FlixChatter Review: MORTAL ENGINES (2018)

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Review by Vitali Gueron

[This review may contain plot details that could be considered spoilers, proceed with caution]

When I heard that there was a movie was coming out, produced by The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson, I was naturally excited and expected to be entertained on a massive scale. This movie coming out was Mortal Engines, a post-apocalyptic thriller directed by Christian Rivers and with a screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson. The film would be based on the novel Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve and star well known Australian-English film and stage actor Hugo Weaving. The film would be set in a post-apocalyptic world where entire cities have been made mobile by them having wheels and a motor, and there would be cities that prey on one another.

It sounded promising so I thought I would give it a go. I sat back in the theater and spent the next 128 minutes of my life being shown special effect after special effect, with very little character development or explanation of an overly complicated story to go by. Apparently, the events of Mortal Engines take place hundreds of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, called the Sixty Minute War, and the remnants of humanity regroup and form mobile “predator” cities. One of the greatest of these “predator” cities is the city of London. It is where Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), a low-class apprentice historian of London lives and Tom has always wanted to be pilot but never afforded the opportunity because of his class status.

Meanwhile, Katherine Valentine (Leila George), daughter of Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) who is head of the Guild of Historians and one of London’s elite. She befriends Tom and he shows her his collection of “old tech” that could be used to create powerful weapon that has the capability to destroy cities at an instant. Coincidently, (or not) Thaddeus Valentine is also plotting a mysterious energy project in the re-purposed St Paul’s Cathedral (the landmark that is atop the traction city of London). When a woman named Hester Shaw comes aboard the city of London captures a small mining town called Salzhaken, absorbing its population and resources, under orders of Lord Mayor Magnus Crome (Patrick Malahide). Shaw is revealed to be the daughter of Pandora Shaw, one of Thaddeus Valentine’s arch enemies whom he killed several years back when Hester was just a little girl. Hester tries to kill Thaddeus but Tom Natsworthy stops her and the both find their way off the traction city of London.

Tom and Hester are forced to work together, become imprisoned and get locked in the cell of a small scavenger city who intends to sell them as slaves. In the meantime, Hester reveals to Tom that her mother Pandora was an archeologist who found a piece of old tech which Thaddeus wanted but Pandora would not relinquish, therefore Thaddeus killed Pandora. Hester escaped Thaddeus with only a necklace her mother gave her. Back on the traction city of London, Katherine has grown estranged from her father, learning about his diabolical plans to use a super weapon called MEDUSA that can destroy cities in an instant. Also, Tom and Hester get rescued by Anna Fang (Jihae), a pilot and leader of the Anti-Traction League, a resistance group banding against the moving cities devouring Earth’s resources. Anna Fang is a relentless warrior and also pilots an airship the Jenny Haniver. They take the airship to the airborne city Airhaven, where they meet up with other members of the Anti-Traction League. Their meeting is cut short by a robot named Shrike (Stephen Lang), who was also Hester’s guardian as a child and whom Hester abandoned leaving to avenge the death of her mother.

Hugo Weaving as Thaddeus Valentine

Once Shrike causes the airborne city Airhaven to come crashing down, he is taken out by the members of the Anti-Traction League, but not before he learns that Hester has fallen in love with Tom. Hester, Tom, and Anna then travel to the Shield Wall with the surviving Anti-Tractionists. They meet up with with the Shild Wall’s governor Kwan (Kee Chan) and Anna convinces him to launch the Anti-Tractionist fleet against London. At the same time, London fires the MEDUSA weapon towards the Shield Wall, destroying the Anti-Tractionist fleet and creating a giant hole through the Shield Wall.

Jihae as Anna Fang

Desperate to find something to counter the MEDUSA weapon, Tom discovers that Hester’s necklace (the one she got from her mother before she died) contained a crash drive that acts as a kill switch for the MEDUSA weapon. They made their way back to London, taking heavy losses in ships and Anti-Tractionist members. They also find Katherine Valentine willing to help them confront her father Thaddeus and try to stop the destruction of the Shield Wall.

SPOILER (highlight to read) Hester and Anna infiltrate St Paul’s cathedral in London, but Thaddeus Valentine mortally wounds Anna during a sword duel. Hester is able to disable the MEDUSA weapon with her crash drive but Thaddeus Valentine is undeterred in his ques to destroy the Shield Wall and he orders his henchmen to kill the city’s control crew and ram it into the Shield Wall. With Katherine Valentine’s help, Tom uses the airship Jenny Haniver to destroy London’s engine (similarly to what Luke does in Revenge of the Jedi by flying directly into its center and blowing it up). Valentine attempts to flee London but Hester pursues him and with fights him aboard his airship, where he reveals he is her father. Tom rescues Hester and shoots down Valentine Valentine’s ship, where it is crushed when it is run over by London’s slowing tracks. The surviving Londoners, led by Katherine Valentine, make peace with the Anti-Tractionists.

In the end of the movie it is shown that Tom and Hester travel in the Jenny Haniver to see the world. To me this is the classic happily ever after ending that just doesn’t see appropriate as an ending to this epic fight. There are also way too many similarities with the original Star Wars trilogy not to notice. They way Tom wants to be pilot reminded me of Luke Skywalker’s desire to get off Tatooine in A New Hope. The way he ultimately destroys London and the budding romance between Tom and Hester are some other examples of the influence of the Star Wars trilogy in this movie. It became almost impossible not to notice the resemblances between the movies. Unfortunately for Mortal Engines, the characters had almost none of the character development or unique interest that the characters in the Star Wars trilogy had.

