July 14, 2011
Action, Fantasy, Film
Alan Rickman, Alexandre Desplat, Daniel Radcliffe, David Thewlis, David Yates, Deathly Hallows, Emma Thompson, Emma Watson, Evanna Lynch, Film, film music, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hedwig's Theme, Helena Bonham-Carter, Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, John Williams, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Matthew Lewis, Michael Gambon, movies, Nicholas Hooper, Part 2, picture, poster, Ralph Fiennes, review, Robbie Coltrane, Rupert Grint, score, soundtrack, Steve Kloves
To talk about the end of an era is probably an understatement. The extent to which J.K. Rowling’s books and their subsequent adaptions for the silver screen have impacted teenage culture is a phenomenon quite beyond compare. For the countless fans who have grown up with their beloved characters, this final half of a chapter marks the end of a decade of midnight queueing, hopes, fears and expectations as all the emotional ballast of seven predecessors sets down on Part 2’s shoulders. For those loyally devoted and indeed for the filmmakers and our trio of protagonists it will be a bittersweet ending as they come to terms with the fact that it really does all end here as the teaser posters touted. To live up to such hype is no easy task for any filmmaker but as before, director David Yates and his crew of muggles have diligently captured the magic of the series that only the books themselves can top.
After the rather slowly paced “Part 1,” this hits the ground running and very rarely lets up throughout as out hero and his friends hunt for the final horcruxes and do battle with the dark lord and his minions. After a dangerous journey to the high-security wizard bank Gringotts, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) make it to Hogwarts. Their presence cannot go unnoticed however and soon You Know Who (Ralph Fiennes) and Co are on their way to attack the castle and settle things once and for all. There follows a desperate race against time as all the remaining wizards try to keep the forces of evil at bay while trying to find and destroy those bits of Voldemort’s soul with which he cannot be truly killed. It’s an action-spectacle of the highest order, that maintains a breakneck pace and almost non-stop carnage. And heavy stuff it is too: Hogwarts is being blasted to rubble, the Quidditch pitch burns, so much that we and the characters have come to love is under serious threat here. With such few moments of respite, the racing story draws on the viewer as each and every character reaches his or her own personal climax within the sprawling and incredibly dense plot.
Yates and Steve Kloves’ screenplay manage to walk that fine line of balancing very moving and personal moments amidst the action and this will ultimately prove the real payoff for fans. With such an enormous supporting cast that includes Maggie Smith (sorely missed in previous episodes), Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, David Thewlis and so many more besides, it’s good news that room has been found and the need for closure recognised even for minor characters. Matthew Lewis as Neville and Evanna Lynch as Luna too, both long regarded as some of the finer casting choices among the “child” actors, get to shine in their roles. Perhaps most satisfying of all is the detour that’s taken (at a climatic point nonetheless) to finally reveal the motivation behind Alan Rickman’s shady and complicated Snape. It’s a very fitting send-off and it’s worth seeing the film purely for this as it perfectly embodies the sense of magic, wonder and drama present in the books as a whole. Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe manages to hold it all together even though his personal tale threatens to be overshadowed by the sheer scale of things. Hie performance is perfectly judged and never gives in to sentimentality. A few tears may well flow.
The film is not perfect by any means though the few flaws are much more easily forgivable that in the previous film. For instance, intimate knowledge of the plot is a prerequisite and non-fans will have their work cut out for them in trying to follow who, what and when. Despite being only half a book, Rowling has so much ground to cover that incredulously the film seems rushed at times. The lengthy battle between Harry and Voldemort is a prime suspect here, one that could have been more cleverly devised and could have peeled the villain’s “pure evil” aspect back to reveal his insecurity and motives for being evil in the first place. Furthermore, Yates is unsure as how to handle the resolution of the present-day story, first needing to explain an important plot point gets in the way of what it all means for the protagonists’ journeys. Were it not for the excellent epilogue, the emotional climax could even have been described as underwhelming. However, fans can be forgiven for passing over these minor detriments and in reality, they do not hurt the film in any great capacity.
