Writer: David Koepp (screenplay), Dan Brown (novel)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster
Release date: October 13th, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 121 minutes
Best part: Tom Hanks.
Worst part: The confusing flashbacks.
Some franchises are truly baffling. The Twilight, Transformers and now Da Vinci Code series’ warp source material and fan interests for a cheap buck. Despite making serious coin, they all gain negative attention from critics and wider audiences. Yes, this is mean. However, you could feed millions of African children with each installment’s budget.
Of course, taste is subjective and makes for good discussion. Even for the majority of author Dan Brown, Director Ron Howard, and Star Tom Hanks’s biggest fans, however, trilogy-capper Infernocould be a franchise killer. This one, based on Brown’s fourth (latest? who cares.) franchise novel, does kick off promisingly. Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy. Langdon – armed with a spotty memory and gash across his head – and Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) quickly escape from an assassin. Meanwhile, transhumanist scientist/multi-billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) commits suicide before unveiling his master plan to obliterate half the world’s population.
Inferno is yet another 2016 sequel no one asked for. 2006’s Da Vinci Code and 2009 sequel Angels and Demons resembled baffling and bloated extended episodes of Criminal Minds. Here, Howard and Hanks were (allegedly) contractually obligated to return before world’s end. Inferno, indeed, is a waste of the cast, crew and audiences’ time. Like previous installments, Brown’s shaky understanding of history and religion shines. Aiming for Indiana Jones‘ rollicking thrills, it forgets one thing – simple equals effective. The plot, thanks to screenwriter David Koepp, sporadically jumps from A to B to C. Its non-linear timeline sees Langdon and the audience piecing everything together. The mystery-thriller elements deliver a myriad of contrivances and plot holes. It quickly becomes bogged down by World Health organisation agents (Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen) and spooky government facilitators (Irrfan Khan).
Howard is a hit-and-miss filmmaker with little to say. Beyond 2013 smash Rush, the past decade features these flicks, The Dilemma and In the Heart of the Sea. Inferno sees Langdon and co. in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. Florence, Venice and Istanbul get their due (and I’m sure everyone had a blast making it). Howard’s stylistic flourishes are eyeball-achingly obnoxious. Throwing in visions, flashbacks and narration/exposition willy-nilly, he delivers an equally rushed and sluggish product. As the trailers suggest, it also features a half-baked commentary on overpopulation. the actors put 100% into woeful material. Hanks shuffles to yet another pay-cheque. Jones, waiting for Rogue One‘s December release, is just fine. Sy and Khan elevate cliched roles. Sadly, Foster is wasted in flashbacks and YouTube clips (Easiest. Payday. Ever).
Inferno is yet another 2016 uninspired sequel/reboot/prequel release. The two-and-a-half-star rating is definitely not a recommendation. However, thanks to the overabundance of terrible blockbusters, this ain’t too bad. Hanks and Howard certainly deserve better.
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J. R. R. Tolkien (novel)
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom
Release date: December 13th, 2013
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: New Zealand, USA
Running time: 161 minutes
Best part: The barrel sequence.
Worst part: The dodgy CGI.
Despite the obvious flaws, Peter Jackson’s much-anticipated Hobbit trilogy is an easy target. Criticised for its story-telling issues, its multitude of characters, and the 48 frames-per-second debacle, this series still hasn’t been given a fair chance. Buried under hype, directorial power, and desperate marketing ploys (looking at you, Air New Zealand!), it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge these instalments as single entities. These movies, innocently, reach out to fan boys and average filmgoers alike. So, like this series’ lead character, why not give something grandiose and enthralling a chance to succeed? The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, though inconsistent, swiftly soars above the already enjoyable original.
To elaborate on these points, all modern blockbusters suffer from overhype and exhaustive pre-and-post-release critical backlash. Audiences are more willing to criticise a big-budget fantasy flick than an independent romantic dramedy. With ‘perfect’ movies impossible to craft, let’s judge movies like The Desolation of Smaug for what they are. With enlightening performances, engaging action sequences, and a straight-faced facade, this fantasy-epic lives up to expectations. Despite Jackson’s overt self-indulgence and excessiveness, his adaptations stand the test of time and honour J.R.R. Tolkien’s influential legacy. However, whilst crafting this prequel trilogy’s unique identity, Jackson inadvisably stretches each instalment until breaking point. Here, the narrative picks up immediately after the events of An Unexpected Journey. With burglar and trustworthy Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) keeping watch over the horizon, his 13 Dwarf companions, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), scour the landscape for hidden passages and safe places. Despite Gandalf the Grey(Ian McKellen)’s unabashed admiration, Bilbo is unsure of his responsibilities on this all-important journey. After being rescued by Skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), the group heads for Mirkwood to continue their trek toward the Lonely Mountain. With the Dwarves eager to retake their homeland from vicious and greedy dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), the group comes across the spiders and Elves inhabiting this treacherous forest. Disdained by Elf-king Thranduil (Lee Pace), Thorin must find courage before continuing this quest. Fortunately, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and Bard (Luke Evans) seek to aid this commendable band of heroes.
