Film: The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies

I bought the DVD of this when it first came out over a month ago, and have watched it four times now, and been preparing this review for some time. The film opens with Smaug’s attack on Lake Town. There is no preamble, and no explanation. If you have not seen (and remembered) the ending of the Desolation of Smaug, then you’re not going to be up to speed as to what is going on. the-hobbit-the-battle-of-the-five-armies-poster-688x10241 Bard, his family and Tauriel are all well played. Bard using the Black Arrow to shoot Smaug. Downside – why and how does he spot Smaug’s weak spot on the dragon’s underside ? Where is the thrush as in the book, whispering this litle secret in his ear ? A missed opportunity. The oily Mastern of Laketown gets his just rewards – a little too quickly, and Alfrid his sidekick gets to survive too long, though his utter cowardliness lends a touch of humour – you just know he is going to snivel out of any work. That said, it starts storing up parallels with the LOTR’s Wormtongue. The battle between the White Council (never AFAIK specified in the film), versus the Ringwraiths and Sauron in Dol Guldur is a good if formulaic CGI fest. Did Elrond, Saruman and then Rhagast just turn up on a whim ? Why not make it explicit that its an effort by them to get rid of the Necromancer (and for him to be revealed as Suaron). Meanwhile in the mountain, the scenes where Thorin starts losing the plot, is in keeping with the err…plot ! Bilbo’s indecision is well played, but how come the Elven bowmen didn’t spot Bilbo exiting the mountain to deliver the Arkenstone to Gandalf, Bard and Thranduil ? Maybe there is a scene with him using the ring to escape notice. Banner22 So the Elves and Dwarves are facing off against each other with The Big Yin voicing the CGI version of Dain on a porker, when up pops Azog and his army that have been transported in secret by rock munching wyrms…which everyone has forgotten about…and don’t seem to be able to burrow into the Lonely Mountain itself (eh?!). The set piece battle scenes are eerily reminiscent of the LOTR – The Return of the King, especially the bit where the Orcs storm into Dale to massacre the human civilians. This is boring, even if there are some nice set piece scenes. Thorin finally decides he has a pair, and leads an attack out of the mountin as per the book, but then sets off on an assaination quest to kill Azog. This has lots of worthy scenes but is overly long, and ends in Thorin’s death not totally in keeping with the book – close enough though. Meanwhile the Eagles and a criminally under represented Beorn turn up and trash the second Orc army that has done a march faster than a bunch of British Paras yomping over the Falklands. There is then, a very truncated farewell scene between Bilbo (who he ?) and the survivors of the original company of Dwarves. This is topped off with a much better scene at Bag-End when Bilbo returns to find his belongings being auctioned off. At least the Sackville-Bagginses get a look in. You’ve probably guessed I was not overly impressed with this movie, as it deviated too far from the book and has many plot holes and missed opportunities. As a stand alone film, it really is not good. As an adaptation of the book, it is very wanting. It has many very good scenes with good dialogue, but it has way too much padding, and CGI panoramas that are too reminiscent of LOTR films. Bilbo, and several of the Dwarves in aprticular are under represented in this film. The entirely spurious Tauriel/Fili romance could be excised and make no difference to this film, and make room for some of the more salient points of the plot. As part of the series of films it is good. There are lots of snippets of footage on the ‘net, and pictures from missing scenes that will go someway to filling in the missing bits of this story – so the inevitable extended version of the film will be something I will be looking forward to. Overall, Jackson has done a good job at bringing Middle-Earth to the silver screen. But you have to put up with a lot of padding in the three Hobbit films which is a shame – so a very qualified positive review.

Film: Desolation of Smaug (Extended)

I got the extended version on pre-order middle of last week and watched it twice (hence lack of posts last week), it has an additional 25 minutes of footage for the film, and again this is scattered throughout the film itself and there a fair number of discrete new scenes.

Beorn gets more of a look in, with the scene from the book of Gandalf introducing the Dwarves in pairs which is a light moment. Mirkwood also gets more air time including the river.

Thrain_

Thrain turns up in scenes at Dol Guldur. Again, not part of the original Hobbit book itself, but alluded to, and then fleshed out in more of Tolkein’s voluminous writings.

There are extra bits in Lake Town which are good in further establishing the Master of Lake Town as a venal preening fool, but thankfully not more stuff at the Lonely Mountain itself.

So as a film, it is better and actually more in keeping with the back history of Middle-Earth and the general plot Tolkein had, then the original cinematic release. Again it remains a film very much of its own and not a blow for blow recreation of the book as I have commented previously.

Bottom line, its worth seeing, and is good entertainment.

Friday Film: The Walking Dead Season 4

My latest DVD boxed set is The Walking Dead, Season 4.

The first few episodes felt like a bit of a re-run of the thrid season on the first viewing but they built up wonderfully to the (not) Governor having a major set to with Rick et al in the prison.

