Tales from the Cultural Wilderness - Journal

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2002-01-08 Entry: "...To Bring Them All, And In The Darkness Buy Them"

My film watching over Christmas was fairly abbreviated. I think I managed three films at the cinema, and the televisual selection was pretty poor.

The cinema choices were, I guess, fairly obvious. That Potter boy squeezed in before Christmas, and post festivities saw the thing with the Ring and a chance encounter with Serendipity.

Okay, okay, what did I think of them? Well, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was a bit long, but otherwise stuck fairly well to the book. Some of the casting was good (Hagrid, Snape, Hermione) and some was terrible (Dumbledore, Ron, Harry). Not a lot happens for a large portion of this film - its introduction (with the Dursleys) drags on, but the scene with the snake is nice; the film shows off plenty of really poor CGI shots (the boy flying into the wall on a broomstick is particularly terrible), but the Quidditch match just about makes up for it.

As to my peeves - Ron and Harry barely act. Ron would probably be okay if he had anything to do (other than the chess match which is rushed anyway), but Harry is almost as bad as Jake Lloyd in the Phantom Menace. Meanwhile Richard Harris as Dumbledore - I thought he was supposed to be a wizard others feared, not someone you could kill if you sneezed near him. Richard Harris is far too frail for this part, and more particularly, someone who'll live through the series (so they don't have to recast him when he starts getting a bigger part in later films).

And now onto the Ring film. This had many of the same problems that the Potter one did - long periods where not very much happened. Admittedly, the source material in this instance is no better, but even the action sequences didn't really have much impact. It might be better on a second viewing, but I had no sense of tension whatsoever when Gandalf faced the Balrog on the bridge (even knowing the outcome, I'd expect it to be played up better than this). The film had its good points though - the sequences where Frodo put on the ring showed the menace involved (which I don't think comes across in the books at all); Viggo Mortensen was great as Strider; the Saruman/Gandalf scenes were good.

Oddities I spotted - No Tom Bombadil (I may be remembering this wrongly, but I thought they encountered him cross country somewhere on the way to Rivendell), John Rhys Davies was unrecognizable as Gimli, and they managed to kill Sean Bean off so they don't have to pay him for ten minutes of film two. Cate Blanchett was terrible and the whole Lothlorien bit seemed very rushed - this might be the bit they've trimmed the most from; I guess they could have lost some of the New Zealand scenery between Rivendell and the gates of Moria but there wasn't a lot of slack time anywhere... pity the integral scenes tend to be slow and dull...

So. Two fantasy films which don't really stretch the genre at all - they might persuade Hollywood executives that there's money in the cliches yet (heaven forfend!) and so we're likely to see a whole host of sword and sorcery films in the pipeline (once they've gotten over their "superheroes are cool" craze). Tolkien may be the classic, but films in it's style have been around forever, so people have seen most of it before. It's therefore difficult to make it new and fresh. My vague recollections of the other two (three to six) books are that "The Two Towers" is mostly lots of war stuff, with some ents, which may or may not be cool; while "The Return Of The King" is more war, plus getting rid of the ring. I'm not sure how audiences will react to the lack of Frodo in the next film, but it might give some of the others more to do - Orlando Bloom and John Rhys Davies definitely need it.

And the third film, which I'll sum up in one sentence. Light, fluffy, romantic comedy, with John Cusack. So, obviously I liked it. It did descend into a brief case of name the short lived tv show the supporting cast had been in, but once that passed I enjoyed it thoroughly, and at an hour and a half in length it didn't really drag.

Note to Hollywood - this is the correct length for a romance. They should not be three hours long and have a boat sinking in the middle!

Oh, and the supporting actors? Jeremy Piven as John Cusack's best man - he was great, good lines, well delivered, and his drunken speech near the start was brilliant. Shades of "Cupid" in the performance. The other guy (Kate Beckinsale's hippy musician fiancee person) was in "The Visitor" but has probably been in other things as well.

So - three films - one success and two alrights. The alrights might be improved by a second viewing (so, emptier cinema for Potter, and me being in the right frame of mind for three hours of Tolkien).

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