Overall, I was unimpressed by the main characters and overly complicated plot. One can only take so much explosions and special effects before one starts losing interest. That was the case with this one, where a movie failed to lift-off, before it even got off the ground. I was most disappointed in the main characters — Hera Hilmar as Hester was not even slightly compelling and passionate. Robert Sheehan was a little better (I first saw Robert in a Twin Cities Film Fest film last year – Ari Gold’s The Song of Sway Lake, where he was a quirky character along with fellow actor Rory Culkin) but here was also rather forgettable as Tom Natsworthy. These two were supposed to be our heroes, but rather they were just another part of the overly-complicated plot. The best character by far was Anna Fang, probably because of Jihae, a South Korea-born singer-songwriter and actress. Her wardrobe made her look straight out of The Matrix and her swagger made her a formidable adversary to Thaddeus Valentine. I would have liked – and expected — a lot more from the likes of Peter Jackson. Sadly, I got very little in return to remember this movie by.


Have you seen MORTAL ENGINES? Well, what did you think? 

Musings on the final Hobbit trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies

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Seems like it was ages ago since I saw the first Hobbit film. But in fact it was exactly two years ago that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released. There were – and still are – quibbles about how a 320-page book warrants a three-film adaptation, and I was actually one of those people who didn’t mind it. I LOVED the Middle-Earth universe that J.R.R. Tolkien built, and The Lord of the Rings is perhaps my favorite film trilogy ever and so in my mind it was a worthwhile journey. The second film introduced us to the best CGI-dragon ever conceived on film, and so The Desolation of Smaug was even more exciting second chapter in The Hobbit journey. I listed 10 reasons why I loved that movie, with the wine barrel sequence and of course Smaug himself being the major highlights.

For some odd reason though, the third and final film just didn’t give me as much of a rush as the first two. I mean, I saw the trailer, then the second one, but I wasn’t feverishly anticipating it. In fact I didn’t even post hardly anything about it until I finally saw it early this month at a press screening. Perhaps I’m not the only one who’s feeling meh about the final Hobbit. Per EW, though the film won the box office this weekend with $56 mil, compared to the rest of the Hobbit films, The Battle of the Five Armies didn’t fare as well: The first film in the trilogy made $84.6 million its opening weekend while the second took in $73.6 million. The studio marketing machine emphasized on the phrase “One Last Time” and how one feels about such sentiment depends on how one feels on this franchise. As for me, as much as I’ve enjoyed the excursion to Middle Earth, there and back again as it were, I was ready to bid my farewell to Bilbo & co.

There are a few things that I love about the first two films that I still like this time around, so let’s start with those…

  • I still love Martin Freeman as Bilbo, he’s just so easy to root for. He pretty much is the most selfless character in the whole Middle Earth, and he pretty much risk his neck every time he goes out of his way to prevent war. I’ve always liked his casting and not only he has a believable resemblance to Ian Holm but he has that manic energy and whimsical antics that makes him so fun to watch.TheHobbit3_Bilbo
  • The character arc of Thorin is a strong one here, and Richard Armitage shows that inner conflict convincingly. The role takes advantage of the actor’s specialty of projecting ‘dark, brooding, conflicted’ in a magnetic way. The scenes where he struggles with the dragon sickness is one of the main highlights in the film, though how he recovers from it seems too quick and too easy, and perhaps there’s more of it that’s left in the cutting room floor?
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  • The slithery Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is still awesome to behold. I’d say if there is one thing that makes it worthwhile to see The Hobbit movies in 3D glory, it’d be to see Smaug. Too bad the fire-breathing dragon didn’t quite have much screen time despite that awesome cliffhanger we saw in the second film. The action-packed sequence in Lake Town, involving Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) doing what he does best, is thrilling to watch. The special effects with Dolby Atmos sound is especially incredible in this sequence and I have to admit I wish Smaug had more screen time. But of course, he’s done his duties… that is to lead everyone to the main event: The Battles of the Five Armies.

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Now, people who have been anticipating the battle sequences, this movie certainly delivers. It’s amazing how in the book, the only reference to the battle only amounts to a sentence, but here we’ve got at least a whole hour worth of battle sequences. We’ve got the Dwarves, Laketown people, and the Elves fighting a whole bunch of Orcs and Goblins, including a whole army of the Dol Guldur Orcs that are supposedly VERY scary and powerful.

That brings me to the not-so-good things about this film:

