, the story yet to be told, I am of the distinct opinion that the reason that the first film fell flat for me is that the excess of story that Jackson is attempting to portray, doesn’t quite fill three films, but wasn’t able to be squeezed into two. (A little like Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, not enough to fill two films, but too much to fit into one.)
The result is that we have a spectacle to come next Christmas, and let me tell you that this is scheduled to be the most epic and exciting Lord of the Rings film yet to be seen! For that is what you have here, this is not The Hobbit Part 2. This is The Lord of the Rings Part 0.5, and make no mistake.
I’m even prepared to endure the car park at Yule tide!
Vice ChairGerkin (David Offen-James)
Ho Ho Bloody Ho
This film is almost three hours long and they didn’t waste a single minute. Following on from the original movie – which came out nearly two years ago now – one could be forgiven for thinking Catching Fire is a rehash of the same plot. Although the film follows the same format and still omits a lot of the plot outside the Games themselves, there’s a few subtle changes to the original premise which keeps it from being a total copy of the first film. (Then again, the films are staying ultra-faithful to the books, right down to the last scene being eerily identical to how I imagined it when I got stuck into the books last year at Armadacon 24.) Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, who survived the first Hunger Games movie alongside Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). In revenge for Katniss and Peeta’s defiance of the official script for their tour through the beleaguered Districts of Panem, President Snow (given the first name Coriolanus in the books and played by the magnificent Donald Sutherland) orders the Reaping to take place from among the original victors of the various Games.
The Games this time are more a battle between the participants and the environment than each other. It’s still a fight to the death – last person standing – but the arena is designed to haunt the characters with jabberjays mimicking their imperilled loved ones, drench them in blood rain, boil them in poisonous fog, rip them to shreds with murderous baboons. The solution for Katniss and a band of allies including the mute Mags, truculent Johanna Mason, athletic fisherman Finnick, the deranged Wiress, and technological wizard Beetee is to strike back against the weakness of the Arena itself rather than against the opposing Careers.
To give the film its due, the world-building which was absent in the first movie is expanded slightly in the second film. The problem with the series is that a lot of explanation that a book can provide – Katniss explaining how Panem is organised and why it’s designed that way – is glossed over in the film. Generally speaking, we see the ‘Victors’ Village’, where Katniss and Peeta now live along with Katniss’ family (we never see Peeta’s parents). Despite being nicer than a miner’s cottage, it’s a desolate place. But we don’t know what it is. In the books, it’s explained that the Victors of the Hunger Games from each District live in gated communities within the Districts in relative comfort to the oppressed and exploited workers. District 12 has only one other Victor, Haymitch Abernathy, because its inhabitants are given no special favours by the Capitol compared to other more prosperous divisions of Panem. So that is why the place looks nice but deserted. In the books, we find out that some Districts are more pleasant to live in than others (because some workers make luxury goods, or electronics, and therefore have to have a higher standard of living and education than the factory workers, farmers, lumberjacks, or coal miners). Career participants in the Games are handpicked from the Districts given over to luxury production and trained specifically to volunteer during the Reaping from their districts. A little bit of explanation, even just a throwaway line, would have been a bit easier for people who haven’t read the books.
To the film’s credit, however, there’s not a single minute of wasted footage, which means that they were obviously trying to tighten up the action at the expense of exposition and managed to get an steal an extra half hour from somewhere. It’s worth it, because the film reached number one in the UK charts, with number two being Gravity and number three being the Doctor Who Anniversary Episode special simulcast screening.
The action of the first half includes the savage repression of District 12 as President Snow retaliates after Katniss and Peeta deliberately decide to capitalise on the growing disaffection in the poorer Districts of Panem. Here, action is condensed from the first book for reasons of time but still makes sense. Gale, Katniss’ best friend and part of the series love triangle, attacks a peacekeeper tearing apart the black market in District 12 and is flogged on-screen. This is the bit in the books that the bloodthirsty crow in me enjoyed the most – because it didn’t flinch from depicting violent brutality in a book aimed at school-age children (albeit teenagers). I’m glad it was included in the film, because it introduced the dilemma for President Snow – what to do with a national celebrity who was openly rebelling against his authority?
The love triangle also maintains genuine suspense. It is very hard for films and books to balance the need for a romantic plot with making it relevant to the main story and retaining the suspense as to whether the leading lady and leading man will get together. Gale and Peeta are both competing for Katniss’ hand, and she’s still undecided at the end of the film – and although I know the answer, I’m not going to be the one to spoil it. There is some criticism flying about the blogosphere that the general message of the film – the entertainment of the rich coming at the expense of the poor – is getting lost in amidst the romance between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, thereby proving Suzanne Collins’ worst fears about our society’s attitude towards sex as a distraction from politics.
