Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Snow Screen: The Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies

It's been our tradition to see the new Hobbit movies at The Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, home of the largest capacity IMAX theater in the world allegedly with nearly 1,000 seats but the screen actually isn't a real IMAX screen.  With The Rave at Howard Hughes now converted into a Cinemark XD, the only true IMAX experience left in Los Angeles is the AMC at Universal City Walk.  Not that that really matters if the film isn't shot with IMAX technology, the giant square screen is so big that you have to move your head around to keep up and the seats at these original IMAX theaters are extremely squished in together to the point that a person couldn't cross in front of you.  Fortunately, The Chinese has spacious seats and aisles.  Sadly, there was no Hobbit set up outside in the courtyard or inside the theater lobby.  Usually there's some kind of faux statue or costumes but this year, nothing.

Picking up where The Desolation of Smaug left off, you know, where the dwarves work really hard to douse the dragon with melted gold only to see the creature shake it off and take flight and that's the infuriating end to the film in this three movie cash grab?  Anywho, now Thorin Oakenshield and his dwarf homies along with Hobbit Bilbo Baggins are all holed up in the mountain castle that is filled with gold.  The humans of nearby Lake Town scramble to survive after Smaug flames the shit out of their crappy little village.  Thorin reneges on his promise to share the wealth and before you know it, orcs, elves, humans and dwarves are all ready to go to war over the riches inside the mountain and for it's strategic position in the landscape.

Battle of the Five Armies might just have been my favorite of the three entertaining if not overly memorable Hobbit films.  There's a simple story, set up, a few dramatic moments and of course, lots and lots of action of the dwarf on orc on elf on human on orc persuasion.  At under two and a half hours, it's also the shortest in the trilogy with everything more or less being wrapped up nicely and not suffering from the half dozen endings that Lord of the Rings' Return of the King suffered from.  I don't think we've seen another film in High Frame Rate outside this series and again, it's kind of weird to get used to as things look really real and clear, as if you were watching an extremely well designed play up close.  Instead of things slowing down when there's lots of action on screen, things tend to feel sped up and a little herky-jerky even.  LOTR suffered from fake, shiny and cartoon-ish looking CGI while Hobbit and Weta have improved technology leaps and bounds.  The immense battle scenes with creatures and animals of all sizes look less fake but still fake in a different kind of way.

Peter Jackson and company have to be commended for taking on such a Herculean task as I'm always amazed by the sheer scale of these films and their attention to detail with the F/X, make up, props, costumes, sets, etc.  One thing that still bugs me is the fact that we don't get any amusement park style 3D, you know, like shit flying at you or things flying in front of your face and people reach out to try and touch it?  I know James Cameron and others consider that cheap thrills but come on, I'm still not immersed in the world as I can see the person in front of me, the edges of the screen, etc.  Would it kill you to have some arrows flying at the audience or some of those falling rocks look like they might hit us?  In one quick scene you get a sense of foreground as dragon Smaug puts his claw on a house but that's about it.

It will be interesting to see where Peter Jackson goes from here.  Talk of a Tintin sequel has never quieted down despite the lukewarm reception Steven Spielberg's initial chapter received in the states.  Here's hoping he does something small and weird like his old horror work.  Maybe he'll follow Michael Bay's lead and we get Pain & Gain 2.

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