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Thoughts on Despicable Me 2

So, as with any of these things I throw at the interwebs to see what sticks, reading ahead may well lead to spoilers (or it may not… I haven’t decided yet, I’m tricky like that).  They will however, be the most macho spoilers known to man.

Took the kids out to see Despicable Me 2 on opening day.  First time in a long time I think I’ve actually seen a film the day it opened and it was time and money well spent.  Simply put, this film is fun.  It also offers a little something for everyone, young or old, male or female. This is a family movie in the truest sense, and one that at it’s heart is really all about just that; family.

To be clear, the name of the film is a bit misleading.There is really very little of a despicable nature going on here.  At best it is about the lead up to something potentially despicable.  We pick up probably 6-8 months after where we left off from the first film.  Gru (Steve Carell) is fully reformed from his super-villain days and hosting a princess-themed birthday party for the now 6-year-old Agnes (Elsie Fisher, still almost painfully cute).

They waste no time giving the people what they want, minions, a pack of them dressed in medieval costume, flailing at one another with literal flails.

I said this after the first film, and I will say it again now: I want a minion.  Maybe five or ten of them.  Come on mad scientists of the world, get on this.  The world needs minions, and I need ten of them for myself (for a start).

In any event, the opening scenes here really serve to establish Gru the family man, and how he, his adopted daughters, and his army of minions have fully integrated themselves into the local community.  Gru still has what could charitably be called social anxiety disorder, and clearly would rather avoid most of his neighbors, but this time around he’s content to just make awkward conversation and occasionally turn the hose on them, rather than shooting them with a freeze ray and blowing up their house.  By most counts that’s probably an improvement, whichever minion is acting as his shrink is clearly doing their job.

After this establishment scene we move into what passes as the plot for the film.  What plot there is is pretty loose, and mostly serves as hooks to hang character pieces off of, but the film is probably better for it.  Where this film succeeds most is on the human level.  The animated set-pieces are fun, but the heart is, well, in the heart.

Gru is approached, and promptly kidnapped by, Lucy (Kristen Wiig) in the name of the Anti-Villain League.  This leads to a great set piece as minions Dave and Stu try to rescue their boss.  Not only is the chase fun and funny, but it showcases some of the first of many, many little visual pop culture shout-outs and homages.  I won’t get into them here because it will be more fun to try spotting them yourself.  There are so many, and from sources both well known and obscure, that I’m sure everyone will find different ones.

The AVL has been tracking Gru since he stole the moon and now needs him to help solve a case that has them stumped.  They figure a former villain can give them some insights.  Gru refuses but comes around after a combination of boredom and loneliness gets him back in the spy game.

Gru and Lucy go undercover at a local mall, giving them a chance to get to know one another/awkwardly flirt while a few cut-away scenes show how the kids and minions are doing (complete with a rash of comical minion kidnappings).

Gru quickly recognizes a face from his past, El Macho.  A legend in the super-villain world, this man supposedly died in the most macho way possible.  Riding a great white shark strapped with a ton of dynamite, out of a jet, into a live volcano.  You can detect a hint of hero worship as Gru describes him, and the fact that his body was never found, just some singed chest hair.

The plot again takes a back seat for a while to get into character pieces as we see Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) develop her first crush, on the son of El Macho.  Gru and Lucy also get to share an unusual (sort of) first date after she rescues him from the date from hell with the help of a mild moose tranquilizer.  The Weekend at Berny’s scene that follows was one of the high points of the film for me.

Just as things are looking up for Gru, the AVL catches who they think is their man and sends Lucy off to Australia, sending him into a funk which he is only really driven out of by the film’s climax tracking down the real bad guy before he can release an army of mutant minions on the East Coast.

It’s another fun set piece, but also one driven by family loyalty, and caps the film nicely as we head into the “and they all lived happily ever after” bit.  A bit, I might add, that includes a couple song and dance scenes by the minions that only serve to make me want my own damn minions that much more.

In the end, we’re left with a really satisfying movie we all loved and walked away from with ear-to-ear feel-good grins.  One of the few movies that’s come out recently that I would gladly pay to see again on the big screen.

Now somebody give me my damn minions!!!

Thoughts on Man of Steel

Had a chance to get out to see ‘Man of Steel’ today and wanted to share my take on it.  Here there be spoilers, so just move on to some other post if that’s going to be a problem for you.

