Archive for the Based on a Classic Novel Category

Farewell to RICHARD MATHESON

Posted in 2013, 60s Movies, 70s Horror, Appreciations, Based on a Classic Novel, LL Soares Reviews, Movie History, Obituaries and Appreciations, Richard Matheson Movies, Steven Spielberg, TV Miniseries, TV-Movies, Vincent Price with tags , , , on June 30, 2013 by knifefighter

richard-mathesonWriter RICHARD MATHESON died this week. I can’t imagine anyone who’s a fan of  horror or science fiction who hasn’t been touched in some way by Matheson, even if they didn’t know it was him. From writing classic episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (he wrote 16 episodes between 1959 and 1964, including such standouts as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Steel“), to scripts for tons of movies including the classic original TV-movies THE NIGHT STALKER and TRILOGY OF TERROR, and many of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies of the 1960s, to writing classic novels like I AM LEGEND, THE SHRINKING MAN, HELL HOUSE, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, STIR OF ECHOES and many more, several of which were adapted into movies, Matheson seemed to be everywhere when I was growing up in the 70s, and I for one was pretty thankful that he was so prolific. Every new Matheson project, whether it was a book or a movie or a TV episode, was a reason to celebrate.

Hearing earlier this week that he had passed away on June 23rd at the age of 87, was awful news. But he has left us with so much to remember him by.

Just some of the movies that he either wrote the screenplays for, or which were based on his fiction, include:

  • THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) – he wrote the screenplay based on his novel, “The Shrinking Man”
  • THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) – the first of many Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that Matheson would write for director Roger Corman, this one, like many of them, starred the great Vincent Price.
  • MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961) – based on the novel by Jules Verne, also starring Vincent Price.
  • THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)
  • BURN, WITCH, BURN (also known as NIGHT OF THE EAGLE) (1962) – Matheson’s screenplay was an adaptation of the novel “Conjure Wife,” by Fritz Leiber.
  • THE RAVEN (1963)
  • THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)
  • THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) – the first movie version of his classic novel, “I am Legend.” He also wrote the screenplay, using the name “Logan Swanson.” This one also starred Vincent Price.
  • THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley
  • THE OMEGA MAN (1971) – the second adaptation of Matheson’s “I am Legend,” this time with the vampires swapped out for mutants, and starring Charlton Heston.
  • DUEL (1971) – Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his story. This was the first feature film by Steven Spielberg.
  • THE NIGHT STALKER (1971) – the TV-movie that introduced the world to reporter Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin.
  • THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973) – TV-movie sequel to THE NIGHT STALKER.
  • THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) – feature film based on his novel, “Hell House.”
  • TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) – TV-movie based on three Matheson stories, the most famous segment was the last, “Amelia,” based on Matheson’s story “Prey,” about a “Zuni warrior figurine” that comes to life. All three stories starred Karen Black.
  • THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES (1980) – TV miniseries based on the classic book by Ray Bradbury
  • SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) – Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his novel, “Bid Time Return.”
  • WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998) – based on his novel of the same name
  • STIR OF ECHOES (1999) – based on his novel of the same name
  • I AM LEGEND (2007) – the third film to be based on Matheson’s novel, and arguably the least successful. Starring Will Smith.
  • REAL STEEL (2011) – based (sort of) on his short story of the same name

He leaves a large and wonderful legacy behind.

Farewell, Mr. Matheson.

~LL Soares

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 - June 23, 2013)

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013)

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Meals for Monsters Dines with THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a Classic Novel, Classic Films, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Vampires, Vincent Price with tags , , , , on May 22, 2013 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
Review and Recipes by Jenny Orosel

0862_2d9a_500This year, on May 27th, Vincent Price would have been 102 years old.  This year also marks a decade since his passing. Price had a rare talent for adding a touch of class to even the most lowly, trashy films.  Because of this, and his superior acting chops, he was in constant demand for decades, and graced us with over a hundred film roles.  It’s a great icebreaker among other horror film fans to play the “What’s Your Favorite Vincent Price Film?” game.  However, whatever answer they give is wrong…unless they name THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964).

