[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 17 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] Doom (2005)

Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Cast: Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Razaaq Adoti, Dwayne Johnson
Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Wesley Strick
105 mins. Rated R for strong violence/gore and language.

Sometimes I wonder why studios and filmmakers keep trying to make video game movies. Sure, there’s a chance for profitability, but it seems to be a risky proposition. For each success, there are quite a few failures (and that’s even if you ignore Uwe Boll). For whatever reason, these adaptations keep coming (and I’m always hoping for this genre to finally break out the way superheroes finally did), and the mid-2000s were full of them. Today, let’s talk about one that has been mostly forgotten: Doom.

In 2026, a wormhole is discovered in Nevada that leads to Mars. This wormhole is named the Ark. Twenty years later, a research facility on Mars is attacked, and a squad of Marines is sent through the Ark to rescue any survivors and eliminate any hostiles. This squad is led by Sarge (Dwayne Johnson, Moana, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), a no-bullshit commander who believes his team can handle anything. Now, he has to team up with Dr. Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl, The World’s End), the twin sister of his own marine John “Reaper” Grimm (Karl Urban, Thor: Ragnarok, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), who works at the Martian research site. When they come across large aggressive creatures at the location of the carnage, they find that they may be in over their heads, but where did these creatures come from?

Let me get this out of the way by seeing this is not a terrible movie as some reviews would have you believe. I don’t think it’s a bad movie. It’s also not a good movie. It’s merely okay. Doom’s biggest problem is that it’s pretty much a remake of Resident Evil set on Mars. So many of the plot points and characters are similar enough that you might assume it was a complete ripoff. Doom isn’t a bad movie, and with a few tweaks, it could have been a much better film.

First of all, I think Karl Urban is a great lead. I was hearing that the original casting choice for Reaper was Dwayne Johnson himself, but Johnson felt that Sarge was a lot more interesting. This was a good call as The Rock was just starting to get involved in acting for films, and he wasn’t all that good. He shouldn’t have been leading films as he wasn’t strong enough. He’s since gotten quite a lot better at playing characters that suited him, much like Channing Tatum later did. Urban had been a more capable lead for the film, and he works quite well leading the film, and he has good chemistry with Pike (although I do not believe that their characters are twins). They are also aided by a few capable supporting actors including Richard Brake and Dexter Fletcher. Overall, there isn’t anything Oscar-worthy from these actors, but they fit well enough given a pretty underwhelming screenplay.

The creature effects would be pretty damn great to see if the lighting wasn’t so horrendous. It reminded me of Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem, which had some cool creature effects but was even darker. You can see enough in this film to know you want to see more, but it’s just too damn dark. The decision by director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 the Grave) to focus on practical effects as much as possible, and he even utilized Stan Winston Studios to help create the monsters, and I would have loved for them to be on full display, but the lighting kills it.

The gimmick of Doom is, of course, the FPS sequence which takes up a bulk of the climax of the film. It actually worked quite well for me as an action setpiece and gimmick (one that was later utilized in films like Hardcore Henry), and I would have liked it to be more utilized through the whole film. I don’t think it needed to be the whole film, but it worked pretty well and, for an action film, it was quite exciting.

Doom is a mixed bag. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. The problem is that the elements that work well are usually overshadows by the elements that don’t. Karl Urban is a strong lead, and I liked The Rock more on this rewatch, but the script is a bit muddled. The creature effects are cool, but the lighting makes them too hard to see. The gimmick is solid, but the film sold us a lot more FPS than we really got. It’s just a derivative but fine film. Doom can just be so much better.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[IndyPendence Day] Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan

115 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

IMDb Top 250: #48 (as of 6/25/2019)

 

What else would I watch on IndyPendence Day, right?

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, Witness, The Secret Life of Pets 2) is a professor and archaeologist known for acquiring various historical items of merit. Now he’s been tasked by the American government to find the missing Ark of the Covenant, a chest that contains the remains of the Ten Commandments, and an item he has a history with. He doesn’t know its location, but his former love Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, Starman, Year by the Sea) may know something. He has to work quickly, though, because a group of Nazis, led by rival archaeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman, Hot Fuzz, TV’s Absentia), are already on the search for Marion and the Ark, as Hitler believes the Ark to have mystical powers that may grant the Nazis an edge on their quest for global domination.

