The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

dos4The blogs been a bit rejected of late, due to a hectic final few weeks of term but what better way to get things back up and running than with one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Part two of Jackson’s prequel trilogy takes us right to the climax of Tolkien’s book but opts to change much of the story in favour of a more action packed, crowd-pleasing adventure that can be stretched out to three two-and-a-half-hour films. I was pleasantly surprised with the first offering, An Unexpected Journey, and had every reason to believe that The Desolation of Smaug would be even better. Unfortunately, though I found it to be a much more flawed affair.

One of the main issues with the first movie was the sheer amount of dwarves none of which we had a long enough time with to get to know and understand, this issue remains throughout this second movie the only dwarf I can remember the name of is Thorin and then there’s James Nesbitt and the handsome one, which brings me to my next point. The films worst moments came from ‘the handsome ones’ love story with the new female elf, Tauriel, an entirely new character invented by Jackson and his team to make up for the lack of women in the story. Tauriel herself isn’t a bad character but the corniness of the pairs romance reaches levels of corniness that the original trilogy never even came close to (OK, maybe the original’s did come quite close, but it was a bit acceptable when they weren’t major parts of the plot). I was sceptical going in about the return of Legolas, who also doesn’t feature in the book in order to give the film some sex appeal, but I was pleasantly surprised by his role, very few lines for Bloom and lots of stunningly choreographed fight scene which inject the movie with some much-needed adrenaline. It did seem a slight cop out, however, that whenever Bilbo and his gang found themselves in trouble it just so happened that their pointy-eared friend was just round the corner to come and save them. Legolas’ prominence in the action scenes also means that we see very little of Gandalf, something that could well be fixed in the extended version, but nonetheless left me feeling like there was something missing here. The films strongest moments come in the final half an hour or so when Bilbo confronts Smaug, the effects used to design the formidable dragon are simply astounding, by far the most impressive CG rendered creature you’ll see this year and the film picks up some pace and really starts to hit stride in any scene the dragon is involved in.

Overall, I may be being slightly harsh about The Desolation of Smaug and perhaps after repeat viewing the film will grow on me somewhat. But after first viewing it must be said that it was a slight disappointment. That said it certainly sets up the final part well, and my buzz for the series is still flickering away inside.

Game of Thrones – Season 3

dragon

***WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS***

Well it’s been a couple of weeks now since the third season of Game of Thrones came to its dramatic conclusion, using the word conclusion in the loosest sense possible as I think it ended with more stuff up in the air than it started with. It seems that the show has become perhaps the most talked about programme of the times, with a fan-base that appears to be growing by the minute. After the shocking events of episode nine I’ve never seen Facebook erupt to anything in such a huge way.

I enjoyed the third season, particularly what I enjoyed is that the show has retained its identity despite coming under criticism for certain elements of its choices. We have, in this season, the most drastic difference yet from the shows source material with the continuation of Theon Greyjoy’s story. In the Song of Ice and Fire books Theon is no longer a character after book two but here in season three of the show we learn more of what happens to him. His story is one of the most brutal in the Game of Thrones universe as he’s held captive and tortured horrifically through the whole season. It was a bold move to start adding completely original material but I think it’s one of the strongest plot lines of the latest series and a risk that has paid off. Season three continues in the mould of the first two in that the scale of events is constantly getting bigger. Danaerys Tagaryen, mother of the dragons has become the most insanely powerful individual in the Seven Kingdoms and somehow she just keeps getting fitter as well. Jon Snow’s journey ticks along throughout and one of the shows most emotional moments comes when he is forced to part ways with Ygritte. And my favourite character, Tyrion, is fucked over badly by his ruthless father.

Although I enjoyed the season and I’m liking how the story is turning out I am left wondering how good the show actually is. There’s so many characters it is at times hard to keep track of who’s who, although I think I have a pretty good idea there are still certain characters that I don’t really understand who they are or what the position is in this vast fantasy universe. It’s well made stuff with great acting talent and is very cleverly written but at times I think it perhaps over-complicates itself where it doesn’t need to. What also annoys me is the constant hint of more supernatural characters such as the Wight Walkers, I want to see more of this stuff and it gets frustrating that that kind of stuff only ever briefly pops up. While I still love the show it’s beginning to lose the pull it once had on me, and I’m increasingly starting to think it’s slightly over-rated. There are better shows out there and I find it hard to understand why Game of Thrones is the biggest of them all. It probably sounds like I’m hating on it now, but I’m not, I still think it’s a great show but there’s better stuff out there. Perhaps season four will finally deliver fully on the promise of all-out war and supernatural adventure.