  • You’d think that the battle would be the most exciting part of the film, I mean I was expecting something in the vein of Battle of Helms Deep in LOTR: Two Towers, which was one of the most amazing rain scenes ever filmed, but it’s not even close. Somehow I find the whole sequence to be rather boring and by the end of it, I was getting so battle fatigue I couldn’t care less who wins. It’s hard enough to keep up with the current participants as it is, we’ve got Thorin’s cousin, Dwarves of the Iron Hills, joining in. Led by Billy Connolly whose accent is so distracting it’s hard to concentrate on what the heck is going on. I have to admit that my mind wandered for most of the battle scenes. In fact, I started noticing the strange looking codpiece that Azog, the Orc chief, is wearing. Seriously, I never noticed that before but I couldn’t stop giggling once I noticed that.
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  • I think the battle would’ve held more meaning to me if I had a firm grasp just what’s really at stake here. But even those lovable dwarves in the first two films just aren’t so fun here as they’re barely even in the movie! Even the dramatic tension surrounding the Arkenstone of Thrain, that is THE single most important gem of the whole Erebor’s vast treasure, just wasn’t as compelling as I’d imagine. I get that it’s a family heirloom for generations until it’s lost to Smaug, but somewhere along the way, its significance to the people is dwarfed (pardon the pun) by the overwhelming visual spectacle and action extravaganza. What’s worse is that the two main characters, Bilbo and Gandalf, often end up in the sidelines during most of the action. I don’t know why Peter Jackson would rather give a lot of screen time to Alfrid (Ryan Gage), the conniving servant of the Laketown Master, that doesn’t serve the story much at all. He sort of became a comic relief by the end before he disappeared and never to be seen again.
    … 
  • The unnecessary and uninvolving romance between Tauriel and Kili is once again aggravating because it’s yet additional filler on top of the already piled-up filler to make up the three films. I literally roll my eyes every time they appear on screen and the repeated farewell scenes. No offense to Evangeline Lily and Adrian Turner but really, I feel nothing for their characters and their supposed *relationship.* Meanwhile, Legolas (played by the eternally youthful Orlando Bloom) is reduced to nothing more than a Ninja Elf with his Matrix-like moves. Never mind the character inconsistencies with the follow-up movies, when the fight scene was over, some people actually applauded him in the theater.
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  • Despite all of those thrilling fight and battle sequences, I was left feeling meh and unfazed. Even when one major character perished, followed by yet another seemingly-endless farewell, I still remain emotionally-detached. I mean I cried when Boromir met his end and I still get teary-eyed thinking about that scene. Now, it’s no fault to the actors in The Hobbit as I think they all did a good job in their respective roles, but more of a problem with the script (done by no less than FOUR writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro).
  • The scenes with Gandalf, Galadriel and Saruman as they battle the evil Sauron seems disconnected with the battle of the five armies. I don’t know if it’s the choppy editing or that simply an issue that there are just too much going on. In the Lord of the Rings, it’s clear who the main enemy is, but The Hobbit trilogy overall lacks the focus that gives the quest real meaning.
  • [SPOILER WARNING]
    Towards the end, there’s all these references to The Lord of the Rings. Thranduil (Lee Pace) told Legolas to find Aragorn, even though he didn’t specifically mentioned his name, it’s obvious who he’s referring to. Now, I don’t know how old Aragorn is supposed to be during The Hobbit timeframe, but this scene just feels forced to me. Pretty much every reference to LOTR, whether it’s Bilbo playing with the ring, the appearance of the demon Sauron, feels like nothing more than nostalgia. I suppose the continuity is to be expected, but it just further proves how much The Hobbit as a franchise just won’t hold up on its own and it reinforces the fact that they don’t measure up to LOTR movies.

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In summary, the final Hobbit does have its moments and some of the action sequences are pretty entertaining. The attention to detail is amazing too, there’s really a lot to marvel in terms of visuals, and I remember ooh-aahing Thranduil’s Elven Elk with its majestic antlers. But overall, there are more bad than good here, which is pretty disappointing. I expected something more epic in terms of story, not just visual spectacle. It’s actually the shortest of all the Hobbit movies, only 144 min compared to 169 and 161 min of the previous two films, yet I checked my watch the most often whilst watching this. I’d think that even the most ardent Middle Earth fans should feel relieved that it’s finally over, if only it could’ve ended on a much higher note.

I don’t think I’ll be revisiting the Hobbit movies anytime soon, but for what it’s worth, it does make me want to rewatch my Lord of the Rings extended box-set.

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Well, what did you think of the final Hobbit movie? 

10 Favorite Things about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Much has been debated about whether or not it’s a good idea that The Hobbit gets the same trilogy treatment as The Lord of the Rings trilogy when there is only one book being adapted. Now, I actually didn’t mind it and given how much I adore the Middle Earth universe, I welcome the extended film adaptation.

My interest in these movies increased tenfold when the casting was announced. It’s chock-full of my favorite actors, with Richard Armitage topping that list, then Lee Pace, Luke Evans, the BBC Sherlock duo Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch, and of course the LOTR veteran Ian McKellen back as Gandalf. All of them did a wonderful job bringing their respective characters to life. Heck I even like Orlando Bloom as Legolas, I’m not fond of him as an actor but I can’t imagine anyone else in that role.

So here are 10 things I love about the second part of The Hobbit trilogy:

10. The livelier pace
Right of the bat, the film feels more energetic as we finally get to the quest in question. There’s a bit of a flashback scene with Thorin and Gandalf that sets everything up, and since it features my favorite Brit Richard Armitage, I certainly welcome this intro 😉

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There are half a dozen major action-packed sequences that really genuinely thrilling, so despite some slower moments, the 161-min running time still feels like a breeze. There is even more sense of urgency to get to Erebor and it definitely makes me even more eager to finally get there myself.


9. The fantastic special effects and set pieces
The technological wizardry is what you’ve come to expect from Peter Jackson movies. As I’ve posted the film production trivia a few days ago, you’ll see that it took a bazillion production workers nd extras, as well as props, prosthetics, sets etc. to bring the Tolkien universe to life. But it’s the endless imagination of PJ and his crews that really makes these films such a fun escapist experience. Ok so there are some sequences that look digitally animated but with a fantasy film like this, it certainly comes with the territory. I’ve also gotten used to seeing it in 3D High Frame Rate(48Frames/Second) and I have to say I enjoyed it even more this time around.

