The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey

Last night I went to see the Hobbit.  I was so excited that I could practically burst – I know, I need to get out more!  Anyway, I will start by saying that I really enjoyed the film.  I had reservations and I’ve been mulling it over.  A lot.  The following is my rambling reflections.

I went to see the film with my husband and we’re both basically going to have to agree to differ on this one.  To be honest he wasn’t keen to see the film because he was unhappy with the book being split first into two and then three parts – thinks it’s exploitation.  Okay, he’s got a point, but at the end of the day film makers are there to make a profit.  So, basically, he went into the film with negative expectations.  I went into the film with quite frankly over zealous, huge, monumental-off-the-chart expectations and there’s the rub – it was never going to quite live up to that standard.  So we came away, with my husband admitting it’s a good film, but with reservations and me thinking it’s a good film also with reservations.

I’m going to try and articulate my feelings on it but it’s probably going to be far from smooth.  I will start by saying I don’t have a problem with the film being split.  The books are two entirely different cups of tea and to make sweeping statements about the length of the Lord of the Rings books with one film for each and the length of The Hobbit with virtually the same is pointless.  The Hobbit was written as a children’s story.  As such it’s filled with silly nonsense and plenty of action.  The Lord of the Rings is written for adults, it’s world building is paramount, it’s scope epic – children would be probably bored within minutes.  But that’s why I think the Hobbit can work over more than one film because there is such a lot going on in the story.  LoTR has loads of detail – people quite often bemoan the fact – but when you translate this into a film, yes, great for the sweeping backgrounds but, not quite as much action per book.  The Hobbit is quite full of different action scenes.  If the same attention to detail had been paid on this book I dare say Tolkien could have made it into three books.  Therefore to give each of these chapters relevance I can see no problem with two films.  The third film I’m puzzled about and am assuming it’s some sort of novel that brings together all sorts of relevant background information to link the books and provide us with six films that when watched together become an epic story?  Don’t know if that’s the case though.  Feel free to enlighten me.

What I did have a little problem with is the pacing.  To be honest, most of the film I think is perfectly pitched.  There’s some background at the beginning which I think is quite relevant and well done and then we move onto the introductory chapters in the Shire.  Personally, this particular part of the film was too long and it felt like it dragged.  I mean, meeting the dwarves is great and seeing them rampage through Bilbo’s home while he hustles and bustles about is brilliant.  But it’s simply too long and you reach a point where you’re thinking, okay, move on now!   There were a couple of other scenes that were a little similar where there’s prolonged shots of people looking meaningfully at each other while you sit there thinking wtf.  Most of the other scenes didn’t feel quite as prolonged but I would suggest that the film could be reduced by about 30/40 minutes – it almost feels like a justification of the fact that the book’s been split.  It’s not necessary.  Two hours is a perfectly reasonable time for a film – particularly when there’s two more films to follow.  Stop apologising and just get on with it.  One of my biggest disappointments in recent films were the final two of the Harry Potter series where the Deathly Hallows was split.  I really just don’t like those two films.  The first is just down right boring and the second is none stop action.  It doesn’t feel right for me and it spoiled the end to a brilliant series of books and film interpretations.  Probably because of the whole start, middle and end, which when split over two films generally leads to a bit of a dull first film.  The Hobbit isn’t like that.  The Shire scene isn’t the best in the world but it pretty quickly moves on.  So, again, I don’t think the film would suffer the same as the HP films did.  I just don’t think the length was necessary and it feels like you’re watching an extended version – which is okay once you love the film and are gagging to see all the extras.

There were two other points that sat a little ill with me.  Firstly, it appears that these films are going to be turned into sweeping epics like the LoTR.  Now, you can call me a purist if you want but the Hobbit is far from a sweeping epic.  It’s a quest, a journey to recover a mountain claimed by a dragon.   The LoTR is an epic because it involves the survival of the whole of middle earth.  Great sweeping battles pitched against menacing foe with a dark ruler who plans to take over the entire world spreading rot and ruin.  It’s not the same is it.  ‘Oh, I want my mountain back and my home’ or ‘mm, lets save the world as we know it’.  The Hobbit just simply isn’t epic.  It’s a great story with a bunch of amusing characters bumbling along trying to stay alive and have a bit of an adventure.

