Welcome

Welcome to this blog of my film reviews. Some have been drafted carefully on paper, others I have sat and typed. I'm going to make it clear right now that I don't expect you to agree with my (re)views, or to like my style of writing. However, I want my views to be just out there and open, as a person who wishes to express himself from deep within. Feel free to comment and debate with me, but I do ask that you are civil and not harsh, as any comments which are basically swear words and insults will automatically be deleted. Also any text that is in orange (and often bold) is a Hyperlink to either a source, or a previous post for background reference.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Goodbye...

As I'm sure you're all aware I've badly neglected this blog for quite a while now and it's not in a state where it can easily be repaired. As a result I'm starting a new blog on Wordpress, to get to click here. To my readers of the last 20 months I'd like to just say thank you and God bless.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Entire Franchise: 'Shrek'

Shrek


*****

Shrek is the first in one of the most successful film franchises of all time, as well as the second computer animation from DreamWorks after Antz (1998).

After fairy tale creatures are dumped on his swamp by Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow), grumpy ogre Shrek (Mike Myers) and a talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) agree to rescue the beautiful Priness Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a Dragon (Frank Welker) guarded tower for Farquaad in order to get his land back. However, matters are further complicated when Shrek falls in love with Fiona, and vice versa. And the princess also has a secret of her own...

Firstly, let's look at the animation. It is outstanding, no doubt about it. Everything is really bright, vivid and colourful, as well as intricately designed and detailed that give the characters such a real human quality. There are absolutely no weak points at all, everything was clearly created over a large amount of time to look as perfect as possible, and it is all so beautiful to look at.

Secondly, let's look at the characters and the superb vocal performances. Shrek is truly brought to life by Myers, who makes the grumpy ogre feel so realistic, and only strengthens this with the use of a Scots accent, that makes the character only more comical. And the characters struggle with his emotions in the final twenty minutes or so is very heartfelt and powerful. Murphy is comic gold as the talking donkey (simply called Donkey), bringing excellent comic timing and delivery to the character, through vast amounts of energy and gusto, making Donkey hilarious and sincere. Diaz makes Fiona a fiesty, no-nonsense type of girl, who is charming and gorgeous, as well as deep and complex. Lithgow makes Farquaad such the perfect creep and so deliciously sleezy, and some great gags come from the fact he is scarcely four feet tall. These wonderful characters are also supported by a great ensemble of supporting characters, almost all of whom are your typical fairy tale characters - Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon), Magic Mirror (Chris Miller), Pinocchio (Cody Cameron), Three Little Pigs (also Cameron), Three Blind Mice (Christopher Knights, Simon J. Smith, Jerome De Guzman), and the cross-dressing Big Bad Wolf (Aron Warner) from Little Red Riding Hood - all of whom, although getting very little screen time, have very comical appearances and are instantly memorable.

Finally, let's look at the screenplay. It is wonderful. There is a gag a minute, both verbal and physical, some of which are more sophisticated, but that are all ultimately farcical, full of slapstick and innuendos. The characters (certainly the four leads) get vast amounts of development, which makes them very substantial and coherently engaging, as well as hilarious due to the amount of gags which they are given. And despite the film's medieval setting, everything medieval is given a contemporary twist that make both great gags and interesting components. Combine the screenplay with the above mentioned elements of animation and characters, and you have a very substantial, coherently entertaining and powerful film, makingShrek one of the only computer animated features to rival the overall quality of Pixar films.

2001.
U.
Stars:
Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Conrad Vernon, Chris Miller, Cody Cameron, Christopher Knights, Aron Warner, Jim Cummings, Jerome De Guzman, Vincent Cassel.

Oscar: Best Animated Feature (Aron Warner).
Oscar nomination: Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S.H. Schulman).


Shrek 2


****

Meeting his new in-laws - King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lilian (Julie Andrews) of Far Far Away - for the first time, grumpy ogre Shrek (Mike Myers) makes a poor impression, leading Harold to hire bounty hunter Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to kill Shrek, which sparks off an unforgettable, life-changing adventure for Shrek, Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss.

The film boasts a rich screenplay with lots of excellent humour, which is often farcical in nature thanks to the fast pace and wonderfully over the top creation of it; much verbal humour comes from Donkey, who is just as excitable as ever, and now has a very well written rivalry with Puss for the role of "annoying talking animal", their constant bickering delivered superbly by Murphy and Banderas. The screenplay is also quite deep and thought-provoking. It is not 100% original, due to a key theme being love's true form - the major theme of the 2001 original. However, the idea of giving up on the lifestyle you adore for the woman you love - which here sees Shrek deciding he is happy to become human for Fiona - is new and really makes you think of what true love looks like. It is a deep and well written part of the screenplay, which shows a whole new emotional side to Shrek we previously couldn't imagine, and provides some really moving moments.

As well as wonderful comedy and deep meaning, the screenplay also introduces some excellent new characters to the franchise. As mentioned there is Banderas's superb Puss in Boots. There is also a terrific antagonist in the form of Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), who is deliciously cold and sadistic, which hilariously contrasts the initially sickly sweet impression the character gives in her first scene, and Saunders brings great energy and enthusiasm to this role, making Godmother such a fun character to watch. Just as fun and memorable is her son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Everett makes Charming such a sly character, who is deliciously camp and hilariously feminine, as well as a real Mummy's Boy, so it is a wonderful twist when he shows his mean, tough side.

Ultimately, the strongest element of this film is the beautiful animation. Filled with a lot of very intricate detail, the animation brings bright, vibrant life to the wonderfully voiced characters, as well as sharp boldness and great majesty to Far Far Away. Duloc was grand in the original, but comparing it to Far Far Away is like comparing Kansas to the Emerald City when watching The Wizard of Oz (1939). In short the animation is bright, colourful, bold and dazzling, and when added to the film's other strong elements this is the third best animated sequel to date after Toy Story 3 (2010) and Toy Story 2 (1999). A must watch and one of DreamWorks's greatest animations!

2004.
U.
Stars:
Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Saunders, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Julie Andrews, Conrad Vernon, Cody Cameron, Aron Warner, Christopher Knights, Chris Miller.

Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature (Andrew Adamson), Best Original Song (Accidentally in Love - Adam Duritz, Charles Gillingham, Jim Bogios, David Immergluck, Matthew Malley, David Bryson, Dan Vickrey).


Shrek the Third

**

When King Harold (John Cleese) literally croaks it, Shrek (Mike Myers) realises he can't be King, so goes with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss (Antonio Banderas) to find Arthur (Justin Timberlake), Harold's nephew and the only other heir. Meanwhile, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) learns she is pregnant with triplets, but her happiness is interrupted by Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) and a host of fairy tale villains trying to claim Far Far Away's throne.

After the outstanding Shrek (2001) and very good Shrek 2 (2004), great excitement had been built up for this third installment. Tragically, however, great disappointment hit us huge fans of the franchise with this installment. The animation is just as wonderful as ever, there is no question about that. It is bold, dazzling and colourful, bringing the characters to a very eye catching life, and making Far Far Away really eye-catching, as well as bringing great colour mixes that really dazzle to Merlin's (Eric Idle) magic spells. It is also very detailed, almost giving life to every golden locke on Charming's head, and giving Puss's fur a real stand up on its own type of life. So Shrek the Third is as much a visual treat as its predecessors.