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I even enjoyed the Spider attack scene in the forest though the amazing details on those giant spiders did give me the heebie-jeebies! There are so much details to creating each character and creature, as well as the new settings such as Lake Town and the dwarves kingdom of Erebor that virtually transport you to Middle Earth.

8. The adventure in Lake-town
The addition of Luke Evans as Bard definitely adds more excitement to the story and there’s more adventure in store for Thorin & co. even just getting into the fictitious community of Men upon the Long Lake.

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They took a chance with Bard, not knowing if he’d betray him, so it adds to the suspense. It also features one of the funniest bits of the movie, which is a great continuation from the wine barrel escape (more on that later). There’s also some fun scene with always amusing Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-town, as well as some action packed sequence involving the Orcs and Elves. The town itself is beautiful to look at, apparently Peter Jackson and his crew built about 40 buildings on caster to make up the town.

7. The strong link to the Lord of the Rings story
Gandalf is separated from Bilbo and the Dwarf group this time around, working with his fellow wizard Radagast to get to The Dol Guldur. Inside the ruins is the creepiest sequence of all the film as Gandalf had to confront the Necromancer (once again voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

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The terrifying eye of Sauron once again makes an appearance, establishing just what is REALLY at stake beyond the quest involving the Dwarves getting their gold back from a dragon. The duel between Gandalf vs. Necromancer reminds me a bit of the scene where he fought the Balrog creature in an epic battle in which he fell down the Bridge. There’s something so sinister seeing an imprisoned Gandalf watch the Orc army marching off towards the Lonely Mountain and he can’t stop them.

6. The awesomely bad-ass Elves
I always like the elves from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but here, led by Legolas and the Woodland Elf Tauriel. She’s not in the book so I think purists might have a different opinion about her (and Legolas appearing in The Hobbit), but I quite like Evangeline Lily as the warrior Elven princess. As the head of the Elven guard, she’s definitely as bad ass as Legolas, who’s even more swift and agile with his bow and arrows. They both move at breakneck speed as they fight the Orcs, yet there’s something so graceful and elegant about their moves that are so fun to watch. There’s an interesting dynamic between Legolas and Tauriel, hinting at a romance between the two (though seems like Tauriel has more of a thing with Thorin’s nephew Kili, played by the gorgeous Aidan Turner, in this movie).

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One of my favorite scenes from the LOTR trilogy are those set in the ethereal Rivendell, now in this sequel, we’re taken to where the Wood-elves and its leader Thranduil live. I always enjoy the long shot of the lush and beautiful vista of the Elves’ dwelling place. Lee Pace‘s Thranduil has a bit more to do in this sequel, as there are memorable exchanges with Thorin as well as with his son Legolas.

5. Finally getting to Erebor
At the end of the first movie, when everyone was at the top of the large rock and saw the Lonely Mountain in the distance, I remember how I couldn’t wait for the gang to finally reach it. Well, it was so worth the wait!

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There’s something so emotional about the sequence when they finally reach that abandoned palace. It’s apparent that Bilbo and the band of Dwarfs are so weary after such a long journey, both physically and emotionally, so it’s such a huge joy to see them finally reaching their destination. Bilbo once again saves the day and we get to live vicariously through him as his REAL adventure begins as he reach the mountain of gold and jewels… and finally having to face the Dwarves’ arch nemesis!


4. Thorin! Thorin! Thorin!
It’s no surprise that I have a special fondness for Richard Armitage‘s character, but really, can you blame me? It’s one of the best casting choice in The Hobbit, a close second after Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Armitage has even more to do here (yay!) and he sure delivers with stately gravitas. Armitage didn’t sing again here, but he gets to showcase his thunderous deep voice of his in several occasions,  especially in the scene in Lake-town when he appeals to the Master and the people of the town about his quest. I also love that he gets to show his range here as an actor, obviously displaying leading-man charisma but also a certain vulnerability and even tenderness.

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There’s an emotional scene as the gang reaches Erebor, starting with indescribable joy that soon turns to grave disappointment. Thorin displays one of his rare smiles, he’s actually grinning ear to ear at the possibility of finally entering his palace once more, but within minutes we see how his high spirits quickly leaves him. It’s all on display on his expressive face as the camera zooms in on him. His humanity is palpable, here we really see Thorin as not just a leader on a mission, but a man on a very personal journey that means everything to him and the people he loves.


3. The Wine Barrel scene
There’s been many discussions of this escape sequence in many interviews and boy, it definitely lives up to the hype!! If you don’t remember anything about this film, you’d likely remember this one. The scene of getting into the barrel itself is a hoot, which was big enough to fit a couple of Dwarves (well one for the extremely obese Bombur). Once they get to the Celduin river, all hell break lose!

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It’s such a huge rush to watch this scene, no wonder filming this seems to be the most memorable for the cast involved! Not only do they have to survive being bounced around in the river, which runs from the Lonely Mountain south through the Long Lake with some fierce streams, they also have to battle the ugly and vicious Orcs (or Goblins as known in the Hobbit books). The fight scenes involving the three different races (Goblins, Elves and Dwarves) along that river are relentless and exciting, definitely one of the most exhilarating action sequences of the year.


2. Bilbo the hero
What I appreciate most about this film is that each challenges Bilbo, Thorin and the gang encounter built on their character. I think Bilbo’s character arc is even more fleshed out. He told Gandalf that he’s found his courage and though it was told as an alibi, he’s certainly not lying as he’s evolved to be a brave fighter of his own right. The way he rescued the dwarves from the giant spiders show his growing strength and deftness with the sword, but my favorite part is his scene in Erebor.