Let me start out saying that I really enjoyed the film overall.  Sure, I have my nits to pick on a few things, but overall it was well worth my time and money, and I feel like it could make a nice start down the road to a Justice League film.  It’s well worth a watch, and the action is flat-out epic.

This wasn’t a perfect reboot, but it was head and shoulders above the last attempt at reviving the titular Man of Steel for live action film.  This film definitely learned from Singer’s dud and delivered what people were longing for: action.

The movie started off with a bang.  Well, I suppose it started with a bang, a few booms, a couple dozen pops and cracks, then a few more bangs.  Seeing the end of Zod’s rebellion played out with a huge effects budget was a great way to engage the audience.  I’ll even forgive it the silliness of Jor-El free driving through the Matrix battery-trees (sorry, Genesis Chamber) to steal the magic Kryptonian neanderthal skull in the middle of it all.

This started out what became a running issue with me involving the Krypton-based aspect of the film.  It looked cool (if somewhat derivative of various other film’s art design; I’m looking at you Fallout power armor and Engineer ships from Prometheus) but didn’t always make very much sense.  Take the scout ship locked in ice for thousands of years.  All the systems still worked, at least one sentry/helper robot was still up and floating around and it was full of people who should have started feeling all ‘super’ just from the solar radiation they could have soaked up on the way into orbit.  And yet all of them were dead and mummified despite the life support seeming to still be working well enough to maintain the genesis system and it’s attached embryos-in-stasis.  Not to mention all the Kryptonian corpses on other colony worlds.  At least some of those should have had conditions similar enough to earth to power them up, especially since it seems the whole ‘absorb solar rays, become nigh-invincible superbeing’ thing seems to have been reasonably common knowledge.  Why were they all dead?

As I said, it looked very cool, just didn’t always make much sense.

All that said, I still really liked this film.  I think telling Clark/Kal’s backstory through short flashbacks was a great choice.  It kept the narrative moving while providing just enough background to give viewers a little insight into why this man acts as he does.  The scenes with the Kents were actually some of the strongest in the film that didn’t involve superhumans beating the fuck out of each other.  It was also interesting seeing Clark in his ‘walking the earth’ phase.  It almost had the feel of the old Incredible Hulk TV series with Banner drifting from town to town, trying to hide and keep a low profile.

The action and effects were, simply, astounding.  It was insane and over-the-top in a way that felt right out of the pages of Action Comics.  This is how unstoppable forces should clash with one another.  It was beautifully (and often brutally) choreographed and really, viscerally fun to watch.

The trouble, and maybe because of the action being so good, was that the scenes in-between the action, at least after Clark puts on ‘The Suit’ seemed really dry and lifeless in comparison.  Once Henry Cavill got the spandex on it felt like his personality just dried up, and it was an effect that bled out into the actors sharing scenes with him.

As long as I’m in free-form ramble mode, let me add a couple huge thank yous to the writers.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for finally turning Lois Lane into the actual prize-winning investigative journalist she is supposed to be.  Honestly, if she was that good, how could a pair of cheap reading glasses have had her fooled for years?  None of that here.  No, instead we get a smart, brash young woman who follows a thin trail of breadcrumbs from a random guy using a fake name in the Canadian arctic and finds Clark at his father’s grave, knowing full-well who and what he is.

Thank you also for giving Zod a real, compelling, almost Shakespearean motivation behind his actions instead of just being driven by revenge for the sake of revenge.  If anything, I think they missed some chances to even make things more interesting.

As thrilling as that final battle was, I’d have loved to have seen a twist where Zod tells Kal-El that, “his whole reason for being was defending Krypton, and now you are Krypton” and then offered to serve/protect Kal to preserve the genetic codes he carries (don’t get me started on that, this post will never end… ugh).

That would have sacrificed an epic final battle, but led to some really interesting potential story options moving forward that I don’t think anyone has ever even tried telling yet.

One last pet peeve here while I’m thinking of that final battle.  After beating the holy hell out of one another across half of a destroyed Metropolis cityscape the battle reaches it’s midpoint and the combatants both stop to catch their breath while Zod begins telling Kal why he sucks.  A large part of this involves a reminder that Zod is, by every possible measure, a superior fighter who has been bred to be warrior, and trained for decades, honing his fighting skills, while Kal was working odd jobs.

Zod is right.  He SHOULD be winning.  And yet from the time he finishes that line he never again has the upper hand in the fight.  Kal-El takes the fight to him and just plain wins.