The rest of the film is what disappoints, however, most disappointments coming from the screenplay. The events of the screenplay jump from one to the next with little development, which results in their being little substance to the specific events, and (in the bigger picture) no substance to the screenplay in general. The characters, both old and new, are just as poorly written. Charming just acts too feminine to be a decent villain; Arthur - or Artie - is too much of a little tantrum thrower to be taken even slightly seriously; Merlin the crackdown magician is too over the top with little entertaining quality, which is a shame when it is Eric Idle of Monty Python fame voicing him; and the manly Doris (Larry King) was funny in Shrek 2 as she was just so ladylike, only looking manly, but here she is a lot more harsh and brutal so the comedic quality is automatically lost. And finally the screenplay also greatly misuses some pop songs, which ruins some scenes; e.g. at Harold's funeral which is made to look very moving some singing frogs start singing Live and Let Die, which kills the mood and just wouldn't work at all at a funeral scene, even if Harold had been voiced by Paul McCartney; when Gingy's (Conrad Vernon) life flashes before his eyes he begins singing On the Good Ship Lollipop, and you can't help but groan at the stupid unoriginality of it.

Clearly, the DreamWorks team were too focused on making another visual spectacle and didn't bother too much with a screenplay or characters. In what was a poor era for computer animated features - particularly for DreamWorks who released Shark Tale (2004), Madagascar (2005) and Flushed Away (2006) during this era of dropping standards - one hoped Shrek the Thirdwould mark the end of below par computer animations, but alas not.

2007.
U.
Stars:
Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Rupert Everett, Justin Timberlake, Julie Andrews, Larry King, Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Cheri Oteri, Maya Rudolph, Conrad Vernon, Cody Cameron, John Cleese, Aron Warner, Ian McShane, Regis Philbin, Eric Idle, Seth Rogen.

BAFTA nomination: Best Animated Film (Chris Miller).


Shrek Forever After

***

Yearning for the good old days, Shrek (Mike Myers) gives a day of his infancy to Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) in exchange for a day as a real ogre. However, Stiltskin takes the day Shrek was born throwing the grouchy ogre into an alternate universe where Stiltskin rules Far Far Away, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is a slave, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) has never met Shrek and leads an army of ogres, and Puss (Antonio Banderas) is her obese, pampered pet. If Shrek can't make Fiona fall in love with him within 24 hours then he will cease to exist, and the alternate reality stays.

Taglined as The Final Chapter, which isn't the title in the opening credits, I was slightly worried about a fourth Shrek film after the very disappointing third installment (2007). Fortunately there was really no need to worry. This isn't a great film, but it is far superior to its predecessor, just missing out on that fourth star, yet still scraping its hit status.

The animation, quite frankly, is the best that DreamWorks has produced to date. The images are sharp and bold; beautiful to look at, thanks to excellent attention to detail in the intricate designs, as well as wonderful use of colour, with the large range of colours coming together wonderfully like a work of art, never threatening to look garish or sickly, but always beautiful to the eye.

Generally the characters and screenplay are quite strong, although this is where the film is flawed.
As always Myers and Diaz voice Shrek and Fiona with much passion, and create a really touching sense of romance between the two characters. Thanks to Myers's comic timing Shrek's dulcit Scottish tones are as wonderfully comic as ever. Fiona is also an engaging character due to to the emotional complexities of her character, just like in the first film (2001), which is why we readily forgive the fact she is not that much different in the alternate reality to how she is in the realShrek world. The downside, though, is the fact that the two characters have to fall in love all over again, and this is quite predictable as we saw it in the first film, and saw elements of it in the second (2004).
When it comes to Donkey and Puss, Donkey is no different in the alternate reality to the realShrek world, which is disappointing, as a semi-intelligent, respected Donkey would have been a wonderful comic contrast, but Murphy still makes Donkey as comical as ever. Fortunately the well-written and very witty alternate Puss makes up for this, and it was a very clever idea to make Puss obese and pampered, as it is a great contrast to the real Shrek world Puss.
When it comes to new characters, Dohrn is deliciously sadistic as Stiltskin, and although the chracter's temper tantrums get irritating, he is sly, crafty and generally engaging. Other characters, such as ogres Brogan (Jon Hamm), Cookie (Craig Robinson) and Gretchen (Jane Lynch), however, fail to engage us due to the fact they are unsubstantial, underwritten and generally one-sided.
As for the screenplay, it is generally well-paced, with comical, dramatic and emotional sides to it that generally all work. Some of the jokes though fail to ammuse, a lot of the time because they are poorly set up, thanks to scenes that are rushed and the jokes also get understated that way. The characters and screenplay are the flaws that stop this from being as good as Shrek 2, but this is all-in-all a good film, and a nice wrap up to the franchise.

2010.
U.
Stars:
Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Walt Dohrn, Jon Hamm, Craig Robinson, Jane Lynch, Julie Andrews, Conrad Vernon, Kristen Schaal, Mary Kay Place, Meredith Vieira, Kathy Griffin, Lake Bell, Aron Warner, Christopher Knights, Cody Cameron, Frank Welker, John Cleese, Jeremy Steig, Chris Miller, Mike Mitchell, Ryan Seacrest.

Annie Award nominations: Animated Effects in an Animated Production (Andrew Young Kim), Voice Acting in a Feature Production (Cameron Diaz), Storyboarding in a Feature Production (Paul Fisher), Production Design in a Feature Production (Peter Zaslav), Music in a Feature Production (Harry Gregson Williams).


Puss in Boots

****

Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) first appeared in Shrek 2 (2004), and now, seven years on, he gets his very own film in this prequel to the Shrek franchise (2001-11). With childhood best friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and love interest Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), fugitive Puss is pitted against murderous outlaws Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris) in a quest to find magic beans, which are said to lead to a golden goose, and great fortune.

Puss in Boots, like all the most recent DreamWorks films features absolutely fantastic computer animation which brings together a multitude of colours together perfectly to make a beautiful final product. The design team clearly worked very hard as they captured wonderfully the rustic feel of older Spanish villages, and as well as this they created a wonderful amount of texture for Puss's and Kitty's fur.

Accompanying the animation is an altogether charming screenplay, witty in places, particularly in the duologues between characters such as Puss and Kitty, as well as Humpty's views on life as an egg, while also creating some quite emotional drama, particularly Puss's backstory told in a flashback which has the occasional comical scene, while also tugging on the heartstrings as we are told of the problems and emotional moments of Puss's life. Drama also comes in the film's climax in large portions as life and death situations are faced.
The screenplay also features wonderfully written characters who the cast voice with passion and emotion. The characters are very cleverly written, and a testimony to the writing skills of David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler and Brian Lynch. It would have been so easy to make Puss and Kitty the most humanesque anthropomorphic cats possible, however, the pair are believably cats. They lap up milk with their tongues, they hiss, they get distracted by lights and balls of wool. As for Jack and Jill, they are hugely dominant antagonists, the passionate rage by Thornton and Sedaris making them very bold and attention grabbing, while their on screen presence, which includes killing a stranger so they can sleep in an inn for the night, often dominates their scenes while capturing the murderous outlaw stereotype.

Altogether this film is a fitting conclusion to the Shrek franchise (2001-11), even if it does not centre on the grumpy green ogre, and has continued the recent DreamWorks string of hits, which started with Monsters vs. Aliens (2009).

2011.
PG.
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Constance Marie, Guillermo del Toro, Zeus Mendoza, Bob Joles, Mike Mitchell, Robert Persichetti Jr.

Oscar nomination: Best Animated Feature (Chris Miller).

