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Posts Tagged ‘peter jackson’

“THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD” My rating: B+

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Time travel may be just a theory, but something like it is at work at theaters where Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old”  is playing.

Jackson, the director of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” franchises, has taken hundreds of  hours of World War I movie footage owned by Britain’s National War Museum and from it fashioned a feature film that practically jumps off the screen and into our laps (and that’s even if you pass on the 3-D version).

The story he tells is that of common English men — boys, really — who signed up to go to defend their country and found themselves in the ghastly trench war of the Western Front in France.  The film relies on snippets of audio interviews the BBC conducted with veterans of the Great War back in the ’60s and ’70s;  now long gone, these men reveal their experiences and innermost feelings about what they went through.

But what makes “They Shall Not Grow Old” absolutely mind-churning is the way Jackson and hundreds of technicians restored the old footage, cleaning up the dust motes and cracked emulsion, colorizing the images and providing an immersive stereo soundtrack.

The film’s first 30 minutes are basically the story of recruitment and training in  black-and-white; then, with the troops’ arrival in France, the screen blossoms with color as we are, in effect, dropped into the meat grinder.

The transition from black-and-white to Technicolor is as poetically jarring as it was in “The Wizard of Oz.”

There’s stuff here that even hard-core World War I junkies haven’t seen. Like what a trench latrine looked like (a thick pole stretched across a pool of muck; we see four bare bottoms simultaneously making use of the facilities). Like a bad case of trenchfoot, a ghastly condition born of wearing wet boots and socks for days on end (in effect, it’s gangrene).

There are piles of dead rats, the result of a housecleaning in one trench. There are bodies hanging on the barbed wire; some stayed so long their living neighbors could watch the slow process of decomposition over weeks. (One old gent describes war as “a fantastic exhibition of anatomy.”)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo (left), and Richards Armitage as Thorin (right)

Martin Freeman as Bilbo (left), and Richards Armitage as Thorin (right)

“THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” My rating: C 

144 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

I am so over Peter Jackson’s Tolkein obsession.

It’s not that “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies” is incompetent filmmaking. Rather, it’s empty filmmaking.

It’s got plenty of spectacle — beginning with a dragon and ending with an hour of uninterrupted combat — but it seems not to be inhabited. The characters are paper thin, and even those with whom we’ve developed some an affinity aren’t on the screen enough for genuine emotions to emerge.

Maybe this is what comes of taking a simple children’s adventure and ballooning it into a 9-hour trilogy.

Perhaps Jackson long ago emptied his quiver of tricks and is now reduced to repeating himself.

And the stuff that once wowed us — the CG that made the original Ring Trilogy such a technological marvel — now seems rather old hat.  So many of the effects on display here look patently artificial rather than real.

For hardcore fans, of course, none of this matters.  Having invested at least 15 hours in the first five Tolkein-inspired films, they’re not about to bail on the big conclusion. They’d probably stick around to watch Bilbo read from the White Pages.

Basically “Battle of the Five Armies” can be broken down into three segments.

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Dec. 13)

161 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

I am happy to report that “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a better movie than last year’s interminable “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Of course, this is a bit like congratulating grandma for outrunning great grandma.

Both movies are overpadded, meandering, and infuriating in their insistence on turning a whimsical  book for children into a lumbering behemoth of narrative and economic overkill.

Against their dramatic shortcomings, one must balance the undeniable technical creativity behind director Peter Jackson’s vision.

“Smaug” finds our Hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of waddling dwarves drawing ever closer to the mountain beneath which the dragon Smaug lurks with his vast treasure of stolen riches.

There are moments here that I recognize from my long-ago reading of “The Hobbit,” like the gigantic spiders that  wrap up the adventurers in the forest of Mirkwood, putting them into storage for future meals. Or Bilbo’s figuring out of a an ancient riddle that will open that secret mountainside doorway to Smaug’s vast underground realm.

But Jackson and his co-writers (Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens) have tossed in a lot of stuff that never appeared  in the book. Foremost among these is the reappearance of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas (a character from the “Lord of the Rings”) and the introduction of a lady elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), who has been cut from whole cloth.

Tauriel and Legolas are an item, sort of, but she is inexplicably taken with Kili (Aidan Turner), the least grotesque of the dwarfs … could a bit of Middle Earth miscegination be our future? Stay tuned.

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Damiel Echols...before his release from prison

Damiel Echols…before his release from prison

“WEST OF MEMPHIS” My rating: B  (Opens March 8 )

147 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The infamous case of the West Memphis Three – teens convicted of the Satanic 1993 murders of three boys – has already been the subject of three first-rate documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky: “Paradise Lost: The child Murders at Robin hood Hills” (1996), “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” (2000) and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” (2011).

Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis” though, benefits from being the first film on the subject since the three accused murderers – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. – were released last year after their lawyers successfully argued that new evidence (much of it disseminated through the Berlinger and Sinofsky docs) warranted an appeal in front of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“West of Memphis” (produced by Hobbit-lord Peter Jackson) tries to be encyclopedic…and with a running time of 2 ½ hours it not only recycles  well-known details of the case (sloppy investigative work, the prejudicial witch-hunt atmosphere during the trial) but takes side-trips into new revelations and accusations.

There’s some really fascinating stuff here, like an experiment using dead pigs to show that the marks on the bodies of the murder victims were not signs of ritual torture (as maintained by the prosecution) but rather were the results of turtle bites inflicted while the dead boys floated in a water-filled ditch.

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