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Entries in Peter Jackson (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
Jan152010

The Lovely Bones

Before 2001, few people knew of the now famous Peter Jackson. Before landing the gig of a lifetime with The Lord of the Rings movies, he had dabbled mainly in comedy/horror films with Bad Taste, the Michael J. Fox starring The Frighteners, and one of my personal favorites Dead Alive (known as Braindead in other areas of the world). Since then, what with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the highly lauded 2005 King Kong remake, Jackson has proven himself to be a real talent in Hollywood. So imagine my disappointment after watching The Lovely Bones, a mediocre, pretentious effort from one of cinema's most prized directors. It's been quite a while since I've seen a movie with such an impressive resume that has failed to create any type of emotional resonance or meaning.

The film begins in 1973 and is about Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a 14 year old girl who gets murdered by George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) one day on her walk back home from school. Susie ends up in a purgatory type of world, which her brother dubs "the in between" after seeing her in his room one night. You see, her family, particularly her father, can still sometimes see her or at least get a message that she is still around, like through a flickering candle for instance. In the in between world, she meets up with another girl named Holly (Nikki SooHoo) who explains that she can pass over whenever she likes, but she must leave her old world behind her. She decides she isn't yet ready and watches her parents, as well as her killer, as they try to unravel the mystery back in the world of the living.

There's a lot going on in The Lovely Bones. There are themes of love, death, tragedy, murder, the afterlife, divine intervention, the break-up of a family, and more, but none of them ever seem to fully come together into a cohesive whole. They are explored, but only by themselves, never together. None of the themes ever run their courses into one giant metaphor on life or death. They're just there.

This is a movie that assumes there is an afterlife. It never truly questions what happens after you die, which comes as a disappointment. Quite simply, one minute you're here, the next you're not and you're on your final journey on your way to the afterlife. Susie talks of "my heaven," but as far as I could tell, this heaven had no god or supreme being to rule over it. The film never questions the implications of what would happen if you died and there was an afterlife, but nobody was there to rule it. I felt like it had plenty of opportunities to really get into why death is such a mystery, but it spends the majority of its time on Earth going through the motions of a routine murder mystery.

The Lovely Bones is an unstructured movie where years go by with little to no indication, which comes off as confusing because Susie does not age in the afterlife, but everything goes on as it would normally on Earth. Its plot turns come off as insignificant, as evidenced by a scene midway through where the Salmon mother, played by Rachel Weisz, leaves the family out of grief and doesn't return until late in the movie. There's even a montage that occurs after Susie's death that is played for laughs that feels like it should be placed in the next Austin Powers movie, not in the serious nature of this film.

Then you have the acting, which is uniformly unimpressive. Mark Wahlberg is poor, Rachel Weisz, a usually reliable actress, seems to be phoning it in and little Susie Salmon as played by Saoirse Ronan is adequate, but hardly compelling. The poor acting correlates with the sometimes laughable story because none of it feels authentic. There's a ridiculous love connection that sparks up between Susie and Ray, played by Reece Ritchie, that plays like a deleted scene from Twilight due to the long awkward stares and a piano tune that sounds ripped from NBC's "The More You Know" PSA's.

After my screening of The Lovely Bones, I inadvertently heard another critic comment that the film had the "style over substance" school of thought. That person couldn't be more right. This is all style and no substance. Jackson is a great director, but his approach to this film seems extravagant simply for the sake of it. It worked in King Kong and Lord of the Rings, but the difference is that this material doesn't always necessarily call for it, yet it's bumped up to 11. It becomes a major distraction.

Though not devoid of all positive qualities (Stanley Tucci is terrific and there's a truly heart pounding chase scene in the back half of the movie), The Lovely Bones nevertheless feels manufactured not out of love, but labor and its ending is anti-climactic and unfulfilling. Don't expect this one to win best picture kiddos.

The Lovely Bones receives 1.5/5