Like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Desolation of Smaug, despite bridging the first and final instalments, seeks to craft a recognisable identity and several commendable moments. Fortunately, this sequel successfully links this trilogy to the Lord of the Rings saga. Around every corner, references and titbits sit proudly on display. Jackson, blinded by immense talent, is infatuated with his over-long and bombastic creations. Despite my previous statements, I’ll admit that dividing one book into three epic movies is a nonsensical and preposterous idea. This decision’s immense consequences are immanently noticeable. From the compelling prologue onward, the bloated story becomes chaotic. Here, Jackson introduces several potentially intriguing sub-plots and character arcs. Adapting the book’s middle third and appendices to fit into this sprawling middle instalment, Jackson’s toy-box-like mind goes overboard. With several weird, vicious, and engaging characters hurriedly introduced, the first third will leave series newcomers scratching their heads. Don’t get me wrong; Jackson is indeed a transformative and imaginative filmmaker. However, there’s a specific reason why the appendices are wholly separated from Tolkien’s other Middle Earth adventures. Jackson, taking control of the book series’ every intricacy, awkwardly wedges plot-strands, prophecies, and set pieces together throughout The Desolation of Smaug‘s exhaustive 2hr 45min run-time. In addition, Jackson and co. invent characters, obstacles, and plot-threads at their own volition. This method brashly dilutes the original material’s charming and engaging identity. However, despite the narrative knots, the sequel’s boisterous charm, gripping chase-movie structure, and visual splendour distract from several story inconsistencies and directorial foibles. Thanks to an action-packed first third, the original’s pacing and tempo issues are fixed. Following the LOTR trilogy and An Unexpected Journey‘s familiar structures, this repetitive sequel removes suspense and intrigue from this influential franchise.
Richard Armitage & the Dwarves.
With The Desolation of Smaug specifically served as an action-adventure flick and Boxing Day release, these movies identify themselves as LOTR prequels more so than children’s book adaptations. Looking up to the original trilogy’s influential story-telling tropes and immaculate action set pieces, this trilogy’s reach has already exceeded its grasp. Despite the first third’s exciting moments, the movie stops dead during the second act. Here, the exciting chase sequences transition into comedic hijinks, dialogue sequences, and complex exposition. After the group is smuggled into Lake-town, we are introduced to the city’s economic and political structures. Transitioning from action to drama, the political debates and hierarchal systems place pointless conflicts on top of the group’s urgent quest. Thankfully, Jackson’s visual flourishes and attention to detail elevate this convoluted fantasy-adventure. Throwing more orcs, men, and elves into the on-coming war for Middle Earth, this sequel continually ups the ante. Fixing this series’ pressing tonal shifts and pacing flaws, the action set pieces expand this wondrous and enrapturing universe. Following the bear attack, the spider sequence is a visceral and glorious thrill-ride. Jackson, known to inject disgusting creepy-crawlies into extraordinary tales (King Kong), uses zany surprises and jump-scares to push this sequence into overdrive. However, the movie’s stand out set piece is the group’s barrel escape down a dangerous river system. This enlightening sequence throws orcs, dwarves, and elves into an ingenious battle. With distinctive fighting styles defining certain characters, stakes are raised throughout this set piece. In addition, Bilbo and Smaug’s climactic battle of wits gleefully caps off this exhaustive instalment. The creature designs, thanks to visual effects company WETA Digital, are all top notch. Providing sensory thrills and gripping surprises, the spiders, orcs, bears, and wargs are breath-taking and confronting creations.
“I will not die like this, clawing for life…If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together!” (Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).
Despite the endless shots of New Zealand’s mountainous scenery, the CGI vastly overshadows the practical effects. Rushing through the post-production stage, Jackson haphazardly throws several unrefined effects into his finished product. For a multi-million-dollar production, short cuts like this aren’t advisable. The original trilogy’s stirling practical effects are inexplicably replaced with green screens and Playstation-2-level digital creations. Sadly, several locations, action set pieces, and characters appear noticeably artificial. Despite these issues, the comedic hijinks lighten the sickeningly dark tone for brief moments. Slapstick gags and witty one-liners highlight the absurdities embedded in these pressing situations. Our heroes, unlike those of most modern fantasy-epics, are defined by complex and likeable personalities. Despite taking a back seat in this instalment, Bilbo is still a cheekily engaging and determined lead character. Tasked with a specific purpose, Bilbo becomes a wise and courageous individual. Here, his conflict with the ring is pushed to the forefront. Providing dry wit for this fan-favourite character, Freeman grows into this all-encompassing role. Facing off against his Sherlock co-star, Freeman provides a charismatic and idiosyncratic performance. Gleefully, Cumberbatch, as the powerful and intelligent antagonist, steals his scenes. Delivering conquering vocal and physical mannerisms for this fascinating character, he relishes in motion capture technology’s over-whelming potential. Despite Gandalf’s insufficient sub-pot, McKellen delivers another engaging performance and elevates certain scenes. Unfortunately, only two dwarves are given definitive personalities. Despite Armitage’s intriguing portrayal, his character mirrors Aragorn to a fault. However, the elf characters are charismatic. Bloom and Lilly’s screen presences boost significant plot-lines.