All right, that’s it I suppose.  Just some quick bullets and I’m out.

  • Really liked Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, though he was tragically underused.
  • Loved the inclusion of ‘Seasons’ in the soundtrack.
  • The Wayne Industries and Lexcorp logos made me happy.
  • Did that scout ship have a Kryptonian Genomic DNA dialysis machine on it, and if not, how was Kal supposed to get the magic skull DNA out of his blood if he ever wanted to resurrect his race?
  • So as I see it now, this new Superman movie has set the rule that you don’t need Kryptonite to depower Superman, you just need a combination of gasses that mimic the dead planet’s atmosphere.  Seems like a much, much easier weapon to use as it was shown in the film (which was interesting because seemingly he doesn’t really need to breath anyway).
  • Loved watching Kal fly into a rage, pounding the hell out of Zod to defend his mom.  It was a great moment of humanizing the character.
  • For my money, Christopher Meloni had the best ‘hero moments’ of the film.  Great character actor, playing a great character.
  • The military overall comes off looking great, competent, and brave as hell, which is a nice change of pace from a lot of films.  Those guys were getting their asses handed to them, were hopelessly outgunned, and still tried to hold the line to the last man.

That’s it for now folks.  Thanks for reading if you made it this far.  Would love to talk more about the movie if anyone feels like it.

Regarding the new Man of Steel trailer

All right,  I realize I don’t come here to update things as much as I’d like.  Life has a funny way of getting involved in these things.  Working on it…  In any event, here goes:

I recently watched the newest trailer for Man of Steel and while I’m feeling at least a little better about the direction of the film afterward than I was in listening to the rumor mill recently, I can’t help but come away from it with more questions that just, well, bug me.

Oh, you can find said trailer here if you’d like: http://io9.com/at-last-a-man-of-steel-trailer-that-showcases-hot-craz-474038106

Anyway, essentially the entire world knows some form of the Superman origin story by now.  It’s been retold and tweaked over the decades in comics, film, live action tv, and cartoons, but the basics generally stay the same.  Really smart alien guy finds out his world is dying, shoots his son into interstellar space so he isn’t blown up with everyone else, space orphan crashes in Kansas, is adopted by salt-of-the-earth farmers and ‘raised right’, develops superpowers, begins saving world.

As far as that all goes, it looks like we’re getting more of the same with the latest ‘gritty’ reboot (you know it’s gritty because everything is underexposed by a half stop, is desaturated, and none of the male leads have found much use for a razor).  There is some dialog in there though which raised more than a few questions for me.

It is pretty clear that Jor-El knows exactly what’s going to happen to his son’s physiology when he gets his ass off-planet.  You get a little of this from the Donner films, but it’s in a somewhat less obvious manner.  Holo-Brando tells Kal that he’s special and different but I can’t recall him specifically mentioning godlike power.

Think about this for just a second, will you?  It is clear from this trailer that Krypton is a highly technologically advanced place that has developed a space program.  Even if Jor-El has one of the only long distance reliable interstellar craft, if he also knows that Kryptonian physiology goes all ‘I-am-a-Golden-God’ when sufficiently distanced from their home world/star then that strongly implies that at some point somebody got off-planet far enough to discover this, and returned to talk about it.

So we have a world of people here who know that 1) It is possible to reach the outer limits of their star system using current technology, and 2) When they do so they become nigh-immortal super-beings.

I don’t care how good your secret councils are at keeping secrets, this is the kind of shit that gets around.  People would know about it, there’s just no way around it.  At least in rumor somebody would know, and some private businessman or government entity would build a ship to test it out, because why wouldn’t you?  What part of ‘nigh-immortal super-being’ is not worth investigating?

So, my real question is why was anyone still on Krypton at all when it finally died?  If you knew you’d gain the power and ability to do nearly anything (you know, until the next reboot/retcon) by simply moving away from home, with essentially zero drawback for doing so, who in their right mind would stay home all their life?  Krypton should be a ghost town long before it is destroyed.  The former residents would have either found a new, uninhabited homeworld (or just taken one that belonged to some other species, because who could stop them?) where they could all fly around being ‘super’ together, or just dispersed to the far corners of the universe doing whatever the hell they pleased.

The only way a Kryptonian apocalypse scenario works is if they don’t know they have innate superpowers, if they die in ignorance.  And if Jor-El was, for some reason, the only one who did know, AND knew the world was dying, AND didn’t mention the whole superpowers angle to the world at large, then it means Clark Kent’s birth father was a genocidal megalomaniac.