And, that brings me perfectly to my final point, which is that in keeping with the LoTR and in order to please fans of the film, etc, etc, we have a completely different nature of dwarf to that in the book.  Again, I’m not being purist.  I can see the reasoning behind a number of changes within the film which I won’t be so indelicate as to mention here.  But, the dwarves are like bloody warriors.  In The Hobbit they’re, frankly, less than useless and would be quite undone if it wasn’t for Bilbo.  In An Unexpected Journey they’re all like swordsmen and experts with the bow and arrow – too much of a reflection of LoTR I felt and a little bit unnecessary.  Perhaps it was felt we would think all dwarves are like Gimli who was quite capable after all, but the ones in this story are not really battle hardened are they?  I can live with it and see why it’s been taken down that route.  But…Anyway, if you think when The Hobbit was based in relative terms, this is before anybody new they had a problem, right?  So, think of the FoTR – it’s got a lovely feel to it at first, everybody living their lives in blissful ignorance of the menace growing around them.  So, given The Hobbit is much earlier – it should have a much lighter feel also shouldn’t it?  - instead of which, it does have rather grand sweeping fights underground and other things brooding.   Again, can see the reasoning behind the brooding but….

Okay, that’s my main criticisms.  Think this film should have been shorter.  The nature and feel which has been changed.  The Dwarves are all, with a few exceptions, heroes.

Now, that all sounds really critical which isn’t intended.  I enjoyed this film and intend to go and see it again (and probably again, who am I kidding). The music was uplifting where it needed to be.  The return to middle earth was brilliant.  The shooting of the film is masterful.  We got to revisit old places and friends.  Gandalf was his usual amazing self.  Bilbo was played brilliantly I thought and Gollum absolutely stole the show.  I think it’s great I really do.  A masterful creation.  I have no doubt that people will love this film – as will I.  Just needed to think a few things through.  There’s still loads to look forward to after all and I can’t wait to see it again!

 

Book to Film Review – The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Posted On 4 November 2011

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A couple of nights ago I went to see The Help at the cinema.  I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett last year and was very keen to see if the film was as good as the book.  I really enjoyed the book, frankly it was ‘unputdownable’ to use a none word.  The Help is set in Mississippi in the 1960′s and focuses primarily on 3 characters, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny.  Skeeter is a white, upper class young woman who has just returned home having finished college (I think, or maybe Uni??), Aibileen and Minny are the hired help who work long hours undertaking all sorts of chores and basically raising the children of the white people who hire them.  Returning home Skeeter finds that the way the maids are treated by her friends and family has become unpalatable (or maybe it had always been unpalatable to her – but I felt as though she was being depicted as having changed by being away from home and seeing things differently on her return) and this reaches a head when one of Skeeter’s friends, Hilly, advocates separate toilets for the help (so as not to spread germs!!!)  Skeeter decides to write a book and to interview the maids to tell their stories and expose some of the dreadful behaviour that takes place.  Basically I’m not going go go into a critique of the book as I don’t think it’s needed, there is already plenty of information out there and plus this review is simply about whether the book translates well to film or not.  I will start by saying however that the book is a work of fiction, as I understand it the maid’s stories are not true and the book is more a story of friendships where you least expect them rather than ground breaking civil rights movements.

So, onto the film.  Firstly, the casting and the acting are absolutely superb.  Emma Stone stars as Skeeter and manages to deliver a perfectly awkward misfit, Bryce Dallas Howard stars as Hilly and is she mean, Sissy Spacek plays Hilly’s eccentric mother who’s performance at one particular point in the movie is just tremendously funny and Jessica Chastain stars as Celia and she pulls this off brilliantly, she manages to be vulnerable naive and painfully embarrasing, wrapped up in a blond bombshell – and frankly you can’t help but like her.  But, without a doubt, the show is stolen by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson.  Both of these roles are played with such strength, emotion and dignity.  Viola Davis has a really strong closing scene where you finally feel like punching the air on her behalf and Minny manages to bring some humour to the screen which prevents the film from becoming too gritty.

I also thought the sets and the costumes were brilliant – I have no idea to be honest how accurate they are for that period, but they looked good to me not to mention very colourful.

On top of that, and given that you can never really hope to squeeze everything from a book into a film, I think this manages to bring over most of the story very successfully and it is a very good story!