I actually got into Indiana Jones in my late teens because of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. When I heard there was going to be a new movie, I knew I had to see the other three first, because I’m a little insane that way. While Raiders of the Lost Ark is not my favorite of the four films, it’s a damn good introductory adventure to our heroic archaeologist and it set the blueprint for how to create an effective adventure under the crafting of director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Ready Player One), George Lucas, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Solo: A Star Wars Story).

Harrison Ford is perfectly cast as Jones. It’s laughable now to even think of someone else like Tom Selleck, Nick Nolte, or even Steve Martin donning the fedora, even though they were all part of the lengthy list of potentials for the lead. He is excellent here, playing an otherworldly parallel to Han Solo, another crotchety character who thinks he knows everything. His chemistry with both love interest Karen Allen and also close friend Sallah, played by John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Aquaman), are both exemplary.

What’s so great about introducing this film at this time is that so much of its iconography and recognizable pop culture occurs in the opening sequence. My wife had only seen Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull (the latter of which probably a decade ago), and after Indy takes on the fertility idol, she turned and asked what happens in the movie, assuming that the boulder and everything leading up to it was the plot of the movie. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it’s true.

Spielberg’s style, borrowed from pulp adventure novels, B-movies, and serials from his youth, elevated the material with a fun sense of style that integrated nicely without getting bogged down in silliness. He also wasn’t afraid to hit the violence hard. In fact, when I was younger, I remember a teacher showing us the violence in one of the sequences of the film. I cannot remember the reason for it, but we were supposed to count the number of violent acts that occur in the fight sequence, and it was a lot. To be honest, that’s one of the great things about the film. The hunt for the Ark is not an easy one for Indy or Marion, and it is their knowledge and skill that keep them going. Plus, Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan actually showcase their lead character’s intellect by having him skirt a few nastier situations in the film by using his brain power over his bullwhip and fist.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a nearly-perfect film which has aged extremely well (except for the age of Marion during her romantic entanglement with the archaeologist). It’s action, violence, and smarts make for a B-movie with an A-movie cast and crew. This is excellent adventure boiled down to its core.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s The Post, click here.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

 

I personally felt like the biggest risk of the early days of the MCU was Captain America (Chris Evans, Gifted, Playing It Cool). As a character, he ran the risk of being the goody boy with too many morals and stances to be an interesting or layered character. I wasn’t concerned with Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk. I even thought Thor has a better chance of success. It was Captain America, especially with Evans leading as the character. I’d seen him do good work, but I didn’t see him as Cap. I’m glad I was wrong.

In 1942, the villainous Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Mortal Engines) has just acquired the Tesseract, a weapon of the gods. With it he plans to turn the tide of the war and change the world forever. In America, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, Big Night, Nomis) plans to do the same with a weapon of his own: a Super-Soldier serum. He selects Steve Rogers (Evans), a physical weakling with a big heart and mind and an interest to help people. Now, Rogers is ready to end the war and take down Schmidt before he masters the Tesseract and unleashes its unlimited power.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a sign that the MCU is making films that have a similar flavor but make conscious tonal decisions. The previous film, Thor, was made as a Shakespearean superhero film, complete with Kenneth Branagh as a director. The First Avenger is a period serial film in the vein of The Rocketeer or The Phantom, an adventure film with a noted director, Joe Johnston (October Sky, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) at the lead.

Chris Evans does great work as Captain America. He completely surprised me. With the aid of CGI, he performs quite well as pre-Cap Steve Rogers. He is somehow able to convey dialogue that could appear cheesy do-gooder lines with purpose and meaning. He is dedicated. As Captain America, it is his stance that drives the story forward. It is his convictions to best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, Destroyer, We Have Always Lived in the Castle) and to his country.

