[Hobbit Day] The Hobbit (1977)

Director: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin, Jr.

Cast: Orson Bean, Richard Boone, Hans Conreid, John Huston, Otto Preminger, Cyril Ritchard, Theodore, Glenn Yarbrough, Paul Frees, John Stephenson, Don Messick, Jack DeLeon

Screenplay: Romeo Muller

77 mins. Rated TV-PG.

 

It’s still interesting to me to hear that most film fans, even fans of the Peter Jackson films or the J.R.R. Tolkien novels, are unaware that they were previously adapted: The Lord of the Rings into two animated films of drastically different tones in The Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King, and The Hobbit into the film we are going to talk about today. I’m not talking about short films or student films or experimental pieces like Leonard Nimoy’s Bilbo Baggins song (it exists). No, it’s a TV movie released in the 1970s from those guys that made all your favorite Christmas specials, but now, over 40 years later, there’s are some interesting comparisons and contrasts to Jackson’s films. They are uniquely opposite interpretations in execution and finished product, but these older, almost forgotten takes on Middle Earth still carry a lot of weight.

You know the story, but I’ll remind you again. In the Shire, there lives a comfortable enough Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Orson Bean, Being John Malkovitch, InnerSpace) who is rather happy with his cozy uneventful existence, as many Hobbits are, and he is looking for no reason to change it. Everything changes, though, when he is visited by a wizard, Gandalf the Grey (John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Chinatown), who enlists his burglary skills (of which he has none) to help Thorin Oakenshield (Hans Conreid, Peter Pan, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T) and his band of dwarves to reclaim their home and their dwarven treasure from the villainous and greedy dragon, Smaug (Richard Boone, Vicki, Hombre). Along this journey, Bilbo will encounter trolls, goblins, and a frightening creature by the name of Gollum (Theodore, The ‘Burbs, Nocturna) who carries a nifty magic ring.

The first noticeable difference between this film and Jackson’s trilogy is just that. One is a film running just under 80 minutes, and the other is a three-part film series that comes in (extended cuts and all) at just over nine hours! For many people, Jackson’s Hobbit films are bloated and stuffed with pieces that were unnecessary. They believe that the films are simply too long and undeserving of a full trilogy of films to tell their story. To that extreme, I’ll throw back The Hobbit 1977, a film that I believe loses a lot of its grandness in swiftly running through events like a checklist. This Hobbit interpretation is too short. I personally like the heft of Jackson’s trilogy (yes, flawed as they are, if I enjoy a world, I could live there forever), but I will attest that neither adaptation perfected the length of their story to match Tolkien’s.

There’s also the animation aspect. I’ve always preferred live-action, but the Rankin/Bass animation of this version is rather endearing and warm. There’s a certain charm to the animation style of The Hobbit (though I also prefer Bakshi’s batshit crazy Lord of the Rings animation style), and it works to better effect here than in The Return of the King.

I like the voice cast of our central players. Orson Bean is a positively inspired choice for Bilbo Baggins, and John Huston’s take on Gandalf works wonders (it’s also different enough from Ian McKellan’s take on the character to allow both versions to flourish nicely). The consistently unusual performer Theodore does fine work as Gollum in a role that I wouldn’t have thought to work from a performance angle. I’m just not a fan of the flat characterizations of the company of dwarves. Don Messick (The Last Unicorn, Pufnstuf) and Jack DeLeon (Temptress, Allyson is Watching) voice most of the dwarves and we just don’t get much time to care that they’re on the journey with us. It asks the question of why we care about anyone else on the journey except for Bilbo, Thorin, and Gandalf. Not enough time is delegated to any of the secondary dwarves in this adaptation, but they are there anyway because that’s how the book did it. I understand as well that the book didn’t always give a lot of attention to the secondary dwarves, but if you can’t make them compelling characters, just don’t put them in the movie. It’s an adaptation, not a translation.

Among all that, I still quite liked The Hobbit. It’s a good family-based version of events, and without the Jackson films to compare with, it’s cute and warm and enjoyable. Sure, it’s a nearly forgotten take on Middle Earth, but I find that I keep coming back to it, flaws and all, and enjoying myself. I think you could too.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, click here.

For my review of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr.’s The Return of the King, click here.

[Star Trek Day] Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Bibi Besch, Paul Winfield, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalban, Merritt Butrick

Screenplay: Jack B. Sowards

113 mins. Rated PG for violence and language.

 

I won’t begin to act like I’m a genius when it comes to Star Trek. I got into the movies in high school and the show a bit more during my college experience, but I’m no expert, but I recently heard that September 8th is considered Star Trek Day (the first episode aired on 9/8/1966), so I figured we would talk about what is considered by many to be the best of the Star Trek films, The Wrath of Khan.

It’s been fifteen years since the crew of the starship Enterprise marooned the treacherous Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!) on Ceti Alpha V after Khan attempted and failed at taking the ship, and now, the crew of the starship Reliant have been taken captive as Khan seeks vengeance upon the Enterprise and especially its former captain, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner, Aliens Ate My Homework, Batman vs. Two-Face). Khan blames Kirk for the death of his wife. As Khan sets his trap into place, the Admiral takes control of the Enterprise once again and sets off to answer a distress call, unaware that he is about to enter a situation he has never faced with a foe he never expected to see again.