I don’t think that’s true. There are very few films which portray real romantic conflict this well, and the triangle is what adds depth to the film. Katniss is in love with Peeta for the cameras, even pretending to marry him in order to convince President Snow that they are still in love, but away from them she still apparently belongs to Gale. So it’s legitimate to cover the romantic plot in the film because, like in the book, it’s never quite obvious who is in love with whom. Plus romance is a legitimate human interest. The emotions of human beings are such that without a love story a film like this would be very bleak, possibly too bleak for an audience to stomach. People get flogged, burned by flame-throwers, shot during riots, and it’s implied that there are executions. Then individuals die from poisonous fog, a billion-volt electrical coil, or simply drowned by a tidal wave. At the end of the book District 12 and most if not all its inhabitants have been completely obliterated. It needs something to lighten it up. However, they maintain the romantic suspense incredibly well. When the film ends, I think it’s safe to say that Katniss is in love with both young men, and is having to choose between them. The third book is as much about that choice as it is about what is happening to Panem, and while her choice is largely irrelevant to the national fate, it makes the story about loving sacrifice as well as cold, bloodthirsty murder and screeching baboons. Even before the Games begin, she is begging Haymitch to keep Peeta alive. Her original sacrifice in the first film was for the love of her family; now she is making sacrifices for the love of someone else. The film is about politics, but also about love and hope.
To give away much more about the ending would be a spoiler both for this film and for the direction in which the next two films, based on the third book in Collins’ series Mockingjay, will go. It’s a shame I can’t tell you, but it’s much too soon to give away the ending. Nevertheless, I’m going to give this nine out of ten – I think they could have better explained some concepts that weren’t obvious in context, and that’s enough to knock a whole mark off.
I have to say that going to see any film which is supposedly based upon a game of any kind whatsoever would normally produce precisely zero expectations, except for at best, a couple of hours of mindless drivel with possible bangs and flashes. I am therefore pleased to say that in the case of Battleship, these expectations were pretty much absolutely spot on, even if I would argue that to say this film is 'based upon the children's game' which is traditionally played by bored under-twelves on wet school holiday afternoons, is something of a trade description issue. If you ask nicely I might tell you where exactly the reference is, but then that be a spoiler if you really want to go and see it.
The film and its 'plot' shows elements of influence (whether by co-incidence or design) from various films (Armageddon, Independence Day, Star Trek VI, Star Trek (2009), Pearl Harbour, Jurassic Park) and TV series (Battlestar Galactica, The World's Craziest Fools - no really, you'll know what I mean when you see it), and revolves around Alex Hopper, a 'slacker' who was 'drafted' to the US Navy by his exasperated brother, Stone, after an incident with a chicken burrito and a Taser (not to mention the daughter of his brother's commanding officer (Admiral Shane, played by Liam Neeson)). After warming up with a very unfriendly game of football (yes, that's football, as in what the Americans call 'soccer'), which culminates in a bout of fisticuffs between Alex and a member of the US Navy's Japanese opponents. The Navy embarks on a series of war game exercises around Hawaii, with the threat of discharge from the Navy hanging over Alex's neck as a result of his violent disagreement with the Japanese captain. But unknown to the Navy, a team of eggheads, based in Hawiaii, had five years before, started transmitting daily signals to a distant Earth-like planet. These signals had been picked up by their inhabitants, who immediately made a bee-line for Earth (for very little apparent reason), and home in on Hawaii, (for reasons which are actually explained) and as the Navies from the thirteen nations practice shooting at each other, they make their arrival known by levelling a city which just for once is not New York.
Soon all hell is breaking loose as the new arrivals isolate an area of the see with an energy barrier, and ruthlessly attack the ships inside it. Meanwhile on Hawaii, Sam, the Admiral's daughter who Alex is engaged to, is walking up a hillside with Mick, an army veteran who has lost both his legs, and before long they bump into one of the hapless scientists whose idea it was to send the message which has unleashed the alien fury on the Earth.
There then follows a series of battle sequences up to a position where all seems lost, until finally someone works out the inevitable weakness in the alien's physiology (they have spiny facial hair and repilian eyes) and someone else comes up with an ingenious and yet blindly obvious way of tracking the apparently untrackable alien craft.
The cast doesn't really contain many big names, Alex Hopper is played by Taylor Kitsch, who recently starred in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard as his brother, Stone, and Brooklyn Decker, who has done pretty much nothing of any note whatsoever. Liam Neeson was the undoubted 'big name' in the cast, along with Peter MacNicol whose presence may be partly explained by the fact that his old mate Peter Berg, with whom he co-starred many moons ago in Chicago Hope, was directing. Oh yes, and making her acting debut in the film was Rihanna; who when things were going really badly for the Navy, was in danger of actually being 'The Only Girl In The World'.
Now, a film like this was never going to be one that requires a great deal of though, nor was it ever likely to give any great moral message. The motives of the marauding invading aliens are never erally examined beyond a cursory level that is relevant to the immediate story (their arrival in the Pacific just off Hawaii does actually have a specific purpose in their grand scheme), but I can that in the film's favour, it does challenge some the standard ways invading marauding aliens in Hollywood blockbusters, and challenges a few other clichés along the way, although it does maintain a considerable number of old ones, and remains, for the most part, typically predictable for a USA versus Marauding Alien Invasion Force film, where the USA maintain the usual pattern of 'shoot first, ask questions later'. And of course it still shows the armed forces of both the US and other countries in an unerring and unashamedly good and positive light. So it does have a few things going for it and although it falls into the 'mindless drivel' category, at the very least it does provide mindless fun.