Well, I had a Tolkien-tastic weekend, and I just wanted to share my thoughts with you about it.
First off, my wife and I tried out the Lego Lord of the Rings video game that she got me last week. I think I'm going to have a love-hate relationship with it. It's certainly classic Lego gameplay, and it has that epic scale that has been missing since the original Lego Star Wars (though Lego Harry Potter comes close with its massive Hogwarts hub). However, there's one teensy-tiny little fairly insignificant detail that's turned into a real bug up my butt...
...They talk now.
Yes, rather than tell the cutscene stories in mime like all the rest, they actually have audio clips from the films, lip-synched and everything to the minifigures. While I guess that's not a bad thing in and of itself, the whole charm and comedy comes from the mime. Lego Star Wars wouldn't have been half as funny without the Moment in Empire being reduced to Vader pointing back and forth between Luke and a picture of Anakin with a very pregnant Padmé. That was hilarious. Now, then they go off-motion, it doesn't carry the same weight because LOTR takes itself fairly seriously in the dialogue.
I'm glad I have it, I'm sure I'll have fun playing it, but damn that takes me right out to have a Lego Parody game use the actual voice clips. Well, I guess I should be glad they didn't overdub it with other people.
But all this is inconsequential next to the real news. After nine years, Middle-Earth is back in theatres with the first of three (?!?!) films based on The Hobbit. I saw Part 1: An Unexpected Journey yesterday.
Let me tell you it was worth the wait.
At first I didn't want anybody to replace Ian Holm, even if he was getting a little too old for the part. But when I heard who they got to play young Bilbo, I thought the casting was perfect. And I wasn't disappointed at all seeing Martin "Arthur Dent" Freeman in action. He totally complimented Holm's performance (and Holm still shows up in the beginning, since the framing device is old Bilbo starting to write his book shortly before the events of Fellowship) and made it his own.
The dwarves worked better than I expected them to, even the prettier ones. They're all given something to do, and all have distinct characters.
Of course, if you read my Listmas entry involving favorite Tolkien characters, you can guess what my favorite chapter in the original book was. Let me tell you then that "Riddles in the Dark" is portrayed pitch-perfectly. Andy Serkis is as wonderful as ever, and the scene actually gets legit scary at times.
So what about the stuff they added to pad these films out? Well I'm happy to report that, so far at least, it doesn't take away from the narrative and actually adds a good deal of backstory and tension. The White Council scenes were amazing, probably my second-favorite sequence in the film, no less because of the grand return of the venerable Christopher Lee to the role of Saruman, who is still at least considered a good guy at the point, though his obvious bluster is amusing, especially as you can hear him babbling about "feels like I am talking to myself" while Gandalf and Galadriel have their little psychic conversation. Another hit, at least for me, is Sylvester McCoy as the enigmatic Radagast the Brown, who rides a twig-sled pulled by rabbits and is awesome. Let me repeat that: Radagast the Brown rides a twig-sled pulled by rabbits, and it is AWESOME.
I have only two problems. The first is that Smaug is only teased and we never get a good look at him. However, as much as I hate having to wait to see the dragon, I actually think this is a good thing on the part of the filmmakers, as it keeps us in suspense of him. Still, I don't want to have to wait another year to see the dragon...but if I was Peter Jackson I'd be doing the same thing so who cares?
Secondly, my father dragged us to thew ultra-realistic 48fps framerate 3-D version. I dislike 3-D at the best of times. The 48fps framerate...I couldn't stand it. The action scenes were mostly TOO fluid, like someone had leaned on a fast-forward button. But there's an easy fix for that - next time I see it (and there will be a next time) I'll simply see it in regular 24fps showings. Of course, Jackson will probably only release the 48fps versions on DVD, and if he does...I'll take owning the movie over not owning the movie and shut up because he owes me nothing.
This is definitely a film to see if you are at all a Tolkien fan or even just a fan of the LotR films. Check it out as many times as you can afford to.
I saw it again last night in regular old-fashioned 2D 24fps, and it's much better. The Uncanny Valley fluidity is gone, and it's easier to see everything, at least for me. And now that I've heard the new Misty Mountains Cold enough times, I can honestly say it sounds like a cross between the Rankin-Bass version and Pippin's song from "Return of the King." Which is all awesome.