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He still has his whimsy intact, which makes me love Martin Freeman‘s casting even more. The way he moves and all his nervous gestures are part of his charms and why it’s so effortless to root for him. His zany-ness makes for pure comedic gold, even when he’s literally surrounded by gold trying to find the Arkenstone, which is like finding needle in a haystack!
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1. Smaug
The mythical dragon is everything it’s cracked up to be and more! When Bilbo inevitably wakes him up with all the ruckus, it turns out the lonely dragon is one chatty giant lizard. I guess he’s been all alone for so long with nobody to talk to that he simply can’t shut up, ahah. Benedict Cumberbatch did some motion capture on top of just providing the voice of Smaug, which gives it such a lifelike realism to the creature.

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We get to see every bit of Smaug in its glorious detail from head to toe, which is all kinds of awesome. He’s slithering about tormenting Bilbo with his enormous presence, but it’s the banter between the two that I enjoy the most. It’s dramatic as well as hilarious that I wish the Smaug sequence could’ve been longer! Nice to see the BBC Sherlock duo together again, Cumberbatch’s wit and that iconic voice certainly creates enough of a presence that it was fun to see him interact with Martin Freeman.

The final confrontation with Thorin & co. is thrilling as they’re trying to outwit and outmaneuver the sly Smaug. With Gandalf being away facing off against an even darker power of evil, Bilbo and the Dwarves are pretty much on their own. “If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together,” Thorin proclaims defiantly, and the fight in Erebor is certainly a fiery one.

I really enjoyed the Smaug sequences that when he flew away and the closing credits came on, I felt like it was a tad too soon!


Kili (Aidan Turner)
Kili (Aidan Turner)

Now, I wish I could give this film a 5/5 but there are some REALLY slow moments that I feel grounds the film to a halt. One scene in particular is the lengthy flirty banter between Tauriel and Kili. Now, as Tauriel isn’t even in the book, I can”t imagine that scene is crucial to the story. It’s also odd given that there was much talk about Tauriel & Legolas romance that we barely see. Kili gets a lot more screen time in this film, so I’m curious about his character arc in the final installment.

Overall, it’s a great follow-up of an epic journey. The ending promises that even more lives are at stake in Middle Earth with Smaug being unleashed. Boy I’m even more eager to see the final film.


 

So what do you think of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Counting down to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Finally the wait is almost over! The movie opens here next Friday but I don’t have to wait much longer as I’ll be seeing it tomorrow night! 😀

I quite enjoyed the first movie [read my top 10 list why I think it was a worthwhile journey] and I’m one of the few people who actually don’t mind seeing The Hobbit extended in three films as I just love the Middle Earth universe, especially filled with my favorite actors! Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, oh my!

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Some of the ensemble cast at the L.A. premiere earlier this week

Well, just for fun, here are some interesting trivia and fun marketing campaign:

BY THE NUMBERS

1 Hobbit – Bilbo Baggins

1 Dragon – Smaug

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1 Crew member whose sole job on set was to look after prosthetic hands

1 Elvenking – Thranduil

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2.5 Number of years the textures department at Weta Digital worked on Smaug’s skin

2 Wizards – Gandalf and Radagast

3 Number of children belonging to Bard

3 Films in the Trilogy

4 Inches that 15-year-old actor John Bell (Bain) grew over the length of production

4 Tons of silicon used to generate the facial prosthetics

5 Hours to complete hair, make-up, prosthetics and wardrobe for each of the 13 Dwarves

5 Average number of doubles used for each main character, including scale, stunt and riding doubles

6 Number of weeks it took to build Beorn’s house

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7 km Length of toupe tape used to attach beards to faces

8 Legs on the giant Spiders infesting Mirkwood Forest

9 Weeks of location filming on the Trilogy

10kg Human hair for wigmaking

104 Average days it took to renew a studio with a new set

13 Dwarves – Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Bofur, Bombur, Bifur, Oin, Gloin, Dori, Nori and Ori

13 Empty wine barrels in which the Dwarves escape Thranduil’s Realm

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14 Tons of silicone used to mold all of the armor and weapons for all cultures

26 Average days shooting on a single set

32 Polystyrene trees, used in various configurations, to make the Mirkwood set

40 Buildings on casters that make up the Lake-town set

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48fps Higher frame rate used for the Trilogy

60 2nd unit studio crew

65 Number of people it took—including actors, doubles and stunt men—to portray 13 Dwarves

80 The age of the oldest vintage microphone used to record the score for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

88 Microphones used in the film’s scoring session

91 Wigs created for the Dwarves

94 Set models created for the Trilogy

95 Number of musicians in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra recording the film’s score

99 Number of studio sets built for the Trilogy

100+ Hobbit feet for Bilbo

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Even Smaug couldn’t resist Bilbo’s feet! [Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman on set]

Check out this hilarious Yahoo! video Guess the Feet, too bad I can’t embed it directly to this post, but trust me, it’s a hoot!

