film

The Hobbit – Film Review

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The Hobbit Movie PosterMain Cast:

Bilbo Baggins – Martin Freeman
Gandalf – Ian McKellen
Thorin Oakenshield – Richard Armitage
Balin – Ken Stott
Gollum – Andy Serkis

Sixty years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins is approached by the wizard Gandalf and embroiled in an adventure almost against his will.  Along with thirteen dwarves, Bilbo embarks towards Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, to reclaim their ancient home from the terrible dragon Smaug.

(You can also read all of The Hobbit recaps.)

I have already seen the film twice, so you can guess where this review is headed.  The film opens with Old Bilbo (played again by Ian Holm) writing his version of events down for Frodo, promising to tell him the whole story as he has never told it before.  We learn that he has sat down to write on the day of his infamous 111th birthday party, and we get to see that it was Frodo (Elijah Wood) who hung the sign on the gate – “No admittance except on party business).  He asks Bilbo about Gandalf, and decides to go wait for him.  Bilbo sits down on his bench in the front garden, smoking a pipe.  The camera follows an excellent smoke ring, then zooms back on to young Bilbo.

I have never before seen such a beautiful framing device.  It was a great way to explain the context of the events of The Hobbit versus those in Lord of the Rings, giving fans of the movies who haven’t read the book a clear introduction.  Having just read the book, I was also tickled that the opening exchange between Gandalf and young Bilbo was almost word for word of that in the book.  The only thing they left out was Bilbo’s last second decision to invite the wizard for tea.  But you know what?  It worked anyway.

There were of course several small changes in the film, because films and books are simply not the same medium.  Most of The Hobbit was written with insights into Bilbo’s mind that we cannot get in the movie.  Being Tolkien, there is also a lot of background information related by the narrator to the reader, but not necessarily between characters.  I thought Peter Jackson did a great job of taking all of the information in The Hobbit and Tolkien’s additional background and really fleshing out the movie.  While a few things might have been changed, I could see the reason for all of it, and I honestly agreed with most of his changes.  I especially liked seeing the meeting of the White Council and the urgency that was added with the Necromancer.  I’ll try not to say anymore for those who have yet to see the film.

I did not particularly understand the inclusion of a certain orc (that in Tolkien’s lore was killed by another dwarf), but I do realize that it helped with the pacing of the movie.  Let’s be honest, in the book there is a lot of walking, riding, and moving.  That’s not the most interesting thing to show on screen, so the added tension with the dwarf helps pick up the pace and keep things from getting choppy.  So while I was a bit confused when I left the first time, I appreciated it far more the second time.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was a wonderful return to Middle Earth and a great reminder of the talent of Peter Jackson.  I for one am grateful that he was able to direct instead of Guillermo Del Toro; the film feels like a seamless addition to any of the “Lord of the Rings” films with him behind the camera.  Add in the dashes of Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, and other characters, and you are firmly planted again within Middle Earth.

Rating: 9/10

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Brave

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Main Cast:

Merida – Kelly Macdonald
Fergus – Billy Connolly
Elinor – Emma Thompson
The Witch – Julie Walters

*WARNING* – I am writing this early, early in the morning after picking the Scottish fiance up from the airport and then watching this movie.  Please excuse all typos in the post.

Brave centers on Scottish princess Merida, who in her mythical time wants nothing more than to avoid the life-ending fate of marriage (as she said this line, the Scottish fiance and I laughed out loud).  She wants most of all to choose her own journey in life and to not have her family – mostly her mother – decide for her.  When a cast spell goes terribly wrong, Merida must find a way to break the curse before it is too late.

Brave was, in essence, a beautiful movie.  Visually stunning especially in 3D, it lives up to the Pixar movies that came before it.  When you tell me that you are going to have an animated film set in Scotland, my first thought is that you had better get the scenery to be as striking as what the real thing is.  Pixar definitely achieved that.  Intricate animation brings the mystical land to life and sets the perfect backdrop for the story that unfolds.

The story line was also gorgeous.  I have yet to be disappointed by a Pixar film (which is why I avoid Cars 2, since I fully expect disappointment), and I had high hopes for Brave and its feisty heroine.  No worries here, folks.  While one review I read of Brave criticized its focus on the mother-daughter relationship, I thought it was so much more fulfilling than anything else Pixar could have done with the story.  You get magic and enchantments, but at the heart of it all you watch the frustrated mother and daughter learn more about each other and grow closer together.  How can you not love a movie that so accurately depicts the struggles of every parent, but also shows the rewards for the effort we put in to our relationships?  (As a personal side note, if I had a nickel for every time my mom wished I was more ladylike, I’d be rich.  So Merida is obviously my new favorite character).  Merida and Elinor are the heart ofBrave, and their interactions drive the story.  It may not have been the plot I was expecting, but it was the one that the characters deserved.

It is hard to go into much detail without revealing key plot points, but I will say that I loved the voice cast.  I was a bit nervous about Emma Thompson, but her dinnays were just as good as native Scots Kelly Macdonald and Billy Connolly, if not a bit more refined.  I also want to say that I am very relieved that Pixar did not go ahead with the original casting of Reese Witherspoon, because Macdonald’s voice melds so effortlessly with Merida’s character.  Plus, an obvious fake Scottish accent would have distracted from an otherwise perfect movie.

It was perfect, it really was.  I remember there being one little plot hole (other than the fact that bears haven’t resided in Scotland since the Romans came, and if that’s when this was set, they didn’t wear kilts then), but even that has slipped my mind.

Oh darn, guess I’ll have to go watch it again.

Rating: 10/10

*Kudos also go out to the short before the movie, “La Luna”, which was worth the 3D glasses alone.  Stunning.*