Hayley Atwell (The Duchess, Christopher Robin) is also quite good as Peggy Carter, who assists with the Super-Soldier program and develops a strong connection to Rogers. Their chemistry is sizzling and it holds the whole film together. She played the character with a physical toughness matching the Cap’s and conveyed strength. She isn’t a damsel in distress but an equal.

Marvel struggled with villains a lot but their focus on hero development was so strong, many seemed to forgive. Unfortunately, Red Skull was just not very compelling here. He could have twirled his own mustache if he had one. With an actor of Hugo Weaving’s caliber, a compelling villain should have been easier, and Red Skull is serviceable in moving the plot and arc of the MCU in this film, but that’s about it.

Joe Johnston created a 1940s Marvel movie and it works pretty damn well, even as the weakest in the Captain America trilogy. Chris Evans gets a great start in his tenure as Steve Rogers, and his relationship with Peggy Carter ties the film to something real and tangible. The action is fun and eye-popping and the wide array of supporting players are fun. It struggles with a villain but not with its musical score, very American muster type of music. Overall, this risk paid off quite well.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Letterier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.

Green Book (2018)

Director: Peter Farrelly

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Screenplay: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly

130 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material.

 

Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, TV’s Loudermilk) kind of came out of nowhere with Green Book. The director, known for working with his brother on low-brow comedies (some of which are quite good), really showed up to bat on his latest film, a solo venture about two men in the 1960s who couldn’t be more different on the surface. It’s quite something.

Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Captain Fantastic) is a New York bouncer without a job after his latest club shuts down. He ends up with a job he never expected, driving Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV’s House of Cards) on a tour of the Deep South for eight weeks. Given the racial tensions of the Deep South, this proves to be a difficult job that brings these two men closer.

Green Book is one of the most interesting and enjoyable tales of friendship put to film in recent memory. It all boils down to the relationship formed between our two central characters. Tony is a smarmy low-brow guy who cares deeply for his wife, played by Linda Cardellini (Brokeback Mountain, A Simple Favor), and only seeks to do right by her. When he takes the job with Shirley, he is able to look introspectively at himself, see his flaws, and seek to better himself. The whole film, he is looking at Shirley through racially-tinted sunglasses, seeing only what his limited, and incorrect, perception of the culture is.

Mahershala’s portrayal of Dr. Shirley is a proud man, one who sees his placement in the broken American machine, and he seeks protection on his tour of the South. What he finds is the ability to find joy in moments and appreciation for who Tony is. He also has secrets that he wishes to keep and sees those secrets as faults. He is a multi-layered character and Ali is worthy of the performance.

Outside of their relationship, Green Book is pretty straightforward. Farrelly has no bells and whistles and just lets the camera focus on the two leads, and that’s a good call. It doesn’t really delve too deeply into race of the 1960s, and I will leave that open as to whether or not it was the right call, but it doesn’t injure the film’s central focus.

Green Book is a fascinating tale of friendship set against the backdrop of a difficult time in America. It’s led to two amazing performers who consistently left me smiling with their interactions. It’s a joyful film and a thought-provoking one that left me hopeful for the future.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s Dumb and Dumber, click here.

For my review of Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s Fever Pitch, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Mortal Engines (2018)

Director: Christian Rivers

Cast: Hera Hillmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Robert Sheehan, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of futuristic violence and action.

 

So if you look back at my Most Anticipated Films of 2018 List, you will find that the final spot on that list was given to Mortal Engines, an adaptation of the novel by Philip Reeve and the first of a series of stories. I saw the teaser trailer at an opening night screening of The Last Jedi, and I didn’t know what to think initially. It was a crazy few moments of giant city-like machines chasing each other. I’d never read the books and had no context to place the film other than the name Peter Jackson. That was enough for me.

Mortal Engines follows Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan, Bad Samaritan, TV’s Love/Hate), an apprentice historian from the giant “predator” city of London. Tom once dreamt of more with his life before the death of his parents, but now he resides in pillaging through the garbage of cities London has ingested. Now, when a mysterious woman makes her way into London and attempts to kill Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Hacksaw Ridge), Tom finds himself embroiled in their feud as he learns a horrible secret from the woman, Hester Shaw (Hera Hillmar, Anna Karenina, An Ordinary Man), that changes his view on everything. Now, he and Hester are searching for a way to stop Valentine from unearthing a great weapon while being endlessly pursued by a Stalker from Hester’s past named Shrike (Stephen Lang, Avatar, TV’s Into the Badlands).