The Wrath of Khan is, to my knowledge, the first time a film in any series was made as a direct sequel to a television episode, and the first time I watched it, I had never seen Space Seed, the episode in which we are first introduced to Khan, and I would guess a great many casual fans would not know that Khan has been there before, which is a testament to director Nicholas Meyer (Vendetta, Company Business) and screenwriter Jack B. Sowards (Desperate Women, Cry Panic) in crafting a standalone story that is also enhanced by the show which came before it and the film which preceded it. It’s a captivating screenplay and story that tackles the task of saving a franchise and shepherding it into the future without forgetting the past.

This sequel also excels at the most important element in the difference between television series and movies. When you have a weekly series, especially one as episodic as Star Trek, you have your team and they go on an adventure, but by the end of the episode, most everything has turned out okay. Now, this is not always the case, but most of the time, in these procedural shows, it is. In the case of Star Trek, though, and transitioning from television to film, there’s a bigger budget, there needs to be a bigger scope, or audiences are going to question why they are dropping serious money to see something on the big screen that they should be able to see at home. So spectacle is key, something that Wrath of Khan handles quite well. The other notable change for the series is now that you have an event series with only one story every year or two, you need that story to be very important. It needs to be something that forever alters the story, and by the end of Wrath of Khan, this story has had an effect on the Enterprise and its crew.

I need to give specifically high marks to Leonard Nimoy (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Adventures in Zambezia) as Spock, James Doohan (Skinwalker: Curse of the Shaman, The Duke) as Scotty, and Kirstie Alley (Drop Dead Gorgeous, Look Who’s Talking) as Saavik, a new recurring character in the franchise. Everyone is quite solid in the film, especially these three. Add their work to Montalban’s scene-chewing performance and you have a good recipe for excitement. I even have to say that Shatner’s work as Kirk is great here too. He doesn’t do anything really different here but he has just honed his character over his time in Star Trek to the point where he just captivates the screen.

Overall, The Wrath of Khan is a great entry point for anyone looking to get into Star Trek but finds the daunting task of three live-action seasons, two animated seasons, and a not-so-great first film. It’s filled with dazzling characters, real tension, and stunning visuals. This is a Trek film for people that don’t normally call themselves Trekkies. Seek this one out. Happy Star Trek Day!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, click here.

Leonard Nimoy Passes at 83.

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Today, I want us to take a minute to honor a great man we lost yesterday. Leonard Nimoy. The man who would be known as Spock, the half-human, half-Vulcan member of the Starship Enterprise in the original Star Trek series, its animated sequel series, and several of the films.

Most recently seen on the series Fringe (of which I am a major fanboy), Nimoy had kind of retired from acting, returning only to previously created characters to continue the arcs he created for them. His most recent major role was in a cameo role for Star Trek Into Darkness. Below is a list of titles most notable for the actor, as well as his final message to his fans, in the form of a tweet.

Thank you Leonard, and, as always, LLAP.

Selected Filmography:

  • Them! (1954)
  • Star Trek (1966-1969)
  • Mission: Impossible (1969-1971)
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
  • The Transformers: The Movie (1986)
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  • The Pagemaster (1994)
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
  • Star Trek (2009)
  • Land of the Lost (2009)
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
  • Zambezia (2012)
  • Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

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[Happy 35th Birthday!] Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

startrekthemotionpicture1979a

Director: Robert Wise

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

Screenplay: Harold Livingston

132 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action and mild language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects – Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

When Firefly was cancelled prematurely, fans fought hard to have their show brought back in any way, shape, or form. Eventually, the powers that be granted us Serenity. People tend to forget that the same thing happened on an even grander scale over twenty years prior when Star Trek, about a five-year mission into space, ended abruptly after only three seasons. When, many years later, the idea came about to resurrect the Enterprise for a feature film, fans were ecstatic. If only they knew. If only they knew…

startrekthemotionpicture1979c

Star Trek: The Motion Picture picks up with the completion of the Enterprise’s five-year mission. Several members of the crew have gone on to other work. That is, until a mysterious presence in deep space in a massive cloud of energy destroys several Klingon ships and has its sights set for Earth. Recently promoted Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner, TV’s $#*! My Dad Says, Escape from Planet Earth) takes over command of the Enterprise from its new Captain Decker (Stephen Collins, TV’s 7th Heaven, The Three Stooges) and joins up with Spock (Leonard Nimoy, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Land of the Lost) and the rest of the crew to discover its origins and, if need be, destroy it.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was put together with one big mistake. It tries to be two things. It tries to stretch out its television show length without adding enough in, and it tries to be 2001: A Space Odyssey. It tries and fails. This movie is a mess. I feel as though screenwriter Harold Livingston didn’t know enough about the series to craft a meaningful new chapter. I feel as though Gene Roddenberry was unwittingly burying his work under layers of convolution. I feel as though Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story) didn’t understand what he was doing.

The cast performs admirably, and there isn’t a whole lot of issue to be had with the cinematography. What really kills this film is the editing and pacing of it all. My God, it just doesn’t end! I think they finished this film 35 years ago and that’s how long I’ve been watching it! There are sequences, like Spock’s infamous spacewalk, that are meant to build tension but just end up pooping out on trying to be spectacular.

The score here is pretty sweet, and serves to invigorate the series for future installments, but it does little to invigorate this tale.

And what’s the deal with those costumes? My girlfriend said it best. It looks like these characters are heading to a Star Trek-themed sleepover and are wearing their pajamas. Terrible look, which was thankfully rectified for the sequels.

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All in all, Star Trek: The Motion Picture gave us Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and in that way, I am grateful. Unfortunately, it also gave us Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and in that way, I am angry. This is an entry which does nothing to enhance the series it is in. Best to just skip to Khan.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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