LAST MAN ON EARTH was the first adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic vampire novel, I am Legend, and is definitely the most loyal to the source material, even more so than the recent version that bares its name.  For those unfamiliar with the story, a plague has ravaged the planet.  It quickly kills the infected, who then return to life as something else.  They stumble mindlessly yet relentlessly, as zombies, but cannot stand the light or garlic, and can be killed by a wooden stake through the heart.  The disease was brutal and heavily contagious.  In fact, almost everyone on the planet has fallen to the sickness.  Everyone, it seems, but Price’s Robert Morgan.  A scientist who once studied the plague, after watching both his wife and young daughter die, has become a shell of a man, hunting down and killing the other beings by day, and at night, hoping that somewhere out in the world is another person, that he really isn’t the last man left on Earth.

I’m trying to come up with something negative to say about THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, but I can’t.  That said, I can understand why some people aren’t so enamored.  The flick is very claustrophobic; a large chunk of it consists of Price alone onscreen, or with a zombie.  Among the parts where he is interacting with others is an extended flashback sequence, where we get to watch with Price as his daughter and wife succumb.  These are not your typical horror movie “why our hero needs revenge” scenes.  No, they’re heartbreakingly real.  Opposite his usual role as the wacked mad scientist with sinister, but exuberant, glee, in LAST MAN, Price reminded audiences that he was a true artist, capable of subtlety and nuance.  And, although some horror fans might be scared away from this film, I would recommend this for a dinner and a movie in, and toast the life of one of the great ones, if not the greatest.

Throughout LAST MAN, Morgan drinks coffee.  Quite a bit of coffee.  He offers coffee to his wife and friends, his recent acquaintances.  But now and then he needed a sip of the hard stuff to get him through the emotional turmoil until the next day started.  Combining those, I offer up a mug of:

LAST COFFEE ON EARTH

drink

Ingredients:

1 mug of good coffee
1 shot Irish whiskey
1/4 tsp lemon extract
Splash of cream

Directions:

Mix that up and enjoy one or two before dinner.

With dinner, I suggest a nice glass of wine.  Not just because it would taste good with the main dish, but because Price himself was a connoisseur and even recorded an LP extolling its virtues.  I had to acknowledge that when coming up with a dinner.  Yet, I couldn’t ignore the vast amounts of garlic used in the movie (wreaths of bulbs were always on Morgan’s door).  The raspberries?  They just taste good.  So, for a dinner with LAST MAN, please enjoy:

RASPBERRY GARLIC  COQ AU VIN

dinner

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (halved through the center)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 shallot
10 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 bottle white wine
2 heaping tbsp raspberry preserves
2 tbsp butter
Minced chives (optional)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a pan.  Salt and pepper the chicken.  Sauté until browned and cooked through.  Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm.

In remaining oil, sauté the shallot and garlic until just barely browned, about a minute or so.  Pour in the bottle of wine, and let reduce by about 3/4.  Add the preserves and stir in as it melts down.  Adjust the salt and pepper after this step.  Stir in the butter.  Once butter is melted, return chicken to pan and heat through.  Serve over rice and sprinkle with chives.

I had a similar dilemma when figuring out a dessert.  Price, not only was he a wine lover, but a gourmet as well, having authored numerous cookbooks.  One of his after-dinner specialties was the “Ice Box Cake” and its many variations (Ice Box Cake being a fancy term for an ice cream cake).  Yet I couldn’t ignore making it relevant to the film, and the one scene that stuck in my mind was the flashback to Morgan’s daughter’s birthday party.  Her last birthday party, and perhaps even the last birthday party celebrated by humans.  In that scene, Morgan is discussing this new plague, but is interrupted by his daughter wanting him to come eat some cake.  What kind of ice box cake would be fitting for a little girl’s birthday party?  Ice cream cupcakes!

ICE BOX CUPCAKES

dessert

Ingredients:

1 dozen cupcakes, freshly baked, either by box mix or scratch
1 or 2 pints ice cream, softened (amount depends on what kind of ice cream used
Frosting
(NOTE: flavors of all the above are your choice, just make sure they are flavors that blend well together)

Directions:

Prepare cupcakes as directed by the instructions.  After they’ve cooled, take a spoon and scoop about an inch worth of cake from the center.  Fill with softened ice cream and refreeze.  Once the ice cream is hardened again, frost and decorate.

(NOTE–the density of the ice cream used will determine how many pints are needed.  Lighter ice creams like Dryers get compacted as they are melted and refrozen.  On the other hand, things like gelatos start out pretty dense don’t change much in the process.  Both have tasty, tasty endings, so both will work equally as well.)