Also returning for this final chapter is French composer Alexandre Desplat. His score for “Part 1” was polarising, some fans praising his orchestral diversity and style while others bemoaned his failure to establish a musical coherency for the franchise as a whole. His music for “Part 2” lives in a similar situation with very solid action music and reprisal of his own themes from the first part. These aspects are presented on the soundtrack album but in the film go somewhat unnoticed. This is because in several key scenes, by choice of either Desplat or the filmmakers, music by John Williams (and at one point Nicholas Hooper) composed for the first two films is simply inserted by copy and paste. The reasoning for this is debatable but the suspicion arises that Desplat’s score, while full of finesse, could not pack the emotional punch Yates was looking for and the album presentation of new music would support that argument. Unfortunately for Desplat, Williams’ music is far superior and as viewers leave the theatre “Hedwig’s Theme” is what they will remember. It’s disappointing that Desplat could not incorporate the existing themes with his own and make for a rounded and ultimately more satisfying listening experience. As it stands, the album is very enjoyable but hearing it in the film makes us nostalgic for what could have been if the great maestro John Williams had returned to score the final chapter.
“Deathly Hallows” 2.0 is everything the fan-base could have hoped for, delivering a worthy conclusion to one of the decade’s most defining franchises. Sadly, it is the end of an era and it’s time to say good bye.
Score on Album
I hope you all enjoy going to see Harry Potter in the theatres. Why not share this review with your friends in advance on Facebook and Twitter? Thank you all for reading. Now, accio DVD boxset!
March 14, 2011
Action, Adventure, Epic/Historical, Fantasy, Film
3D, Alexa Davolas, Andromeda, Aphrodite, Armageddon, CGI, Clash of the Titans, Craig Armstrong, Crimson Tide, Elizabeth McGovern, Film, film music, Gemma Arterton, Greece, Hades, Hans Zimmer, Iron Man, Kraken, Liam Cunningham, Liam Neeson, Lord of the Rings, Louis Leterrier, Mads Mikkelsen, Massive Attack, Michael Bay, movies, Neil Davidge, Oscars, Perseus, Pete Postlethwaite, picture, Pirates of the Caribbean, poster, Ralph Fiennes, Ramin Djawadi, Ray Harryhausen, review, Sam Worthington, score, soundtrack, The Rock, The Transporter, Transformers, Warner Bros., Zeus
Just because we haven’t had enough of sequels and reboots already, Warner Brothers felt it necessary to push out a remake of the 1981 film of the same name into a spring season desperately lacking in good action material. Not that the original adaption of the Perseus myth was much good either, but it is fondly remembered by some for Ray Harryhausen’s quite excellent puppeteering effects. For the remake, the monsters of ancient Greece would be created in the computer, and Warners appointed director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter), assembled a cast with considerable talent and invested significant buck that included a late conversion to 3D to cash in on the post-Avatar hype. On arrival however, it quickly became apparent that the film would fail to fulfil even the lowest of expectations and come to represent the very worst that Hollywood has to offer. It is, to apply mythological rationale, a scourge of the underworld.
Perseus (Sam Worthington) is raised by the fishermen (Pete Postlethwaite and Elizabeth McGovern) who found him with his dead mother, unaware that he is in fact a Demigod, the son of Zeus himself (played by Liam Neeson). After they are killed, Perseus finds his way to the city of Argos, the population of which are angry with the endless squabbles of the Gods. Angry at loosing the humans’ love, Zeus sends Hades, God of the underworld (Ralph Fiennes) to threaten the city. If the king’s daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), whose beauty has been compared to that of Aphrodite, is not sacrificed in three days, then Hades will unleash the most terrible beast he has created, the Kraken. After learning of his true lineage, Perseus leads a band of warriors that includes Mads Mikkelsen and Liam Cunningham to exploit a possible loophole in Hades’ plan and thus save the city. There’s a bunch of other stuff, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s all just an excuse to cue one battle and action sequence after the other. Forget such worn out things as plot twists, clever dialogue or, dare we imagine it, character development, “Clash of the Titans” doesn’t need brains, this is about brawn, sculpted abs and overblown action. In many ways it’s masquerading as “Transformers” with mini-skirts, steroids and scorpions but on examination, Michael Bay’s flicks are highly intellectual stuff compared to this.