The one thing that I did feel was missing from the film however was the tension that the book delivered.  I don’t suppose this is easy to do, especially when you’re trying to bring a certain type of balance.  But, I remember reading the book with an ever increasing sense of nervousness about what was going to happen to the three main characters.  As you move towards the last few chapters of the book you can barely stand to turn the page for the fear of what might happen and you can practically taste the fear.  This isn’t an undertaking to be taken lightly and could have resulted in very dire repercussions for all three women.  I don’t think that the fear, the constant need for secrecy or the tension is delivered here (for example the first time that Skeeter visits Abeline – both of them are not just nervous, they’re scared)  I think that if you haven’t read the book then this maybe won’t be a problem but having read the novel first I was very aware of the nervous tension created as you get caught up in events and so felt the lack here.  I also felt, to an extent that the film had an almost ‘Disney’ feel to it or a certain sweetness.  I don’t know whether this is a bad thing necessarily but just that to a certain extent it felt a bit misplaced somehow.

All that being said I thought this was a good film that balances some very difficult, and emotional topics and delivers them in an entertaining, funny and heartwarming way.

Do I think the film is as good as the book?  No.  But, would I watch it again? Yes.

Rating B+

 

 

Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, group read – completion of The Fellowship of the Ring

Finally finished Book No.1.  Really enjoying the experience of rereading this, particularly with all the discussion.  So, I won’t do a recap because I’m already so late with this post!!

This time the discussion starter points were conjured byAndrea at the Little Red Reviewer.  Other discussion posts are at:
Stainless Steel Droppings
Blue Fairy’s Bookshelf
Geeky Daddy
The Written World
Book Den

Sorry if I’ve missed anybody off or if the link is incorrect – let me know if so.  Ta!

My responses:

Gandalf and the Balrog, just Wow.  Just a short scene, but oh so intense!  With their mentor gone, how will the group go on?  Even when they do reach Lothlorien, no one seems to know how to get where they are going.  They had been dependent on Gandalf making the decisions, and now he is gone.

I really though the whole Balrog scene was brilliant – even though it obviously ends on such a sad note.  Gandalf is brilliant – it’s only a short speech but it made my pulse race ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.  You cannot pass.  The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udon.  Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass’.  Couldn’t help that!  Back to the point.  After Gandalf was gone I felt like the group really floundered.  They were full of sorrow and just so unsure of what to do next, even Aragorn seemed at a loss and I felt that continued until Frodo reached his own decision at the end.  It’s sort of a sad note to end on really because I like reading about the Fellowship and the rest of the book obviously takes a much darker turn.

Galadriel and her Ring. She knows the Ring of power must be destroyed, but with it’s destruction comes the de-powering (is that a word?) of her Ring as well. The Elves must leave Middle Earth or forget who and what they are. For her, this is a no win situation. Frodo’s success effectively means the banishment of the Elves in Middle Earth. I wonder if that makes him more likely to do everything in his power to succeed, or less?

It’s a tough one.  There are no easy choices in this book.  Somebody always seems to be at risk but I suppose with the Elves this was never really their true home and though they were sad to an extent I also felt they would be glad to return to their own people.  I loved the scene with Galadriel and I’m almost dying to quote my favourite of her lines but best not! Except this one – ‘I pass the test, I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel’.  So basically with the destruction of the ‘one’ ring she is losing her power and it was only really her power that was keeping her here?  Never thought of it like that before!

Boromir – I didn’t trust from way back at the Council at Rivendell. His conversation with Frodo at the end of Fellowship made him look like a know-it-all with a world view of colonialism and imperialism. Is this Tolkien taking a shot at the old fashioned British world view, or am I reading way, way too much into it?

Mmm, Boromir, what can you say.  In one respect I feel sorry for him and in another I could shake him.  He’s just too stubborn and blinkered.  That being said, his little rant at the end did eventually help to push Frodo into making a decision!

After spending some time in Lothlorien, Sam realizes the Elves aren’t quite as scary or as strange as he first thought. I wonder if when he gets back to the Shire if he’ll realize the Hobbits in the next town aren’t quite as strange as he once thought.  I really don’t think this is an overt “message” story, but I do wonder if Tolkien didn’t mind throwing in a little message of “those folks in the next valley aren’t as different as you think”.