There, I said it.

Some other little things I’m left wondering from this trailer:

1) If Jor-El knows about the whole leave Krypton, become a god thing, and he does, why would he ever want criminals, like Zod (particularly Zod, who clearly harbors a grudge against his family for reasons that may or may not wind up being similar to those presented in the comics) exiled off-world?  I’d be trying to have them buried in a ‘Chronicles of Riddic’ style oubliette facility as close to the core of Krypton as possible.

2) Curious choice to go against the crystal palace aesthetic established by most previous iterations of Kryptonian architecture and design in favor of what looks like leftover props from the set of ‘Prometheus’.

3) I still think Amy Adams would have made a far better Lana Lang then Lois Lane.  You will never convince me otherwise.

4) Is the ship hovering over (and destroying large swaths of) what I can only assume to be Metropolis being run by Zod, or is this a Brainiac ship?  If it’s the latter, I’m very interested to see where this is all going, if it’s the former then it just seems like a lazy rip off of Nero’s ship/methods from the first Trek reboot.

5) How does Clark shave?  Does Gillette make a kryptonite Mach-3? Heat vision maybe?  But how hot does that need to be?  You see him walking through what looks like an oil rig fire without singing a hair…  And if his heat vision can burn off his hair, wouldn’t that imply it (or anything capable of matching or exceeding its heat) could also rather seriously damage the rest of him as well?

Yes, I’m over-thinking things, I know.  But there you have it.

Very Short Fiction (3)

And the third, and final, contribution I made:

Tom checked his math again, admiring the flow of equations across the large plasma-board in front of him.  It all checked out.  The equations balanced, finally.  The power requirement might be refined a bit, but it should work.

 

“Nope, you missed it.” A low, quick voice said, as if reading Tom’s mind.

 

“Who are you?” Tom asked, spinning to face the tall, yet nondescript man in a white lab coat.

 

“If you listen to me, you’ll find out eventually.  The important thing is you’re about to make the second biggest mistake of time travel,” the stranger said.

 

“Which is?” Tom dumbfoundedly questioned.

 

“You’ve ignored space,” the tall man said with a wave at the plasma-board. “Oh, your equation will work, but only at a fixed point in space.  But this planet, star, and galaxy are all hurtling across the universe at huge speed.  Move, in your equations, even a few seconds temporally in either direction and you end up in deep space.

 

“You need to take relative spatial velocities into account or you’ll only find yourself very disappointed with where you wind up.  Disappointed, and very dead.”

 

“Um, thanks,” Tom replied, more confused than ever, “But why tell me?  If you already know this, why not just publish?”

 

The odd man seemed to choke back a laugh, “What’s that charming colloquialism you humans use?  Avoid observing a complimentary equine’s feeding orifice?  Something like that.  These off-the-shelf translators are terrible with idiomatics.”

 

“Whoa,” Tom’s head was spinning, “Us humans?  So you’re saying you’re not human?”

 

The stranger looked himself over, “This?  Just a complex holographic shell.  Safer for everyone this way.

 

“I understand this is rather a lot to take in, but you’ll just have to trust me.  Rework your math to include spatial velocity in a matrix with time.  Do that and you can go anywhen with relative safety.”

 

“And if I can’t do that?” Tom pressed.

 

“Then you are doomed to fail, I will never have met you in that bar at the Tau Seti Transfer Hub, will currently have no idea who you are, and this conversation will, retroactively, never have happened,” the stranger stated with a grin. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m technically not supposed to be here at all, so I must be going,” he continued.

 

“Best of luck fixing your math problem.  I have every confidence you’ll do it.  Enjoy your first few time jumps.  Just try not to break causality, it’s a right pain to put it back together.”

 

With that, the man turned on his heel and made his way to the lab door.

 

“Wait!” pleaded Tom, “You said the second most common mistake.  What’s the first?”

 

“Don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough,” the stranger reassured him as he stepped into the Science Department hallway.

 

The rookies always do, he thought to himself with a smile as he activated his cronomotivator and slid silently back into the timestream.

Very Short Fiction (2)

Here’s the second submission I made for that micro-fiction, very short story project:

You heard right, I’m the one.  Not just any Recall for hire, I’m the best there is.  There’s not another Recall out there that will, that can, do what I do.  But if you’re here you’ve already figured that out.

