Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Impressions

I'm actually preparing to go right now.  I will edit the post after the movie, but I wanted to get some of my expectations out before I saw it, you know, cause I don't want to convince myself they were something that they weren't.  Not that I'm in the habit of doing that, just that...  ok, nevermind.

My best friend introduced me to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings a number of years ago when I worked overnight shift at a customer service call center, back when customer service wasn't outsourced to people that had little to no concept of the product they were hired to support.  I got angry at customers who called me at 3am as I read the adventures of the little furry-footed people: how dare they interrupt my reading for their silly cell phone billing issues!  Tolkein's world building was superb and very in-depth something that you don't see too often nowadays in literature or movies.

I, like many people, had asked for the books for Christmas after seeing The Fellowship of the Ring.  I ended up with two copies of them.  But receiving the books and reading them after I had seen the first movie made me do something completely out of character.  I went to the movie again.  Alone.

Look, you don't understand.  I NEVER see movies more than once in the theater unless it's to go with two different groups of friends.  I have seen a total of 4 movies in the theater twice.  Fellowship of the Ring is the only movie, to date, that I wanted to see again while it was in the theater.  I loved all of the Lord of the Rings movies, and the fact that the same concept artists in the books' illustrations was the set concept artists made the feeling of Middle Earth coming to life all the more real.

Ever since The Return of the King, there has been talk, be it rumors or otherwise, of Peter Jackson making The Hobbit.  I waited for a long time for a confirmation to this, and when the news got out that not only is it true, but Andy Serkis had already been signed as Golum, well, let's just say squee broke a few windows in my house.

Then comes a few moths ago when I found out that The Hobbit was a trilogy.  Not only were Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, and Hugo Weaving reprising their roles, but so were characters that never showed up in The Hobbit, like Cate Blanchet as Galadriel, and even Elijah Wood as Frodo.  I'm not sure how to feel about this.  The only explanation I could come up with is some sort of flashback or story-telling device to inexorably tie this telling of Bilbo's story to the existing movies, even though Ian Holm was not playing Bilbo - or at least not young Bilbo (you know, like he did in the flashback scene of finding the Ring).  If that's the case, then it's totally not necessary.  Add to that the seemingly current movie trend of breaking up a movie unnecessarily just to make a few extra bucks in the box office (looking at you, Breaking Dawn) makes it disappointing that the filmmakers behind The Hobbit would stoop to that level.  All I can say is that these additions better be worth it to inform story or character and not just a gratuitous money making move... that I'm sure cost them millions to begin with.  It made sense to break up The Lord of the Rings into three parts - it had already been done for the book by the author and publisher.  The Hobbit is only one book, and about as long as any one part of The Lord of the Rings.  What other purpose could there be to break up The Hobbit?


I'm back.  Ok I was back a while ago, but I am so not used to being out until 2am anymore what with teaching and all.  So, what did I think of the movie?

Well, I was right about Elijah Wood (as well as Ian Holm) being in the movie only for flashback/story vehicle purposes that were kind of unnecessary.  The opening scene on was the same day that The Lord of the Rings started, only earlier in the day, and Bilbo was writing the memoir that is featured in the The Lord of the Rings movie.  Not bad, even understandable, but not really necessary.  The scene wasn't bad, it just didn't need to be there.  Anyway when the story proper starts and the "Good Morning" scene ensues, it kind of irked me slightly that Gandalf did not let Bilbo know that he would be there the next day.  Granted in the book, Bilbo forgot anyway, but Gandalf at least had the courtesy to let Bilbo know to expect company.  I suppose for time's sake I can forgive the arrival time of the dwarves being clumped into one group with the exception of Balin, Dwalin, Fili and Kili.  And the dinner scene was wonderfully recreated and enjoyable.

There are two big things that I did not like about the movie too much.  One was the inserted scenes with Elrond, Galadriel, Sauman, and Gandalf talking about the impending doom that seems to be approaching.  This not only slows the pacing of the film but also changes the mood of the story.  The Hobbit is a lot more lighthearted than The Lord of the Rings (even if there is danger and death in it), and having these sort of boring talks between the ancient ones about what we as a movie audience knew was coming but what in the context of The Hobbit is almost nonexistent seems to only serve as padding to make the movie stretch out to the $$ three movies.