I have to amend my earlier comment about THE LAST MAN ON EARTH being the only acceptable answer to “What was Vincent Price’s best film role.” WHALES OF AUGUST (1987) would also be okay, as long as we’re including non-starring roles and non-horror movies.  He was simply brilliant in that as well.  So pop one or the other in the DVD player, raise a glass (or mug) and wish a posthumous happy birthday to one of the best things to ever happen to horror films.  Happy Birthday, Mr. Price!

© Copyright 2013 by Jenny Orosel

last man on earth 

Me and Lil’ Stevie have finally found IT (1990)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, All-Star Casts, Based on a Classic Novel, Demons, evil clowns, Evil Spirits, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies, TV Miniseries with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE

Have Finally Found

IT (1990)

IT

(INTERIOR/NIGHT.  Establishing shot of the Derry, Maine standpipe…a central hub for the town’s main sewage line.  There are channels dug into the floor where gray water travels to and fro, leading off into different paths and corridors.  Somewhere in the darkness, we can hear an evil laugh echoing just over the incessant plop-plops of dripping water.  Camera makes quick pan toward one channel, where a paper boat is sailing along with the current.  It whisks through the channel swiftly, and when it passes off into one of the darkened chambers, a figure emerges.  It is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Peter:  Greetings, Constant Viewer, and welcome to another chapter of our beloved column.

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s right, folks.  Twenty films reviewed so far and ZERO “Cease and Desist” letters!

Peter:  If you’ve been watching the Cinema Knife Fight page on Facebook, you already know that we’ve been…ahem, dying to review today’s film.  But our DVD has been missing for a long, long, time now, so we were going to once again skip Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s IT.  That is, until the boss intervened on our behalf.

Lil’ Stevie:  You mean L.L. Soares actually bought us a NEW copy?

Peter:  Oh, hell no!  I was talking about Mrs. Dudar.   Thanks, Hon!

Lil’ Stevie:  Who’s the REAL dummy around here…?

(In the background, we hear the sound of a toilet flushing.)

Lil’ Stevie:  (pointing at something floating by in the sewage) Heh heh…Look, they all FLOAT down here!

Peter:  How did I know that was coming?  Let’s get started.  This film was a two-part miniseries that originally aired back in 1990.  It concerns an ancient evil that has inflicted itself on Derry, Maine…King’s second most infamous fictitious town right after Castle Rock.  This ancient evil can manifest itself in the form of whatever nightmares the children of Derry are afraid of, but it mostly takes on the form of Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975).  IT uses the standpipe and its sewage lines throughout the town to lure in and kill children to feed upon.  The monster has been doing this on a cycle of every 30 years or so.  Of course, the town itself is poisoned and turns a blind eye over and over again until 1960, when…

Lil’ Stevie:  You’re already getting the movie’s chronology all wrong.  The movie begins in 1990, when another tricycle-riding tot is lured in and murdered by Pennywise.  And as the police investigate, the town’s librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid, Television’s Venus Flytrap from WKRP in Cincinnati) shows up to make his own inquiries.  Mike remembers the summer of 1960, when his friend Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas, Television’s Jon-Boy Walton from THE WALTONS) lost his little brother Georgie to the town’s malefic horror.

Peter:  Pretty good so far.  Mike Hanlon is the cornerstone of the film.  He’s the movie’s narrator; the one member of the “Loser’s Club” they formed as kids that remained behind in Derry after his childhood friends all moved far, far away.  Likewise, he’s the beacon that draws the other members back.  After this latest murder, Mike begins a string of phone calls that interrupt the successful lives of all the other members, reawakening the childhood terror that has remained dormant in their minds ever since leaving their hometown behind.  Bill Denbrough is a beloved horror novelist (big surprise, huh?) who has temporarily moved abroad to do some screenwriting for his beautiful wife Audra’s new film.  Getting the call whisks him away to the memory of him being deathly sick as a child, and sending his kid brother Georgie out to play in the rain with a paper boat he’d made.  And, of course, that was the last time Bill saw George.

Lil’ Stevie:  The other members of the Losers Club all follow suit.  The first part of the miniseries is all setup.  It’s all about introducing the individual characters, sharing their own childhood terrors at the hands of IT, and getting them on track for a reunion.  Only, they aren’t returning to reminisce and see how each other’s lives are going, they’re returning on a childhood oath that if IT ever came back, they would all come back to fight it and kill it.