 

A Scholar, A Peasant and a King, part 3

The king of the dead had just discovered that he had not fully got his revenge on the old scholar. Upon an examination of his victim it became clear to him that his soul had escaped and was occupying another being. In a fit of rage he stormed through the gateways of hell towards the pit of fire where his minions resided.

He stood looking down on them all. His face was a dull grey colour and his eyes bent his skull inwards projecting haunting, bright blue indents amongst his withering face. Parts of his flesh on his cheeks weren’t fully attached to the bone and so hung loosely in a sickening manner. His mouth acted as a haven for every imaginable kind of gum and tooth decay. The few teeth he had remaining were black stumps, one of which, was literally hanging out of its socket by a short nerve thread. He wore a long grey linen cloak over his body and his arms which were little more than skeletal poked out from underneath the fabric. He did not have legs, he simply hovered across the floor but from underneath his cloak there was always a dusty cloud which obviously was some by product of his movement. As he entered the area the demons who had been joking around with each other all snapped to attention sensing his anger.

He grabbed a small fire demon by the throat and ripped his head off with a burst of fire and fear before dispensing of his body onto the hard, stone floor. All the other demons fled from his presence fearing for their own miserable lives. However, shortly afterwards the king had calmed himself down. He sensed something significant had happened. He could feel it within, that the old scholar’s spirit was on the move again. He honed in on this supernatural feeling to see Dai with his wife, in bed together. The old scholar’s spirit that had been transferred to Dai was moving again, into the womb of Hao. A disturbing grin appeared in the corners of the king’s mouth as he hatched his plan.

* * *

That night Dai was taken in his sleep. Hao woke up to find him not breathing. Her devastation could not be described adequately in words but, little did she know, it was going to get even worse. She had been impregnated the night before and was now carrying Dai’s child with the spirit of the old scholar. The king of the dead had no business killing Hao but what he had planned was much, much worse.

That day Hao packed her things and left their home, she travelled to the other side of Beijing to her widowed mothers’ shack that was within another urban village. She asked to stay there and explained to her mother what had happened. That night neither of the women got a wink of sleep. There was a horrible sense that something was going to happen.

For the next nine months sleep became an unusual past time for Hao, who constantly sensed herself being watched. The king had his eye on her throughout her pregnancy and she had now become exhausted to an alarmingly dangerous level. Her mother had tried her best at looking after her but she did not expect her to live through labour. The day had finally come and Hao was weaker than ever but it was time for the baby to come.

The birth was one of the most horrific scenes her mother had ever witnessed. But, somehow, Hao and her healthy baby boy came out the other side. Once the six hours of labour had finally passed for the first time in nine months Hao felt like something good had happened. She was filled with a sense that things were going to be okay from now on. That this baby was going to help her through her grieving which had, so far, gotten the better of her. She felt undying love for her child and that first night she slept with him in her arms.

A Scholar, A Peasant and A King, part 2

The next day Dai washed himself as best he could and got dressed in his best clothes. He headed down to the accountancy company and arrived twenty minutes early for his appointment but was seen almost immediately after he had arrived. He was offered a seat by the CEO and asked why he had come to see him. After a short pause Dai told him that he felt he had what it took to be a top accountant. The CEO looked at him rather strangely but also picked up on a slightly otherworldly vibe from him and didn’t want to shoot him down like he would any other peasant that had approached him. After a short while of consideration he asked Dai to take another seat in the waiting room while he thought some things through. Once Dai left the room the CEO made a few phone calls and sent a few emails before asking him back in. He presented Dai with a set of account figures, four years worth, and asked him, ‘If you can sort these and figure out a way this client can save money I’ll give you a trial job. You have two days.’