Not only is the action exceptionally brainless, as it’s presented without any cohesive flow, construction or narrative, the film presents a mish-mash of bits taken from different (and often more accomplished) films: The scorpions and their masters bear resemblance to the Oliphaunts in “The Lord of the Rings” while several gags and of course the Kraken are blatantly borrowed from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The Kraken may be a genuine feature of mythology but its implementation in the latter was infinitely more frightening than some of the shoddy CGI and green-screen work on show here. Furthermore, the film becomes an exercise in wasting as much acting talent as possible. Imagine the possibilities with two masters like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes on screen as arch enemies Zeus and Hades. Similarly Sam Worthington, complete with buzz-cut and Australian accent delivers a performance that is so cold he may as well have been turned to stone by Medusa. Never, not once does he, or the screenplay for that matter, make any attempts at believable exposition. And Gemma Arterton’s Io is about as interesting as the lacklustre conversion into the third dimension. What, beyond the promise of a large cheque would force these actors to take on projects like this, is beyond comprehension. A disaster like “Clash of the Titans” simply isn’t worth wasting your time, because not only does it show disrespect for the original (a poor thing in any remake), it is in effect giving the finger to the viewer who was dumb enough to see it. After all, it made Warners over $150 million at the box office. There are dumb action pictures that are well made and entertaining, this is a dumb action picture that is badly made and the most unbelievable bore.
Originally set to score “Clash of the Titans,” was Scotsman Craig Armstrong who had worked with Leterrier before on “The Incredible Hulk,” and who was in desperate need of such a large-scale film to show off his talents. As is the way in Hollywood however, Armstrong’s music was rejected at the last minute, making way for yet another of Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control offspring. Ramin Djawadi and a team of ghostwriters provide a score that is just as cheap as the film, hammering out the same sound prevalent since “Crimson Tide” way back in 1995. Quite apart from the fact that the sound of electric guitars (a “collaboration” with Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge features) and synthesised bass has nothing whatsoever to do with ancient Greece, this music is just a cheap and botched repackaging of a familiar sound, more headache-inducing than everything that went before with the exception of Djawadi’s equally obnoxious “Iron Man.” There’s no point describing anything about it, you can listen to “The Rock,” “Armageddon,” “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” and you won’t notice the difference.
To call “Clash of the Titans” poor fare is very much an understatement. You’ll be glad to know that sequels are already in the works so we’ll only have to suffer through the same again twice more. Somewhere in the film’s flabby middle, and in a small attempt to insert a witty line, Liam Cunningham is asked how old a certain creature might be. His reply: “I don’t care.” And neither will you.
I suggest you never see this film. If however you did happen to like it, please leave a comment and tell me why I’m wrong. Feel free to follow me on Twitter or share this review with your friends. Just hit the buttons below. Thanks and all the best!
March 3, 2011
Animated, Comedy, Fantasy, Film, Musical/Dance
Aardman, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Sarandon, Coraline, Danny Elfman, Edward Scissorhands, Fall Out Boy, Film, film music, Henry Selick, Jack Sellington, Ken Page, Marilyn Manson, movies, Nightmare Before Christmas, Oogie Boogie, picture, poster, review, score, soundtrack, This is Halloween, Tim Burton, What's This
It’s a commonly held misconception that Tim Burton directed “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” And while the directorial reins were in fact taken by Henry Selick who would later go on to direct “Coraline,” the immensely successful film does have the former’s thumbprint all over it. Indeed, it is defining of Burton’s filmic style and imagination and has over the past fifteen years not only become synonymous with his name but also with a whole generation of goth and emo sub-culture taking inspiration from his zany visuals. Established as a cult classic of sorts and certainly not everybody’s cup of tea, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” masquerades as a children’s movie when really it is everything but, containing the sort of dark humour that is firmly aimed at an adult audience, yet doing away with the endless pop-culture references that would suffocate some of the animated genre in the new millennium. Originally conceived as a poem by Tim Burton in his days as an animator, the film tells its story as a musical and with over 200 puppets animated through stop-motion that owes a lot of similarities to the British Aardman studio.