I definitely think Tolkien used this to pass on a message and I suppose Sam was a good one to use to do so.  He’s a lovely warm character and doesn’t seem to have any mean spiritedness in him at all and yet he has a very small view of the world and is quite old fashioned.  But by the end of Book 1 his eyes have been opened and his horizons expanded.  (I still think he’ll be very happy to get back home to his garden and his gaffa though!)

I only started reading fantasy a few years ago, and I keep running into this undercurrent of choice.  Bilbo has to choose to give up the Ring.  Frodo has to choose to take on the quest and be the Ring bearer. Even Boromir is choosing how he feels about the Ring and what it could bring him.  In the end, this is all coming down to how we choose to live our lives from moment to moment.

On the face of it it seems really simple – a choice between good and evil – but the eventual choice will have an impact on so many people (such as the elves) and that makes it much more difficult.  Personally, I would never be able to decide what to do!  Not for the lack of wanting to do the right thing but simply because I would be thinking of the impact on everyone else.  In that way I’m terrible at making decisions because I never want to upset anyone!

And the obligatory: what was your favorite part of this section?

This is difficult.  I enjoyed the growing friendship between Legolas and Gimli (although I would have liked to have been party to some of their conversations), I love the exchange between Galadriel and Frodo but I think on reflection the mines of Moria are still ‘it’ for me.  I love the description of the mines and think the writing in that respect is excellent and I love the tension that increases as you hear the drums starting to beat to the final scene with Gandalf and the Balrog on the bridge.

Thanks for the discussion points :)

 

 

Review of Jane Eyre for Books to Film

Spoiler alert.

Went to see Jane Eyre last night, after much anticipation.  I really wanted to love this film, I was very excited to go and see it as I have read the book a few times and it is a firm favourite.  But, to be honest, no, I didn’t love it.

On the plus side:

The casting is really good.  I thought Michael Fassbender was an excellent choice, probably a bit too good looking to be true to the novel’s Mr Rochester but I think I can forgive him that!  Mia Wasikowska made a very appropriate Jane.  I don’t think you could describe Mia as plain but they’ve made a good job of ‘drabbing her down’ for the film and she is young enough and manages to convey the naive otherworldliness that Jane would really have exuded after spending so many years at Lowood.  And, Judi Dench of course was amazing, as ever, the expression on her face for some scenes was priceless and with veryfew words whatsoever she was actually in danger of stealing the show!

The cinematography is beautiful and the locations superb.  The scenes on the moors, the picturesque gardens and the stately homes are breathtaking.  It really is a gorgeous period drama.

On the downside.  Although I thought the two main characters were well cast I didn’t particularly think they displayed any chemistry on film.  Individually, their performances are good but together I just wasn’t feeling it.  I guess this is difficult to capture but at the end of the day Jane Eyre is a love story and you have to believe the feeling is there.

Visually, the film is quite superb but I wonder whether we ended up sacrificing some of the much needed story and dialogue in order to sit looking at the beauty of the moors, or curtains blowing in the breeze or a flower gently drifting from a tree to the ground below!  I think we lost a bit too much of the story and in doing so I’m not convinced that this film is totally easy to follow.  Okay, it was easy for me and will be for many others, who have read the book, but what about viewers who haven’t done so?  I found myself filling in the missing bits in my own head and obviously I know what the emotions are that the characters are feeling but I don’t think this really came across.  I think if you were not already familiar with the story this film would feel disjointed and you would have to make huge leaps to fit the story together and come to the realisation that Jane and Mr Rochester are in love.

The other thing which was lost in translation was the gothic and creepy feel of the novel.  Let’s not forget that we have somebody locked away in this huge dark mansion.  Somebody who escapes occasionally and runs through the corridors screeching and causing mischief.  I didn’t get any real sense of the mansion being dark or creepy.  Even the scene where Jane is left to tend the wounds of somebody injured whilst visiting the mansion is rather flat and yet this is supposed to be a terrifying experience where Jane can hear something or someone on the other side of the door!

I think that this is probably a difficult story to fit into this timeframe.  And, I don’t think it was helped by leaving out Jane’s narration (which helps to explain some of her own actions and feelings).  Also, the natural order of the story was changed around with the story being partly told using flashbacks which I didn’t feel was an essential change.  If it’s not broke don’t fix it after all.