Dai didn’t say a word but took the stack of papers gave a bow and left the office. The CEO did not expect to see him ever again but to his utter surprise there was a knock on his door 3 hours later. He rose from his desk and opened the door to see that Dai had returned with the stack of papers having covered them in scribbled notes. Dai didn’t know how he’d done it but he had managed to work out a way the client could decrease the amount of interest he was paying on all his loans and ultimately save 5,000 lei a year, which would ultimately up his profit by 10%. The CEO was absolutely shocked by the performance and it took him a while to control himself after Dai had presented his results. His thoughts eventually caught up with him and in one final attempt to get rid of Dai he decided he would ask him a riddle.

‘Okay, Dai, you’ve done very well with these figures,’ he paused just for a second as if he was planning exactly the right words to say, ‘but to work here you need to have good reasoning as well as good ability.’

‘I understand,’ Dai said, eagerly awaiting what was to come.

‘So I’m going to ask you an ancient riddle. If you answer this riddle correctly you have a job,’ he blinked and stroked his beard slowly before continuing. ‘It is greater than God and more evil than the devil. The poor have it, the rich need it and if you eat it you will die. What is it?’

Dai did not reply straight away and this gave the CEO the idea that he’d won. Dai looked slightly confused but this was more due to the fact that he was so shocked he knew the answer straight away. It just popped into his head as soon as the question had been asked. After a short while for the CEO to start spreading a smug grin across his face, Dai finally replied, ‘Nothing. The answer is nothing. Nothing is greater than God; nothing is more evil than the devil. The poor have nothing, the rich need nothing and if you eat nothing you will die. The answer is nothing.’

At first a feeling of anger overcame the CEO upon realising that he had been beaten by this unsightly young peasant man, but he was then taken aback by the feeling that had first hit him when Dai had entered his office. It felt to him like a kind of overwhelming sympathy and he had automatically, deep down, taken a liking to Dai. Without saying another word he turned to his computer screen. He started clicking away and shortly afterwards a document began to print. He handed the paper to Dai who looked down to read the heading, ‘CONTRACT OF EMPLOYMENT.’

‘You seem to have proved yourself Dai; my name is Mr. Chi you will now be working for me. Your office is on the third floor, you begin on Monday where you will be greeted by your secretary who will give you your tasks for the week. This is of course if you accept my offer.’ Mr. Chi had actually begun to feel pleased at having met Dai and he had started to smile warmly without really meaning to. Dai retrieved a pen from the desk and signed his name at the bottom. With that Mr. Chi rose from his chair gave Dai a bow and led him out of his office.

A Scholar, A Peasant and A King, part 1

An old scholar lived in a small village in the centre of China. He was a wise man but in the past he had played with his fate and had tried to counteract some of the plans of the king of the dead. The king was now out to get this poor, old scholar whose only aim was to do the right thing. The king of the dead had spent a lot of time deliberating how best to get his revenge but most of this deliberating had become futile and he had now just settled on the idea of killing him. He had been slightly rattled by his lack of prowess in the ideas department but thought the sooner he could get this out the way the quicker he could move on and not have to think about it any longer. 

                The scholar was preparing a large meal for him and his wife when the king appeared behind him causing him to jump when he turned around. They stood in silence for a second. The kings’ eyes burned him within. Once the scholar was calm he took some time to accept his fate. He knew this was it, he knew it had been coming, and now here it was, this was the end. As if the king was inside his mind, immediately after this realisation came to the scholar, the king produced a dark, evil smile. He was cloaked in darkness but amongst some shadows you could just make out his spine-chilling facial features. His smile was haunting. As it grew he lifted a skeletal hand from underneath his cloak of darkness and clicked his fingers, as he clicked the scholars entire house disappeared from around them. It all disintegrated and the scholar now found himself alone in the middle of the desert. Not a sign of civilisation anywhere to be seen. The king of death had also vanished. He was left there to die.

                It took him three days to finally die of dehydration. But another force was at work during his death. An unknown force. As he lay there, the last bit of life tearing itself away from his grasp, his spirit fluttered from him. It found the nearest suitable body and took haven in the depths of a poor peasant man who lived in a shack in a small urban village on the outskirts of Beijing. While he was sleeping the spirit took hold of him and the next morning he woke up feeling different.

