Fantasy, Reviews

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Battle of the Five Armies

Copyright © 2014 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Story
The concluding chapter sees an infuriated Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) burning Lake-town to the ground. Bard (Luke Evans) escapes from imprisonment and efficaciously kills the dragon with the last black arrow. He is appointed as the town’s new Master and directs his people to the remains of Dale for shelter. Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili (Aidan Turner), Óin (John Callen) and Bofur (James Nesbitt) proceed to rejoin with the rest of the Dwarves at Lonely Mountain while Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) go in search of answers in Mount Gundabad. They unearth a secondary Orc army advancing Lonely Mountain which will be combining with Azog’s (Manu Bennett) forces. Back in Erebor, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) who has been plagued with ‘dragon sickness’ refuses to share any of his prized belongings with either the Men or Elves and risks an all-out war between Bard’s loyal followers and Thranduil’s (Lee Pace) vast military.

Review
How the mighty have fallen! I am not only talking about both Orc armies succumbing to an overlong finale that lasts almost an hour but the diminished reputation of a once sterling trilogy. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ revived a terminal genre, satisfied ardent fans, impressed regular-going movie folk and appeared in many critics’ list as among the best trilogies ever to grace the silver screen. Peter Jackson’s name will be etched (mostly) for this monumental feat.

Alas, if only the latest and (presumably) last installment would have ended on a high. Just as I feared, everything about it reeks on a pecuniary level and a sorry excuse for another bladder-testing time in the multiplexes (the shortest in the series but it is still two hours too long). You get the feeling that Jackson and his co-writers are running out of material when dialogues are frequently repeated or similar lines reiterated in slow motion.

We know Thorin has ‘dragon sickness’ or in a more identifiable term, he is consumed by greed (with an endless supply of all things shiny, who would not?) but do we really need to be reminded that much of his dilemma? Fortunately, Armitage’s grasp and understanding of the character ensure Thorin’s heroic efforts in the earlier films are not forgotten by his selfish actions. Quite obviously the most fleshed out, Thorin‘s arc stands as the sole contributor for any semblance to Jackson’s 2000s hits.

There are moments when Evans and Pace looked like they will be given more to do (the former’s rousing battle with Smaug is intense and affecting rivalled only by the majesty of Galadriel – Cate Blanchett, Elrond – Hugo Weaving and Saruman – Christopher Lee’s daring rescue mission) but as we reach the end’s beginning, they are dwarfed in the exhaustive combat (still a technical accomplishment nonetheless) which is alright if it is any other production.

Not if Jackson is helming a treasured franchise. Major players from the likes of Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Legolas and Tauriel are reduced to cardboard characters, the unworkable interspecies romance so underplayed that when it is time for the sniffles, even Howard Shore’s swelling score cannot cut it and expanding Ryan Gage’s Alfrid merely as a comic relief screams of dire desperation. Retaining Stephen Fry could have provided Bard with some needed opposition as the new Master of Lake-town.

And tension seems to be a missing component in every aspect of this expensive and expansive picture. The warring factions of Elves, Dwarves, Men, Orcs and Beasts collide in Dale for the big showdown but it is the individual fights from Legolas and Thorin defeating the two formidable Orcs that pack a larger punch. Peter, why oh why? After all those hard-fought battles over legal disputes which nearly derailed the project, is this the way to go, up in flames rather than with a bang?

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: B+
Plot: B-

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

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Fantasy, Reviews

Maleficent

Maleficent

Copyright © 2014 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Story
In a fairy kingdom where Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) lives, she meets and falls in love with Stefan (Sharlto Copley), an orphan from the neighbouring human terrain. As time goes by, his visits become fewer until he learns that the current human King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) is bent on conquering Maleficent’s home. Determined to be his successor, Stefan pays Maleficent one final visit in an attempt to murder her. Unable to do so, he cuts off her beautiful wings and presents it to the king as proof the farmer has carried out the deed. Betrayed by her love, this once pure-hearted fairy becomes vengeful and declares herself queen of her land, oppressing all who live there. When Stefan holds a christening for his newborn child, Aurora, Maleficent arrives uninvited and places a curse that can only be broken by true love’s kiss. The baby is sent away into the woods to be cared by three pixies, Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville) but is constantly watched over by the horned one herself. She grows fond of the child and begins a path to recovery on her broken heart.