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A new Box Office Record has been set

The weekend just finished saw the worldwide box office set a new record as Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) surpassed the $500 million mark, replacing Rio (2011) as the 10th highest grossing film of 2011, and in doing so made 2011 the first year in cinematic history where the 10 highest grossers each surpassed the half-billion dollars mark, after 2010 only just failed to as How to Train Your Dragon (2010) missed the half-billion mark by just over $5 million.


















Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Entire Franchise to Date: 'Madagascar'

Madagascar
***

When Zoo animals Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are being shipped to the wild, their crates fall off the ship and wash on to the shores of Madagascar. There they are treated like Gods by the Lemur population, but the lack of food starts to make Alex one dangerous predator.

In the post-The Incredibles (2004)/pre-Ratatouille (2007) era for computer animation DreamWorks were especially average or even disappointing, and Madagascar was released early on in this. Don't get me wrong, the film is by no means bad, but it isn't brilliant either. The animation is bright and colourful, with New York City and the jungles of Madagascar being beautiful and bold in design, and the Ocean waves graceful, although the faces of the animals don't convince as much as the faces of animals in Pixar films due to the fact, particularly around the nose area, they look a bit too blocky and set shaped, although the fur is very detailed, particularly in Alex's mane.
The screenplay itself isn't too bad either, with some quite comical moments and sly set-ups, plus some brilliant dialogue for the four Penguins (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John DiMaggio, Christopher Knights), but it is brought down by a rather anti-climactic final 15 minutes, and the odd scene which is slow-moving as it is just the four main characters arguing and stressing out. There is also a substantial lack of character development, with the only exception really being Alex, and despite some excellent, energetic voice performances you just can't be brought in so much by underdeveloped, under-written characters.

At the end of the day, though this is a fun and enjoyable film, and despite its flaws it's worth a watch, and the success of this film started DreamWorks second franchise after the Shrek franchise (2001-).

2005.
U.
Stars: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John DiMaggio, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon, Fred Tatasciore, Elisa Gabrielli.

Annie Award nominations: Best Animated Feature (DreamWorks Animation), Best Animated Effects (Matt Baer), Best Animated Effects (Rick Glumac), Best Animated Effects (Martin Usiak), Best Character Design in an Animated Feature Production (Craig Kellman), Best Production Design in an Animated Feature Production (Yoriko Ito), Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (Tom McGrath), Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (Catherine Yuh), Best Music in an Animated Feature Production (Hans Zimmer).


Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
**

When flying back to New York the plane carrying Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), the Penguins (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, John DiMaggio), the Monkeys (Conrad Vernon), Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter) crashes in an African Wildlife Preserve, Alex is reunited with his parents (Bernie Mac, Sherri Shepherd), but quickly loses his dad the title of Alpha Lion, so must take on the power-hungry Makunga (Alec Baldwin) to regain his dad's repuation.

For the initial twenty minutes or so, we have a film that feels just as enjoyable as the 2005 original, but is also presents a fairly moving opening, which comes a surprise and successfully draws us in. The jokes are less than expected, but still fairly amusing. After the crash land in Africa, however, the film just seriously goes down hill.
In Africa the jokes become far more frequent and far less amusing, resorting to cheap gags, such as cartoon violence which looks more like cartoon violence happening in a live-action film, as cartoon violence doesn't suit computer animation; and also jokes about big butts, which are rarely funny, as well as gags of common errors/foolish mistakes, which are underwritten and just fail to amuse.
After this the characters also become far too underdeveloped, with several new characters introduced as part of the Africa story, but barely getting the surface of them scratched, and some of the original characters in a number of scenes get pushed aside and get a lot less development than is expected. The number of scenes which are both underwritten and also unnecessary is genuinely staggering, and its clear they failed to focus on the screenplay as they worked as hard as possible to get a sequel to what became a much loved film three years earlier out in cinemas. Even the Penguins aren't as entertaining, with their antics not as funny when you see their general personalities in a couple of scenes.

At the end of the day the main strand of the film is The Lion King (1994) but in the over-excited, gag-reliant style of Madagascar, and it is poorly written, with the plot not well developed, pointless subplots, and no amount of bright, colourful animation - which isn't brilliant, but still nice to look - and energetic voice acting can make up for this. It is the worst computer animation from DreamWorks to date, and is not one to watch in a hurry.

2008.
PG.
Stars: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bernie Mac, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, John DiMaggio, Alec Baldwin, Sherri Shepherd, Andy Richter, Elisa Gabrielli, will.i.am, Conrad Vernon, Fred Tatasciore, Quinn Dempsey Stiller, Declan Swift, Thomas Stanley, Zachary Gordon, Willow Smith.

Annie Award nominations: Best Animated Effects (Fangwei Lee), Best Writing in an Animated Feature Production (Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Etan Cohen).


WHAT'S NEXT?
The TV series The Penguins of Madagascar (2009-) continues to air, while TV special Madly Madagascar is set to air this year. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted gets its cinematic release on June 8th 2012, while an Untitled Madagascar Penguins film has been confirmed. DreamWorks have also stated it is very likely a fourth film will be made where the animals return at last to New York.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Angels & Demons


**

Investigating the mysterious circumstances around the death of the Pope, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) uncovers a plot to kill four Cardinals, however the trail ultimately leads to a plot to blow up the Vatican.

A somewhat formulaic sequel to The Da Vinci Code (2006), there are a number of "saw it coming" type moments, e.g. a dead body pointing to the next piece of the jigsaw, or a helpful supporting character - this time Camerlengo McKenna (Ewan McGregor) - turning out to be the real antagonist. The screenplay also suffers due to being underdeveloped, with some scenes dragged out by poorly written and sometimes pointless dialogue, while others are fast paced scenes, in what feel like attempts to get through the narrative as quickly as possible, resulting in very little character development and weak emotional arcs.

Visually some of the scenes are very powerful, particularly the film's presumed climax (as opposed to the ultimate anti-climax), thanks to some literally explosive special effects, as well as being dark and gritty where appropriate by making strong use of shadows and blood, while the score by Hans Zimmer only heightens the  power and grit of these particular scenes. In terms of the cast Hanks is a decent lead, bringing a sense of wisdom and authority to Langdon, while McGregor puts some passion and emotion into his performance as McKenna. However, almost all of their co-stars give dull and even bored performances, putting little passion and work into their performances, presumably due to the poorly developed characters the screenplay provides them with.

In short, a religious yarn, very flawed in places, just like the 2000 source text, and altogether a little too predictable and unoriginal after The Da Vinci Code, which also includes a hugely disappointing anti-climactic ending.

2009.
12.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, David Pasquesi, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Thure Lindhardt, Elya Baskin, Pasquale Cassalia, Auguste Fredrik, Endre Hules.

Art Directors Guild nomination: Excellence in Production Design Award (Contemporary Films: Allan Cameron, Giles Masters, Keith P. Cunningham, Dawn Swiderski, Luke Freeborn, Alex Cameron, Mark Homes, Jeff Markwith, Patricia Johnson, Patte Strong-Lord, Clint Schultz, Gunnar Ahmer, James Gemmill, Robert Gould).

The Entire Franchise to Date: 'Cars'

Cars

***

Set in a world populated only by anthropomorphic motorised vehicles (that also includes planes, trains and motorbikes), the film follows cocky race car, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who is stranded in Radiator Springs, a town in the middle of nowhere, en route to California and the biggest race of his career. But during his time in the town he learns just how valuable life is and learns to appreciate the little things in life.