Peter:  To expedite things a bit, Ben “Haystack” Hanscom (John Ritter, Television’s Jack Tripper from THREE’S COMPANY) is a successful architect.  Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole, Television’s Martha Kent from SMALLVILLE) is a successful clothing magnate.  Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson, Television’s Judge Harold T. Stone from NIGHT COURT) is a successful comedian, Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher, Television’s Bellegard from DEADWOOD) owns a successful limousine service, and Stan Uris (Richard Masur, Clark the creepy dog-handler from THE THING, 1982) is a successful…um, did they ever say what his occupation was?

Lil’ Stevie:  Holy cow.  He was a real-estate mogul.

Peter:  Oh, yeah.  Thanks.  I have to confess, it’s been about 20 years since I’ve read this novel.  I should hope you’d cut me some slack.

Lil’ Stevie:  Yeah, no!  If you’ve forgotten, you should have reread it.

Peter:  Thanks, Dad.  Anyway, like we were saying, the first part of the film is all setup, laced with flashbacks to each character’s respective trauma and how that summer drew them together.  For Ben Hanscom, it was about dealing with himself and his mom being forced to move in with his aunt after his father’s death in Korea.  His relocation to Derry was difficult enough, but upon his first day at school he found himself at odds with town bully, Henry Bowers, and his buddies.  Ben is instantly smitten with Bev Marsh, who is the unfortunate daughter of the school’s drunken and abusive school janitor.  They make friends quickly, but it’s obvious that Bev has her heart set on “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough.  Bill is cute and brave, and looks super cool on his boss bicycle that he calls “Silver” after the Lone Ranger’s horse.  In a serendipitous chain of events, Ben meets up with Bill and Eddie down in the barrens, where the two are trying to flood the creek.  Being a bit of an engineering whiz, Ben will show them (along with the rest of the gang, who conveniently show up all at once) how to build a real honest-to-goodness dam.

Lil’ Stevie:  The rest of the gang, except for Mike.  He’s the town’s other new kid.  Only Mike is African-American, and immediately meets with intolerance from bigoted Henry and his buddies.

Peter:  The Loser’s Club end up rescuing Mike from Henry and the bullies in a rock war inside the old quarry.

Lil’ Stevie:  You mean they had a battle of the bands?

(Peter tips Lil’ Stevie upside down and dangles him over the filthy water.)

Peter:  Do you have any more stupid questions?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’m sorry!  I’ll be good!

Peter:  (fixes Lil’ Stevie upright again) That’s better.  To answer your question, the Loser’s Club has had enough of Henry and his shenanigans.  They’re dealing with a child-eating monster, after all.  So when they see Mike getting chased, they immediately “Dummy Up” with heavy rocks and begin an assault on Bowers and his hoods.  And they win their first real victory, thus cementing their kinship of “Lucky Seven.”

Lil’ Stevie:  Did ya catch that?  That’s important, y’all…

Peter:  It is, because Stan Uris, the non-believer in anything “empirically impossible” is also a huge coward.  By the end of part one, Ol’ Stanny is in his bathtub slitting his wrists rather than jumping the next available transit back home to Derry.  Their “Lucky Seven” dies with him.

(In the background we hear the sound of an evil clown laughing).

Pennywise:  He Floats Down Here…and soon, YOU’LL FLOAT, TOO!

Peter:  Part two begins with the Loser’s Club all returning to Maine, and each member dealing with their childhood horrors on an adult level.  Being away from Derry for so long has robbed their memories of a lot of stuff, and there are a lot of blanks to fill in.  Each member returns to their respective homes and hangouts, only to discover that Pennywise is constantly trying to turn them back and scare them away.  Fortunately, they brave these terrors and eventually reunite over a dinner of Chinese food, where Mike helps them remember the rest of what happened that summer, and how they eventually beat IT the first time.  Only, they didn’t kill IT completely, so now it’s back to feed again.

Lil’ Stevie:  So the Loser’s Club have to convince themselves and each other to fulfill that promise they made so many summers ago, and destroy IT once and for all.

Peter:  With the scope and length of this story, we seemed to sum it up pretty handily, wouldn’t you say?

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s a good thing.  It took me forever to write IT.

Peter:  Har har.  Let’s get a bit more in-depth about the good stuff and the bad stuff.  Let me begin by saying that time has NOT been good to this film.  The teleplay by King, Wallace, and Lawrence Cohen does leave a lot of stuff from the novel out of the movie, but that serves as utilitarian in keeping the movie at a reasonable length without being mired down by dull moments or unnecessary exposition.  Gone is that whole bit about the Edge of the World and the story of the Turtle which I, for one, never understood.