In a fantasy world where every holiday season or occasion is run by its own town, we are introduced to Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon and Danny Elfman) and his gang of monsters, demons, ghosts and other nasties responsible for Halloween. And although he’s the Pumpkin King, Jack is tired of the endless scares and feels that something is missing in his life. After a chance discovery of “Christmas town” he becomes obsessed with this second holiday, introduces it to his friends and decides that this year he wants Christmas for himself. The citizens of Halloween are well meaning and eagerly prepare, unaware that their unconventional methods will ruin the festive season for everyone else. As a complication, the head of Christmas town, the brilliantly named Sandy Claws is kidnapped and ends up in the hands of the dangerous Oogie Boogey (Ken Page). Only the efforts of rag-doll Sally (Catherine O’Hara) who has feelings for Jack might be able to set things right on time. The tale is exactly as weird and crooked as it sounds and is brilliantly staged from start to finish. Credit is due to Burton, Selick and indeed all the animators who executed such an uncanny concept with a love that shows on screen in all the tiny details (most of which will probably go unnoticed on a first viewing) of their twisted fairytale.
The character creation and production design is at the forefront of the film’s quirky charm – just think of that iconically twirled hilltop – although it is divisive in so far as it will be a deterrent to some viewers, as it will entice others. That is not to say “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a love it or hate it affair. Except for younger children that is, who will probably spill some tears on the filmmakers’ gleeful destruction of their favourite holiday. But therein lies the genius of the film: So different is its approach, it is instantly memorable. The portrayal of Oogie Boogie’s casino-like lair in the film’s second half is at odds with the rest of the film’s visuals and his song too does not fit in although of course a boogie would the most appropriate kind. Curiously a sub-plot between Sally and her creator, the mad scientist Dr. Finklestein is also left hanging in the ropes at the film’s conclusion, offering no closure. But then, these are small detractions and do not affect the overall impact of the film that is a very positive one.
The film’s other great strength of course, lies in the artistic talents of a certain Danny Elfman who not only wrote all the songs and underscore but also voices several of the characters including Skellington Jack. His vision has always been at one with Tim Burton’s and is very much in evidence as images and music are clearly tailored for each other. From the opening “This is Halloween,” wondrous discovery of “What’s This?” to the lament that is “Sally’s Song,” Elfman’s music overflows with theme and style that is deeply emotional as it is off-kilter and schizophrenic. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as well as earlier collaboration with Burton on “Edward Scissorhands,” forms the culmination of the composer’s career. Which of the two tops the list will differ for every listener but “Nightmare” has an exceptionally strong case with beautiful thematic music that perpetrates the underscore as well as the show-piece songs. Elfman’s abilities to combine the two is demonstrated by the strong end-credits suite that neatly sums up all the main ideas from the film. On album, the score has received several treatments, but sadly all of Disney’s double-disc efforts have yielded only disappointing and in some cases truly terrible remixes of the Marilyn Manson and Fall Out Boy kind. Restricted to the first disc however, you will be treated to a masterpiece not only in the animated or musical film genres but some extremely sticky (in a good sense) material. By rights it demands its place in every score collection.
This is truly a film that needs to be seen to be believed. And that is by no means a criticism: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a visual treat and can transcend the sub-cultures that adore it most and be appreciated by the regular viewer. It’s Tim Burton at his demented best. Except it’s not Tim Burton. Oh stop…
Songs & Score
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February 5, 2011
Adventure, Fantasy, Film
Adaptation, All is Love, Being John Malkovich, Carol, Carter Burwell, Dave Eggers, Film, film music, James Gandolfini, Karen O, Katherine Keener, Maurice Sendak, Max, Max Records, movies, Oscars, picture, poster, review, score, soundtrack, Spike Jonze, The Kids, Where the Wild Things Are
The live action version of Maurice Sendak’s illustrated children’s book, in development and production trouble for many years, finally made it to the screen in late 2009. For director and co-writer Spike Jonze, its completion marked the end of a very personal tale, the story of Max the explorer story occupied almost a decade of his life. For the rather short and almost completely word-less source material not only required expansion to fill a feature-length film, the sense of adventure, and spirit of the novel would be forever lost with a director not entirely at one with Sendak’s vision and the fertile imagination of a child. Certainly, Jonze’s previous projects, oddity pictures like “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” showed offbeat character that captured the imaginations of moviegoers while at the same time remaining technically sharp and highly intelligent.