Review
It has been four years since Jolie last appeared on the big screen as the female equivalent of Jason Bourne in the similarly themed ‘Salt’ and what a triumphant return it is to one of the best performances of her three decade illustrious movie career. In the first glimpses of her majestic wings flying through her magical home, the Moors, Jolie’s ethereal beauty and persona dominates so incredibly fierce that you are bound to be captivated right to the end. Being one of the most memorable Disney villains in a plethora of hits, it is multi-faceted perfected by Mrs Pitt’s restrained but willful approach.

The layered characterisations of both female leads add to the ever growing list of strong and independent women courtesy from self-proclaimed feminist, Linda Woolverton whose most influential work to date remains the Golden Globe winner for ‘Best Musical or Comedy’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, incidentally another Disney feature with a feisty and intelligent heroine who does not need a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet (or in this instance, Prince Phillip). Swoon-worthy for sure, Brenton Thwaites is not given much to do other than to look gorgeous and as a temporary distraction to our Sleeping Beauty.

Faring better than her boyfriend is the titular character in the 1959 release, Princess Aurora. Elle Fanning does her best to stay afloat but it is quite a tall order when her competition is a woman who gave the world crowd-pleasers such as ‘Tomb Raider’, ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’ and ‘Wanted’. A work of this scale should never be this slight with its appealing concept and surprising dense theme. A king driven to madness by an obsession to rid of a past love and its detrimental effects on the present always make for compelling drama, if only the angle has been given more depth.

Stefan’s quest for power and his descend into its dark clutches is barely scratched upon. It is made worse by an unconvincing performance from Copley who usually excels in roles like these. The parts that do work in the script’s inconsistencies are Woolverton’s articulate thoughts on familial issues via the negligence of Aurora’s fairy godmothers and the unexpected aid that is extended during their tenure as substitute parents. The bond of a mother and daughter is an essential component throughout the course of the film and the revelation at the end is a tad predictable but no less touching.

Without a doubt the visuals are a feast to the eyes (a staple in the fantasy genre), the hiring of Robert Stromberg, a former production designer for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ as his directorial debut for such a massive production is logical but not sound (his inexperience is apparent in the film’s more tender moments). Just like his peer, Joseph Kosinski of ‘Tron’ fame, he will only get better in time. For all its splendour and a magnificent turn from Jolie, it is a shame ‘Maleficent’ never soars higher than passable entertainment when there is so much talent at its disposal.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images

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Fantasy, Reviews

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Desolation of Smaug

Copyright © 2013 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Story
In this portion of ‘The Hobbit’, the actual reason for Bilbo Baggin’s (Martin Freeman) selection into the team is revealed. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) has to retrieve the Arkenstone in the hoard of treasure buried in the Lonely Mountain guarded by Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) to unite all Dwarves. The journey ahead for the company is still a long one and at every turn they make, danger is always present. The Orcs led by Azog (Manu Bennett) are still on their trail and the appearance of Mirkwood Elves particularly from Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) does not ease the matter. The dwarves are imprisoned until Bilbo breaks them out with the use of his new found ‘weapon’. The group finally reaches the mountain through assistance from the villagers of Lake-town. It is here that they have to device a plan to find the Arkenstone undetected by Smaug.

Review
After the overlong and underwhelming interpretation of ‘An Unexpected Journey’, it is a marked improvement for ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ in many aspects, especially the pacing is more fluid in addition to more purposeful plotting. Peter Jackson must have heeded the criticisms and refined the editing this time around via a tauter script. What a thrill ride from the get go. When the opening reveals the reason Bilbo’s skills is required for this task, it does not linger for long and moves forward to the present with the gang running from the pursuant Orc army.

The group is assisted by Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), a shape shifter to lose the trailing Orcs and the events which follow right after are hair-raising as well as anticipated. The mess Bilbo and his dwarf companions get entangled with reaches a new high for the burglar to really shine and showcase not only his bravery but intelligence to outmanoeuvre their not-so-friendly eight-legged beasts. His highly bright mind is consistently put to good use in another outrageous rescue operation with the most daring coming face-to-face amid one very tick off dragon (the most realistic looking of the lot although what sets it apart is the intimidating voice work from Cumberbatch).

A second time in the shoes (or feet) of our very cautious hobbit, Freeman’s confidence is increasingly more exuberant, a trait Gandalf (Ian McKellen) noticed just before he leaves for Dol Guldur. As in many arduous journeys, it is a natural progression for our protagonists to grow and be more than what they are made out to be. Courage is a recurrence throughout the course of this tale for many of them. In Bilbo’s case, he coyly tells Gandalf it is the ‘thing’ he found for his changed perception in life.