Lil’ Stevie:  You really ARE a dope.

Peter:  What’s left is a nifty little fright flick that elevates a lot of made-for-television actors into a very dark and creepy world.  Everybody turns in a rock-solid performance (although I must admit, Harry Anderson comes off as very whiny and self-absorbed).  And Tim Curry as Pennywise is absolutely perfect.  He’s just terrifying with his murderous antics and that lecherous scowl that turns into the mouthful of razor-sharp teeth at any given moment.

Lil’ Stevie:  Either you are the world’s biggest hypocrite or you have a really bad memory!

Peter:  Why do you say that?

Lil’ Stevie:  Because you just lambasted King’s STORM OF THE CENTURY a few episodes ago over Andre Linoge suddenly sprouting a mouthful of fangs.  In fact, you blamed that movie for being too Mick Garris-ish because Garris did the same thing in SLEEPWALKERS.  How easily we forget…

Peter:  Are you ready for that swim?

(Lil’ Stevie pulls his head down so that his mouth is hiding beneath the collar of his shirt).

Peter:  No more warnings.  And in fairness, this movie preceded those other two, so it gets rightful props.  This movie is beautifully shot and it does deliver the chills, all the way up to the end where Wallace drops the ball. Everything that happens once the adult version of the Loser’s Club enters the standpipe falls apart.  The monster finally appears in its true form as a gargantuan spider with “Deadlights” in its belly.  The spider looks so ridiculously fake that it kills any credible suspense the movie had been building up to.  It’s a massive letdown.  But not enough that I’d advise fans not to watch it.  It really is a beautiful movie that captures the love of childhood friendship and the paranoia of small-town living, where grown-ups would rather mind their own business and not get involved when bad things happen.  And if you look at how the internet has changed our society, it almost feels prophetic.  I loved the book because I felt like I belonged in the Loser’s Club.  Most of us do.  The film captures a huge part of that, and it really is wonderful to watch.  There’s a scene where adult Mike takes adult Bill out to the shed where Mike has been keeping Bill’s old bicycle.  Reid and Thomas act the scene out wonderfully, with the two fixing the flat tire and Bill is suddenly reunited with not just his bicycle but with his childhood.  It plays out with the two grown men speeding back and forth on the bike to some old Smokey Robinson tune, and it feels absolutely bittersweet.  The entire cast brings that magic to the film, making it a very pleasant experience.

Lil’ Stevie:  What the film DOESN’T capture is the depth of the children’s loss of innocence in order to combat the evil they face.  In my book, Bev actually winds up having sex with each of them as a ritual of preparation.  In the movie, they all take a tug off Eddie’s asthma inhaler.  Totally lame!

Peter:  What do you expect from prime-time television?  Besides, knot-head…you didn’t write it!

(More laughter from the corridor ahead)

Peter:  I think Pennywise is coming to pay a visit!

(Another figure steps out of corridor, only it’s L.L. Soares).

L.L.:  Hey, your column is LATE!   What’s taking so long?

Peter:  You came all the way down here just to harass us?

L.L.:  Actually, someone clogged the toilet.  You don’t have a plunger, do you?

Peter:  Here…use this!

(Peter takes Lil’ Stevie off his arm and tosses him over).

L.L.:  Thanks.  I’ll make sure he doesn’t get cleaned before I send him back.

Lil’ Stevie:  No!  NOOOOO!  Not the swirlies again!!! Please!

Peter:  Thanks for spending your time with us once again.  See you next month!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

Pennywise (Tim Curry) is coming for you in IT!

Pennywise (Tim Curry) is coming for you in IT!

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Based on a Classic Novel, Cinema Knife Fights, Epics, Fantasy, Fantasy Films, Wizards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)
By Michael Arruda

Hobbit Poster

(The Scene: A cave in Middle-Earth.  Gollum sits admiring his ring.)

GOLLUM:  My precious!

(A large boulder falls from above, landing on Gollum with a loud THUD! flattening him.  The ring flies through the air through an opening in the cave where it’s caught in midair by MICHAEL ARRUDA who happens to be walking along the green mountain path above.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Cool!  (looks at ring).  This will make a nice stocking stuffer.  (Puts it in his pocket.  Looks over his shoulder).  Come on guys!  Pick up the pace.  This isn’t a leisurely stroll.  We’ve got a job to do!

