The Films I've Watched This Year #48

Film What already? Well, yes, with the #garaiwatch run on, here I am again just five days later.  Feels a bit strange still posting these during the other project which is going on, not least because whatever everyone else is writing is consistently more interesting, literate and well, alive, than whatever's in these containers.  I'm still debating whether I should produce one myself, though there's an inevitability to not just the fact that I probably should but also the topic which in and of itself feels like a cop-out.  Also watched this week so far: the final episode of The Newsroom in which Sorkin very much realised that no ending would be entirely satisfactory so fell back on a tried and tested formula, three episodes of The Box of Delights which for all its magic still leads me to say "Please ... thank you" at the screen ever five minutes due to the lack of manners on display and SHIELD which meanders onward revealing odd moments of brilliance intermixed with horrifyingly prosaic exposition which clearly exists because it's on US network television and assumes a vast proportion of its audience is stupid, even though its the same theoretical audience which watched House in their droves.  Still no announcement from Channel 4 on whether they have the rights to Agent Carter.  Marvel UK's twitter people don't know either.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Edge of Tomorrow

Liverpool Echo and Mirror columnist Gary Bainbridge is about where I am with Love Actually when it comes to Elf and his blog based evisceration led to his first television appearance.  Having finally seen the thing, for all its reputation, it's impossible not to agree with him.  It's not horrible, not in the same way as most of Will Ferrell's films are, a talent with whom I have a serious sense of humour bypass at the best of times (his best film is still Melinda and Melinda) (yes, it is) but most of the jokes were done better and more logically earlier in The Jerk in relation to his adoption and later by Enchanted when considering his naivety of spirit within the city (with a touch of Big and so 13 Going on 30 for good measure).  As with many of Farrell's films, few of the gags are unexpected, most of them go on far too long as do the scenes and although it's easy to dismiss the thing as probably being best viewed at eight years old, as Gary notices there's plenty of content which is age inappropriate.  On the upside, James Caan is clearly having a ball playing a version of his Mickey Blue Eyes character and an amazingly blonde Zooey's a pleasure as ever, even if there's barely anything for her to do and her character makes very little sense.  Sigh.

None of which was really helped by having watched The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies with its rather more majestic revisionist take on elves.  On one of the earlier blu-rays there's a documentary about how Tolkien and now Jackson have redefined what an elf is.  Not at Christmas in department stores, which is odd when you consider when all of these Lord of the Rings related films have been released.  Having had a glance back through this blog's archives, there's a lack of consistency to reviewing the films.  Fellowship of the Ring has no commentary.  The Two Towers has a weird rebuttle to critics and a prescient paragraph about ensemble films which prefigures my dissertation, Return of the King has a giddy paragraph, An Unexpected Journey is mentioned in my 2012 film choice, Smaug's first appearance is in issue 29 of this series and I covered the extended versions of both films a few weeks ago.  I saw The Two Towers at the Filmworks in Manchester when it was still owned by UCI, Return of the King at FACT Screen One, An Unexpected Journey in FACT Screen Two, Smaug on Netflix in my bedroom and Battle back at FACT Screen One in pretty much the same seat.  For the life of me I can't remember where I saw Fellowship.  Perhaps The Filmworks?  An Odeon?  Nope, no idea.

Either way, here we are almost at the other end of the franchise and if you're asking for a short answer on the third film in the series of six, it's a disappointment.  But, and it's important to say this, I was disappointed with both of the earlier films in their theatrical versions but then found the extended versions far superior.  In each case, and I appreciate some of you will find this statement ludicrous, the problem with the theatrical versions of these films is that they're too short.  Without the credits, Battle is only about two hours and ten minutes which makes it the leanest of the films and in places this leaness is at the expense of coherence.  There are moments when it's possible to lose track of exactly where characters are in relation to one another within the landscape.  At one point I had assumed Thranduil to be somewhere other than where he cropped up and there are other characters, built up heavily in the earlier films who just drop out and it's easy to assume that they're in the extended version waiting to shine.  Perhaps that's part of the problem - there are story elements which only properly exist in the extended versions and having recently watched those my brain was waiting for their resolution in a version of the story in which they were never included.

In other words the theatrical version of Battle feels like an advert for the extended version and we won't properly get to see the film until next November when its released more fully for the home.  Which isn't to say this version doesn't have its high points.  Not wanting to even attempt to improve on the battles of the previous films, Jackson instead profitably embraces the aesthetic of table top war games and so the digital equivalents with massive blocks of identical elves and dwarves and orcs doing battle with aerial shots which also resemble the historical simulations from some Dan Snow documentaries.  Thorin descent into madness is also well achieved, shooting him with the chambers of gold using many of the same shot choices of Smaug.  Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel is again one of the highlights, and the resolution of that storyline is perfectly judged if considered within the context of the whole series.  There are few moments which have the jaw dropping, gut wrenching, tear inducing majesty of the Olifants in Return of the King and such, but with ten years of other filmmaking between and Game of Thrones our expectations have increased somewhat in relation to what we expect to be possible using modern special effects techniques.

In the duff column there's Ryan Gage's Alfrid who Jackson is clearly very enamoured with and thinks is hilarious and so has given plenty more to do despite him being a sigh inducing one-note pantomime antagonist of the kind that used to weigh down Disney films in their fallow years.  This is doubly annoying because the moments when this made up character is doing rubbish things are at the expense of more action between the dwarfs many of whom are reduced to standing around and reacting in a way which would surely have been their position throughout the story if Jackson had just made one film from the book as some people who know nothing about how films are made have suggested.  Again it's entirely possible this will be resolved in the extended version.  My other gripe is just how horrible the film looks on the big screen.  Whether due to me watching it in a 2D version, or as a byproduct of having to convert the material from 48fps to 24fps effectively replacing every other frame with a copy of the one before it, large sections look not unlike an upscaled dvd on a massive flatscreen, or the equivalent.  I'm sure I saw anti-aliasing and edge enhancement in the places.  During a close-up in one key scene an actor's skin has all the detail of an impressionist painting.

Well, so, yes, it's fine.  Brilliant in places, but it'll probably only really make sense when watched as episode three in a six part series which as Jackson himself notes in the BD commentaries was his aim.  Even after the extended version of this release next year, I still don't think it'll be the last we see of the series and don't mean that we'll see The Silmarillion some time soon.  While I don't think he's a tinkerer on the Lucas scale of doing things, I'll be very surprised if we don't see another version of all six films at some point in the future with even more material filmed and previously discarded edited back in or even pick-ups created secretly during The Hobbit shoot to be added into the later films.  He says he won't, but given how much work has gone into dovetailing The Hobbit into Lord of the Rings, there must be part of him that wants to replace Ian Holm with Martin Freeman in the key Bilbo flashback.  It's for these reasons I still haven't upgraded my original dvds.  Having already bought about nine different versions of Star Wars across the years I've well learnt my lesson.

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