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Entries in elijah wood (2)

Friday
Dec142012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Full disclosure: I’m not a Lord of the Rings fan. It’s not that I think they’re bad movies or anything—I completely acknowledge the skill put behind their creation—they’re just not my thing. Although a critic should be as neutral as possible going into a film, you can chalk my opinion of those up to personal taste. My reaction to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is largely the same: I admire it more than I actually enjoy it, but one thing is clear. This is not on the same level of Lord of the Rings. Revisiting Middle Earth here is like going to Disney World when you’re an adult. It’s still enjoyable, but you’re probably better off reminiscing over your beloved memories than taking a return trip.

It’s sixty years prior to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the titular hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), is a young man. He lives a comfortable life in his familiar home and doesn’t think much about the outside world, that is until Gandalf (Ian McKellen) makes an appearance, asking him if he wants to go on an adventure. Initially, he refuses, but as Dwarves begin piling in his house, he finds he has no choice and sets off to Lonely Mountain to help the Dwarves reclaim a stolen treasure from a dragon named Smaug.

If The Lord of the Rings is the popular kid in high school that was respected and loved by everyone around him, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is its wanna-be little brother. It aspires to reach the heights of its predecessors, doing its very best to mimic them, but never fully captures their true spirit. Comparatively, it’s a lot less epic and way goofier, though it hides under the guise of an epic. Every other minute, played out jokes, like smoke billowing out of someone’s ears, rear their ugly head. Characters actually go from telling cheap jokes to telling sad, dramatic stories all within the same sentences, occasionally even breaking in the middle of one of those stories to toss out another lazy gag. Even when they’re facing death, they’re joking around. I don’t want to say The Hobbit doesn’t know what it wants to be because it does. It just wants to be all things at once and never finds a solid footing because of it.

Those jokes even make their way into segues between scenes. Rather than finding a proper way to make that transition, the film uses random comedic interjections, very few of which are funny, though to be totally fair, it would be difficult to tie together what sometimes seem like unconnected sequences that are irrelevant to the greater story at hand, like when Bilbo and his gang of Dwarves find themselves in the middle of a battle between two stone giants. No context is put behind this moment. It exists only as a lazy way to add peril to what would otherwise have been a boring trek.

Frankly, that’s been the problem for the entire series as a whole. Its visual and creative ingenuity sometimes feel like they exist in the picture just to show off rather than to progress the already bloated stories (The Hobbit runs nearly three hours long). Luckily for this movie, the visuals are so mind blowing that such narrative inconsistencies are easier to forgive. At least in terms of art direction, cinematography and CGI, The Hobbit is utter eye candy, some of the prettiest you’ve probably ever seen, to the point where the computer animated characters would be indistinguishable from the actors onscreen if not for the fact that we know they don’t exist.

The big issue on movie fans’ minds, however, has to do with the much talked about 48 frames per second the film is being shown in. Some have claimed to get migraines watching it, others nausea. Although I suppose such reactions are dependent on the person watching it, it wasn’t a big deal for me or the others at my screening. It takes some time to get used to, roughly 30-45 minutes, but it shouldn’t detract much, if at all, from your enjoyment of the film. Only when the film gets really hectic does it become a bother; our eyes and brains aren’t used to the frame rate, so it’s occasionally difficult to keep up with the action onscreen. When it’s calm, though, it’s one of the clearest, crispest, most realistic things I’ve ever seen, to the point where it felt like I was peering through a spotless window into an alternate reality.

Critical reactions of the film have varied, mainly due to the wildly different viewpoints on the frame rate, and I suspect fan reaction will be the same. Those hoping for epic battles and sweeping adventure akin to its bigger and more successful brethren will be disappointed. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is no Lord of the Rings, but with any luck, its shortcomings will be rectified in the upcoming sequels. If nothing else, it does an admirable job of setting up the story and fluidly reintroducing familiar characters we’ve all come to know and love and it ends on a cliffhanger that promises better things to come. This may not be what many will hope and expect, but that certainly doesn’t make it a bad movie; just an underwhelming one that is nevertheless worth seeing.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey receives 3/5

Friday
Nov182011

Happy Feet Two

The original Happy Feet is a movie that people will forever watch and wonder why it received as much praise as it did. While certainly not a bad movie, the title of “Best Animated Feature” seems a bit of a stretch. But one need only look at its competition from 2006’s Oscar season (Cars and Monster House) to realize it was merely the best of what appeared to be a disappointing year for animation. Those why say Happy Feet Two is better or worse than the original are fooling themselves. It’s just as charming, energetic, fluffy and, ultimately, forgettable.

Mumble (Elijah Wood), the poor penguin from the first film who was constantly harassed for his inability to sing and willingness to dance instead, has now been accepted into the pack. His heroic efforts from his last adventure did not go unnoticed, but his odd genetics have now produced a baby penguin named Erik (Ava Acres) who is just as awkward and clumsy and is, like his father back in the day, being ridiculed by those around him. In his dismay, he runs off and meets a flying penguin named The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria) who tells him anything is possible if he puts his mind to it. Eventually, Mumble finds him, but a terrible surface collapse back home has left the rest of his penguin herd stranded with no escape. Now they must combine their talents and save those they love before it’s too late.

Happy Feet Two begins with a flurry of popular songs, a medley that includes “Mama Said Knock You Out” and a cleaned up version of “SexyBack.” Right out of the gate, it bursts with vivacious, catchy, toe tapping fun. It’s a high energy the movie unfortunately isn’t able to maintain thanks to unimpressive original numbers and laughable plot turns, but they say first impressions mean everything and this thing grabs you from the get go.

This sequel follows the same trajectory of the original and utilizes the same basic narrative mechanics. The first film was about expressing yourself and using your God given talents to help others any way you can. The second is about, well, exactly the same thing. The cute little Mumble is now replaced by the cute little Erik. The first had the penguins facing starvation from a lack of fish. The second has them facing it again, though this time it’s because they’re stranded rather than due to human fishing. Also, as with the original, the penguins enlist the help of the humans to rescue them from their dire situation.

Happy Feet Two doesn’t even attempt to differentiate itself from its predecessor, but it’s easy to see why. That film made the viewer feel warm inside, despite whatever faults it may have had. It was a crowd pleaser that was guaranteed to leave a smile on family members young and old who went to see it. Why change the formula? Still, it’s this rigid hold on the original’s structure that keeps it from taking off and its faults are the same. The live action footage once again doesn’t symphonize with the colorful and vibrant animation—the dreary look of those scenes takes away from the beautiful look of the rest of the movie—and the one-with-the-animals mindset is silly at best, especially when you consider the laughable musical connection between the humans and penguins.

Where the sequel differs the most from its predecessor is in its B story. Whereas the original focused almost entirely on Mumble, Happy Feet Two constantly moves to other territories, interjecting footage of two krill named Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon). Their journey together to the top of the food chain is hands down the funniest and most delightful aspect of the entire film. It’s extremely clever and the dialogue is spoken with comedic vigor and spot-on timing, though it’s more or less inconsequential to the main narrative. The two stories cross paths, but are only connected by the flimsiest of means. It’s such a shame because both tales, though still entertaining apart, would have stood side by side in harmony. Still, Happy Feet Two is entertaining and it will teach kids in the audience to believe in themselves. This may not be a truly great movie, but that has to count for something.

Happy Feet Two receives 3.5/5