The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Photo taken moments after Martin Freeman is told Peter Jackson’s net worth.

Directed by Peter Jackson. 161 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen in 3D [24fps] at Arclight Hollywood)

Apart from my sore bladder near the end, Desolation is a good adventure movie and the first of Jackson’s Middle-earth adaptations in which I thought the good outweighed the bad. Some of the transitions between plots and subplots are janky (though I don’t know how Jackson and editor Jabez Olssen could have taken on so many stories and made it smoother), but unlike previous installments, fun shit happens at an acceptably steady rate.

Also, I opted for the 24fps experience this time around, definitely a good call. An Unexpected Journey looked like a nauseating (literally – 48fps makes me physically queasy) television program.

Martin Freeman is an infinitely better lead actor than LotR’s Elijah Wood. Freeman was the best part of Unexpected, and his character is even more interesting in Desolation. Kudos to the One Ring for slowly turning Bilbo into a sadistic junkie. Thorin (Richard Armitage) develops some layers, but I still wouldn’t care if any of the other dwarves die. I couldn’t name any of them. One of them is Cory, maybe?

Oh, and Ian McKellan is reliably awesome. That dude is able to carry even the most outlandish scenes. If you don’t believe me, watch X-Men: The Last Stand. McKellan’s the only actor who does any acting in that piece of Ratner shit.

Some critics and nearly every fan of the original novel are up in arms about Desolation’s inclusion of Legolas (who wasn’t in The Hobbit) and Tauriel (who has no basis whatsoever in Tolkien’s bibliography). Their inclusion isn’t crucial to the story, but I wasn’t offended. I understand that Jackson wants his Hobbit trilogy to tie into The Lord of the Rings more closely than the novels, and that’s okay by me. If you want The Hobbit to be 100% faithful to Tolkien’s vision, read the goddamn book. You could probably complete it cover-to-cover in the same time it takes to watch two of these movies.

Cliffhanger endings are tricky, but I thought Desolation pulled one off very well. The revelation and confrontation with Smaug was well done – he’s a pretty suave dragon – and the final battle scene kept me on my toes. I almost jumped when the screen went black. That’s a pretty good reaction to have after such a long movie.

Aside: Why do dragons like gold so much? They aren’t spending it, and sleeping in it appears rather uncomfortable. So what’s going on?

(Seen and written on 2013-12-13)

Son of Frankenstein -1939-

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Directed by Rowland V. Lee. 99 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Watched on Amazon Instant View)

Bleh, this was one of the worst threequels I’ve seen since Spider-Man 3. Karloff and Lugosi are wasted (though Ygor’s broken neck looks pretty nifty). The sense of humor that made Bride refreshing is gone, and the creepiest thing about this film is Basil Rathbone’s last name.

Son is nearly a half hour longer than the 1931 original, and I felt every last second. Most of the film consists of townsfolk hemming and hawing about how spooky and creepy the Frankenstein legacy is. The Monster is even dumber than he was in the first movie, having somehow lost the knowledge and character that he gained throughout Bride. Karloff seems more dead than usual.

Also, why in the fuck did Rathbone revive the Monster. He straight up says, “This is a really bad idea, and nothing good can come of it.”

(Seen and written on 2013-12-12)

Bride of Frankenstein -1935-

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Directed James Whale. 75 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on Netflix Instant View)

The sequel to the 1931 horror classic is the Evil Dead 2 of its time. Not only does it quickly go through the events of its predecessor (by way of a bizarre, Kaufmanian frame story featuring the Shelleys and Lord Byron), but it also has a self-awareness and sense of humor that I wasn’t expecting. Dr. Pretorius (the new villain played by Ernest Thesiger) takes the mad scientist to an absurd level with his jars full of tiny, gerbil-voiced actors. Didn’t see that coming.

Karloff’s Monster is much more sympathetic character this time around. Yeah, he’s still violent, but it’s clearer that all he wants is acceptance. His friendship with the blind hermit (inspired by a segment of the original novel) and subsequent education turns the Monster into a smoking, drinking, fun-loving sort of undead dude.

I was bummed that the Bride only has about one minute of screentime, but the ending is way cooler than the original. Lots of explosions, panic, and one of the best final lines of any movie I’ve seen:

“You stay. We belong dead.”

Aside: The writers’ rationale for how the Monster survived the end of the first film seemed like bullshit to me.

(Seen and written on 2013-12-11)

Frankenstein -1931-

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Directed by James Whale. 70 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on Amazon Prime)

Whatever happened to the 70-minute movie? Just get to the action without the bullshit exposition. One would think that studios would be shortening film lengths in order to get more screenings per theater per day, but that doesn’t appear so. Christ, in this day and age, even manchild comedies are quickly approaching Malickian runtimes (seriously, Judd, knock it the fuck off).

Short features are the bee’s knees.

I was probably a toddler when I last saw Frankenstein, and certainly appreciate it more now. I vaguely remembered it as a clunky film (probably because it’s in black-and-white and toddlers are superficial assholes), but it’s a supremely polished piece of entertainment. From the polite-yet-unsettling opening disclaimer to the busy pre-StediCam shots á la Murnau, James Whale and Arthur Edeson know exactly how to capture the action. The use of silhouettes against nightscapes is especially beautiful.

Everyone already knows that Boris Karloff is super-creepy as the Monster, so I want to spend that time giving props to Colin Clive as the titular doctor. He’s actually fairly level headed (as well as his hunchback assistant), so it’s nice to see that the archetypical mad scientist had a restrained, believable genesis. The allegories of the movie are pretty clear. You don’t need a Dr. Heiter to drive it into the ground.

(Seen and written on 2013-12-03)