The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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It was this time last year that Peter Jackson’s took his first foray back into Tolkein’s world with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the prequel to the hugely loved The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Unlike the LOTR trilogy, The Hobbit got off to a rocky start with many fans of Jackson’s original three films complaining that it took too long to get going and was lacking the pace they desired from it. This seemed a tad unfair; Jackson nurtured and breathed life into his prequel with the same care and affection he had previously placed upon LOTR. This is a marathon and not a sprint and An Unexpected Journey was indicative of that. For many familiar with the world this frustrated, as they wanted new action – and lots of it -, new heroes, and a story that rattled the two together with visually titillating results. Cue The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

We rejoin the story as Bilbo and the Dwarves are in touching distance of The Lonely Mountain, Dwarf Kingdom and current home to the charmingly wicked dragon, Smaug, voiced by the wickedly charming Benedict Cumberbatch. What follows next is three hours of pure joy, with Jackson expertly navigating flawlessly-executed set pieces, sweeping vistas of Middle Earth and genuine moments of emotional weight; most of which involve the beautifully understated Martin Freeman as the titular The Hobbit. Freeman’s Bilbo carries the film through, from start to finish, with a self-deprecating Britishness, wit, strength and humour that makes it easy to see why Jackson waited for Freeman to be available for the role. In a world so far removed from reality, and steeped in a mysticism and lore that could quite easily become alienating, Freeman grounds the story, drawing the audience in to the plight of this little hobbit amongst much grander and figuratively larger characters.

The Desolation of Smaug also gives the audience enough time to become familiar with, and care about, the wealth of smaller characters that pepper the franchise, as the story pushes further. Aiden Turner as the youngest Dwarf, Kili, especially comes into his own as his story branches off from the main arc. There is also a welcome return for Orlando Bloom as Legolas in what could have felt like an arbitrary and unnecessary revival of the character. Instead Bloom’s Legolas is colder, steelier and harder than in the Lord of the Rings which is offset by the wonderful Evangeline Lilly who slays as the lethal-yet-kind Elf warrior, Tauriel.

The real joy of watching The Hobbit is bearing witness to Jackson bringing all these elements together in beautiful harmony. He conducts the moving parts seamlessly with multiple threads, characters, themes and tones all woven together to produce an awe-inspiring final set piece that feels surprisingly fresh and unique. Drawing out one book into three films may be economically cynical and slightly indulgent but I say indulge away. This film doesn’t feel protracted or slow, but is a chapter in a masterpiece of which Jackson should be proud. With all my gushing aside, this film isn’t for those who aren’t fans of the genre and of Tolkein’s literature.  You have to invest and care about the characters. I do though. I’m on board 100% and can’t wait to see the final chapter in another accomplished and, dare I say, epic story.

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The World’s End

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Thanks to Midnites 4 Maniacs for putting on an advanced Bay Area screening of this movie, which can be read about here.

Not to be confused with This is the EndThe World’s End is the latest and final offering from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, in their series of genre-busting movies that deal with responsibility against the odds. Shaun of the Dead, a zombie apocalypse horror, and Hot Fuzz, an action flick set in rural England, are now actual entries into their genres, rather than being considered ‘just parody movies’. And they are really f*****g funny. Which doesn’t stop in The World’s End.

Gary King (Pegg), and his four mates (Frost, Considine, Freeman and Marsan), reunite for a pub crawl of binge-drinking, epic proportions, but suddenly find themselves at the centre of something that proves out of this world.

And that’s all you’re getting. I am not going to ruin this movie for anyone. I am honestly still smiling (the screening was on Monday) because The World’s End was absolutely hilarious. Pegg and Wright have managed to sign off their trilogy, which is linked in thematics and tone rather than characters, in such style. The characters are wonderfully drawn, entirely believable and deliver some of the most immature yet serious lines in recent cinematic memory. It is evident that the actors are having a blast on set, which bleeds into their lines, and even though the tone is so similar to the previous two movies, it works so well. Paddy Considine perfect as the stoney-faced friend, Frost and Freeman nail their characters, and Marsan is in an unfamiliar, nice guy role; Wright mentioned he wrote Eddy a friendly character because, at a Q+A in Toronto when Marsan was promoting Tyrannosaur, he said he has never had consensual sex on camera.

Thematically, this movie deals with nostalgia and how hard it is to accept change. It deals with letting go of the past and moving on, which is embodied with consummate ease by Pegg in his character Gary King. Wright himself said that the movie also presents a reality of how things, such as the English high street, are being replaced by branded familiarity; the Starbucks effect. It owes a debt to Monty Python towards the end as things get unfathomably incongruous, and it ends up in places that aren’t telegraphed as things are in Shaun of the Dead.

The cinematographer who worked on this movie also worked on Scott Pilgrim, so the colours are rich and lighting is perfect for the genre. We have shots of pub fights that aren’t epileptic as in Hot Fuzz, but are choreographed to the bone; the camera lingers as the proverbial shit hits the fan in the second act. Once again, the music choice is perfect, but that does not come as a surprise as Wright knows how to formulate aural tone as well as visual.

The World’s End, being such a huge fan of Wright’s movies, is the perfect film for me. I got all nostalgic for my youth, as well as my local pub and a pint of cold amber. I laughed from the very first second until about five minutes ago, and every time I think about it I wish I was back in the screening. It doesn’t come out until 23rd August in the States, and I can assure you I will be first in line. And then when I get back to the UK in September I am going to watch it again.

See this movie.