Pilgrim's Watch: movie reviews

Reviewing What I Watch.


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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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When I look back to my earliest memories of browsing through the school library, looking for books to devour, The Hobbit leaps to mind as one of the very first that completely captured my imagination and forever solidified itself as one of my all-time favourite novels and the reason for my continued love for the fantasy genre. And so to see this on the big screen was like having all my childhood memories come to life. I guess I mention all this to give something of a ‘heads-up’ that there may be a haze of nostalgia surrounding my view on the film, but as always I will endeavour to be fair in my review.

So for those who are asking ‘what’s a Hobbit?’, here’s a quick overview: ‘The Hobbit’ is J.R.R. Tolkien’s first work of fiction and was an instant hit, becoming something of a standard by which fantasy writing would forever be influenced by. It is based 70 years prior to the events of the later written book, which you may have heard of, called ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ (LotR). The Hobbit was always a more family friendly story lacking in much of the darker fantasy elements of its much larger predecessor. Hobbits are peace loving, proper creatures that enjoy their quite lives and go to great pains to avoid any sort of disturbances. So when the Wizard Gandalf the Grey appears before one such Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins and offers him an opportunity for adventure, he his promptly asked to move on and have a nice day. This book follows the story of Bilbo and the adventure he eventually finds himself on to help a band of Dwarves reclaim their kingdom from the dragon Smaug who decided to take up residence there some years earlier. While being mostly independent from the LotR in regards to plot, there lots of background events that help to setup the story for the larger world, and also how Bilbo comes by the One Ring that is later passed onto Frodo.

Peter Jackson has returned to create these movies, which has now become a trilogy, the reason for this, besides the obvious grab for cash, also includes the expansion of the story based on Tolkien’s notes and his other works such as the Silmarillion. Part 1, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ covers the first five chapters of The Hobbit and accomplishes this with a frightening and welcome level of accuracy, some scenes being almost completely verbatim, especially the ‘riddles in the dark’ scene where Bilbo and Sméagol match wits.

One of the criticisms of this film is that it is slow paced and painstaking on detail, however you can’t come into this film expecting the climatic scenes you last saw in the final chapters of the LotR. The first chapters of any book consist mainly of exposition and plot development, and couple that with the fact that this is a true fantasy movie, meaning that there is always lots of traveling, so don’t go into this movie expecting an action film with people dressed up like fantasy creatures, this IS a fantasy film with a great balance of plot and character development and yes moments of action as this fellowship fights its way through not only Goblins and Mountain Trolls but a mountain full of Trolls!

The ground breaking aspect that Jackson has (and please forgive some of the tech jargon here but it’s pretty cool) added to the creation of this film is his decision to pioneer High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D filming. Historically films have always been shot at 24 frames per second (fps), Jackson decided to increase this by doubling it to 48fps. The reasons behind this where mainly twofold; firstly that is increases the quality and clarity of the picture and secondly it reduces many of the setbacks that have come with 3D movies such as motion sickness and tired eyes. I did get to see the film in HFR3D and honestly I thought it looked fantastic. But heads up, it does take about 10-15 minutes to get accustomed to it, at the beginning everything seems to move faster than it should, but the feeling passes. And as with HD filming, there comes a higher level of effort required to make thighs look ‘realistic,’ so while I never thought I was looking at a film set at any point, there are some moments (if you’re looking harder than you should when enjoying the movie) where one might be able to spot makeup and special effects tricks. In the end it is new technology and there is room for perfecting it. For all this, the 3D looks clearer than I’ve ever seen and it is never ‘in your face,’ being used perfectly and merely as an enhancement to the film, so if you have the opportunity to watch it how it was filmed then I highly recommend that you try it out. I can almost guarantee that this technology will be here to stay if it doesn’t become the new standard for the film industry.

The whole movie is well put together and Martin Freeman delivers a solid performance as Bilbo as does the rest of the Cast. Andy Serkis reprises his role as Sméagol (otherwise known as Gollum in LotR) and it is a masterpiece moment of cinema, for which he will sadly never receive any awards though he completely deserves them.

So should you watch this movie? Yes if you like fantasy, and you enjoyed LotR, especially if you, like me, enjoyed the opening scenes of the ‘Fellowship of the Ring‘ which were based in The Shire as this films defiantly keeps that feeling throughout its progression, epically with a mob of Dwarves that are like the most rowdy group of brothers that I’ve ever seen. There is defiantly no reason to avoid this film, unless you have some irrational fear of hairy Hobbit feet or oversized eagles, by all standards this is a solid film, and a great introduction to the fantasy genre just like the book.