That is the power of the One Ring. Its degenerative influence is beginning to rear its ugly head on its finder, turning from pacifist into aggressor. Freeman successfully balances the needed emotions to convey his stronger state (but not necessarily better). He steps it up and even surpasses ‘Rings’ veteran, McKellen. As the escalating threat in Dol Guldur is currently not the focus, Gandalf’s shine does fade away slightly unlike his ever dependable magical staff (though it is not enough to refute a familiar foe).

And what of Bloom’s revisit to his blond Elven heritage? It is always a treat for the choreographers to conjure nifty fight situations for this light-footed archer and Legolas once again does not disappoint in a watery combat. He is well complimented by his right-hand woman Tauriel, a newly conceived character by Jackson and Fran Walsh. A Silvan Elf, she is the Chief of the Guards to King Thranduil (Lee Pace), who incidentally is Legolas’ father.

A cross between Arwen and Éowyn, Tauriel is tough as implied by her lower social status but is never afraid to show her vulnerability, as seen in her attraction toward Kili (Aidan Turner). A far cry from his earlier turn as Aragorn’s cohort, our skilled bowman is hardened and is the widest range of emotions I have seen so far from Bloom. While it is comforting to see Bloom trying his hardest to emote with varying results, pulling it off more easily come in Armitage’s Thorin and Luke Evans’ Bard the Bowman, a stranger from Lake-town whose alliance with the wanderers is more than meets the eye.

The commonality which both dwarf and man share is of their imperial ancestry. As stated a while back, courage is significantly crucial to not only Bilbo but is also extended to his diverse acquaintances. The hindrance preventing these men from fully achieving greatness is governed by their complicated past and Jackson explores the conflict admirably. For our Elf duo, one is too conformed to his father’s orders whereas the other is torn asunder on her choice to aid her dwarf lover. The ramifications to these acts are yet to be resolved but you can count on me to be first in line when the conclusion opens on December 2014.

Rating
Entirety: A
Acting: A
Plot: A-

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

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Fantasy, Reviews

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Unexpected Journey

Copyright © 2012 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Story
An adaptation of the novel with the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien, the first part of ‘The Hobbit’ recounts the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) which takes place 60 years prior to the events in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Bilbo is lured by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to join him and 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on an adventure to regain their home, the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). It is during this time, a looming evil from Dol Guldur is shrouding Middle-Earth in terror. The journey ahead to the mountain is also where the hobbit will encounter Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the One Ring.

Review
A little more than a decade later, we are treated to the adventures of Bilbo who unwittingly stumbles upon the One Ring that will lead into the cataclysmic proceedings in ‘Rings’. Having never read the book (it is relatively light compared to the more complicated endeavour Frodo and company have to endure), the moment news broke out about Peter Jackson, director of the lavish trilogy to which it has garnered a cumulative total of 30 Oscar nominations planning on returning to Middle-Earth, anticipation rocketed sky high for his next project.

It really is a time to rejoice with the subsequent announcements on the creative force Jackson has assembled to work with again, including the original stars from his earlier gamble and Guillermo del Toro’s hiring as director. A visionary in his own right, del Toro’s sensibility would have been in tandem with Jackson’s direction, as seen through his sleeper hits, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and the ‘Hellboy’ series. Blame it on monetary issues faced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the delay to begin filming eventually cause him his directorial stint (an expected replacement came in the form of Jackson himself to pick up the pieces).

For an undemanding story, the decision to split it into two is at first glance seem highly driven monetarily (what with MGM’s predicament, it is most sound and logical), but in the hands of Jackson, we are made to understand he will be incorporating many elements from ‘Rings’ to weave a cohesive take between this double feature and its ‘sequels’. Seeing Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins) and Cate Blanchett’s (Galadriel) characters naturally integrated into Bilbo’s unexpected journey is welcoming. But when two stretches to a third adaptation, one can only hope Jackson’s enthusiasm does not overwhelm the newly proclaimed trilogy.

Sadly, the finished cut is just not as magical as when ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ first blew us all away in sheer grandeur. It is quite a wonder as well for this 169 minute movie that tackles only a third of events in an already lean book can warrant for another 13 minutes of extra footage (about half an hour of reel can actually be left in the cutting room). Many of the early scenes involving Thorin and his dwarf followers could have been reduced (their first meeting with Bilbo at his home does not necessarily need to break out in song).