Cars is the seventh Pixar film, after Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004). All of these incredible animations have been hit, no question about it whatsoever. Cars, however, is the first miss, and so far the only one from Pixar to date. Do not misunderstand this, statement, for it has nothing to do with the animation. As always the animation is absolutely outstanding. It is bright, it is colourful, and it is full of outstanding detail. The dust and sand of Route 66 and the surrounding area feels so real, not too blocky, not too thin and flimsy, but captures real life dust effects down to a tee. Despite being anthropomorphic, talking cars, the cars are still very realistic, thanks to the fact that they still glint and shine in the sunlight. The racing scenes, however, are the most incredible animation pieces of the entire film, fast paced, quickly edited, and made with stunning detail and just feel so realistic to watch, and are very engaging also. In short they are mini-masterpieces, and the animation is all-in-all flawless.

The characters are also good entertainment, with some very good voice performances. Wilson makes Lightning cool and cocky, while Bonnie Hunt makes Sally, a Porsche Lightning falls in love with, very sassy. Paul Newman makes Doc Hudson, a retired race car from the '50s a very deep, complex and amusingly grumpy character, and strong supporting vocal performances are provided by Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, George Carlin, Tony Shalhoub, Michael Wallis, Guido Quaroni, Paul Dooley, Michael Keaton, Richard Petty, John Ratzenberger and Katherine Helmond. The most memorable character, however, is rusty tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Dimwitted, wise-cracking and quite brash, Larry brings great energy and strength to his performance and really steals the film as Mater.

The film's major flaw, however, is the screenplay. All other Pixar screenplays have been deep and complex, but with lots of excellent gags that make the films so engaging. Cars, however, does not have this. The majority of the gags (in other words any gag that doesn't come from Mater) just fall flat, there's nothing well-written or particularly funny about them, and it's just as if they were written by a small child. The racing sequences may be vastly exhilarating to watch and very well made, but they are really let down by almost all of the other scenes in the film, which are dragged out and plod along at a slow pace, making it often hard to keep one's attention. Even the message of the film, is understated. It gets little development, and is barely more than the other characters saying "You need to realize how important life is" to Lightning.

Good entertainment, with outstanding animation, this film is, but it is little more than that. As it is Pixar, and I am their biggest fan I say watch it anyhow as it's enjoyable and you will be left speechless by the incredible animation.

2006.
PG.
Stars:
Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, Tony Shalhoub, George Carlin, Michael Wallis, Guido Quaroni, Paul Dooley, Michael Keaton, Richard Petty, John Ratzenberger, Katherine Helmond.

Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature (John Lasseter), Best Original Song (Our Town - Randy Newman, James Taylor).


Cars 2

**

Cars (2006) may have been the weakest Pixar film, and one of the lowest box office performers ($461 million worldwide, while all other Pixar films during the 2000s grossed $526-$868 million), but it made some $8 billion in merchandise, gaining a huge fan base along the way, so a sequel would always be on the table.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is invited to participate in the first World Grand Prix, and flies overseas with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). However, when Mater runs into British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), he is mistaken for a spy and becomes involved in their mission to stop Professor Zündapp (Thomas Kretschmann) from bringing down biofuel Allinol.

Like every single film Pixar has made Cars 2 features incredible computer animation, which brings together every colour imaginable, into what can only be described, visually, as a piece of artwork. All characters, including those in the very background, are very well designed so they look like genuine cars in their slick movements on the roads, but also have a lovely humanesque quality in their expressions.
The locations are also as beautiful in design. Tokyo is bold and dazzling, looking just as incredible in animation as it does in real life; Italy is beautifully rustic, a real architectural stunner; Paris is captured to a tee, even featuring street markets and is just as closely detailed as it was in Ratatouille (2007); and finally London is perfectly recreated in everything, from major tourist attractions, English pubs, Routemaster buses, and black Taxi cabs, bringing a genuinely authentic feel to it.

The film's main drawback is the screenplay, which jumps from the World Grand Prix to the spy adventure more frequently and unexpectedly than necessary. The main issue though is the fact that there are too many ideas crammed in, such as the races, the enquiries of the spies, and the meeting with Luigi's (Tony Shalhoub) family (Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero). Yes the first two are necessary, and slick in design but they are underdeveloped with little substance, and they would work if there was more time designated to the film's running time, therefore more time designated to these scenes. As well as this the jokes are more miss than hit throughout, with foolish gags that just fall flat, and also effortless car puns, such as Big Ben being called Big Bentley, the Radiator Springs cinema showing The Incredimobiles, John Lassetyre and Gusteau's restaurant in Paris (from Ratatouille) being called Gastow.

The characters are a mixed bunch, but the voice cast are good. Generally the characters are all one-sided and potentially irritating but the voice cast salvage them well: Caine brings his signature British charm to Finn, while Mortimer brings her own lovely charm to Holley; Wilson is cool and a lot less cocky as Lightning; and John Turturro brings great energy to the role of Italian racing car Francesco Bernoulli. The problem is Mater, and while Larry brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to him, the character is written to be too overly stupid and just gets irritating. The rusty old tow truck worked as a supporting character, but not as a lead. Throughout the film as well you can't help but miss Paul Newman's Doc Hudson, who following Newman's death in 2008 has been dead for almost a year and the Piston Cup is now named the Hudson Hornet Piston Cup. It was the right decision to kill the character off as a new voice would be a bit tactless, but one can't help but miss the crabby old philosopher. A major drawback, however, is that old favourite characters such as Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Mack (John Ratzenberger) have little input to the narrative, while hippie VW Camper Van Fillmore (Lloyd Sherr replacing the late George Carlin) is little more than an extra until the end of the film.

Even further below Pixar's usual standard than its predecessor, this has a lot of flaws, but it is enjoyable, and is a reasonable film for a family to watch. It's just a shame it's not as good as any other Pixars, which is even more of a shame when you think it came after a four year flush for Pixar - Ratatouille, WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) - and broke that great chain of hit, like Cars broke Pixar's original chain of hits that consisted of six films - Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004).

2011.
U.
Stars:
Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, Thomas Kretschmann, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Peter Jacobson, Tony Shalhoub, Guido Quaroni, John Turturro, Paul Dooley, Lloyd Sherr, Sig Hansen, Darrell Waltrip, Stanley Townsend, Brad Lewis, John Mainieri, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Bruce Campbell, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, John Ratzenberger, Michael Wallis, Jeff Garlin, Brent Musburger, David Hobbs, Katherine Helmond.


WHAT'S NEXT?
While the TV series of shorts Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales (2008-) continues to air, there seems to be no plans for a Cars 3, although a direct-to-DVD spin-off entitled Planes is set to be released in Spring 2013.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Another Unecessary Sequel? This Franchise has Already been Milked Tonnes!

I've just discovered that a project currently entitled Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is due to be released in Summer 2013. Disney - you released a lovely and hugely fun film in Summer 2003, and then followed it with three poor and unecessary sequels (2006/7/11). I get the fourth film left it open for one more sequel at least, and that the franchise's gross revenue of nigh on $3.728 billion is a motive for more films to be made. But all the poor reviews of the sequels should surely be a dissentive. Disney was once about making quality films for the family, now the live action stuff that's churned out every year is almost always sloppy. I'm not looking forward to this fifth Pirates film, and they're even talking about a sixth. Disney should just be satisfied by what they've done and move on to something else, regardless of how enjoyable and loveable Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) had amazingly remained.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Entire Franchise to Date: Peter Jackson's 'The Lord of the Rings'

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


*****
"One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them."
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first installment in Peter Jackson's multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955) and is the start of, quite honestly, the best, most successful film trilogy of all time.