After being disobedient towards his mother (Katherine Keener), bright, wild and enthusiastic eight-year-old Max (new discovery Max Records) runs away from home, still dressed in his wolf costume. Finding a small boat, he sails out of its pond and out over the ocean expanses, landing on an island inhabited by wild monsters. After convincing them not to eat him and telling of his otherworldly powers, the “wild things” make Max their king and part of their lives. Led by the friendly and cuddly but easily hurt Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), the fantasy monsters are themselves childlike in their behaviour, each one representing one of Max’s wildly swinging emotions from hyperactive exhilaration to deep hurt. Together the eccentric troupe stage a wild rumpus, dirt-clod wars, build a fort and all sleep in a big pile, at times having great fun but again and again disagreeing and eventually turning against Max as they realise he has no powers to take away all their sadness. It is by all accounts a twisted fairytale but one that is so incredibly charming we cannot help but fall in love with the ins and outs of these wild things, Jonze’s world expertly designed and a treat to look at.
Created with a combination of animatronic puppets for their bodies and computer generated imagery for facial expressions, the wild things are scary yet entirely loveable. All their distinct characters have been properly fleshed out to make the wild things island come alive in a way that is most true to Sendak’s creations. The film’s real stroke of genius lies in Max Records however. As always with child actors, the lines between acting per se and real behaviour are blurred but Records impresses both through an excellent range of emotions and the sort of utter believability that never for one second wavers. Potentially quite scary for young children – as all fairytales are in essence – Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ extended plot is laden with metaphors about childhood, adulthood, freedom and responsibility that will have adult viewers yearn back to as well as contemplate their childhood in a deeper manner than before. Some of the film’s harsher moments are indeed disturbing and traumatic, Max’s own destructive tendencies as well as the destruction of his igloo and Carol’s miniature creation. The overarching sense of concern though is completely at one with many children’s world views – as excellently portrayed in an early classroom scene. Children tease out these fundamental and philosophical questions as we adults do, childhood innocence is something we perhaps misunderstand. Do not be deterred however, “Where the Wild Things Are” never attempts to lecture, simply to portray the pendulum of childhood emotions and always incredibly charming.
The film’s soundtrack consists of original songs written and performed by Karen O and the Kids as well as a score by Carter Burwell. Karen O’s vocals are very well suited to the spirit of the story Jonze is portraying, a sort of childlike humming that is memorable and likeable from the outset. Whistling, as well as light guitars and percussion make up highlights such as “All is Love” on the album. In the film itself, the music is occasionally placed too high in the mix, drowning up some of the monsters’ dialogue. Burwell’s contributions can be found on a separate all-score album. Despite containing some exceptional Violin and piano work in “We Love You So” and harmonic mystery in “Sailing,” neither the score nor the songs can never quite muster the same likability factor as the visuals and remains a minor disappointment. That said, the song album in particular may very well be enjoyed separate from the film and can function almost as a solo album.
It is impossible not to like “Where the Wild Things Are” and Spike Jonze has created a charming fairytale that will appeal to almost everyone. Some fans of the book may be disappointed at the changing of a key plot-point (Max is sent to bed without dinner as his mother calls him a wild thing), this has little impact on the film’s standing as an expertly told children’s fantasy tale.
Songs & Score
There’s a wild thing in all of us! Why not leave a comment with your thoughts? Also please share with your friends on Facebook and twitter – just hit the share buttons. You’re the best!
November 30, 2010
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Film
DVD, Extended Edition, Film, film music, Howard Shore, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Noble, Lord of the Rings, movies, Peter Jackson, picture, review, score, Sean Bean, soundtrack, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Return of the King, The Two Towers, Tolkien, Tom Bombadil
This is a review of the 2003 4-disc Extended Special Edition. For my review of the cinematic cut click here.
Living up to the expectations set by its predecessor, Peter Jackson and Co’s presentation of “The Two Towers” in its extended form, is an absolute mammoth of a picture. Coming in at 223 minutes (compared to the 179 theatrical cut), both Tolkien and film fans will be delighted to be able to explore the canvas of the story and its making in awesome detail. Just like the films continue to set new standards for cinema, so have these extended DVD sets defined just how these “director’s cuts” should be made. Jackson has argued that “director’s cut” is not in fact the right term to describe this extended edition as it is simply a different and longer interpretation of Tolkien’s source text.