While it is fun to learn of their merry way of life despite losing their residency in the Lonely Mountain to Smaug, it would have been more helpful to the audience if more back story is devoted to Thorin’s warriors instead. As of now, other than the leader in the group, none of his musically-sounding clique is worth remembering. Or as Aragorn once put it simply, it could just be the beard that becomes undistinguishable from one to another. In another instance where less is more, Jackson should have just got on with it and brought about the appearance of Gandalf outwitting the trolls who captured the company as their source of food.

A somewhat juvenile attempt to get the young ones chuckling, the scene drags into momentary slapstick but it is at least redeemed by Bilbo’s intelligence before Gandalf’s grand emergence. The movie does pick itself up after that, thankfully. It is a shame that Radagast the Brown’s (Sylvester McCoy) role is pretty supporting for I would have loved to know more about this nature-loving wizard. It is worth mentioning his ruse to lure the Orcs away from pursuing their targets is original and thrilling.

If only the rest of the action can follow suit and be just as rousing. The finale is a little too drawn-out and feels repetitive. It is in the quieter and dramatic turns which elevate part one to a slightly atypical affair. McKellen is in his useful playful mode, an approach he honed since ‘Fellowship’ and Serkis relishes every bit of his cameo during his riddle-swapping challenge with Bilbo whose humanity is captured with total honesty by Freeman.

As for the king adamant on reclaiming his land, Armitage is both steely and wary of his newest member in the group. He is doubtful of the hobbit’s allegiance to the mission but when he is proven wrong, Thorin’s response is sincere but never sentimental. And that is where the problem with the rest of the film lies. Jackson’s sentimentality from his earlier franchise is unquestionably seeping into this new one and it is diminishing the audiences’ goodwill built for its continuity. It is fine to be more inline with ‘Rings’ tonally, but when it leads to overindulgence, self control should always prevail, no matter how great the temptations are.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: A
Plot: B+

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

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Fantasy, Reviews

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Return of the King

Copyright © 2003 by New Line Cinema

Story
The final installment to this highly successful franchise, the defeat of Sauron’s alliance, Saruman (Christopher Lee) sees the Dark Lord targeting Gondor as his next conquest. To prevent this catastrophe, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) sets out to seek Denethor, the Steward of Gondor (John Noble) and warn him about the attack. When word is sent of Gondor’s need for military assistance, King Théoden (Bernard Hill) gathers any remaining forces to help protect its capital, Minas Tirith from falling while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) searches for the army of the Dead to fortify its numbers. However, they realised that they cannot win the war as Sauron’s troops are far too huge and the only chance they have now of ever vanquishing him for good lies in the hands of Frodo ((Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin).

Review
A triumphant return to the top of the charts, the conclusion to Peter Jackson’s masterpiece of three has set a few significant milestones along the way to its global success; it is the second film to earn $1 billion worldwide, the biggest Oscar sweep by winning in all the nominated 11 categories thus tying with Ben-Hur and Titanic for the most wins and the first fantasy film and second sequel to receive the ‘Best Picture’ award after ‘The Godfather Part II’. Overrated much?  Yes and no.

It is only if you read and hear the heaps of praises from critics and moviegoers all quadrants of the world piling onto the epic’s already lengthy accolades. It may also be the Academy’s way of making up to Jackson for his previous ‘losses’ in the first two parts of this tale, especially the equally deserving ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. A rather unfortunate time to be pitted against ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and not being the favourite going into the Oscar race surely must have limited the potential to grab a couple more statuettes beyond the movie’s technical realm.

Strip away all that and assess ‘The Return of the King’ on its own merits, you will find that it truly warrants all the love it is bestowed upon. Hands down the most exciting of the lot, the prologue begins with a back story of how Sméagol (Andy Serkis) comes into possession of the One Ring and his transformation into the loathsome Gollum. Within minutes, the innocence quickly turns deadly and puts in motion the depravity of his actions on Frodo and Sam to seize back the ring for his own selfish gains.

The ring’s hold on Frodo continues to deteriorate him physically and mentally, a fact Gollum uses to his advantage; Frodo is led to think that Sam will betray him for the ring. When Frodo is finally on his own to face a creature more threatening than the one in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’, he soon realises of the trickster’s true intentions. What ensues is an intense survival of the fittest in a spidery labyrinth. Astin is in fine form and Sam’s finest qualities are only rivaled by the future king of Gondor himself, Aragorn.