Carol, whom I commented on previously really went for the survivalist mode indoctrinating the kids in knife craft before being kicked out, but then re-surfacing in the later episodes and being on full survivalist mode.

The second half of the season seems a bit bitty at first, but slowly the threads gather together at Terminus.

LONG PIG

Its an excellent programme and worth every penny to buy on DVD and watch again and again. Chock full of ideas for scenarios for RPGs and skirmish games.

As commented, this programme is relatively free of profanity, the DVD final episode breaks with that:

Also, the final line of the season is uncensored, with Rick saying “They’re fucking with the wrong people.”

These are the things that were and shall be again…

Snippets 1 & 2

Snippet 1:

I finally got around to watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended edition.

The extra 17 minutes are distributed through the first half of the film. There are new scenes of Bilbo when he is both very young (smacking Gandalf with a toy sword), and very old (with Frodo). There’s also more scenes around Rivendell including the one I’ve linked to above.

What do they add to the film ? Well they’re more whimsical and certainly slow down the otherwise frenetic pace of the film. They also add more character to Bilbo, Elrond, and rightly or wrongly more comic relief from the Dwarfs.

Initially I was surprised as some of the actors in interviews had said there wouldn’t be extended versions of the films, but hey ho, they’re releasing an extended version of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as well in a couple of months time. I hope that includes things like the Thrush and the Ravens.

Snippet 2:

Sadly, Peter Hopkirk who wrote so many great books on the events in central Asia during the late C19 and early C20 passed away last week.

The name of Peter Hopkirk will long be associated with the “Great Game”, the cloak-and-dagger struggle between Britain and Russia for control over swathes of central Asia that raged through the 19th century.
The vast and sparsely populated regions stretching from the southern reaches of Russia to the northwest frontier of India had fascinated him since he read Rudyard Kipling’s Kim as a boy. However, Hopkirk was no armchair historian. He was an intrepid traveller who adeptly shrugged off the region’s ever-watchful authorities to piece together his rip-roaring histories. In his now classic accounts Foreign Devils on the Silk Road and Trespassers on the Roof of the World, he expertly evoked the lives of the fanatical archaeologist-adventurers who dug up and carried off the contents of ancient Silk Road libraries buried beneath the desert and the mapmakers who illicitly scaled ice-clad Himalayan peaks disguised as horse-traders or religious men.

When Mark Copplestone started his Back of Beyond range, Hopkirk’s books were the gateway to many other books that I now have. I knew very little about the region and its history during the RCW – much of the White Armies under Kolchak et al was poorly served in the literature compared to the AFSR under Deniken and then Wrangel in the south.

Hopkirk was on the Ministry of Defence’s required reading list for British soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan.

This led me on to many more obscure texts picked up in enjoyable days browsing dusty shelves in the book shops of Hay-on-Wye, and it made me a confirmed bibliophile.

“It’s extraordinary to see how history is repeating itself,” he said of the current situation in Afghanistan. “Some of the players are different, but the Game goes on. Perhaps my books should be read as cautionary tales.”

Sad we haven’t learnt from some of these lessons. :-/

Film: The Last Days on Mars

As well as the pile of crummy b/w westerns I bought, I also picked up this DVD: The Last Days on Mars. Never heard of it but took a punt on it.

Turns out it only had a limited cinematic outing and got so-so reviews.

Anyhow i watched it at the w/e, and again yesterday after recovering from my parents’ visit.

Its actually not bad. Its at the harder end of sci-fi, so Mars is still a hostile environment with all the attendant hazards of solar radiation and decompression. the actors therefore spend most of their time suited up, if not with helmets on. This means you do have to pay attention as to who is doing what, where and when

The premise is quite simple: The team of the first manned station on Mars (Tantalus station) is packing up ready to be relieved by a new team, and are keen to find something to make their mark in the history books. One of them does just that discovering what appears to be evidence of biological activity – and of course decides to revisit the site of the discovery at which point it all goes a bit pear shaped. More of which later with spoilers.

As I said the film is not bad, and is actually quite good. The downside I felt was the beginning sequence, where the 8 crew are introduced, along with the great discovery. This was IMHO rushed. the first time I watched it I lost track of the characters. It was on the second viewing that I appreciated that actually, the characters were well drawn, it was just the pacing was too quick. The character above (Kim) was a hard arse character, and should have got more time to be developed so that her (inevitable) betrayal was more punchy.

The rest of the film was better paced, if somewhat predictable, except for the final sequence where the relief team acted like dummies. The final scene though was unpredictable.

 

—SPOILERS—

As well as the over fast pacing, it is not shown why Dalby is so upset by Marko’s loss, nor why the team should try a night time rescue of a non-responsive crew member from a fissure without the right equipment – a few more torches might have helped a lot !