100 Total 2nd unit location crew

100 Total costume department crew

115 Number of drivers needed to transport the cast and crew to New Zealand locations

250+ Approximate population of the Trilogy’s art department

263 Beards made for the production

300 Bottles of spirit gum used in the production

350 Off-set crew

400 Costumes created for Lake-town

450 Main unit studio crew

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547 Traveling weapons for the 13 Dwarves

800 Crew traveling on location between two units

860 Bottles of isopropyl alcohol used to remove prosthetics

752 Wigs. Nearly everyone in the film is wigged

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1200 ‘Extras’ that needed to be cast for the Trilogy

2000 Hand-spun goblets created for Smaug’s Lair

3000 Props recorded in the furniture catalogue for Lake-town

5000+ Approximate population of Lake-town

8900 Approximate number of continuous hours the art department worked to build, decorate, and tear down sets. This involved different crews working 24/7

11,862 Prosthetics made for the Trilogy

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140,000+ Cups of coffee made by craft services throughout production

170,000 Punched aluminum gold plated coins trickled over Smaug’s Lair

Air New Zealand

This was released in mid November along with a contest to win a 5 night trip for two to Middle-earth itself! Oh man, that would’ve been sweet! That’s one of the dream places I’d love to visit, hopefully someday I could make it there as well as visit my dear aunt in Sydney, Australia!

Here in Middle-earth, everyday tasks can reveal out of this world surprises and before you know it everything can turn a bit Hobbit-shaped.

And one of my favorites about Peter Jackson‘s films are the plethora of video blogs and behind-the-scenes footage he readily share to his fans. Here’s the latest Production Diary which focuses on filming with Smaug the Dragon. Now I could watch an entire video just on Benedict Cumberbatch on set:


And here’s a 13-minute video of filming, I wish there are more specifically on the Barrel escape scene!

Well, the reviews I’ve been reading so far has been positive, so I’m even more excited about it than ever. I LOVE the world of Middle Earth so I really can’t wait to go back and be immersed in that universe once again!


Hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Thoughts on The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug?

Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi thriller ELYSIUM’s Poster & Trailer Spotlight

Boy oh boy! I’ve been looking forward to this film for quite some time now. In case you didn’t know already, I’m a huge fan of District 9 which was a surprise to me as I didn’t even know much about it when I saw it on the big screen. Well, it’s been over three years since I saw that film and finally, South African director Neill Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley are re-teaming for another sci-fi thriller.

I was kind of hoping that Copley would have the leading role this time around, but I understand that with a much-bigger budget, they’d need a movie star. So we’ve got Matt Damon in the lead instead. Check out the awesome poster of him with all that robotic stuff attached all over his body!

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I originally thought this was a follow-up to District 9, as I’ve outlined on my Upcoming Flix Spotlight post a year ago. But now it’s clear that this film has a new storyline that’s not related to D-9 universe, though it still carries a similar social issue theme. Now, this film was first scheduled for release in March before being pushed back to August. I don’t think it’s a sign of trouble though, I think that’d give Blomkamp to release some viral marketing for it like he did for D-9 which was a smart move.

Now finally, a trailer!!


WHOAH!! I’m even more intrigued now after seeing this. I really like the look of this and the apocalyptic story looks very promising and thought provoking, with all the visual and thematic elements every sci-fi lovers would love. Blomkamp is working again with Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital so it’s to be expected that the special effect is going to rock! Even right off the bat, I like the stark contrast between the perfect world of the Elysium space station and the left-behind slum that is the Earth. I read that Blomkamp shot the Earth footage in Mexico City, and everything on Elysium in Vancouver.

Per IGN, like Blomkamp’s previous film, this one has a similarly impoverished and segregated society, but this time along economic lines rather than species. Where District 9 was a sci-fi allegory for racism, Elysium is about economic disparity.

In the year 2159, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes, a hard line government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. That doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in, by any means they can. When unlucky Max is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

Here are four more details I learned from this HitFix article, which summarized the SONY press preview event in L.A. with Blomkamp, Copley and producer Simon Kinberg:

  • Damon’s character is Max, an ex-con who’s working a factory job on Earth. A radiation leak prompted him to be cast off by the authoritarian government. He knows the only way to get rid of the toxic radiation is in Elysium, and he has to find a way to get there.
  • The robotic stuff on his body, and that data port on his head is the result of self-modification Max did as a mechanism to hijack security information from an Elysium citizen.
  • Sharlto Copley plays the bad guy, Kruger. He is an Elysium operative who lives on Earth, waiting to be activated. When an attack on an Elysium citizen occurs, he gets the signal.
    CopleyFoster_Elysium
  • Jodie Foster plays a Senator, as Foster herself described in Movieline as “… the person who controls who gets to come in [to Elysium] and who doesn’t. She’s methodical, her antagonism has a point.” She also mentions that Elysium is an international place, as its residents comes from all over the earth.
  • Blomkamp said that 2/3 of the film would take place on earth and 1/3 in Elysium to emphasize further that the space station is truly a fantastical place every human being aspire to live in.

Elysium is out in theaters on August 9, 2013. I can hardly wait!


On a related note, two years ago, I wrote this post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama pitch where some humans live in another planet whilst the remaining earth population struggle to survive.
Check it out and let me know what you think 😀


Are you as stoked as I am about this one? What do you think of the trailer?

10 reasons The Hobbit is a worthwhile journey

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I saw The Hobbit twice already, the first time on an advanced screening before my vacation and the second time this past weekend. I enjoyed it both times, perhaps a bit more the second time around. Despite the 2 hrs 44 minutes running time, I find it to be thoroughly enjoyable. That’s not to say that I didn’t think the length was perfect, I think there are indeed some scenes that could’ve been edited out, especially some of the battle scenes. But no, I did not find it to be as problematic as critics made it out to be. It’s worth noting that I have NOT read the book so I have no complain about the extra scenes, either.