While Mortensen is understated and ruggedly charming during his more tender moments, it is when he begins to accept his role as the heir to the throne that he is less impactful as compared to Hill’s Théoden whose stirring speech to his Rohirrim army is believable and inspirational for a seemingly grim outcome. His heroic actions are well contrasted with the cowardly Denethor who is driven insane after witnessing the apparent death of his second son, Faramir (David Wenham). Noble is vile but is redeemed via his love for his children, albeit a slightly underwritten character and Wenham’s performance this time around resembles more closely to the book.

Improvements also can be seen in Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Éowyn’s (Miranda Otto) characterisations. Deemed the comedic duo, they definitely have earned the right and respect to determine a new fate in this final war between good and evil. In ‘The Two Towers’, many of Otto’s scenes were trimmed down for the theatrical version which made Éowyn’s transition to the big screen unremarkable. In the latest interpretation, more emphasis has been placed on her ongoing conflict to be the dutiful ‘daughter’ whose main desire is to fight alongside with her brothers-in-arms.

An impressive feat for Otto when she gets to actively participate in the attack on Minas Tirith. Her segment is just one of the many well edited sequences that culminate into another top-notch climatic battle no purists or casual fans can fault upon. As it draws to an inevitable end (the multiple conclusions may perplex some), it is without a doubt Jackson has masterfully crafted a coherent and singular vision that will stand the test of time, a distinction shared with its equally cherished source of inspiration.

Rating
Entirety: A+
Acting: A
Plot: A

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

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Fantasy, Reviews

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Two Towers

Copyright © 2002 by New Line Cinema

Story
‘The Two Towers’ picks up immediately from where the first chapter left off. Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have been taken hostage by the Uruk-hai, followers of Saruman (Christopher Lee) while in pursuit are Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom). They learn that the two Hobbits have escaped from their captors and are now in the company of Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies), the leader of the Ents. Both sides will join forces to relinquish Saruman of his mighty army; the former takes the fight to Saruman’s doorstep and the latter, joined by the Elves will battle at Helm’s Deep with the citizens of Rohan, led by King Théoden (Bernard Hill). Meanwhile, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are still on their quest to destroy the One Ring with the aid of an unexpected source, Gollum (Andy Serkis) himself.

Review
The highest grossing film 0f 2002 does what many sequels fail to achieve; to massively entertain and emotionally resonate with moviegoers of all ages. Being the most difficult portion to put on film that does not have a beginning and still cannot conclude, the result is remarkable; a character-driven piece with a whole lot of heart which climaxes with another well engineered battle sequence to be remembered as one of the most elaborate ever presented on screen.

Through the opening shot where we are treated to a glimpse of how Gandalf (Ian McKellen) fell in the mines of Moria, it says it all of what should be anticipated in the movie’s remaining running time – pressurised tension, mind-blowing action and heartfelt emotion. The pace moves along quickly once the star of this episode emerges, Gollum, a repulsive hobbit-like creature suffering from schizophrenia. In possession of the ring for so long as the prior owner, it gave him unnaturally long life and degraded his physicality fitting of the ring’s corruptive supremacy.

Serkis is in fine form here and easily steals the show as one of the most realistically portrayed computer-generated characters ever rendered by a special effects team. The staff of Weta Digital have definitely outdone themselves in capturing the complexities of this very tortured soul and his essence is brought out by a soulful performance from Serkis. His commitment to the role has him not only providing Gollum with a voice but also his movements via a motion capture suit.

It could have gone annoyingly wrong with such an over the top persona en route to replicating another Jar Jar Binks of the ‘Star Wars’ fame but Serkis’ firm understanding on Gollum’s treacherous motivations help him deliver a balanced turn as this sometimes sympathetic guide to Frodo and Sam. Together, they form a unique partnership to Mordor. As Frodo begins to comprehend the effects of the One Ring, we are able to witness him spiralling into the dark side.

Wood is especially engaging and conveys his emotions well through his expressive eyes. His change from naiveté to a self-absorbed loner is well contrasted with Astin’s always optimistic and fiercely protective friend, Sam. Another noteworthy relationship is of Elrond, Elven lord of Rivendell (Hugo Weaving) and Arwen (Liv Tyler). A truly heartbreaking moment to see a father having to part with his beloved daughter as Aragorn’s true love is convinced of leaving the world for good.

As much as I like the film’s three-hour long theatrical cut, it could have still been longer (thankfully, there is the extended version). Attention to newcomers in Rohan (King Théoden, Éowyn – Miranda Otto, Éomer – Karl Urban and Gríma Wormtongue – Brad Dourif) Fangorn (Treebeard) and Ithilien (Faramir – David Wenham) are adequate but more expository information would have improved their overall presence. Among the many mentioned, only Hill’s Théoden manages to imbue the majestic resonance – a feat which the others seemed to be trailing behind.