And as has been noted when reviewing “The Fellowship of the Ring” Extended Edition, several sequences have been restructured to accommodate the extra material although in this second chapter it is, most of the time, a case of extension and insertion rather than reediting. These extra scenes add a bit of everything: There’s more battles, blood and gore with a sequence at the gap of Rohan where Theoden son was fatally injured, more humour, largely through Merry and Pippin with a neat little Tom Bombadil tribute at Fangorn. For purists and obsessive fans there’s also some great back-story scenes, mainly enlarging Faramir’s part through his brother’s victory at Osgiliath and subsequent departure for Rivendell. Thus Sean Bean gets another chance to make his mark on the series, his part of Boromir cut short by some Uruk arrows at the end of “Fellowship” and we get our first glimpse of John Noble’s Denethor. His father role will of course come to fuller development in “The Return of the King”.
In certain places however, the extra material confounds the different plot strands. The pacing is slowed even more in a film that was already a little slow in it’s middle section. There’s even more walking around endlessly in Emyn Muil for Frodo and Sam, never getting any closer to Mordor whatsoever. If you’re prepared to sit out the awesome running-time however, you will be truly rewarded at the end as Jackson has in no way lost his talents for storytelling. The score too, is seamlessly incorporated into the existing material. Never before has a composer gone back to rewrite and rerecord portions of his score to suit a special edition. And Shore’s job is by no mean a cut and paste one, the new music sounds like it was always meant to be there. All this combined makes for a truly mouthwatering finale and climax in “The Return of the King”.
Non-fans will probably complain at its length but really this is moviemaking at its glorious best. Offering more of everything, this box-set deserves its place in our collections alongside the trilogy’s bookends and among the greatest fantasy films of all time. No fantasy films do it better.
November 29, 2010
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Film
Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill, Billy Boyd, Brad Dourif, David Wenham, Dominic Monaghan, Elijah Wood, Film, film music, Fran walsh, Gollum, Hardanger, Howard Shore, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Rhys-Davies, Karl Urban, Lord of the Rings, Miranda Otto, movies, Orlando Bloom, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, picture, poster, review, score, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, soundtrack, The Complete Recordings, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Return of the King, The Two Towers, Tolkien, Viggo Mortensen, WETA
Even while “The Fellowship of the Ring” was still on it’s theatrical run in late 2001 and early 2002, loved by critics and audiences the world over and almost instantly finding its way onto most best film lists, we were quick to realise that this awesome three-hour epic fantasy was but an opening salvo. The true scale and the real battles of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy would only become apparent in the second two chapters. And while any doubts in Peter Jackson’s filmmaking talents were quickly cast into Mount Doom, “The Two Towers” is still considered the somewhat difficult middle chapter, lacking both the strong opening and conclusion present in the trilogy’s bookends.
Launching us straight into the action, with literally no introduction or summary of what has previously happened, Jackson treats the film exactly as it should be: One long story, simply subdivided. And from the outset it becomes clear that the continuation is altogether more complex and considerably darker. Where “Fellowship” functioned as a road movie of sorts, “The Two Towers” sees our heroes take on separate journeys. And unlike the book where the plots are clearly separated, it makes sense to have the different strands be intercut. Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) continue their long journey towards Mordor, tracked and then joined by the twisted and deceitful Gollum, played to perfection by motion capture pro Andy Serkis. Thus, using a combination of performance, voice and computer magic courtesy of Weta, Gollum aka Smeagol is without a doubt Jackson’s trump card for “The Two Towers”. Not only does the gangly creature look and behave in a manner that is photo-real, it is also the sort of pioneering work that has permanently changed the parameters of what is possible. And while the technical aspects of Gollum’s inception will be praised by most, it is important to note that like the rest of the trilogy, Jackson never gets carried away with a gimmick like this: Gollum is a fully fledged character, and one of the trilogy’s strongest pulling points in terms of different emotions. All kudos to Serkis here – it’s an utterly fantastic performance. The One Ring also is growing more powerful. It begins to take hold of Frodo who sees, in Gollum, what he may become if he should fail in his task.
Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd) meanwhile, after managing to escape captivity, find their way into Fangorn forest and befriend one of Tolkien’s greatest creations: a walking, talking tree. Not a tree technically, an Ent. The Hobbit duo still provide most of the film’s humour but are now forced to fend for themselves, no longer are the other heroes around to protect them. Together they must persuade the Ents to go to war and aid their friends, a task proved difficult by the fact that Ents are by nature very slow and thoughtful. It’s in these scenes in particular that “The Two Towers” sometimes loses the edge and exhilarating sense of adventure that “Fellowship” possessed. The pacing is slowed right down, through the Ent bits but also through Frodo’s encounter with Faramir (David Wenham), brother to the deceased Boromir (Sean Bean). There’s a lot of walking hither and thither, without ever getting any closer to destroying the Ring. Jackson is being highly faithful to the book of course, which isn’t a bad thing and viewers will be so caught up in the story, that the three-hour run-time will still fly by. “The Two Towers” is by no means above criticism in this regard but the problems are minor and it should be remembered that with a film before and after it, it fulfils its purpose excellently. In fact keeping these meandering storylines in check is testament to the writing genius of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
Finally, we follow the journey of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli who track the Uruk-hai holding Merry and Pippin captive and are thus introduced to the world of men, namely the kingdom of Rohan. Aided by the new and improved Gandalf (Ian McKellen returns from his “death” in Moria as Gandalf the white), they travel to Edoras to aid the besieged Rohirrim in their battle against Saruman’s ever growing threat. Several new faces join the cast here including Bernard Hill as King Theoden, Karl Urban as Eomer, Miranda Otto as Eowyn and the ever creepy Brad Dourif as Wormtongue. It’s an outstanding ensemble. Development comes also with the introduction of a love-triangle of sorts, with Eowyn making eyes at a Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who is troubled ever by his love left in Rivendell who, if Hugo Weaving has anything to say about it, will sail to the Undying Lands and be parted from him forever. Fans of the book (and the appendices in particular for most of the love story was mined from there) will eagerly lap it up. As a result, the pacing the the middle act slows somewhat before it all culminates in the all-action battle of Helm’s Deep when all minor problems will be forgiven. Like Gollum, there are some really jaw-dropping effects and pure cinema on show here, really upping the ante and raising the bar higher yet again. We didn’t think that was possible but well, we have been wrong before…
As everything in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is consistent, so is its music, composed by Howard Shore. There are not enough superlatives out there to describe just how good, well researched and executed his music for the series is. Taking the the very solid and Oscar winning base of music from “The Fellowship of the Ring” Shore develops these themes and adds in new ones as well. There is a theme for Eowyn, another for Gollum and, perhaps most significantly, Rohan’s signature theme: As the whole Rohan society is based around ancient Scandinavian cultures, Shore writes for the Hardanger fiddle and a beautiful theme that soars above the images. It just feels like the music was always there, belonging to that world. The action music is developed further also: Isengard’s 5/4 pounding is relocated even further into the bass and some of the Lorien themes reappear for the elves at Helm’s Deep in a much more militaristic manner. Once again, there are two versions of the soundtrack available: The regular album and the Complete Recordings four disc set. While the casual listener may be satisfied with the single disc offering, film score fans should really shell out for the Complete Recordings which presents all the music in the film – there’s plenty of material that didn’t make the cut on the regular album.
Unlike the first chapter “The Two Towers” has a few minor problems, which are all ironed out by the end. In overall consideration however, these will make little impact on “The Lord of the Rings’” place among the greatest trilogies and films of all time. And because it is all one story, “The Two Towers” does an excellent job of building on “Fellowship’s” opening and sets us up perfectly for “Return of the King’s” dramatic finale. Genius filmmaking.
How does “The Two Towers” rank in the LotR trilogy for you? If you have any thoughts on my review or anything at all please do leave a comment, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to the RSS feed. Much appreciated – thank you! Until next time, all the best.
November 20, 2010
Adventure, Fantasy, Film
Alan Rickman, Alexandre Desplat, Bill Nighy, Bonnie Wright, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Radcliffe, David Yates, Emma Watson, Film, film music, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Imelda Staunton, J.K. Rowling, Jason Isaacs, John Williams, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, movies, New Moon, Nicholas Hooper, Part 2, Part1, Patrick Doyle Hedwig's Theme, picture, Ralph Fiennes, review, Rhys Ifans, Robbie Coltrane, Rupert Grint, score, soundtrack, Steve Kloves, The Deathly Hallows, The Hobbit, The Philosopher's Stone, Timothy Spall, Twilight, Warner Bros.