                Dai Jun Jie had lived in Beijing since he was born. His family had always been poor and one of his great ancestors had moved to the city’s outskirts in a past era. Over time what had been farmland had transformed into a distinctive urban village over cluttered with multi-storey buildings with poor infrastructure and little by way of law enforcement. It is riddled with crime, drug addiction, prostitution and alcoholism, but Dai had broken his family’s ongoing battle with the bottle and was attempting to get a job in the city. He had married the woman he loved, Hao Zong, and although very poor they were happy. The aim was to have a child once Dai had got a job.

                With the addition of the old scholars spirit came an abundance of fresh ideas for Dai. He woke up a new man and set about going into the centre of Beijing to try his luck in the city. He went straight to an accountancy company and asked to see the CEO despite not having an appointment. The clerk told him he would have to come back another time as the CEO was out on business so Dai made an appointment for the next day. He was surprised that the assistant had actually allowed him to make an appointment with his dirty and unkempt look but did not argue. Unbeknownst to him his aura had changed as well since gaining the spirit of the old scholar and although normally the receptionist would never normally give a peasant an appointment he sensed something different in Dai.

                That night Dai returned home to Hao and told her the good news, they spent the night in each others’ arms and both fell asleep with smiles on their faces. Meanwhile the king of the dead was beginning to realise that something wasn’t right. A group of his minions had arrived with the body of the old scholar but something wasn’t right with it. It had started to rot already which threw the king off guard. There was still a sense inside him that he had not got his revenge, he did not feel satisfied by the murder of this man. He still hadn’t won.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journeyI have been slack again this week in my posting and I had originally planned for this post to be my review of Tre, but last night I went to see The Hobbit and seeing as this is my 100th post, I thought it would be nice to coincide it with one of the biggest movie events of recent history and one of the things I’ve been anticipating for as long as I can remember. Through a troubled production with the financial problems at MGM and the loss of original director Guillermo Del Toro there were going to be questions asked from the start. Once Jackson came back on board as director things seemed to take off finally but I, along with almost everyone I know, was skeptical about the announcement that it would become a trilogy rather than the original, planned two films. There were even apprehensions that this might become the next Phantom Menace, it seemed almost an impossible feat to spread a book that is about half the size of one of the Lord of the Rings and give it three times the running length. But it’s no secret that bits of the story have been tweaked and there are bits from Tolkien’s appendices that will also be included and I can say that after seeing An Unexpected Journey it was the right move.

There have been mixed reviews to meet The Hobbit’s release most of which I have read complain mostly about the 48 fps shooting, saying that it makes the film look unrealistic since the frame rate is so fast, unfortunately I can’t comment on this matter as I went to see the film in 2D and, therefore, the normal 24 fps as my faith in 3D was lost a long time ago, but it seems a real shame that reviewers haven’t been able to look past this and I think overall this has tarnished their view and made them fail to see how great this movie really is.

One of my main worries going in to the film was the thought that some of the silly humour that is in Lord of the Rings may be taken too far in an attempt to make The Hobbit a more kid friendly film to accompany the book. I was proven wrong though and the moments of humour are actually very successful, the introduction to the dwarves and the cockney trolls being my personal favourites. The action should also be celebrated with a number of big set pieces that all hold their own and exciting moments are scattered throughout meaning you never really get the chance to get bored and it makes the long running time completely worth it.

It’s left me very excited as well for parts two and three as I can see the potential for this trilogy to become just as fantastic as The Lord of the Rings. The dwarves I’m sure will grow as the characters are given more time to breath and I expect there’ll be some camraderie to rival Merry and Pippin. Martin Freeman is, as usual, superb as Bilbo and is much better than I was expecting at coming across as how I’d always imagined him while reading the book in my childhood. Gollum is back, again being one of the strongest elements of the film – the riddle scene between him and Bilbo has to be one of my favourite of all time. And Gandalf is, well, Gandalf. So basically what I’m trying to say is ignore the mixed reviews get out out to cinema and get transported back to Middle Earth again, you won’t be disappointed.