Nevertheless, these shortcomings are too miniscule to rob of the enjoyment for pure spectacle with a continuous exploration on the human psyche and the challenges that lie ahead for our heroes to face in these dire times. A larger and more sprawling production it may be, but under the reins of Peter Jackson, it never veers into Michael Bayesque mayhem and is a perfect setup for ‘The Return of the King’ to claim its box office throne successively.

Rating
Entirety: A
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and scary images

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Fantasy, Reviews

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Fellowship Of The Ring

Copyright © 2001 by New Line Cinema

Story
The first in the series of three based on the bestseller from J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ is about the One Ring in possession by the Dark Lord Sauron to conquer Middle-Earth. In his battle against the Elves and Men, Sauron’s body was destroyed but his life force lives on in the ring. The ring has to be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom where it was made. Known to corrupt its wearer, the ring remains dormant for another 2,500 years until it is found by Gollum (Andy Serkis), who keeps it with him for the next few centuries. After a chance meeting with Gollum, it finally ends up in the hands of a Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). 60 years later, he passes the ring to his nephew, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). As Frodo learns the truth, he sets out with eight other companions on a journey to the very same volcanic mountain to stop this evil from returning.

Review
‘The Lord of the Rings’ has been hailed as one of the greatest trilogies in the history of film and the most acclaimed fantasy epic to date. It is a sweeping take on an all-encompassing tale about the quest to vanquish pure malice contained in a ‘precious’ accessory. And only a true fan such as Peter Jackson and his committed crew can bring the pages of this beloved classic to life. It clearly shows that years of research have been put into this labour of love even before filming began.

It is no wonder then that New Line Cinema took a chance and green lit Jackson to film the entire trilogy in one go. It is unprecedented and remains so until his next ‘trio’ of ‘Hobbit’ movies come along a decade later. And to think that he was turned down by a few other distributors before he finally got his funding for not one but a three-part deal. The risk paid off with hefty pay checks going to all whom were involved with this colossal project. Just hypothetically curious, should the introductory chapter fail, wonder what would happen to its continuation?

Guess the film makers would still have to proceed with the release of their investments. Thank their lucky stars, what is being presented is a marvel to behold; a densely written fable about the corruption of ultimate power and the repercussion it has on many of the rich-filled characters which crosses path with it. The marketers may have you think this is just another fantasy escapade with postcard-like scenic locations, swashbuckling sword fights and mythical creatures (they are all in the check list) but it is so much more than that.

The real magic comes from the flawless casting for its chief characters. Wood and Ian McKellen (Gandalf the Grey) strike a right dose of screen chemistry as the unexpected ring bearer and his wise wizard friend respectively whilst Frodo’s gardener, Samwise ‘Sam’ Gamgee (Sean Astin) and Dúnedain ranger, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) are both loyal with huge dollops of valour to boot. For comic relief to lift the sense of imminent doom, we get in the form of John Rhys-Davies (Gimli), Billy Boyd (Peregrin ‘Pippin’ Took) and Dominic Monaghan (Meriadoc ‘Merry’ Brandybuck).

Ambiguity is also used to underline some of its players’ motivations. We are never exactly sure of the actual intentions of Galadriel, Elf Queen of Lothlórien (Cate Blanchett) and Boromir from Gondor (Sean Bean) when each is tested by the ring’s dominance. The former manages to resist its temptations while the latter gradually descends into irrationality but redeems himself after an ‘invisible nudge’ with reality.

Notable mention goes out to Christopher Lee as Saruman the White and Liv Tyler whose role as Arwen has been greatly expanded to provide a stronger female presence in an otherwise male dominated adventure. Being the only other woman (for now), Jackson’s re-imagination of Arwen is every bit capable of handling any situation as her counterparts while still looking fabulous doing it. Easily one of the best rescue missions ever brought to life, it is chilling and magical all at the same time. Even Lee’s Saruman gets to flex his combat prowess mano a mano with Gandalf.

Girls (and guys) everywhere will sure to remember Orlando Bloom as the next heartthrob to ogle at. His well chiseled features blends seamlessly with the picturesque beauty of New Zealand. Only gripe is his portrayal is a little one dimensional. It is merely nitpicking though to a superb production that seemed impossible to be brought to the big screen a while back.  By the time the credits appear with the calming voice of Enya, my only Christmas wish is for ‘The Two Towers’ to be released the very next day.

Rating
Entirety: A+
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images

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