So it all comes down to this: the beginning of the end. And in order to adapt the finale in more depth than the previous escapades, Warner Bros. decided to split “The Deathly Hallows” into two parts. It’s the beginning of a trend perhaps (“The Hobbit” and the “Twilight” series have followed in the footsteps) with the purpose, some would argue, to milk moviegoers as much as possible. Be that as it may, watching this “Part 1” what becomes quickly apparent is that director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have indeed been able to include many more of fan’s favourite moments that might otherwise have ended up on the cutting room floor. Much of the novel’s first half is recreated quite faithfully, making this (with the exception of “The Philosopher’s Stone”) the film that sticks most closely to the source material.
Forget any notion of “this one is darker” or “Voldemort is getting stronger”. As Bill Nighy’s opening monologue explains we have moved from tensions lying dormant just beneath the surface to all-out war: The forces of evil as led by Lord Voldemort are rapidly tightening their grip on the wizarding and muggle worlds, taking over the Ministry and, in a final-solution like operation begin screening halfbloods, mudbloods and just about every blood in between. Somewhere in this carnage our hero Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) aided by his friends Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) must complete the task entrusted to them by the late Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), that is to locate and destroy the remaining horcruxes, pieces of the dark lord’s soul with which he can never truly die. However tales of a mysterious fairytale leads to the “Deathly Hallows”, three powerful magical objects that may also help to destroy He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Also, there’s no chance of returning to Hogwarts which has been completely infiltrated so “Part 1” becomes a road-movie of sorts, the trio travelling extensively across Britain as they try to remain undetected. This means that the film dispenses with many of the elements so familiar: the castle, the teachers, classes and (most) of the yo-yoing hormones. As always there’s an awesome supporting cast (perhaps one of the greatest British ensembles ever): Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Jason Isaacs, Timothy Spall and Imelda Staunton.
In parts the road-movie concept works very well. Yates is at this stage very adept at handling the magic and directs some truly great scenes at the beginning of the picture. Hermione’s farewell to her parents with a memory-wipe-charm is probably the best and something we never see in the book. Harry’s farewell to Privet Drive and the visit to his parents’ grave similarly set new heights for the series. In general the first act sets things up nicely, rolling at breakneck speed, filled with great action in the sky-battle, humour and at the same time finding the space for truly touching emotion and a sense of tragedy or impending doom. The trip to the Ministry to retrieve the locket from a certain Dolores Umbridge is also realised with a great eye for detail and is very entertaining. After the wedding escape though, things become a little hazy in the plot department. Unlike the novel where J.K. Rowling’s canvas to illustrate the to-ing and fro-ing is almost endless, the film struggles here. There’s a lot of woodland scenes which completely drain the energy, pace and urgency that graced the opening. In general there just seems to be nothing happening.
As such the film is also devoid of a truly satisfying climax. This is understandable in a way when one considers that the real drama and epic finale are still to come in “Part 2” but not really an excuse to neglect audience interest in the first part. It seems Yates is unsure how to proceed with the ever increasing sense of pessimism in the face of the overwhelming odds. To compensate for this downward momentum the filmmakers try to lighten things a little bit but this is something that comes across as trying too hard. The scene with Harry and Hermione dancing looks like it accidentally ended up in the wrong film. Most likely, when we’re able to view “The Deathly Hallows” in its complete form, the faults of part one will seem less significant but on its own, you will leave the theatre having seen some great material but dissatisfied nonetheless.
Following a lot of negative comments of his two Potter scores Nicholas Hooper did not return to write the music for “The Deathly Hallows”. In his stead rising talent, french composer Alexandre Desplat took the reins to carry the franchise further. Fans of the composer will find much to enjoy in his score and the soundtrack contains some really fantastic action material, the track “Sky Battle” is of particular note. Those expecting any sort of thematic consistency with the earlier films may be disappointed however as Desplat disregards all of the Williams, Doyle and Hooper material – with the exception of minimal statements of Hedwig’s Theme at the beginning. Neither does Desplat introduce a significant new theme as a replacement such as the elegant “New Moon” theme he wrote for the “Twilight” series. It’s a shame because this could well have been his magnum opus. Still, for most of us, this score will contain more than enough great music to chew on. And at this point it looks increasingly likely that Desplat will return to score “Part 2” so we can expect plenty more of the same.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” (bit of a mouthful, eh?) has an awful lot going for it. Fans of the franchise will find much to like about it. For everyone else it depends on whether or not you are willing to withhold your judgement until we see “Part 2” in July. It’s not the best “Harry Potter” of them all but should set up the really epic finale perfectly.
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