The other thing that actually had me whispering "Ok, get on with it!" was the prevalence and length of action scenes.  There were not that many action scenes in the book, at least not in this part of it, and the fact that every other scene was an action scene that added little to the plot or story or characters did nothing to make me enjoy the movie more.  Scenes that were implied in the book became literal in the movie, which further served to stretch the movie.  The goblin (orcs in the movie, but from what I understand the two terms are interchangeable) fight scene was good and rather well done, and although not completely faithful to source material the troll scene was humorous enough, but the warg scene where the dwarves and Bilbo and Gandalf are up in the trees lasted way too long.  Add to that the rock giants literally causing storms and avalanches (where in the book it was figurative) and the $$ padding starts to become dull.

Other than those relatively minor things, though, the movie was pretty good.  It had the sweeping shots of Hobbiton and the mountains as the dwarf party crossed them, the Riddles in the Dark scene was superb, and the orchestrations as magnificent as one would expect from the Middle Earth as brought to you by Peter Jackson franchise.  One last nitpick, though.  There were many shots that seemed to be deliberate parallels to  The Lord of the Rings.  The aforementioned sweeping shots of running across mountains, for instance.  And the shot where the ring lands on Bilbo's finger after it somehow gets flung up into the air.  Yeah, that happened in neither The Hobbit, nor The Lord of the Rings and yet it's in both movies.

Overall a good movie, but because it seemed to drag in places and took a little too much from the Lord of the Rings movies, I have to say I like it less than it's predecessor movies... that have a story that was written after it...  and take place 60 years later... See it in theaters if you like The Lord of the Rings, but don't expect it to be as breathtaking as them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games Movie: Impressions

I’m not making excuses anymore.  Just bear with me until I have less (read: no) homework and more time to read.  I’ll write when I can.

That said, I just now got back from The Hunger Games movie.  In my last few posts, I mentioned it a time or ten.  Obviously, I love the books.  So, what did I think of the movie?  Well, let me say that I don’t plan on giving this the full Theater’s Reader treatment (“Thank goodness,” say the people who told me that my posts are too long.)  I’m going to mention some of the things that I thought worked and what I thought was lacking – sort of a half treatment I guess.

I thought the movie was good.  I liked it.  No, it was not exactly faithful to the book, but it didn’t stray too far, either.  The deviations from the book were forgivable and occasionally necessary, such as Katniss singing to Prim in the beginning when in the book she hadn’t sung for years. The scenes with the game makers were a nifty way to show all the things Katniss internally thought in the book.  I could argue that it was never a sure thing that what Katniss was thinking was actually what was happening, and that showing that it was actually happening removed that reader's discretion.  Truth is, I think Suzanne Collins meant for Katniss' internal monologue to be a vehicle for what was actually happening, so I didn’t mind.

I liked most of the performances, too.  Peeta and Katniss each did a good job in their parts, and had character appropriate chemistry.  I was so hoping, as I usually do with movies based on books, that there were no “names”, no famous actors that audiences will see as Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis playing GI Joe; with "unknowns" moviegoers just see GI Joe.  (I saw that trailer, yea.)  And for the most part, I got my wish.  I didn’t recognize anyone but Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, and I think he did a pretty good job.  I was having a tough time figuring out why I recognized President Snow, until IMDb told me he was Keifer Sutherland’s dad (whose movies I’ve never seen, but since his son looks just like him...).  IMDb also let me know that Elizabeth Banks played Effie, who I didn’t recognize her under all the makeup, and whose flaws I attribute to script flaws more than her performance (telling, not showing, her obsession with manners for instance).

The part of the movie that made me the maddest, if you can call it that, was the text opening.  The first minute of the movie is white text on a black background summarizing the Treaty of Treason.  It flashes by too fast so if you are a slow reader you miss some.  That’s not the part that upset me most about it, though.  About five minutes later, that boring text opening is made redundant by the much more exciting propaganda film shown at the Reaping that says the same exact thing.  Same words and everything.  So, if that propo was in there, why the text opening?  It wasn’t necessary and, as I mentioned, a boring way to open what was otherwise a well paced movie.