The greatest strength of Mortal Engines comes down to its world-building. This is a fully realized environment, one that I really enjoyed spending time in. This of course comes from Philip Reeve’s source material, aided by the powerhouse writing team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Lovely Bones). I craved more information and wanted more time to be spent here in this world.

Though the world itself is really well built, it is inhabited by flimsy characters. I didn’t really get any of Valentine’s motives for his actions in the film, both in flashbacks and present. I didn’t really feel like any of the characters were likable enough to connect to or interesting enough to keep myself invested. They are people just kind of doing things for two hours.

There was so much more I wanted from this film. I feel like the biggest mistake was keeping such a short prologue at the beginning to set up the story. There is a voice recounting the Sixty-Minute War in shockingly lack of detail that it doesn’t really serve its purpose. An effective prologue can work wonders as we’ve seen previously with The Lord of the Rings films, written by the same writing team. I wanted to have the Shrike and the Stalkers set up more. I wanted to have the predator cities and the static settlements explained more to just get things going. It would have taken the great world-building and used it as a tool to drive story and develop character.

I think the lack of character depth comes from a very fresh and new director in Christian Rivers (Minutes Past Midnight) and a lot of new talent that hasn’t been tested in this large of an arena yet. I think Rivers has an excellent knack for capturing visuals (his film background up until now would show that), but I don’t think he pressed hard on character and performance. Hillmar and Sheehan have virtually no chemistry in the film and not a lot of depth. They perform as well as they can but they never develop that chemistry piece that is either miscasting or lack of time spent on directing performance.

Mortal Engines is capably enough put together to the point I would want to see a franchise continue based on the other books. The film is bursting at the seams with ambition. There is a world here that looks gorgeous on film and I want to spend more time in it, but there are problems in this film. It is far too rushed, it needs character direction, and it lacks enough power in its story. I thought the film was just okay, and I wanted to love it, but I was entranced enough by its strengths that I still want to see more.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of the anthology Minutes Past Midnight, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 25 – Bad Taste (1987)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Terry Potter, Pete O’Herne, Peter Jackson, Mike Minett, Craig Smith

Screenplay: Ken Hammon, Tony Hiles, Peter Jackson

91 mins. Not Rated.

 

I’m a big Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lovely Bones) fan. I’ve really enjoyed the kind of art he can create on a budget. I will say, however, his early work leaves a lot to be desired. I guess there is a point in Jackson’s career that I start to love his work, The Frighteners. Bad Taste came before that point.

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In Bad Taste, the population of Kaihoro has been replaced by aliens who wish to harvest the humans for intergalactic fast food. The Astro Investigation and Defense Service recruits several agents to stop them.

This movie is just kind of bad. I didn’t like the wooden characters, the sound work is terrible, and I just didn’t find it very interesting. The idea can work, but I just didn’t see it happening here.

One important point to make is that director Jackson didn’t give up, filming the entire movie over the course of four years while working a regular job. That takes a lot of work, and I can respect that.

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Now, I cannot forgive Bad Taste for its boring film work, even if I liked the ending and the alien costuming was pretty interesting. There is a lot to improve upon, but it didn’t work nearly as much as it should have. What did you think, bloggies?

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, click here.

[Happy 10th Birthday!] War of the Worlds (2005)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins

Screenplay: Josh Friedman, David Koepp

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) has always been an alien fanboy at heart. Periodically throughout his career, he continues to return to the genre of the extraterrestrial. He even owned a copy of Orson Welles’ original radio play for War of the Worlds. After many attempts to get a story off the ground, Spielberg was eventually able to do so in 2005.