The film starts off with, quite frankly, one of the most spectacular openings that I have ever seen.
In a brief, yet very dramatic prologue, we learn that long ago the uber-evil Dark Lord Sauron (Sala Baker) forged the One Ring of Power, into which he pours all his power, hate, malice and will to dominate all life, only to lose it on the slopes of Mount Doom in an epic battle against the last alliance of elves and men. After a complicated journey the Ring is found a good three thousand years later on the slopes of the Misty Mountains by hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm).
What makes this such a memorable opening is Sauron in all his glory. For fans of the book it is a great surprise as, in the entire trilogy of books, Sauron is never seen but often referred to, arguably most notably by his 'puppet' sorcerer Saruman the White (played in the film by Christopher Lee) as slowly but surely being returned to his full power after being defeated by Isildur (Harry Sinclair) on the slopes of Mount Doom. That could be looked at from two angles - the first being a huge mistake on Tolkien's part, as people want the antagonist to actually take part/be seen in what they are reading, and the second being an excellent creative decision on Tolkien's part, as man's greatest fear is in fact the fear of the unknown, and Sauron is an unseen character who causes great fear to grip the hearts of most of the peoples living in Tolkien's Middle-Earth.
Jackson's depiction of Sauron in all his glory is truly incredible. At over ten feet tall the enormous Dark Lord dominates the battlefield, wearing tons of armour that won't fail to wow you and make your jaw drop. His weapon of choice is a mace that is at least six feet long and sends the elves and men flying in all directions. The action won't fail to grip you thanks to the outstanding visuals, and in the brief time that Sauron is fighting you will be on the edge of your seat, unable to tear your eyes away, and the scene shows just how powerful and almost unstoppable a force that characters such as wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and elf Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) make him out to be/have been in both the films and the books.

Now, for the main strand of the plot...
Sixty years after first finding the Ring Bilbo is preparing to celebrate his 111th birthday. As soon as the celebrations are over he leaves for Rivendell where he intends to live with the elves for the rest of his life. He leaves everything to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), including the Ring. Their old friend, wizard Gandalf the Grey, discovers that it is indeed the One Ring - which is a nice piece of dramatic irony as we are always aware that it is indeed the One Ring, while none of the characters realize it until Gandalf's suspicions are confirmed - and that Sauron and his various Ringwraith and orc minions are still searching for it. Along with gardener Sam (Sean Astin), kinsmen Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), and Dunedain ranger Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Frodo takes the Ring to elf haven Rivendell where Elrond calls a secret council where it is quickly agreed that the Ring must be taken into Mount Doom, where it was forged, which of course lies deep in enemy territory, where it is to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom, therefore destroying the Ring and Sauron for ever and restoring peace to Middle-Earth. Frodo agrees to take it, though he knows he can't do it alone, so Gandalf, Aragorn, elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), soldier Boromir (Sean Bean), Sam, Merry and Pippin, all swear allegiance to Frodo, that they will protect him and help him complete his quest, no matter what the cost to themselves is, and becoming the (titular) Fellowship of the Ring.
The Fellowship begins their epic treck across Middle-Earth, over mountains, through mines, through woods and sailing down the great River Anduin, in their bid to get to Mordor, where along the way they have to fight hoards of orcs, a cave troll and even a Balrog, a legendary fire demon. Matters are further complicated by the fact that Gandalf's old friend, wizard Saruman the White has betrayed them by joining forces with Sauron and is plotting/trying to kill them at all times, and reclaim the Ring for Sauron, and has even built up an army of Uruk-Hai, a superior breed of orc, stronger, faster and more ferocious than regular orcs, lead by the monstrous, blood-thirsty Lurtz (Lawrence Makoure).

Peter Jackson chose to film The Lord of the Rings in his native New Zealand, and as far as I'm concerned that is one of the best creative decisions any director has ever made. The vast open landscapes are beautifully eye-catching and are used to truly capture the essence of the journey the Fellowship make, the distance shots really making you feel just how long and epic a treck it is for the nine companions. On top of that Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and his team will wow you without fail with beautiful aerial shots of a range of stunning snow-capped mountains that they captured from a helicopter.

If you've seen the film then it will come as no surprise to you that it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Even if you are someone who openly hates the fantasy genre with a passion it will be impossible for you not to be awestruck by the effects. The all time high points in the special effects department are elvish warrior Arwen (Liv Tyler) driving away the nine Ringwraiths pursuing her and Frodo by summoning the river to wash them away; Saruman hitting the Caradhras mountains with a lightning bolt, that causes the Fellowship, who are forcing their way through the snowy mountain, to get buried by an avalanche of snow, and, most memorable of all, the Fellowship of the Ring's bid to escape from the Mines of Moria. Once they are in the final part of the mines they are on a rickety set of stairs above an almost bottomless chasm, only to find several steps missing, so that they have to jump over to get onto the rest of the stairs. Orcs are shooting at them from a platform a good two hundred feet away, the staircase is beginning to crumble, the ceiling above them is starting to cave in, and legendary fire demon, the Balrog, is visibly awakening beneath them. Once they've got past the staircase they have to cross the narrow Bridge of Khazad-Dum, on which Gandalf and the Balrog engage in a fierce, deadly battle with over the near-bottomless chasm, with tragic consequences for the Fellowship. These scenes/images will truly stick in your memory and give The Fellowship of the Ring so much stunning impact that it will be almost impossible to forget the film or the mind-blowing effects.

As well as the effects the film is truly carried by the characters. Although the film is full to bursting with hobbits, elves, wizards, orcs and dwarves all of the characters are still human. Despite all of his wisdom and seriousness Gandalf is rather mischievous, and in his early scenes he takes great pleasure in wowing the hobbit folk of the Shire with his spectacular fireworks. Sam initially has great anxiety over leaving the Shire, which he overcomes after Frodo's life is put on the line, following his being poisoned by the Witch-King of Angmar's (Shane Rangi and Brent McIntyre, with the voice of Andy Serkis) Morgul blade. Legolas and Gimli have a bitter dislike of each other that goes back generations of elves and dwarves, but after Gandalf's death they put aside their differences, united in their grief, and eventually become friends after they meet Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). All of the characters work together beautifully to create a dark, gripping and emotional film, although the comic relief from Billy Boyd's Pippin is more than welcome, and works very well with the rest of the film, thanks to Pippin getting some great one-liners, and Boyd displaying immaculate comic timing.

Arguably, the most impacting scene of the film is a quiet one in Moria where Frodo despairs that he won't be able to complete his quest, and is comforted by Gandalf, who says "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All that you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you." That moment packs a hard, emotional punch, and is one of a number of touchs/factors of the film that elevates The Fellowship of the Ring from blockbuster to genuine masterpiece.

In short, the irony considering the length of this review, The Fellowship of the Ring is a beautifully deep, dark and emotional film that will really impact you and make you truly long to watch its two equally outstanding sequels (2002 and 2003), and it is a film that you will remember for the rest of your life.


2001 (Original Edition), 2002 (Extended Edition).
PG.
Stars:
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Sala Baker, Lawrence Makoure, Andy Serkis, Martin Csokas, Craig Parker.

Oscars: Best Cinematography (Andrew Lesnie), Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook, Richard Taylor, Mark Stetson), Best Makeup (Peter Owen, Richard Taylor), Best Original Score (Howard Shore).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Barrie M. Osbourne), Best Director (Peter Jackson), Best Supporting Actor (Ian McKellen), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah), Best Editing (John Gilbert), Best Costume Design (Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Gethin Creagh, Hammond Peek), Best Original Song (May It Be - Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan).