So here are ten reasons why I’m glad to be back to Middle Earth once again:

1. The world that Tolkien built... and the classic tale of good vs. evil. I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed this movie so much is that I LOVE this fantasy world, the story and its wisdom. There’s an underlying message of hope, courage and love that’s worth revisiting again and again. I’ve loved the characters in the Lord of the Rings, and I also feel a connection with the main characters of The Hobbit. (See #9)

2. The dazzling visuals … The technological wizardry enables us to experience the journey as if we’re actually there inside Bilbo’s house, or in the woods spying on Thorin & co. I saw this movie both times in the High Frame Rate (48Frames/Second) Digital 3D format (NOT the IMAX version) and I have no qualms about it. Yes it’s so crisp that it looks like watching a show on HDTV but after a while, your eyes adjust to it and I’ve come to appreciate the clarity of every little detail and the smoothness of the fast-moving action scenes. It’s such a meticulously-crafted universe, from the interior of Bilbo’s house in the Shire to the ever-so-ethereal Rivendell, which was as majestic as I had remembered it in LOTR.

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It’s obvious this movie is a labor of love for Peter Jackson and it shows. The sweeping cinematography is one to behold, it was a welcome return to the visually mesmerizing world of Middle Earth.

3. Martin Freeman as Bilbo … I’m so glad that PJ was set on casting Freeman, even to the point of reworking the entire shooting schedule (due to the BBC’s Sherlock‘s scheduling conflict) for the Hobbit films to accommodate him. I think his casting is integral to the success of the movie and his personal journey is a joy to watch. Freeman is exactly what I’d imagine the young Bilbo would be. His bumbling mannerism, the way he constantly doubts himself, and his lack of vanity are all what I love about this character. Freeman plays the heroic ‘everyman’ so perfectly, I absolutely can’t imagine anyone else in this role.


TheHobbit_Thorin4. Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield… I was thrilled when I first heard that one of my favorite Brits got a major role in The Hobbit! The English actor definitely has the right look (despite his 6’2″ stature) and sensibility as the Aragorn-like leader of the pack. As the son of the slain Dwarf king and heir of Erebor Kingdom, he’s naturally got a sullen demeanor and a fierce determination to take back his stolen homeland destroyed by Smaug the Dragon. Armitage’s got a mean (read: irresistible) glower which PJ made the most of throughout the movie. Even underneath all that beard and dwarf costume, he’s still so darn hunky. Oh and that deep voice! I sure hope there’s another singing sequence in the 2nd and 3rd movies 😉

5. The Lord of the Rings nostalgia … It’s a good thing that PJ came back to direct this movie as it’s got all the ingredients and the vibe I’ve come to appreciate about the LOTR franchise. I also LOVE seeing the characters from the trilogy reappearing here, Frodo, Lord Elrod, Saruman and especially Galadriel and Gandalf. I’ve missed seeing Cate Blanchett on screen so it was nice to see her even in her brief scenes. Ian McKellen is fantastic as usual as the wise Gandalf the Grey. His chemistry with Bilbo is especially heartfelt, Gandalf truly believes in him despite what Thorin thinks about having him around in their quest.

6. The riddle scene of Gollum and Bilbo … Easily the main highlight of the movie for me. Andy Serkis is such a mo-cap virtuoso and Gollum is even more life like than ever before. His bulging blue eyes are ever-so-expressive, it’s especially amusing when he’s frustrated trying to come up with an answer for a riddle. He’s terrifyingly creepy but yet you can’t help but feeling sorry for the poor soul when he lost his ‘precious’ one. An iconic character that never wears out its welcome.

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7. Howard Shore’s gorgeous music … it evokes the lush sound of LOTR and I love that it plays the same theme when certain scenes are revisited, such as when the ring shows up. But yet it’s got its own distinct theme that is unique for The Hobbit. The melody from the song played in Bilbo’s house you heard in the trailer is played throughout. It sounds so beautifully melancholic as a song, but it’s got a lively energy when played during some of the dynamic action scenes.

8. The merry band of dwarves (I purposely use the Tolkien spelling here)The Hobbit is decidedly more lighthearted than the LOTR trilogy, though it still carries a profound message of good vs evil. In the first viewing I felt that the introduction of the Dwarves and the huge dinner party at Bilbo’s house went on a bit too long. But on second viewing I actually enjoyed it a lot more. Their colorful personality offers a stark contrast to the reclusive Bilbo and their angst-y leader Thorin. Radagast the Brown, one of Gandalf’s fellow Wizards, is amusingly quirky as well.

9. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth – Matthew 5:5

Galadriel: Mithrandir, why the halfling?

Gandalf: Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.

TheHobbit_GaladrielGandalf

I LOVE Gandalf answer. Bilbo is not of noble breed, nor does he have certain superpowers, in fact, he’s chosen because of his small stature and humility. In the midst of superhero movies out there, it’s nice to see a ‘regular guy’ who does heroic deeds motivated by love and empathy for others. The initially-doubtful Bilbo finally comes into his own towards the end, realizing his worth and his place in the journey to the Lonely Mountain. His speech after he escaped Goblin Town is moving and inspiring, delivered so effortlessly by Freeman without even the slightest bit of trite.
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10. Movie escapism at its best…I went in expecting to be swept away in a world so unlike my own and live vicariously through Bilbo as he goes about on his adventure and that’s what I got. Yes some of the scenes are perhaps a bit too cartoon-ish, I mean we’re talking about these dwarves falling down a cavern as the bridge they’re on breaks into fragments, and once they fell hundreds of feet below, a 500+ pound goblin king falls on them. Yet they all survive perfectly with no major injury! I suppose we don’t know the exact genetic makeup of a dwarf so their bones could be a heck of a lot stronger than humans. What else would explain Thorin survival after being whacked by the giant pale Orc Azog with a big mace with spikes on them! It’s all part of the ‘fantasy’ bit folks, so I don’t see a point in nitpicking on that front.

