Monday, 17 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone.'
I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

This is a story about a Hobbit, a homely, earthy creature who dwells in the sanctuary of the ground, enjoys his comforts and dislikes anything unexpected or unpredictable, particularly adventures.

The prelude to The Lord of the Rings trilogy enchanted and enlivened children and adults alike with its wholesome telling of a shy, stubborn protagonist (Bilbo Baggins) discovering his curiosity and courage, to break the shackles and security of the cosy humdrum and embark upon a path of potential danger and certain enterprise. He is to be transformed from homebody to burglar, accompanying a party of dwarves to reclaim their homeland and defeat the dragon Smaug, who guards their treasure.

It is this humble tale about an everyday hobbit that fortifies readers with a sense of bravery, purpose, courage, passion and strength, and it is this potent and powerful message, invigorating every page, which has now been translated onto the big screen by Peter Jackson.

Jackson has a wonderful way of capturing the world of the book – the aesthetic of a magic, forgotten era of community, plush abundance and perils, a world where enlightened elves, obnoxious orcs, wise wizards and dangerous dragons roam. Tolkien’s imagination reaches a crescendo with Jackson’s technological wizardry to breathe life into the dreamy, surreal Shire, the foreboding forests and the grim, sinister caves.

As a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings series, The Hobbit was most certainly lacking in certain areas. The sense of scope and magnanimity is lacking here, perhaps because of the nature and scale of this more intimate tale. The characters are not as instantaneously likeable as Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn et al. Rather than a Fellowship of different, unique characters, we are now faced with a troupe of dwarves who are similarly named and for the most part, similarly natured. They are neither as distinct nor as fleshed out as their LOTR counterparts.

Forever distinguished is Gandalf (the wonderful Ian McKellen) who is more frivolous and carefree this time around as the rebellious, lone-wolf wizard who has an uncanny knack for sweeping others up in his adventures. Elegant and etherereal as always, although somewhat unnecessary to the plot is Lady Galadrial, portrayed by the serene Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving lends tremendous placid presence to Elrond’s return, and Andy Serkis once again makes a remarkable return as the gruesome Gollum – a creature equal parts pitiable and terrifying, and hypnotic in his match of wits with Bilbo during the riddles game (I was just happy I managed to guess a few!).  The stealer of the scenes is Martin Freeman, who captures Bilbo’s tweakes, twinges and eccentricieis perfectly, particularly his indecision, painstaking deliberation and the slow unfurling of the heroism within, perfectly personified by Ian Holm as the older Bilbo. Freeman proves himself a quick study when it comes to picking up the breadcrumbs lain by Holm and becoming his younger self.

This film is abundant with CGI, but the majority of it looks somewhat cheaper and lazier than that used in LOTR. Perhaps Jackson was using an alternate company or had to make savings somewhere, but the CGI tends to look a little obvious and deviates somewhat from the charisma of the story. Another thing I found lacking was the emotive, rousing score of the LOTR trilogy, which here is an echo of that. Despite the hodgepodge of characters, the at times gimmicky effects and the pacing of the story, which tends to languor lingeringly on unbearably at times without the aura or presence of leading characters, this is a film well worth watching for the simple fact that it is a moral story of the importance of being brave, loyal and true and because it encourages the most stodgy, stoic individual to have adventures and the most hopeless individual to have faith in the world, and in themselves and the most greedy, materialistic amongst us, to strive for selflessness and freedom. These messages are as essential and necessary today as they ever were and Tolkien fans will want to see how this one translates onto the big screen.

Tolkien's stories have a way of making you want to jump up out of your chair and go on an adventure, infused as you are with his fairy tales, mythology and indomitable faith in the human spirit. So why do we like his stories so much? Why do they live on? Maybe because in a world of cars, he shows us a world of horses and eagles, in a world of cities, he shows us a world of remarkable palaces and rural retreats and in a world of separation and consumerism, he shows us friendship and generosity.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Did the new Bond make the sky fall?

The name Bond, James Bond is synonymous with certain things; scandal, sex, chases and gadgets. The Bond franchise prides itself on delivering a certain style of sophisticated stealthy silliness, enthralling us with a world of high energy, high glamour and deadly danger.

Hanging on to the coattails of the grandeur of the Empire, Bond represents the best of Britishness; reserve, elegance, grandeur, patriotism and pride. The popularity of the franchise is perhaps in part due to a much exaggerated sense of what it means to be British in a climate that is somewhat confused and scattered. There is no singular British identity but Bond embodies the sensationalised stereotypes of the idealised British gentleman; somewhat aloof, indebted to his country and thoroughly dependable in a crisis.

I have to confess that I am not a connoisseur of this world. Although I was a massive fan of GoldenEye, I have not seen many other Bond films and so my appreciation of this film stems from digesting it as a singular entity, rather than in comparison to its predecessors.

Daniel Craig brings a steely, stone cold, sinister cynicism to James; efficient and machine like, he is now teetering on the precipice of alcoholism, fatigue and apathy. He is a broken Bond, but the threat now is potentially higher than ever, as an unknown villain with anonymised connections to M is blackmailing her through technology – a medium that has high jacked the modern world and threatened to steal the stealth from the shadows.

This Bond is an interesting mix of the old, ancient Britain and the modern technology immersed society we live in. Is there a place for spies, secrecy and subtlety in the world of Facebook, twitter and YouTube? This is a world with which M is at odds, and a world where indeed a film that focuses on the nature of being unknown and anonymous must struggle to catch up with the impossibilities of achieving this today.

This is also a film about M, rather than Bond, who has always operated as a cold, unknowable figure. M could stand for mother, matriarch, and monarch, elevated as she is, but never warm. She is the mother figure for James, an orphan, and presumably for many other agents as well. In this film, we get to see more of her warmth and humanity and gain a greater understanding of some of her flaws and weaknesses.

In fact, I found the Oedipal context of this film very intriguing, for this is a film about mommy issues, about abandonment, disappointment, fear, remorse, the hunger for approval and redemption, a film about how the stifled secrets of our past are inescapable and like coiled snakes, are always ready to spring upon us once more in the calm terrain of our futures. We get to explore M’s relationship to her agents and the cutthroat nature of their existence. Bond and M develop more of a dysfunctional mother-son relationship in this film, which reaches its grand crescendo at Skyfall itself, the film’s title and theme song, crooned by the British success story of the past few years Adele.

Daniel Craig won me over with his ‘cold fish’ approach to Bond, whilst Judi Dench is always enigmatic as M. Of course we cannot discuss a Bond movie without mentioning the villain of the piece, Mr Silva, played by Javier Bardem who lends an eccentric, camp tone to this over the top former agent with more mummy issues that the whole world of psychology could possibly be prepared for. Bond Girl Bérénice Lim Marlohe, who describes her character as ‘half dragon, half panther’ sizzles as the spectacular Sévérine. Without spoiling the treatment of her character in this film, Bond girls have always harked back to an age of sexism, objectification, impossible glamour, sultry sex, eye candy and trophies for the male characters of the film, and it is most certainly what we have come to expect of Bond, but the disposable nature of her character sat uneasily with me and didn’t seem to be moving the female role within this type of movie forward with the times. Naomie Harris also makes an appearance in a few, cobbled together scenes and despite my initial resistance, she did grow on me.

If you come to Bond for the style, beauty and soundtrack, you won’t be disappointed here. To celebrate Bond’s 50th anniversary we have a beautiful, slick film which will deliver all the chases, anticipation and raunch of its predecessors with a delicate layering of humanity added to this fast paced world of danger and desire.