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Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) isn’t all that great of a father. He loves his kids, but he just doesn’t really know them. His daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning, Coraline, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin, TV’s Shameless, The Invisible) don’t enjoy staying with him. But when the Earth is attacked by forces from beneath and beyond the planet’s surface, Ray is forced to grow up and become the father he is supposed to be as the family evades invading extraterrestrials who want the world for themselves.

This is a very different film for Steven Spielberg. For starters, the plot runs in a very different way. Rather than unfolding as the film progresses and evolving based on the character choices, War of the Worlds is much more of an action onslaught like previous fare Mad Max: Fury Road. The plot is revealed rather quickly and then takes a step back to the high action spectacle that unfolds for our hero. It was new terrain for the filmmaker.

Tom Cruise does his best to play to his character’s weaknesses here. He isn’t entirely a likable guy but when greatness is thrust upon him, Ray needs to step up and protect those around him from harm. Dakota Fanning plays Rachel to the truest understanding that a nervous child would have during these events. Unfortunately, she is rather annoying in this film. I get that you’re scared, but she is always screaming! Then there’s Justin Chatwin, who has more of his father in him than he realizes as he is conflicted in what he thinks makes a man. Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I, Frankenstein) gives serviceable work as the ex-Mrs. Ferrier and Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption, Welcome to Me) gives one of the best albeit small performances I’ve seen from the actor.

War of the Worlds benefits from having Spielberg’s terrific flair for capturing events on film. The sequences are well put together, so much so that you miss some of the inconsistencies in the flow of the film. The sound mixing and editing, for which the film was nominated for an Oscar, are also booming. The invader ships, or Tripods as they are referred, make this unsettling sound as they destroy humanity. That, mixed with the top notch visual effects, give this film a unique flavor and an intensity that continue throughout its runtime.

I wasn’t all that impressed with John William’s score here as it comes off as more sounds mixed into the film than a bona fide music track.

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I can completely get why some didn’t enjoy War of the Worlds. Many called out the underwhelming ending, which is actually taken from the source material and considered one of the best endings ever. I enjoyed, but perhaps the reason is that I knew this was the ending going in. I think without the great irony of the film is that by knowing the ending, it makes it better but not necessarily as thrilling, but by not knowing the ending, it feels like a cop out but is entertaining throughout. My suggestion to best enjoy the film is to read the book first (seriously, this is me suggesting that you read, and that will anger some of you). The film doesn’t necessarily follow the novel’s story at all, but it retains the key themes that should enrich your viewing experience.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Seas Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

201 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic intense battle sequences and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Director
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Song (“Into the West” by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, Annie Lennox)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Visual Effects

 

After pouring years of his life into an ambitious project, director Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) finally saw his vision receive the recognition it deserved after winning 11 Academy Awards (making it the most nominated franchise in history), tying the record. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the final chapter in the trilogy based on Tolkien’s novels, and indeed one of the greatest films ever crafted. Equal parts grandeur and tragic masterpiece, our third trip to Middle-Earth.

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Frodo (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties) and Sam (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Goonies) have gotten back on the path to Mount Doom, with Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas) in tow, though Gollum’s path is becoming increasingly more treacherous. Is he leading them down a trap?

Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Prisoner) and Pippin (Billy Boyd, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Dorothy and the Witches of Oz) are heading to Minas Tirith to warn the Steward of Gondor, Denethor (John Noble, TV’s Fringe, Superman: Unbound), of the war that is on his doorstep. The only problem, Denethor, who also happens to be father to Boromir and Faramir (David Wenham, 300, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole), has grown insane and weary in grief over the loss of his favorite son.

This is a spectacular film achievement, visually perfect in every way. The performances are stellar. The plot interweaves and closes off all loose ends. The cinematography is sweeping, epic in scope, and perfectly crafted.  The film’s 200-minute runtime goes by smoothly, not a moment to stop and catch one’s breath. Even the visual effects have not aged in the dozen years since its release. The film even contains the largest prop ever built for a motion picture in a battle sequence containing giant creatures called oliphaunts.

The film features another wonderful battle sequence overcut with Pippin singing a song to the eating Denthor. It is beautiful and chilling and everything that this series is all at once.