With love triangles, action sequences, comedic hijinks, and character arcs filling this instalment’s extensive run-time, The Desolation of Smaug is a significant improvement over the original. With Bilbo stepping aside, the other characters are given valuable room to breathe. Jackson, despite the overt infatuation with his own material, confidently delivers an exhilarating and gripping roller-coaster ride. With The Hobbit: There and Back Again linking both trilogies, a shorter instalment may hold viewer interest.
Verdict: A hearty, enjoyable yet convoluted sequel.
Writers: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J. R. R. Tolkien (novel)
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis
Release date: December 12th, 2012
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: New Zealand, UK, USA
Running time: 169 minutes
Best part: Bilbo and Gollum’s game of riddles.
Worst part: The excessive 2hr 50min length.
Peter Jackson’s much anticipated return to Middle Earth has been through its own unexpected journey. Economic and production issues led to Jackson’s reluctant return to the director’s chair. His first instalment of the Hobbit trilogy is still likely to delight fans and conquer box office records. This return to the world Jackson built a decade ago is an uneven yet still wildly enjoyable adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic 1937 novel. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journeysucceeds in certain places and falters in others, becoming a polarising continuation of a cinematic masterpiece.
Bilbo Baggins, Ian Holm’s character from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, sits down to write a book of his great adventures. The film then travels back 60 years and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is a contented Hobbit living a peaceful existence in the Shire. His plans are rudely disrupted by the abrupt intrusion of twelve Dwarves from the once great city of Erebor. Driven out of their lands by the evil forces of Middle Earth, the Dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), hatch a dangerous plan to take back their home. This group of Dwarves is the work of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who persuades Bilbo to join them on their quest. Bilbo, reluctantly agreeing to leave the Shire, must find the courage to survive the obstacles in his path. While aiding the group on the road that lies ahead.
Ian McKellen & Cate Blanchett.
Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit has received criticism from critics and fans alike. Using 48 frames-per-second film production technology and extending the content of one novel between three films hinder what could have been a masterpiece of fantasy film-making. Despite being the first act of this expansive narrative, An Unexpected Journey is merely a visual splendour that may or may not distract from its structural flaws. Jackson’s work on the original LOTR trilogy was a staggering feat. He captured a world-wide audience of both film aficionados and eager-to-please LOTR fans. However, His work here has created an uneven and at points confusing journey. Jackson has pushed the beginning of his new trilogy into similar territory as The Fellowship of the Ring. All too familiar elements make An Unexpected Journey feel like an monotonous trip there and back again. The grouping of contrasting characters, endless shots of New Zealand’s mountainous scenery and Howard Shore’s influential score depict Jackson’s obsession with the mythology and structure of his original trilogy.
The film’s opening hour is an unending mess of slapstick gags, wacky characters and exposition. Two prologues, though helpful in bring the uninitiated viewer into this labyrinth, divert the real focus of this story. The narrative itself is bloated, illustrating the problem with stretching one novel across a multiple film franchise. Unessential comedic moments dilute the darkly sickening aura of this evolving quest. The Dwarves are defined by bodily functions, unintentional destruction and wacky facial features. Their comedic sequences distract from the story’s essential elements. While a goofy and unending troll sequence turns into extensively bumbling comedic material. Thankfully, the film’s second and third acts allow the awe-inspiring action sequences and CGI creations to crawl and crash through the screen. Middle Earth has expanded from the previous trilogy, creating a breath-taking and unique look at a world we’ve seen before. Jackson’s use of CGI however distracts from the multi-layered practical effects. The visceral quality of the LOTR trilogy has been replaced with several blatantly-green-screen sequences.
“I do believe the worst is behind us.” (Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).
Where the film manages to equal the original trilogy is through its many captivating performances. Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo is charismatic and uplifting. Freeman, able to handle both dramatic and comedic material with BBC’s Sherlock and The Office, finds a balance between baffled and courageous. Bilbo creates an uneasy alliance between him and the rest of this bumbling fellowship. His vulnerabilities are what make him ‘human’, while his innate courage makes him a much more empathetic lead character than Frodo. Another stand out here is Andy Serkis as Gollum. Serkis brought motion capture performance into the spotlight with Gollum several years ago. His wriggling, schizophrenic creation has to be seen to be believed. Both Serkis and Freeman fight with wits instead of swords in their tension-inducing game of riddles. The light bounces off of Gollum’s enormous eyes, illuminating every splayed wrinkle and facial twitch.
Despite its inconsistencies, An Unexpected Journey is still a fitting example of cinematic fantasy. With The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug out next year, Jackson may have to focus on the narrative before taking another step toward box office success.
Verdict: A messy yet visually splendid return to Middle Earth.