Why, the praise, you ask?  It’s simple really; I do it all.  If the price is right you get to remember living your dream, that’s all there is to it.  And, unlike most, I don’t care what your request is, nothing’s off limits.

That’s right, nothing at all.  That, my friend, is the unique service I offer.  See, regular Recalls, they can’t do what I can do.  Some might try, but they just can’t handle the guilt.  It was a safeguard against… well, against me I suppose.  All the recall implants available currently have a forced back-up system built in.  Anything recorded is permanently loaded into the user’s long-term memory.  They can’t forget what they did, no matter what they do, how hard they try.

There were actually several reasons for the hard-code brain backups, don’t get me wrong.  For one, the Recall in question can always redownload the memory package again if the first is lost or corrupted.  For another it made Recalls great for legal work and anything else that required fast, flawless memory.

What the safeguards are really for, though, is the guilt.  See, a typical Recall has to live with the memory they record forever.  They start taking jobs recording and selling memories of, let’s just say, questionable activities and before long those memories just eat them alive.

Not me.  I’m one of a kind.  Literally.  The last prototype Recall still on this side of alive.  These old implants…  not the safest thing a person has ever put in their head.  Burned most of us out.  Maybe electrocuted is a better way to put it, I don’t know, never was all that interested in the specifics.  Physically fried large parts of our brains is what I’m saying.  Killed almost all of us.

I’m the lucky one.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, damn recall implant torched my head good.  But in my case it just burned up the parts that care about things like shame, morality, and crazy things like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.  Oh, and these early implants, no permanent backup system implemented.  I can forget everything.  No PTSD for this little black duck.

Call me what you will, and many have.  Sociopath, lunatic, bastard, clown, I’ve heard it all.  And most of those people are probably right.  But I’m also your man for anything you want to ‘remember’ having done, just so long as your money’s good.

So step right up.  Don’t be afraid.  Well, not of me anyway.  What memories do you want me to make for you?  Drugs, murder, kinky sex stuff?  I don’t judge.  I don’t care.  Hell, pay me in cash and I don’t even need your name (unless using it is part of the memory you want, tend to get that more with the sex stuff…).  Most of the simple requests I can experience and upload to you in a day or two.  Complicated requests may take a week or two.  Still, I take pride in my work, and satisfaction is guaranteed.

So, what will it be?  Come on, I don’t have all day here.

Very Short Fiction (1)

So, a while back, I took part in an exercise in micro-fiction.  Short science fiction stories.  Very short stories.  Under 750 words in fact.  Here is the first of the stories I contributed:

Rhyl looked over the latest readouts from terraforming unit 3.  Everything looked like it was running to spec.  He floated back a bit from the view screens and let a small smile slowly creep across his face.

If this all worked out Rhyl was sure he could retire from planetary engineering altogether and spend the rest of his life writing books and making the rounds on the talk show circuit.  At the very least, he thought, the Council would almost certainly rename this little blue world he sat in orbit around after him.

He was still amazed that the Council had green-lit his plan in the first place.  Maybe the extraterrestrial environmental lobby was growing stronger than he had thought.  Rhyl was not about to pass up the opportunity however it had come about.

If his Incremental Phase Terraforming experiment worked the way he hoped it would it would provide stunning opportunities for scientific study across so many fields; biology, planetary engineering, atmospheric chemistry, exobiological sociology, and geology to name only the most obvious.

Sure, it may not be the most efficient method, but that wasn’t the point.  This was so much more interesting than the typical, five year, process of sterilize, modify, colonize that the engineering units have been employing for generations on newfound, potentially livable worlds.  Efficient, sure, but it made for so many lost opportunities for scientific inquiry.  That loss was nearly enough to make Rhyl cry.

Rhyl’s proposal, especially in his eyes, was far more interesting and ambitious.  Rather than simply wiping the slate clean and starting fresh, Rhyl’s team would slowly adjust conditions on the target planet until they were perfect for supporting colonization.

Depending on the target world the process could potentially take anywhere from decades to centuries in local years.  In the end, the point was to create an ideal colony world while simultaneously giving pre-existing local flora and fauna a chance to evolve or adapt to the new conditions.  ‘The Galaxy’s First Environmentally Friendly Terraforming Project’ was the PR campaign slogan used leading up to the vote on funding the project.