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


*****
"The World is changing. Who now has the strength to stand against the armies of Isengard and Mordor? To stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman and the union of the two towers?
Together, my lord Sauron, we shall rule this Middle-Earth."
Released a year after The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers is the second installment in Peter Jackson's big budget multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955), which is the most successful film trilogy of all time, as well as the best film series of all time in this critic's view.

The film starts off with a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) battling the Balrog (an ancient fire demon) on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum and being pulled off by the falling Balrog into the near bottomless chasm to die while the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring (Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Bean) look on in horror. However, the scene goes on to show what Gandalf did after falling; while falling the wizard catches his sword and continues to battle the Balrog and the scene then cuts just as the pair are about to fall into a lake of water at the bottom of the chasm. This is a truly memorable opening thanks to three components. Firstly, is the effects and mise-en-scene, with the Balrog being an visually outstanding creation and truly fierce and terrifying through the incricate design of its face, and the sheer power of the flames that engulf it; while the chasm is so detailed, with the great rock walls being seriously sharp and eye-catching and becoming the perfect place for such an epic battle, as the whole being walled in brings forth for the two battling the realization that there is no escaping. Secondly, the editing and sound effects make the battle truly fast-paced and gripping with no dull moments, and a lot of visual exhilaration. Thirdly and finally, is the amount of passion with which Gandalf battles; the raw power and determination he puts into the fighting is truly gripping to watch, and displays more passion in battle than almost any other character in film history, and truly shows just how powerful and driven a character Gandalf is. With all of these combined it truly is a powerful, and memorable prologue.

Now for the main strand of the plot...
The film picks up almost exactly where The Fellowship of the Ring left off, with the Fellowship broken, and sees five parralel narratives...
The first narrative follows Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) who are hopelessly lost in their attempts to reach Mordor, with the Ring very gradually gaining a hold over Frodo. In the hills of Emyn Huil where the pair are lost they capture the Ring's former owner, Gollum (Andy Serkis), who had been stalking them for the majority of their journey since they left Rivendell. To have his life spared Gollum swears allegiance to Frodo and agrees to lead them to Mount Doom and it genuinely seems that he is willing to stay true to his word. Along the way they are taken by Gondorian ranger Faramir (David Wenham), leader of a large number of rangers, and brother of Boromir (Bean) and it soon becomes clear that Faramir's intention for the Ring's fate is just like that of his brother's.
The second and main narrative follows Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (Rhys-Davies) as they track the Uruk-Hai that kidnapped Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd) over the vast open spaces of Rohan. In Fangorn Forest they come across the newly resurrected Gandalf the White, who, after assuring them that Merry and Pippin are safe (see third narrative), makes it clear to them that they must help King Theoden (Bernard Hill) and his niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto) evacuate the citizens of Edoras to Helm's Deep, where they lead the armies of Rohan and Lorien elves in an epic battle against an army of 10000 Uruk-Hai that Saruman (Christopher Lee) has built, while Gandalf uses five days to travel cross-country to muster an army of Rohirrim who had been banished (see fourth narrative).
The third narrative sees Merry and Pippin being taken by the Uruk-Hai to Isengard. However, when the Uruks stop to make camp for a few hours they are ambushed by Eomer (Karl Urban) and a group of Rohirrim who had been banished (see fourth narrative) and the two hobbits escape into Fangorn Forest. There they are taken by Ent Treebeard (also Rhys-Davies), who promises to protect them under the orders of Gandalf; and the two hobbits persuade the Ents to march against Isengard after they discover how much of the forest Saruman has had cut down for fuel.
The fourth narrative follows Saruman and his puppet, the traitorous Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Saruman has now got a strong allegiance with Sauron (Sala Baker) and the two towers of Barad-dur and Orthanc are now united. Joining in Sauron's goal to destroy and take over Middle-Earth Saruman forms an army of 10000 Urak-Hai to take Helm's Deep and destroy Rohan's people, after getting vital information from Wormtongue, King Theoden's aid, who uses his authority and a spell Saruman places on Theoden to banish Theoden's nephew Eomer and his soldiers, and kill Theoden's wounded son Theodred (Paris Howe Strewe).
The fifth and final narrative sees Arwen (Liv Tyler) dwell/think back on the long relationship she has shared with Aragorn and, while seeking advice from father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) try to make the hardest decision of her life. Should she stay in Middle-Earth to be with Aragorn and live a mortal life, or should she sail out to the Undying Lands with much of her kin, and live eternal life, but never see Aragorn again?

Once again Peter Jackson has proved that filming The Lord of the Rings in his native New Zealand was an outstanding creative decision on his part. The vast open landscapes truly capture the essence of Middle-Earth and really makes the viewer feel just how epic the trecks the various characters must take are, and are truly eye-catching and stunning to look at, thanks a lot to Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie's well created and very artistic shots. Jackson also truly finds good use for all of the different types of New Zealand's great outdoors, making use/taking shots of open fields, rivines, rivers, mountains and cliffs to help tell his story and create a vast, visually impressive and overall epic Middle-Earth.

Like with The Fellowship of the Ring it will come as no surprise to those of you who have seen the film that the film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, by, if anything, improving on those from The Fellowship of the Ring. Even if you are someone who openly hates the fantasy genre with passion it will be impossible for you not to be awestruck by the incredible effects of the film. The all-time high points in the effects department include the above mentioned opening battle between Gandalf and the Balrog; the Battle of Helm's Deep where a Berzerker Uruk-Hai blows up the wall in a roaring, ground shaking explosion; a Ringwraith-ridden Nazgul attacking the city of Osgiliath; and the Ents marching against Isengard, trampling the orcs and Uruk-Hai, destroying the walls and then breaking the dam, flooding Isengard and leaving Saruman trapped and a lot more defenceless in his tower. The effects are created with great care, detail and stunning power, making them truly memorable and impacting, stunning to watch and bringing you to the edge of your seat.
The Ents are masterpieces of CGI as the amount of care and detail that went into making them both as detailed and tree-like as possible, and making them come to life with creaking and true domination, which causes them to be seriously eye-catching and boldly stick in one's memory.
However, it is Gollum who captures our hearts and attention more than any special effects. Based on Andy Serkis's lizard and cat like motion capture performances Gollum is a wonderful animal like creation of CGI, who is brilliantly disfigured by the CGI and made animal like, and it is so incredible to think that such a character as that can be created to look so visually impressive and the fact that in appearance he still seems fairly human and 100% believable as a character, in light of the distorted, wiry body and grey skin, will make it impossible for our attention to wander.