The mirco organism itself could have done with some more explanation – I’d have extended the scene where Kim find’s Marco’s records and expand on what sort of organism it was, with Kim speculating on how it survived, what it was and so on to build up the tension as to why they really didn’t want to mess with it.

Similarly, whilst the surviving team members were agog at how their ex-team mates, exposed to mars’ tenuous atmosphere were still up and going, we could have had a description (at least alluded to) of the damage to the human physiology of exposure to those conditions, again ramping up the tension.

Then there is the examination of the blood from the team leader, again some speculation could have been added as to how the organism was reprdoucing, what it was doing and how it was making the cadavers move.

Well those are three negative things, but I still think the films a good ‘un. Not the best but still good.

On the plus side, the slow spread of the effects of the organism were good, it wasn’t a sudden switch over. The team members as they succumbed to it played out nicely. The exception was Kim’s death which was not shown only assummed (sequel – More Days on Mars ?). The “killing” of lane was also good – not often to see the main protagonist bash someone’s brains out. 😉

The final fight sequence and aftermath were good. And the bleak ending was in keeping with the hard edged nature of the sci-fi in the film.

Lots of great ideas for sci-fi scenarios utilising all those space suited figures I’ve got. 🙂

Films: Old Skool DVDs & a laugh

I’m entertaining my parents on Monday evening, and after the meal we’ll watch a “family” film. They have a very conservative and restricted viewing range of films, mostly b/w westerns, where the good guys wear white hats and bad guys wear black hats. I’m not to averse to that to make a change from the modern CGI fests which are quite frankly boring in many cases.

So, having been primed with a list of “acceptable” films I went on a binge on Amazon. I don’t have a TV licence, having dispensed with that nearly a decade ago due to the mindless dross that is pumped out, and having done the maths worked out its better to invest in DVDs of stuff I actually do want to watch year in year out.

So I’ve bought 7 or so “new” DVDs of ancient Westerns and stuff, mostly featuring John Wayne.They’re the moving wallpaper I’ll be able to watch whilst doing the ironing, painting and so forth, plus make my house parent friendly. Its also interesting to see how films have evolved over time and matured with better plot lines (mostly), Take for instance:

El Dorado
John Wayne helps the drunken Sheriff (Robert Mitchum) defeat the bad guys.

Rio Bravo
John Wayne helps the drunken Sheriff (Dean Martin) defeat the bad guys.

Both directed by Howard Hawks.

I might mock them, but these films are all useful for dreaming up scenarios for RPGs and wargames as they are relatively simple and easy to understand. Often I, and others try and run before we can walk when presenting scenarios to players we rarely game with and have had little chance to build either a rapport with, or ongoing narrative.

As for the laugh…

Amazon or someone, saw fit to send me this DVD: Postnatal Rescue.

A more inappropriate DVD for me would be hard to imagine.

So thanks to Amazon and or my benefactor. 😉

Maybe I’ll watch it with my mother on Monday.

Film: All Quiet on the Western Front

Quite by coincidence, whilst creating yet more CD scenery bases from the stack of freebies I was given, I came across a couple that I’ll keep, and after last week’s binge on the Martian Front, one was “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

aqwf 2

This is the 1979 film not the original 1930’s film, but as last week was the anniversdary of events leading to the largest slaughter in history I watched it, and found it was a good film (certainly as it was free!).

Most people will know the overall plot and tenor of the book and therefore the films. It made a good viewing and lead up to the disillusionment of the actual war experience.

aqwf 1

Interestingly, the film is set during the period the Germans were changing from the picklhaube (spiked) hemet that had proved pretty useless, and moving to the new more familiar coal scuttle or Stahlheim M1916 helmet. One scene in particular highlights the changing nature of war as the front line unit meets their reinforcemnents. the front line units have the pickelhaube, the new recruits the stahlheim.A quick search on the net and I found this was a common case – the Germans despite starting to investigate steel helemts for their troops first, were the last to actually deploy them with the British Brodie, and French Adrian pattern helmets reaching their armies beforehand.

I often comment that as wargamers, we are not celebrating war at all – more often than not having lovingly built, based, researched and painted our favoiurite units we plonk them on the table, and ourt opponents proceed to get lucky and slaughter them in seconds.Its a very sobering experience to think that in real life and commanders and generals often do exactly the same, only its flesh and blood being killed not chuncks of metal/plastic/resin.

Film: The Thing

The recent not re-make sort of prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing ended up in my DVD.

I really liked the John Carpenter film from 1982:

And many years ago I saw the original 1951 version (b/W)

The original short story by John W Campbell JR was entitled “Who goes there ?”, retitled later “The thing from another world“.

Its available in The Antarktos Cycle, part of Chasoisum’s Chthulhu series of books.

So is the prequel/remake any good ?

Yes and No.