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Les Misèrables (2012)

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Les Misèrables is only one of the ground breaking films to hit the cinemas this Christmas. And just in case you’ve been living under a cultural rock for your entire life, Les Misèrables is the book written by the French writer Victor Hugo. A historical piece following the story of the protagonist, convict Jean Valjean leading into the early days of the French Revolution. Valjean is shown incredible grace by a priest from who he stole silverware and as a result Valjean seeks to escape his life as a judged man and to live a new life, trying to make a measure of difference in the world. Valjean’s ‘archenemy’ in this story is found in Javert, an officer of the law whose whole existence is given value by his ability to uphold the law. This book has had countless film adaptations over the years and one extremely popular stage musical, and it is this musical which is been recreated as a motion picture.

I first saw Les Misèrables performed when I was a young teen in high school, and it absolutely rocked my world and birthed my love for musicals, the arts and music in general. So when I heard that they were adapting it for the big screen with the likes of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried I almost fainted with excitement, and when I heard Anne Hatheway sing ‘I dreamed a dream’ in the first trailer, well fainting was the least of my worries and I knew right there that I was going to need tissues to get through this film.

I mentioned before that this film is ground breaking  and this is because of how they did the audio recording with the movie. In any musical film done to date, the actors are ushered into recording studios months before getting on set to record all the songs. Then once on set they simply act out the scene and mime along to the recording. However the director, Tom Hooper, felt this always held a level of falsity and disconnect from the heart of the songs, so instead of following the traditional method, Hooper decided to give the actors hidden ear pieces and got them to sing each song live on set. The idea was to give the actors full control over the direction and impact of the song as they were performing it, and it comes across powerfully in the finished product.

Because of this, the songs are performed differently from the musical versions, and this is actually a very good thing. You see, on stage, actors cannot portray emotion solely through their faces and body movements; they are simply too far away, so everything must be exaggerated and technically perfect in order to convey the message of the music. However, on film the camera allows for the actors to focus on acting the songs rather than performing them. And that is one of the many reasons why this film is so amazing.

Each of the actors are in fine form in this film, Hugh Jackman is in his element playing Valjean and Russell Crowe, who many were unsure of and undoubtedly many will criticize, plays the character of Javert perfectly and offsets Jackman in both singing and acting with a subtly that is wonderful performed for both the development of his own character and that of Valjean. Anne Hatheway, who I have been longing to hear sing again ever since her performance of Queen’s ‘Find me somebody to love’ in Ella Enchanted, is simply amazing in this film and deserves every award that comes her way and all those that don’t. Perhaps the only weak point in this film is Amanda Seyfrieds performance as Cosette, and this may simply be that of the Character herself who isn’t really given much depth in this portrayal of the story, especially when set against the character of Èponine who is given such depth and beauty by actress Samantha Barks. There is also an amazing cameo by Colm Wilkinson, who played Valjean in the London and New York stage performances of Les Misèrables, poetically playing the role as the Priest who gives Valjean his chance at new life. The last worthy mention goes to both Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen who provide the comic relief and it’s done perfectly, one moment I was choking up over the orphaned and neglected child Cosette dreaming of her Castle on the clouds and the next I’m laughing at these two innkeepers as they swindle customers in all sorts of hilarious ways all the while I’m wondering what is going to hit me next on this emotional roller-coaster of a movie.

Les Misèrables will undoubtedly see many well-earned awards heading its way as it really is almost close to a perfect film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t eventually make its way into the curriculum for many institutes to teach not only literature and performance, but also for the portrayal of the historical period which is shown as a heartbreaking reality.

So should you see this film? Yes, everyone should watch this film; it is an extremely powerful story of grace and redemption. And if I hear any men beating their chests with a false bravado claiming that ‘real men’ don’t watch musicals, then do yourselves a favour  suck it up and watch this movie, the interplay between Valjean and Javert touches powerfully on the true heart of masculinity and how that looks in the face of despair and hope. The final scenes deliver a powerful challenge from the barricade to the viewer, asking what you will do to see the tomorrow that you want to come, which left me in tears and properly fragile for hours after, this is such as powerful film if you haven’t already seen it then I urge you to head to the cinemas to witness something very very special.