In spite of the effects, however, the film, like its predecessor, is truly carried by its characters. The human characters of Aragorn, Eowyn, Faramir and Eomer are all such driven, determined characters, and, in the cases of all but Eowyn, fight in battle with passion and bravery and are truly wonderful leaders of soldiers. Theoden, seems to give up after Theodred's death and after being freed from Saruman's spell, as he feels Rohan can't win against the armies of Saruman, but after being spoken to by his Royal body guard Gamling (Bruce Hopkins) decides that he will fight to the death, even if he can't win and becomes a truly determined soldier. As for the rest of the characters, they may be composed of elves, hobbits, dwarves, et cetera, but they are all rather human. The above mentioned Gollum has some excellently written and truly creepy schizophrenic moments, as he tries to turn over a new leaf as he aids Frodo in his quest to help Frodo destroy the Ring, but still can't resist being an a**ehole towards Sam by calling him "fat hobbit" and getting into constant arguments with him. Treebeard is just like an old man in his pace of speech and movements, and in his kindly protective attitude to Merry and Pippin, and, upon his discovery of the trees chopped down by Saruman's orcs for fuels, channels his obvious grief to give him the strength to lead a revenge march straight into Isengard. Frodo shows just how trusting an attitude he has to Gollum, and shows just how merciful he is to Gollum and how heartbreaking and pitiful he finds Gollum's constant suffering following his half-millenia as the Ring's bearer and his torture at the hands of Mordor's orcs, while Sam shows just how loyal and smart he is, and the screenplay shows just how much the effects of what they see in Middle-Earth effects Sam's emotions and how his sheltered upbringing in the Shire has meant he finds it a massive shock being thrown into the real world of war and suffering. Thanks to his little dwarf legs and beer belly Gimli struggles to keep up with Aragorn and Legolas as they chase the Uruk-Hai over the vast open plains of Rohan, but his love for Merry and Pippin and determination to kill the Uruk-Hai after they have taken Merry and Pippin and killed Boromir is what keeps him going and drives him to continue jogging over the plains.
On the other hand, Legolas sprints non-stop over the plains without even getting out of breath, and he is absolutely unstoppable when battling the Uruks at Helm's Deep, killing numerous foes, and using his skill and strength to help others on several occasions, and it is this that makes him appear a lot less human than any other characters, or he did in the film's predecessor, unless of course you compare him to a superhuman such as Spider-Man, which you would be a fool to do. This is a deliciously wonderful contrast to the rest of the characters and the character of Legolas, well, you can't help but be drawn in by him.

Arguably, the most impacting scene of the film is at the end when Frodo despairs that he can't complete his quest, only for Sam to assure him that, although the world is full of death and destruction, that there is some good left which is worth fighting for. This is made as powerful as it is as Frodo's despair is truly heartbreaking to see and causes sympathy to rise from one's heart, while Sean Astin, steals this moment by making Sam's words truly heartfelt and powerful, and you can see the power and determination shining from the actor as he gives it his all with great success. Like with a fairly similar moment between Frodo and Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, this is one of a number moments, touchs and contributing factors that truly elevates the film from blockbuster to a genuine masterpiece.

In short, the serious irony considering how long and detailed this review is, The Two Towers is a beautifully scripted, truly deep, dark and emotional film, that picks up from its predecessor and is of an equal standard and truly builds up the excitement for the spectacular finale The Return of the King (2003).


2002 (Original Edition), 2003 (Extended Edition).
12.
Stars:
Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Craig Parker, Bruce Hopkins, John Leigh, Cate Blanchett, John Bach, Sala Baker.
Sean Bean, John Noble (Extended Edition only).

Oscars: Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke), Best Sound Editing (Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh), Best Editing (Michael Horton), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee).


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


*****
"Sauron moves to strike the city of Minas Tirith. His defeat at Helm's Deep showed our enemy one thing. The heir of Elendil has come forth. Men are not as weak as he supposed. There is courage still - strength enough left to challenge him.
Sauron fears this. He will not risk the peoples of Middle-Earth uniting under one banner. He will raise Minas Tirith to the ground before he sees the return of the King."
Released a year after The Two Towers (2002), The Return of the King is the concluding installment to Peter Jackson's big budget multi-award winning adaptation of JRR Tolkien's epic masterpiece (1954-1955), which is the most successful film trilogy of all time, and the most spectacular, highly rated in this critic's view.

The film opens with a prologue set the best part of six centuries before the main plotline. While fishing out on the River Anduin to celebrate hobbit Smeagol's (Andy Serkis) birthday, Deagol (Thomas Robins) discovers The One Ring, lost for over two and a half thousand years. Drawn to its power Smeagol kills Deagol and retreats into the Misty Mountains with it where gradually over time he is reduced to the creature Gollum, mangled, animal-like, and psychologically disturbed, with the entire process of the transformation narrated by Gollum as he tells of how he became what he is today and what he forgot about the life he once had.
There are a number of reasons, not just the fact it is so interesting to see Gollum's story, why this is such a powerful, heart-wrenching and engrossing opening to such an outstanding film, three of which I shall write about...
Firstly, the makeup! When watching the first two films one will wonder how a hobbit could become such a mangled and warped creature, especially when comparing Gollum to Frodo (Elijah Wood), Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Sam (Sean Astin). However, the process is shown to be a very gradual one, with each shot showing the hair thinning more, the body becoming skinnier and bonier, the eyes bulging more, the teeth becoming sharper and fewer, and the use of his limbs becoming more warped and animal like, with his voice getting huskier and higher pitched at the same time. The makeup shows just how much The Ring's power transformed Gollum from a hobbit into what he and emphasizes just how much it ruined Gollum. The images of the makeup are also fairly disturbing to look at and are also very striking, so they are guaranteed to stick in your mind as you look upon them.
Secondly, the voiceover! The narration by Andy Serkis in his voice of Gollum which is both husky and high-pitched, and seriously spine-tingling, thanks to the voice being altogether creepy in the first place. Aside from that it also makes it clear how much there has been suffering for Gollum from his point of view and provides some significant character development as you watch the torture The Ring unleashes upon him unfold before your eyes. Third and finally is Serkis's performance. Serkis makes Smeagol icily cold and gripping in the murder of Deagol to a gut-wrenching level. The pain and writhing in the emotions Serkis expresses and the physical movement are truly well-created and feel so realistic that you will be unable to tear your eyes away, with the display in front of you making you sympathize so much for the character's predicament and, in some people's views, weakness, and, will effect the way you view the character in the rest of the film.

Now for the main strand of the film's narrative, which picks up almost exactly where The Two Towers left off. The film sees three parralel narratives, which go something along these lines to carry the film from start to end...
The first narrative follows Frodo and Sam being lead ever closer to Mount Doom by Gollum. Little do they know that Gollum is plotting to kill Frodo and reclaim The Ring, but not before turning Frodo against Sam. Things are also further complicated by the fact that The Ring's power is taking ahold of Frodo, and he is getting ever more loving of it.
The second and main narrative starts with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Theoden (Bernard Hill), Eomer (Karl Urban) and Gamling (Bruce Hopkins) taking Merry and Pippin from Isengard to a 100% safe place in Edoras, with Pippin finding Saruman's (Christopher Lee) Palantir in the water at the base of Orthanc after Saruman is killed by Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) and falls from the top of the tower, and Gandalf taking it for safe-keeping. During the night, however, Pippin looks into it again and sees a glimpse of Sauron's (Sala Baker) plan to destroy Gondor, with the enemy assuming that Pippin has The Ring. From here this narrative splits into three parralel narratives...
Gandalf takes Pippin to Minas Tirith to keep the young hobbit safe, and to persuade Lord Denethor (John Noble) to prepare the city's soldiers for battle. After the 600,000 plus orcs and trolls take Osgiliath and kill all of Faramir's (David Wenham) men, Gandalf leads Minas Tirith's soldiers in the defence of the city as it is attacked left, right and centre by the hoards of orcs and trolls, as far as the eye can see on the Pelennor Fields, lead by Gothmog (Lawrence Makoure, with the voice of Craig Parker), and by the nine Ringwraith-ridden Nazgul, lead by the Witch-King of Angmar (Makoure, with the voice of Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, Theoden and Eomer lead over 6000 riders to Minas Tirith in a battle to the death against all the orcs and trolls, and a large group of Mumakil, ridden by hundreds of Haradrim. While all this goes on Aragorn, having been given the sword of Elendil (Peter McKenzie in the first film) by Elrond (Hugo Weaving) - who convinces Aragorn to follow his destiny, leads Legolas and Gimli into the Paths of the Dead to convince the ghosts of soldiers Isildur cursed over 3000 years ago to fight for him and bring them victory on the Pelennor Fields.
The third narrative sees Arwen (Liv Tyler) choose a mortal life with Aragorn, and convince Elrond to reforge the sword of Elendil and give it to Aragorn so he may lead the peoples of Middle-Earth to victory and reclaim the throne of Gondor (see the end of second narrative). However, Arwen's fate becomes bound to The Ring, and unless it is destroyed she will die.