When Rhyl learned which planet had been chosen as the proof of concept for his plan he could not have been more thrilled.  A moderate sized, largely silicate world with a molten iron core, one natural satellite, and enough liquid water to cover nearly 80% of it’s surface (and quite deeply in some places).  Atmospheric carbon levels were far too low and most of the upper-atmospheric ozone would have to go, among other smaller hurdles, but those were minor issues.

The world was also simply crawling with life; billions upon billions of species inhabiting nearly every possible location, only one of which had obtained full sentience.  Rhyl was sure at least some non-insignificant percentage of these species would evolve or adjust to the conditions, which was a simply thrilling prospect for him.

The sentient species could become a problem, but Rhyl doubted it.  They were still quite primitive.  While they had noticed the changes taking place on their planet, they were totally ignorant of the cause.  They had named the events Global Warming and had largely blamed themselves for it.

It didn’t matter, that species was terrestrial, not aquatic, even if they survived they were unlikely to interfere much with Rhyl’s people.  And seeing as the best weapons they had developed thus far were primitive thermonuclear explosives, they really posed no military threat either.

Rhyl’s World, he thought. Much nicer ring to it than the unimaginative name its current dominant species gave it: Dirt, Land… no, Earth that’s it.  No originality.

Thoughts on The Hobbit

Here is a review I wrote up on December 16th of last year, just after getting back from a viewing of The Hobbit.  Figure why not throw it up here:

Some thoughts on a The Hobbit, and a couple trailers that preceded it:  So, we got out to see the first installment of THE HOBBIT this afternoon. I feel like this may be a little silly to have to say about a film based on a bestselling book that is over 50 years old, but there are probably spoilers in here.Before I get to that, however, I wanted to take a moment to mention a bit about two of the movie trailers playing prior to the film, MAN OF STEEL, and STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS. After seeing each of these trailers I’m willing to say that both look like the films will be visually stunning, but where MAN OF STEEL drew me in, INTO DARKNESS really turned me off, and here’s why…

MAN OF STEEL looks to be, finally, giving us what I’ve always wanted from a Superman story; the ‘human’ side. Jonathan and a young Clark Kent discussing the morality of allowing people to die puts the question right out front, should a power like Kal-El’s belong on Earth? Just because you CAN do something, does that mean you MUST, and is it more ‘right’ to act, or to let ‘nature’ take its course? We see Superman in chains, clearly viewed as more a potential threat to man than savior of it. In short, it looks like a film that will dig a little more into the psychology and philosophy behind the titular Man of Steel, the human (Kryptonian?) side of the man, not just the ‘awe shucks’ golden boy on display to this point.

A side note, I did find myself wondering repeatedly during the trailer, “how does Superman shave? Is his hair less indestructible than the rest of him (and if so, why isn’t it burning off of him when we see him covered in flames) or does Gillette make a special line of kryptonite Mach 5 razors just for alien orphans?

INTO DARKNESS… What to say about this? It looks like the movie will be just as visually beautiful as the reboot was a couple years ago. Otherwise, I just kept thinking “oh, look, they’re falling back on THAT Trek plot again.” Everyone (possibly everyone in the universe) is in terrible danger and only one ship, and one captain in the entire galaxy can possible save it. Kirk must save the day (and probably caused the problem to begin with). And when in doubt, destroy the Enterprise. That just seems to be the hallmark of a story that the writers probably ran out of ideas for before they made it through a full 90 minutes worth of plot. The trailer looked nice, but left me feeling decidedly ‘meh’.

And now, onto the main course. Here are my thoughts on THE HOBBIT:On the technical side, we saw the film in 3D 48fps, and it looked great. The 3d was done the way I like it, unobtrusively. It was used to add real depth to the world as a whole, not simple sight gags or set pieces. Did it add enough to justify the extra ticket price? Probably not, but I neither have, nor plan to buy a 3D TV anytime in the future, so I figure if I want to see this version of the film, it was now or never. And as far as the 48fps goes, it looked fine. Yes, it had a somewhat smoother look overall than standard cinematic fare, but that didn’t make it look any less epic. It honestly barely registered, and if every professional critic in the world hadn’t acted like it would be the cinematographic equivalent of the Mayan apocalypse, I wouldn’t have even thought twice about it.