As for Azog as the main villain in this film, I heard some people complain that he’s a ‘weak’ villain. Well naturally he would be if you compare him to Sauron and his evil watchful eye, but the pale Orc is just one of the evil ‘minions’ if you will, employed by the powerful dark force that Thorin & co. would eventually have to face.

All in all, it’s a wonderful start of an epic journey. I really care for the characters and the quest for them to take back their homeland. I was caught up in the adventures and for me and now I can’t wait for what happens next!


So what do you think of The Hobbit? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Random Thoughts: The agony & ecstasy of [film-release] anticipation

Yuu huu… it’s raining trailers this week isn’t it? First we’ve got the final Batman saga The Dark Knight Rises from Christopher Nolan, I’m sure y’all have seen the epic trailer by now. Well, I was watching The Artist [a flawless movie, review to come] on an advanced screening last night so I missed all the festivities around The Hobbit trailer release, but as soon as I get home I just had to fire up the trailer… see it below if you haven’t already:

Before I go on, here’s my two-cents on this trailer:

This beautiful trailer brings back memories of why I LOVE Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy in the first place. The trailer captures the visual style and mood of the trilogy that we’ve come to love, but this time there’s one cast member I’m SUPER excited about… Richard Armitage! I announced his casting news in October of last year, so I kept waiting for Gandalf to announce the dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield… Whoa, he still looks hot under the dwarf make up, and boy he gets to sing, too!! One of the things I love about Richard is his deep baritone voice (just like Gregory Peck, he’s truly got the whole package on top of being tall, dark and handsome!). I REALLY hope this will bring more Hollywood roles for him. Come on, more casting agents ought to see BBC’s North & South already. Mr. Thornton FTW! Sorry, I just have to get that out of the way…

The rest of the ensemble cast is nothing short of phenomenal as well, on top of the original LOTR cast like Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, etc. I’m thrilled to see Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans and of course Martin Freeman as young Bilbo Baggins. By the time the Howard Shore score comes on, I’ve got goosebumps all over again, I’m so ready to be transported to Middle Earth right about now!

Man oh man, there’s too much cinematic excitement this week I could spontaneously com-bust! I’m still recovering from the awesomeness of The Dark Knight Rises, and now this! My pal Terrence @ ScarletSp1der just had a mind-boggling poll asking us to do the impossible… that is to choose between Batman 3 or The Hobbit. Oh man that’s like Sophie’s Choice. I can’t, I can’t… and I won’t! I am excited for both equally despite those being two very different films. Fortunately, we don’t have to as they’re released a half a year apart!

With 2011 coming to a close, surely more trailers are to come as studios are hoping to build up the hype for their 2012 movies. Now, as a film lover, the contrasting emotion of agony & ecstasy of anticipating movies can be unbearable! With every joy we get of seeing a movie trailer/clip/featurette what have you, it’s always followed by the agony of waiting for its release! I mean, I’m already complaining about the 7-month wait for The Dark Knight Rises but The Hobbit won’t be out until next December 2013, a stinkin’ FULL YEAR from now!! Oh Mr. Jackson, the agony….

And that’s just two of them, there are a whole slew of movies I’m anticipating next year, here are just a shortlist I can think of right now (release date is for USA).

  • The Avengers –  May 4, 2012
  • Great Gatsby – December 25, 2012
  • Prometheus – June 8, 2012
  • Skyfall (Bond 23) – November 9, 2012
  • Total Recall – August 3, 2012

Not including other ones which release dates haven’t been announced yet such as All Things to All Men and two of Gerry Butler’s sports-themed movies Of Men and Mavericks and Playing the Field. As you can see, the earliest movie to be released on the list is The Avengers, and that’s almost a half a year wait.

As I’ve just seen The Artist, it makes me think people’s attitude about upcoming movies back in the day in the pre-Internet and social media era, before movie marketing constantly bombards us the way they do today. I mean, the average moviegoers probably didn’t know a movie was coming out until like  a month before. The only ‘hype’ the movie’s got is only through newspapers, radio and occasional TV spots. Back then going to the movies were such big events, people got dressed up and line up to see the new marquee film playing in their local theater, waiting to ‘escape’ into the world of the movies, forgetting their troubles for a couple of hours. Unless they’re the film critics, I bet they weren’t picking apart each scene or fuming that so and so sequence they saw on the trailer wasn’t included, etc. Today, we often come with certain preconceived expectations about a given movie long before the opening credits roll, so for better for worse, our experience of movie-watching is undoubtedly very different.

Anyway, that’s just an observation I just want to share with you. I guess it’s up to us to keep our excitement and anticipation in check, which is getting harder to do given the increasing ferocity of social media marketing. The studios certainly are making the most of ’em as my Twitter feed is abuzz with film updates almost every minute!!


What are your thoughts on this topic, folks? And while you’re at it, what are the top five films you’re anticipating next year?