The biggest flaw I saw in the movie was the void of emotional investment.  Here’s my big to-the-book comparison.  What made the book so good was the fact that in a short space of time, you really grew to love or hate certain characters.  You love Prim and Rue.  You hate Glimmer, Clove, and Cato.  You respect Fox Face.  The movie failed at giving us any reason to care one way or the other about most of these characters.  I didn’t hate movie Cato, and the only reason I disliked movie Clove was because of the gloating she did while threatening Katniss.  There wasn’t even enough there for me to get too much feeling out of Rue’s death, which always makes me cry when I read/listen to the book.  The movie told the story fine, it got all the details it needed to, but didn’t give me anything to feel.

So, that’s my first impressions on the movie itself.  Going to a movie on opening night had some perks that watching a movie at home or even when it’s been in the theater for weeks does not.  I don’t usually do that.  In fact the only time I even went on an opening weekend was for Deathly Hallows.  The audience laughed at odd times, like when Katniss and Peeta are about to eat the berries, for some reason that got laughter.  Applause at Katniss’ fire costume was expected. (Here’s a nitpick: they never explained the coal connection. People that hadn’t read the book didn’t know why Katniss was on fire, apart from it being something to “make her memorable”.)  Awws at Peeta’s confession of “crush” was ok.  And the 20ish girl next to me said “Eww!” when Peeta smeared ointment on Katniss’ bloody forehead.  But laughter during death scenes?  Kind of weirded me out a bit.

Do I recommend?  Yes.  The flaws are outnumbered by what I think the adaptation did right.  The fact that Suzanne Collins was co-writer of the script, and that she is a screenwriter anyway (albeit for children’s TV) certainly helped this book make a good transition to the silver screen.  Worth the $10 movie ticket.  No need for 3-D though.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How do you like your book-based movies? Over-easy, thanks!

Over the holidays, I visited my sister.  We had some chats and eventually the conversation turned to the upcoming movie release of a book I have mentioned a few times already: The Hunger Games.  I have been in trepidation of this movie since I heard they were adapting the book(s) about a year ago.  Why?  Well, the reason lies with Harry Potter.

Can't get enough!!!
I’m not about to recall my original statement regarding this series: I have no intention of going in depth with Harry Potter any time soon.  But, let’s just say I am such a fan of the books that I spent over a year posting daily (and often multiple time a day) to a discussion site dedicated to predicting the seventh book, and some of that time was after the seventh book had been released to discuss in-depth character futures and Potter world speculations.  I dressed in my Ravenclaw robe, mixed up some “potions”, and toted my wand around last Halloween.  I am addicted to butterbeer.

So, of course I was excited when the movies were first made.  How awesome to see the books come to life.  And some casting choices were so perfect that I actually had the actors in my mind as I read the books before the movies were even cast (Maggie Smith as Pr McGonagall in particular).  There was almost no way that I was going to be satisfied with these movies.  I had such excitement built up and such high expectations that disappointment was inevitable.  And it only got worse as the movies went on, to the point that by the time I saw Goblet of Fire, I considered not even going to see Order of the Phoenix.

This brings me back to the conversation I had with Heather about The Hunger Games.  I had seen the trailer.  So had she.  And her husband.  And they both loved the trailer, while I was/possibly still am kinda blasé about it.  Suzanne Collins is a scriptwriter by professional experience, and the book is about a battle royale that is nationally televised, so the book is already rather theatrical.  I expect the movie to translate well.  But my lackluster reaction to the trailer led my sister to comment that there are two types of people in this regard: those who expect the movie to be just like the book (and are ultimately let down) and those who enjoy it for movie’s sake, regardless of how faithful or deviant it is from the source.  Naturally, she put me in the former category.

While I will admit that I started this blog with that sort of mentality, I think that I have started to change my viewpoint.  Even though I have not done too many reviews yet, I am starting to appreciate the fact that the movie might be very loosely based on the book and still be a good movie in its own right.  Don’t get me wrong – she’s right, I am more on the side of the-original-story-was-perfect-and-how-dare-you-change-it. I may still expect a certain amount of book cannon.  Or, as in the case of The DaVinci Code, praise the changes as “corrections”.  However, I am considering going back and looking at those Harry Potter movies and attempting to view them under a new lens as works on their own.  Hopefully I will be able to enjoy The Hunger Games in the theaters through that same lens.

Neither viewpoint is better than the other.  As with anything, each person has a different opinion, and all opinions are acceptable (as long as they are your own).  So, I have my first evar direct question for comment response!  What type of book movie watcher are you?  Are you a purist who likes the movie to be as close to the book as possible, or are you an accommodator who is open to screenwriter and director interpretation of a loved book?