But enough about the technical side, what I really wanted to get into was the, you know, content of the film.  And overall, I really liked what I saw.  First thing’s first, this is not really just The Hobbit. Anyone looking for just The Hobbit is best off watching the mostly excellent animated version released back in 1977. This is The Hobbit+. What is the ‘+’ you ask? That would be large swaths of the appendix to The Lord of the Rings and just the faintest touch of The Silmarillion for good measure. The long and short of it is Tolkien had a lot more going on in Middle Earth during the time of The Hobbit, but wanted to keep that book a relatively clean children’s narrative, and left those stories on the cutting room floor as it were. Well, all that fictional history made its way into the ridiculously detailed appendices for LOTR, and they have, in turn, made it into Peter Jackson’s HOBBIT (with some artistic license taken to shoehorn in a familiar face).

The heart of the story is identical to the text. Homebound hobbit Bilbo Baggins is recruited somewhat against his will into a company of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their home from the dragon that stole it from them. The story has been given a new beginning, which acts solely as a tie-in to Jackson’s previous Tolkien adaptations, setting a scene which would have occurred just prior to the events of those films, and reintroducing us to the familiar faces of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and the 111-year-old Bilbo (Ian Holm). The story then proceeds in flashback form with the 51-year-old Bilbo (Martin Freeman) meeting Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and shortly thereafter a stream of dwarves.

I’ll be perfectly honest, most of the dwarves blend together. Each has a distinct look, but most don’t have the slightest hint of character development or ‘moments’ in the film. To be fair, they don’t in the book either. They are seemingly designed to be seat-fillers, and interchangeable. The only ones that are really given a truly unique voice are Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Stott), and the brothers Fili (Dean O’Goreman) and Kili (Aiden Turner). That leaves a lot of faces I couldn’t put a name to if I tried, but it isn’t something that really hurts the narrative.

I had heard early on that Jackson intended to keep the songs from the book in the film, and wasn’t sure how they would play out. They play out well. Other than the ridiculous nature of “Blunt the Knives” to begin with, it plays well. And the dwarves beautifully somber rendition of “Misty Mountains” actually sent chills down my spine. Again, with the exception of the choreography behind the first song/set-piece it all felt really organic.

Besides the additions to the story from the appendices, there were some notable changes from the text (that my kids were fast to point out), and while I can see why they were done, I’m still finding myself a little conflicted about how I feel about them. They do make sense from a narrative, and ‘realism’ standpoint.

The orc hunters sub-plot is new, if the characters are not, and it was seemingly just set in place as an added push to keep the dwarves moving forward at a good clip (they spend days/weeks camped out in various places doing little but blowing smoke rings during the book, which reads all well and good as the story of 14 people wandering the wilderness, but kills the pace of an adventure movie). More than that however, they exist for an expository reason. Jackson has clearly decided that, while some people can speak to animals, they can’t speak English back. This poses a problem when large swaths of dialog in the source material are spoken by wargs, eagles, spiders, and the like. Setting a talking creature on top of each warg solves that problem.

The one change I’m least sure of I can still at least understand. That would be the encounter with the Trolls. In the book, this is Bilbo’s first real chance to prove his worth to the dwarves after their capture. Here, yes, he does show off his wits a bit, but he is far more responsible for the dwarves’ predicament than for their release, as it is Gandalf doing the ‘real work’. It sets up another ‘new’ scene later on in which the hobbit really does step up, and also serves to point out exactly how badass these warriors really are, but I sort of miss the ventriloquist argument.

The storm giant battle in the mountains seemed both overdone and over-indulgent, just an excuse to blow a few hundred thousand dollars on five minutes of effects. It would have fit in better in a God of War game, but what came after was nonstop action and a lot of fun.

The goblins are all cgi, and not always particularly well done (at least by the standards WETA have set for themselves), but they come at you so fast and in such great number you hardly have time to process it. The escape from the mountain is ridiculous, implausible, laughs in the face of physics and all logic, and is unabashed fun from start to finish.

And while all this madness is going on, just down below we get what is probably THE signature scene in all of Tolkien’s works: the riddle contest.

Andy Serkis reprises his role as the schizophrenic Gollum, and the beast is brilliant. I would go back just for that scene to be honest. It was fun, funny, creepy, and paced perfectly. You can feel the tension and fear in Bilbo, the frustration, rage, and madness in Gollum. The interplay between the characters is wonderful, and the desperation in both men (hobbit/things) one to escape, the other to find the one thing he still cares about in the world, is palpable.

When it was all said and done the whole family came out of the theater entertained and already looking forward to the second installment next year.

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