It is pretty much a remake in terms of plot of John Carpenter’s film. The discovery of the saucer, and the body. The creeping paranoia and so on. Its set in the Norwegians’ camp before the 1982 film. So far so many jumpers, beards and cute Norwegian dialogue. Some Americans get drafted in – a (female) paleontologist and some helicopter fliers. The inevitable storm coming surfaces like a wet sock in a boot though. Can’t we even have a white out ? And just how many flame throwers does each Antarctic research station pack, and why ?

Neat twists were how the humans spotted the Thing (I won’t spoil it), how the film was a prequel an segued into John Carpenter’s The Thing.

The SFX were ok, but interestingly I don’t think they were as much of a step change from the 1982 stuff ! IT seems they also used animatronics which probably explains why. They are decent enough anyway.

What was missed out on were the scenes inside the alien saucer, that could have been a bigger set piece – allegedly the original plot work included this. Now that would have been interesting !

Similarly, what was/is missing is whther the survivors at the saucer made it to the Soviet base mentioned ! Now that would be an interesting sequel – would both the Amwericans and Norwegians let two separate bases “go dark” without at least bsending an expedition down there, and they’d be sure to use the Soviet base as a stepping off point, cue lots of Cold War tension to add to the paranoia that maybe those Reds just weren;’t human after all …..

BoB Big Game 31st May – Once Upon A Time In The East

Details of the BoB Big Game I am organising are now up including the overall scenario, table dispositions of players and useful resources. The trains and rolling stock shown before should be deployed for the first time.

As inspired by:

One of my favourite films: “Once Upon A Time In The West”.

The door is still open to anyone wanting to take part, its based in Hereford UK.

Film: The Desolation of Smaug

As a young squirt I was made to read The Hobbit in my English class at the age of about 9.

I found it fascinating and it lead me into the Lord of the Rings and many other sci-fi and fantasy books.
The image is Tolkein’s depiction of the death of Smaug above Lake Town, a rarer cover version of the book.

The first part of the film is ok, and close to the book. The portrayal of Beorn is a bit disappointing (goblin heads on posts!), Mirkwood is ok though I really missed Bilbo taunting the Spiders (Attercop, Attercop…) and one can even accept the Wood Elves being more aggressive under a much more fleshed out character in the King Thranduil.

The inclusion of Legolas and Tauriel was ok, Tauriels flirtation with Kili a bit unlikely but not a show stopper. It also helps the continuation with LOTR WRT Legolas and is in keeping with the deeper background of Tolkein’s works.

The escape from the Woof Elf Kingdom is a bit OTT but not wildly so, the involvement of the Orcs is in terms of a filmatic theme ok. Laketown itself is well done and The Master (Stephen Fry) is well done and better fleshed out than in the original book. The background of Bard in Lake town was good, and his link with his ancestor Girion, Lord of Dale.

There’s a few caveats at this point, but moving on swiftly…

I liked Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug. It wasn’t as passive as in the book, but this is a film so that is forgiven. It may have been too long and his finding of the Arkenstone a bit too premature – I guess I’ll hold fire on that until the third film.

Smaug is portrayed excellently, a half lizard half cat like capricious creature, and the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch captures the spirit of this evil creature well.

The inclusion of Dol Guldur and the rise of the Necomancer aka Sauron, is perfectly in keeping with the original book’s narrative and I don’t have a problem with it. In fact Jackson et al by knitting together Tolkein’s references from all his books makes it a much wider narrative and much more enjoyable.

At this point it all starts falling apart.

For some as yet unknown reason (the pretext being Kili’s injury and some shoehorning in of Tauriel and Legolas), four of the Dwarves are left back in Laketown. Totally out of kilter with the book. There had better be a good reason in the 3rd film. The attack of the Orcs under Bolg is well done cinematically, but again nothing to do with the book, nor even Tolkein’s wider plot.

The Lonely mountain should have been approached over dismal swamps, but it isn’t, just lots of icey foot hills. Where are the burnt out fir tree woods the Dwarfs sang about on the first film ?

The Dwarfs descend into the mountain way too soon and get caught up in a very boring stereotypical CGI chase scene with Smaug, and launch a wholly implausible attack on Smaug from which he survives, makes an implausible deduction and randomly flies off to torch Laketown.

Thorin goes off the deepend with gold lust way too early, and this is only rescued by Balin’s reaction. Most of the other Dwarfs remain ciphers which could have been fleshed out during this unnecessary set of scenes instead.

Why not stick to the original book ? That would have had more than enough opportunity for Smaug to come out of the mountain track down and chase the Dwarves, toast some ponies and then fly off to Laketown in revenge. It misses out the Thrush mostly and probably the Ravens.

As a film, its good, but as an adaptation of a book its disappointing. There are way too many loose ends, odd plots and digressions to make it satisfying for Tolkein fans. A strange mish mash of the enjoyable and the “eh what ?”.