As a note to casual fans at the completion of this review for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, check out the extended editions. As terrific as the theatrical cuts are, the extended films are the supreme version of the story. They feature cameos and performances not seen in the previous incarnations, such as The Mouth of Sauron, a wholly chilling character unfortunately cut from the film.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is perhaps the greatest fantasy achievement in filmmaking that we will ever see. It excels on every level and continues the tradition of high-fantasy movies in a glorious fashion. I doubt we will see an equal for a very long time.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

169 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

It took eleven years for The Hobbit to be made. I’m talking from the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring to the release of An Unexpected Journey. Difficulties with securing rights and two bankruptcies as well as shifts in director and a few actors, it seemed very unlikely that The Hobbit would ever see the light of day. Well, it took some time, but now we have not one but three Hobbit films to witness, but they certainly have a lot to live up to, so do they?

As Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Lord of War) gets prepared to disappear from his 111th birthday, he begins writing a book of his most important physical and emotional journey, which took place sixty years previously. His story involves the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) and a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm) on a quest to free Erebor, the dwarves’ home in the Lonely Mountain from the treacherous dragon Smaug. Along his journey, Bilbo will come across many perils, including trolls, rock giants, and a creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas).

You can bet your ass I was first in line for the initial Hobbit film, and I walked out supremely satisfied. There was a lot of nervousness standing in line. I mean, The Lord of the Rings was a massive tome squeezed into three films, and yet The Hobbit, shorter than any of the individual volumes was crafted into three movies. I worried about pacing, and also the nine years from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to then. So much of the film was up in the air.

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Ian McKellan worried me, as his performance, along with Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), who portrayed Saruman, completed their performances over green screen. My worry was met with joy as I found McKellan provided another powerhouse nuanced performance yet again.

Then there was Martin Freeman (TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz), newcomer to the franchise in the roll of young Bilbo, who had a lot of weight to carry. This wasn’t The Lord of the Rings, where large sections were split amongst several major characters. This was The Hobbit, and he was The Hobbit. Thankfully, given the comedy that features a lot more in the livelier of the two tales gave Freeman plenty of room to play and ultimately, he proved his dramatic chops nicely as well.

Richard Armitage’s role as Thorin was another importantly placed action, and another well-placed one. Armitage is virtually unrecognizable in the extensive dwarf makeup (for which the film was nominated for an Oscar) but still proves himself worthy of the dwarf prince.

Filling out the dwarven party are some terrific little performances for Bofur (James Nesbitt, Millions, Coriolanus) and Balin (Ken Stott, One Day, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) as well as, really, the entire party. The whole cast just fires on all cylinders here, including returning players Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2) as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) as Elrond, Elijah Wood (TV’s Wilfred, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Frodo and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

Director Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) wields the camera differently in this film, taking full advantage of his cinematography grasp with RED cameras, 3D sequences exploding off the screen, and 48 frames per second (which takes a moment to get used to, but really looks gorgeous when utilized).

I also really enjoyed the musicality of the characters here. We get some great musical moments here especially in the opening with “Misty Mountains” performed by the dwarven party. It is a beautifully realized moment to open the franchise on and becomes a truly hummable song through the entirety of the viewing.

As far as the visual effects go, I would have enjoyed a little more practical work, but with the grandeur of the franchise at this point and the physical limitations of the aging cast, I can understand, and it looks just fine.

Now for fans of The Lord of the Rings, there are certainly plenty of callbacks for characters including Gloin (Peter Hambleton) who is Gimli’s father and a member of the dwarven party. Fans will also recognize Balin’s name. It is interesting to note that many of the returning characters like Frodo, Galadriel and Saruman are not actually in The Hobbit, but they certainly help with the suturing of both massive stories into one large saga.

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I loved the first installment of The Hobbit franchise and I am so happy to see Peter Jackson behind the camera again. The film deserved to be nominated for Best Picture and it pisses me off that it was the first film in the Middle-Earth Saga to be snubbed, but such is life. We move on. Home is behind…the world ahead.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

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