Finally, the ending was totally rushed and over virtually in minutes (if not seconds).

So, for me personally, this is definitely one of those occasions where there is no competition between the book and the film.  I did think this film was quite good just not as good as I expected/wanted it to be.  Maybe my expectations were too high at the end of the day but I just think whilst this is a very beautifully shot film the love doesn’t come across nor does the gothic feel.

I would recommend this film – particularly to those already familiar with the novel or previous.  I’m probably being over critical although I would love to know whether this film is understandable to somebody who is new to the story or ends up being a ‘film for fans’.

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

Rating 3.5/5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Well, I finally went to see HP II and thought I’d put my thoughts down in terms of books turned into movies.  I have my own little rule about reading the book before I see the film as I think that if you see the film first you don’t use your own imagination when reading but simply imagine the faces of the actors and the scenes that have been shot.  HP is one example of where I broke my own rule.  I actually saw the first 2 or 3 films before I picked up the books and yet managed to still really enjoy reading them.

I have really loved all the HP films, they’re so well produced and the imagination and work that is put into them is breathtaking.  That being said I have felt strangely dissatisfied with this final instalment and I’m struggling with myself to know why that is.

I guess I just have mixed feelings.  I’m sorry that the whole thing has now come to an end and wish that we could have more.  After all, HP has been with us now for 10 years, it’s like a part of the family.  With the final installment I did feel disappointed with some of the changes that were made to the content.  Obviously I understand that converting a book to a film requires some artistic license and I have no problem with that or the fact that not everything from the book can make it into the film, but, some of the changes in this film I don’t understand the reasoning behind.  For example – why was the snake fighting scene changed?  In the book Neville is the hero and yet in the film Ron and Hermione take on the snake with Neville appearing in the final few seconds to win the day.  That just felt wrong to me – Neville should have been allowed to keep his moment of glory?  Plus, all the back history to Dumbledore and his sister – gone?  Why?  We just had a scene with his brother telling HP he shouldn’t have trusted Dumbledore?  I didn’t like that at all – it was like casting doubt on Dumbledore and not giving his story to account for it.  And the scene where the Weasley twin dies – blink and you’ll miss it.

But, I don’t think these changes in themsevles (and others) are behind my feelings.  I’ve never really liked the fact that the book was split into two movies.  It certainly isn’t the biggest book in the series and I really don’t think it was necessary – and I think this is the root of my problem with this film.  Really, when you pick up a book, it’s told in stages with the momentum building to the final conclusion.  In splitting the book it felt like the first film was all about the momentum building and the second was the conclusion.  This may seem okay in itself (although it did make for a bit of a slow first film) but personally I wouldn’t want to buy a book where it introduces you to an idea, sucks you into the story and then ends, then you buy book 2 and it’s action packed from the first page.  That format just simply wouldn’t work and I think it didn’t work with the final two films which in the end don’t even feel like they’re from the same book.

That being said I can’t deny that the film is excellent. Just, perhaps I would have enjoyed this last film more if I hadn’t read the book!  On the plus side I thought the scenes with Severus were excellent and I loved seeing some of his history – you can’t have too much Rickman after all.

But, criticisms aside, yes, I would still go and see the film again, I would definitely recommend it to others and I will still buy the DVD when it comes out!  I do really love this whole series but I guess the final isn’t my favourite – and, to be honest, I don’t suppose the final book was my favourite either.

I’ve had a think and put the whole series in the order I like best – and it’s been a real struggle.  But this is my list:

  1. The Goblet of Fire – I loved this film with the challenges.  I thought Professor Moody was great.  And the dragons were brilliant
  2. The Prisoner of Azkaban – this book introduced us to Sirius Black – I love Gary Oldman!  And the Hippogriff is gorgeous.
  3. The Chamber of Secrets – Dobby is introduced!  Snakes, spiders, enchanted forests, flying cars.
  4. The Order of the Phoenix – liked the feel of this one, bit of a ‘coming of age’ feel to it
  5. The Half Blood Prince – much darker feel in this film which is appropriate – particularly given the ending!
  6. The Deathly Hallows – the films are brilliant but should have been kept as one (sounds a bit LOTRish – there can be only one!)!
  7. The Philosopher’s Stone – my least favourite of the films even though it’s the start.  Still good, but less polished.

So there it is.

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