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Tag Archives: fantasy
Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis, 2007)
Beowulf is a test-bed for a combination of technologies that might be the future of the movies. It utilises “performance capture” animation, which some think will revolutionise computer animation. In many theatres it is being exhibited in 3-D, and that technology is acting as something of a trojan horse for the accelerated roll-out of digital cinemas. And its regular theatrical release is paired with showings in IMAX. It’s all very reminiscent of the 1950s, when extreme widescreen processes and early 3-D were used to try to give theatrical exhibition a competitive advantage against the threat of television. Today, the threats are DVD and illegal downloads, but the impetus is much the same. And Robert Zemeckis, in particular, has devoted much of the last decade to this technology: he hasn’t made a live-action film since 2000′s Cast Away, and won’t for some years (with his next picture locked in as the computer-animated A Christmas Tale, due in 2009).
Yes, I’m going to give some thoughts on the final Harry Potter book. It’s sort of film related; this is obviously going to be one of the major film releases of 2009 or 2010. But I’ll be the first to admit that’s just an excuse to jump on board the subject of the week.
(Major spoilers for the final Harry Potter book follow).
Most of the way through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I was thinking the suits at Warner Bros must be cursing: the first three quarters of the book isn’t terribly suited to film, despite the frequent magical / action interludes. The fact that the book eschews the Hogwarts locale for most of its length robs the film of the setting that has united the series thus far, and the long months of travelling that the kids do is going to mean a lot of passage-of-time montages that are going to be tough to keep interesting.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (David Yates, 2007)
As a fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, the biggest struggle in trying to evaluate the movie series has been in trying to evaluate them as stand-alone films. This is always a problem when looking at adaptations of familiar books, but I think it’s particularly so for the Harry Potter series. Rowling’s plotting is complex, and she fleshes out her world by indulging in numerous subplots and diversions. Her novels have therefore proven difficult to adapt: they don’t easily smooth out into the neat through lines of a typical Hollywood narrative. And while I recognised the virtues of the third and forth Potter adaptations – I didn’t think much at all of the first two, directed by Christopher Columbus – there was something inherently unsatisfying about them. I think the biggest problem is that the fun of the novels is in mulling over Rowling’s puzzles over the time it takes to read a book; Rowling can drop the clues in casually over several hundred pages, so there’s a pleasure in finally getting to a resolution. The films, constrained to two and a bit hours, have to hit every vital plot point with so little room to breathe that there’s no time to think over the main plot, let alone take pleasure in the asides or humorous details Rowling could enjoy. So even more than for most adaptations, I felt the films were simply highlights packages, like watching a trailer. I know there are many who have only seen the films and who have enjoyed them a great deal, so it must be possible to get something from these films in their own right. Yet I always find it a little bewildering, as I felt I had to put the story together in my mind by reading back in elements from the books.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005)
Given the billions of dollars poured by appreciative audiences into the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, it was inevitable that we would see an adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis knew and exchanged ideas with Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has much in common with Tolkien’s novel. For Disney, the studio behind the new film, the appeal would have been irresistible: Lord of the Rings for the Harry Potter demographic, with a series of seven novels to be adapted if the first did well.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003)
Peter Jackson brings his epic Tolkien adaptation to a triumphant close with Return of the King. It doesn’t quite pick up directly where The Two Towers left off, instead starting with a brief but effective prologue showing the fateful moment in which the ring first fell into the hands of Smeagol / Gollum. Structurally, this prologue is all wrong (it was apparently intended for The Two Towers, and that is where it would have sat more logically), but it’s an added treat: it feels like you’ve received a bonus before the movie itself has truly started. Then we’re back into the action where The Two Towers left off, once again cutting between two main threads to the story. Frodo and Sam are still trying to reach Mordor to destroy the ring, while Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, Merry and Pippin play various roles in the defence of Gondor from Sauron’s armies.