I am aware that I emphasized this in my reviews of the first two films, but it has to be said that yet again Peter Jackson proved that filming the entire film in his native New Zealand was a truly outstanding creative decision. In The Return of the King Jackson makes great use of everything, from forests and lakes, to cliffs and snow-topped mountains, creating a stunning Middle-Earth to perfection. Although I am aware that many will disagree with this, I feel that the most beautiful use of New Zealand was in the lighting of the beacons scene, where Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and his team (from a helicopter) take a series shots from the peaks of a range of snow-capped mountains. These fine shots are so beautifully eye-catching and breathtaking to look at, and will truly make you long to travel to New Zealand.

Like its predecessors, it will come as no surprise to those of you who have seen The Return of the King that it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, by, quite frankly, topping the special effects of both The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Two Towers. Even a person who openly hates the fantasy genre with passion will be unable to deny just how fantastic the effects are and will find it impossible to take their eyes off the beautiful effects before them. Where the special effects are concerned, the all-time highlights include the siege of Minas Tirith, which leads to the Battle of Pelennor Fields; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli's confrontation with the King of the Dead (Paul Norell); Sam's battle with giant arachnid Shelob; and, most of all, the film's climactic destruction of The Ring, which, upon The Ring going down into the lava of Mount Doom causes the eye of Sauron to implode, causing Mordor to collapse in on itself, and Mount Doom to erupt, destroying the three surviving Nazgul and the Ringwraiths that ride them with balls of fire and molten rock, and great rivers of lava to flow down the sides of the volcano. Each and every one of these outstanding visuals is created with so much great care and attention to detail, making them memorably stunning, impacting and vivid that you will be unable to take your eyes off them as they wow you, and bring you to the edge of your seat. Shelob is a masterpiece of CGI, and just feels so realistic and intimidating through the sheer size and ferocity that the effects department created through said CGI, that she will be impossible to forget and an absolutely incredible character to watch on screen, so full marks to the effects department for her truly successful and outstanding creation.
However, just like in The Two Towers, it is Gollum who once again captures our hearts and attention more than any special effects. Based on Andy Serkis's cat and lizard based motion capture performance, what is truly incredible is the fact that Gollum is seriously disfigured and animal-like thanks to the CGI, yet is still feels really realistic and is 100% believable as a character, making it impossible for your attention to be distracted from this completely and utterly eye-catching and gripping character, and is a true masterpiece in CGI creation.

Like its predecessors, the film doesn't rely on the jaw-droppingly eye-catching visuals to carry the film, but rather uses its characters to carry the film from start to finish. The human characters of Aragorn, Theoden and Eomer are all such strong-willed and determined leaders and are fantastic in the battle sequences, while Eowyn (Miranda Otto) follows her heart by disguising herself as a man in order to battle, Faramir shows just how determined he is to protect Gondor by leading his men on a suicide mission, and Denethor truly shows just how much the loss of a child can affect a parent, as his grief over the death of Boromir (Sean Bean) causes him to give up, and his despair over Faramir's apparent death (which - if Faramir were dead - would mean the loss of both his children) drives him to suicide.
As for the characters that aren't humans, but are instead various elves, wizards, hobbits and dwarves, like with the fist two films, they are all rather, well, human. Merry and Pippin conquer all of their fears and anxieties shown in The Fellowship of the Ring, and charge into battle against the forces of Mordor, slaying many foes, and showing just how much they have truly grown up since they left the Shire. Frodo struggles on his quest and eventually comes to terms with the fact that he isn't strong enough to complete his quest alone, while Sam proves to be a great source of comfort to his best friend, and shows just how courageous he has become over the course of the trilogy, as the toughness of their quest hits them hard in the chest on the slopes of Mount Doom. Even, Gollum, can be seen as human, certainly in the first half of the film, as he has his usual moments of creepy schizophrenia, and starts to doubt whether he has the strength and courage to kill Frodo. Even more surprisingly, is the fact that over the course of the film Gandalf starts to become more and more human, and his great power and skill in battle slowly dwindles. Although he is an unstoppable battler and a truly courageous leader in the siege on Minas Tirith, after his staff is destroyed by the Witch-King, it becomes clear that he is struggling to battle as hard and courageously as before and that he is becoming weaker and even more frail, yet he still maintains a great status of power and strength.

In spite of all the above mentioned elements of the film, it is the relationships, the bonds and the decisions that the characters make that make the film as powerful as it is. Friendship, love and self-sacrifice are truly prominent, as is an ever growing, powerful sense of mortality, with the final scenes of the film showing that no matter how noble a victory can be it can still come at a great cost, as Frodo decides he must leave Middle-Earth and make a fresh start, due to the physical and psychological scarring his journey caused. Tolkien fought in the trenches during World War I, and it is easy to draw parralels between his personal experiences, and the ultimate melancholy tone that surrounds the trilogy's conclusion. For many the heart of the film lies in the moments following The Ring's destruction, as Frodo and Sam lie on a large hunk of tall rock, the lava flowing all around them, and sadly reflect on the fact (they think) they will never see the Shire again, and Frodo say "Glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things". It is a heartbreaking moment, particularly if A) you've never seen the film before, and B) you've never read the books before; due to the fact that these are characters that you have come to love and after going through three films with them you feel such a close bond with them; but it is so touching to see that their journey has made Frodo and Sam as close as possible and that Frodo can't think of anyone he would rather have beside him when he dies; and it is moments such as these that elevate not only the film, but the entire trilogy, from blockbuster to genuine masterpiece.

In short (the irony considering this is the longest review I have ever written) The Return of the King is a truly well-written, beautifully and intricately created masterpiece of a film, that is deep, dark and emotional. A stunning conclusion to this epic trilogy, which truly earned those eleven Oscars, and is undeservedly only the third highest grossing film of all time, behind Avatar (2009) and Titanic (1997) - The Return of the King deserves the top spot.


2003 (Original Edition), 2004 (Extended Edition).
12.
Stars:
Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Billy Boyd, Andy Serkis, Orlando Bloom, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Lawrence Makoure, Craig Parker, John Noble, Bruce Hopkins, Paul Norell, Sala Baker, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Thomas Robins.
Christopher Lee, Bruce Spence, Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only).

Oscars: Best Picture (Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh), Best Director (Peter Jackson), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens), Best Editing (Jamie Selkirk), Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek), Best Costume Design (Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor), Best Art Direction (Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee), Best Makeup (Richard Taylor, Peter King), Best Original Score (Howard Shore), Best Original Song (Into the West - Howard Shore, Annie Lennox, Fran Walsh).


WHAT'S NEXT...?
On December 14th 2012 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in a two-part prequel will get its cinematic release, followed by The Hobbit: There and Back Again, set to be released December 13th 2013.