(Behind him, a group of DWARVES march along.)

MA:  Figures L.L. would take this weekend off, leaving me to babysit a bunch of dwarves from Middle-Earth.

(The DWARVES start singing “Hi ho!  Hi ho!  It’s off to work we go!”)

MA:  Seriously?  Enough with the singing already!  This isn’t Snow White!  This is Cinema Knife Fight! Jeesh!  (one of the DWARVES flips him the bird).  Anyway, we still have a ways to go before we reach our destination, which will give me time to review today’s movie, THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012), Peter Jackson’s follow-up to his acclaimed LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, which he wrote before “The Lord of the Rings,” THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) tells the story of a younger Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman).  The movie opens with an older Bilbo (Ian Holm) preparing to write down the events from his youth in order to share the story with young Frodo (Elijah Wood).

This time the plot involves dwarves, gold, and a dragon that drives the dwarves from their kingdom because they had stolen gold from him.  Years later, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) decides to help the dwarves get their kingdom back, and he sees Bilbo as the key to the dwarves’ success.  As he says at one point in the movie, while others view great strength as the way to fight evil, he sees the little things in life as being the most effective, which is why he views Bilbo so highly.

DWARF #1:  That’s a bunch of tree hugging nonsense if you ask me!  Give me a bad-ass brawny warrior with a sharp sword any day of the week, not some soft-spoken hoity-toity Hobbit!

DWARF #2:  I like Bilbo.  And I don’t think hoity-toity is quite the word you’re looking for.  You can’t be hoity-toity and soft-spoken at the same time, can you?

DWARF #1:  Shut up!  Who asked you?

MA:  Much against his better judgment, yet unable to resist an adventure, Bilbo sets off with the dwarves to reclaim their kingdom, having to fight off all sorts of dark forces along the way, including Orcs, goblins, and giant spiders.  What about that dragon?  Sorry folks.  You’ll have to wait until the next movie.  Yeah, bummer, and that’s one of the problems with THE HOBBIT.  Its story is split among three movies.  Something tells me one movie might have been a better idea.

And that’s it in terms of a plot summary, because really, in this movie, the plot is secondary.  Does it matter all that much why hobbits and dwarves are battling evil forces?  Not really.  What matters is their exploits make for a grand spectacle on the big screen.

Now, while I liked this movie—it’s so visually satisfying how can you not like it?—I certainly didn’t love it.  It has a lot of drawbacks.  To me, the biggest drawback is it’s hindered by the feelings of “I’ve seen this before” and “they’ve gone to the well too many times.”  Simply put, it’s nowhere near as good as the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy had a stronger story, better characters, and was much more compelling than THE HOBBIT.  There are a lot of memorable characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, characters I really cared about.  In THE HOBBIT, we have Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and some dwarves.

Bilbo Bagginsteams up with a bunch of dwarves in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE.

Bilbo Baggins teams up with a bunch of dwarves in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.

DWARF #1:  Will you listen to him?  We get no respect!

DWARF #2:  I heard him say he liked the movie.

DWARF #1:  Yeah, and now he’s knocking us dwarves for not being interesting characters.  I suppose he would have rather seen a movie about elves.  Fool!

MA:  Comparing THE HOBBIT to the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy might be unfair, but since they were both made by Peter Jackson, and both based on works by Tolkien, I think you have to, and in doing so, in viewing THE HOBBIT as part of the same franchise, it plays like the fourth film in a series, and as such, at times, it seems tired and redundant.

Again, this might be unfair, but in order to be completely successful, THE HOBBIT would have had to show me something different, something more, than what I saw in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, which were phenomenal, all three of them.  THE HOBBIT doesn’t do this, it doesn’t have anything extra that those three previous movies didn’t have, and as a result, in spite of its impressive visuals, it comes off as a disappointment.

Long story short, I liked the LORD OF THE RINGS movies much better than THE HOBBIT.  Hands down.  THE HOBBIT, while good, isn’t excellent.  And another negative here is the knowledge that we have two more of these movies coming.  Really?  Seriously?  It reminds me of SON OF KONG (1933) following up KING KONG (1933).    SON was a likable enough movie, entertaining and well-made, but it wasn’t KING KONG, not by a long shot, and with that in mind, would you be looking forward to two more SON OF KONG movies?  I know I wouldn’t be.

In THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Christopher Lee’s Saruman leads armies of Orcs in battle and is pretty much the main baddie in the series.  In THE HOBBIT, Christopher Lee’s Saruman sits at a table and has a conversation.   There you go.  One is all out and intense, the other is a dinner table conversation.

The main reason to see THE HOBBIT—and really, the only reason, unless you’re a huge fan of Tolkien—is its visuals.  THE HOBBIT is truly impressive to behold on the big screen.  You have to give Peter Jackson a lot of credit.  He must own the patent on Middle-Earth or something.  Everything about the world he creates in these movies, including THE HOBBIT, looks authentic, which is amazing, considering it’s a world of pure fantasy.

thehobbit

I didn’t like the story, I didn’t really like the characters, but the scenery, costumes, make-up, CGI effects, and the entire feel to this film lifted it to a level that, without these things, wouldn’t exist.  Take all that way, and I don’t like this movie.  I enjoyed looking at this film and was completely impressed by what I saw on the big screen.  Unfortunately, the story wasn’t on par with the visuals, but I can’t deny that the world Jackson created was a remarkable one to see.

So, yes, Peter Jackson does an excellent job at the helm, although, truth be told, no one scene in this movie truly stands out as being memorable.  It’s just the entire package that’s memorable.

I had more trouble with the screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro.  The story wasn’t as strong as the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, nor was the dialogue as memorable.  I’m not sure it’s entirely their fault, as in general, the story told in Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” simply isn’t as compelling as the story told in “The Lord of the Rings” books. And again, I go back to, “They’re making three movies about this?”

The acting is okay.  Martin Freeman is excellent as Bilbo Baggins, and he easily gives the best performance in the movie.  But just how excited can one get about Bilbo Baggins?

DWARF #1:   Not very!

MA:  Bilbo is kind of a Hobbit version of Bob Newhart.  Nice guy, funny, but not exactly all that exciting.

Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf, and as you would expect, he again is very good.  But truthfully, no one else in the cast really stood out.  Compared to the cast of characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the dwarves in this one are inferior.

DWARF #1:  I’m going to kick that guy in the teeth!

DWARF #2:  Can you reach his teeth?

DWARF #1:  Shut up!”

MA:  Andy Serkis fares well once again as his CGI alter-ego, Gollum, but we’ve seen this shtick before.  It’s no longer new and refreshing.  But hey, Christopher Lee is on hand once more as Saruman, and even for just one scene, it’s great to see him.  It’s 2012 and he’s still making movies.  Amazing.

And I saw it in 3D.  Do I even need to say it anymore?  The 3D effects, hardly noticeable, are nothing more than an afterthought, and certainly aren’t worth the extra admission price.

Bottom line, there wasn’t anything unexpected about THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.  It played out pretty much exactly the way I expected it to play out.  It’s an expensive, well-crafted, near-perfect-looking movie that unfortunately has a weak story and blah characters that prevent it from being anything truly special.

It’s like picking up a book with weak writing that has unbelievably amazing illustrations.  You can’t praise the writing, but you can’t deny the illustrations are remarkable and fun to look at it.

So, it’s with this line of thinking that I give the film three knives.  It easily could have been a two knife movie, if not for the strength of its visual package.

(Stops at a large tree.  Turns to dwarves behind him.)

Okay, guys, we’re here.

DWARF #1:  We came all this way just to see a tree?  What the hell?

DWARF # 2:  It’s a very nice looking tree.

DWARF #1:  Shut up!

MA:  It’s not just any tree.  It used to belong to the Keebler Elves before they closed shop and outsourced.

DWARF #1:  What?  Are we going to make cookies now?  I’m a warrior, not a baker!

DWARF #2:  I like cookies.

DWARF #1:  Shut up!

MA: Something better than cookies.  I have with me – (pulls out a piece of paper) – the secret recipe for Twinkies!  It’s yours if you want it.  Something to fall back on if the warrior thing doesn’t work out.

DWARF #1:  What the hell is a Twinkie?

DWARF #2:  It’s a yellow sponge cake with cream in the middle.

DWARF #1:  Those things that last forever?  Hmm.  Sounds magical.  I just might like it.

DWARF #2:  May I suggest a new name? The Dwinkie.

MA:  And on that note, we’ll say so long, as my friends the dwarves debate whether or not to get into the baking business.

DWARF #2:  Can I get my face on the box and become the face of the franchise?  (mugs for the camera.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY ~ three knives!