This film was originally called “There And Back Again”–but Jackson changed it, with the justification being that Bilbo was already ‘there’ in the second film, “The Desolation of Smaug”. So it’s now “The Battle of the Five Armies”, and it is extremely aptly named since almost the entire film is literally just one long battle. It is breathtaking to watch, however, and serves to be a very satisfying ending to a somewhat bloated trilogy that probably should’ve been one film–or, simply left as the opening of “Fellowship of the Ring” in “Lord of the Rings”.
But, Jackson makes the most of his budget here, and takes us on one final journey into Middle Earth–for the time being, at least. The film opens with Smaug attacking the city of Laketown. Smaug is taken down by Bard (Luke Evans) with the “black arrow”. With the end of Smaug, the dwarves take the Lonely Mountain. Thorin (reprised by Richard Armitage), is not satisfied. He is looking for the Arkenstone, a royal jewel of the Dwarves. Bilbo has actually taken it, keeping it from Thorin as he is suffering from “dragon sickness” as Smaug did–being crippled by greed and driven to madness. The Arkenstone is basically like the ring of power, and has similar effects. And after all, Smaug does sound like Smeagol.
But there are other problems. The Orcs have finally built up their armies and want to attack. The humans and elves try to reason with Thorin to claim their gold within the Lonely Mountain’s treasure. Thorin thinks they have stolen the Arkenstone, or thinks one of his own dwarves has betrayed him. But Bilbo thinks he can barter with Thorin and reveals it was he who stole it. This does not go over well, as now Thorin lashes out at Bilbo as well.
It looks bad for the Dwarves initially until Thorin’s cousin Dain (Billy Connolly) appears with a big dwarf army. So there’s your five armies, and let the battle begin.
The elves, humans, and dwarves end up allying with each other as the orcs attempt to kill all of them. Azog the orc chief is intent on killing Thorin especially, and Thorin goes after him to do the same.
You’d think with all of the fighting, it would just be one big noise, the way “The Matrix Revolutions” ended. But this is quite a spectacle to see, perhaps aided by seeing it in 3D.
The story is still strong, with the characters of Tauriel (reprised by Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aiden Turner) falling deeper for each other, and Legolas still coming in to break it up–while shooting arrows like a machine as usual. And also, as usual, Legolas pulls a miracle out of his legs by being able to step on falling stones before falling to his own death. It’s these kinds of shenanigans that are going to either have your eyes rolling in your head, or popping from them in wonderment.
But if you’re in the right frame of mind (maybe not 48 frames though), you can still enjoy this film for what it is. It’s certainly more thoroughly entertaining than “Smaug”, which really fell short of being anything more than a hammock film. It brings the story to a nice close, and it’s good to see that Peter Jackson took us there and back again, and didn’t totally ruin it.
The journey continues for Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves and this one is a little more action packed than its predecessor. However, just like in a lot of hammock films, it’s pretty much all set up and absolutely no resolution. It still makes for an entertaining film if you’re already a fan of Tolkein’s classics and Peter Jackson’s adaptations. But it leaves a lot to be desired.
This one begins a bit before the first film’s events where Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen, who is starting to look sort of tired of playing this role) first meets Thorin Oakenshield (reprised by Richard Armitage). I don’t think we really needed this scene, but what medieval fantasy film would be complete without the “drunk pub” sequence? We need to see thirsty men dance and drink to believe we are in middle earth.
There are some new characters we are introduced to, such as Tauriel (played by Evangeline Lilly, looking a bit…lost), and Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) who can change into a large bear, but looks even creepier in his human form. The dwarves are still on a quest to recapture their gold from the Lonely Mountain which is still being held captive by Smaug, the dragon (voiced curiously by Benedict Cumberbatch). Along the way they are attacked by large spiders, followed by Azog and the Orcs again. One thing you really come away with in this series is that no one really likes dwarves, and no one really pays much attention to hobbits. But that doesn’t stop these stout hearted men even if they are sleight of height. Some of the antics are fun, such as a rip roaring rapid adventure that looks like it’d be a fun Disney ride. But some of the film slows down once the dwarves are captured by the Elves, who are just so smug and perfect you want to stick an arrow in their backside sometimes. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is featured here, but his screen time isn’t as majestic as it was in “Lord of the Rings”.
The series itself isn’t as strong as “Lord of the Rings” and that’s obviously because the source material was one small novel and not an entire trilogy of books. Jackson borrows from other sources to beef up the material, but there are some very drawn out scenes that you can tell is just plain filler. The other problem is that a lot of the characters are just not that interesting. The characters don’t have much depth, and Bilbo takes a back seat to the dwarves which is a narrative mistake.
The dragon effects for Smaug are good, and the film starts to find its footing once the dwarves reach the Lonely Mountain. But here’s the thing about that: just when you think this is going to have some climactic ending…it fades to the credits.
Now, the second film in any planned trilogy is going to naturally suffer from this. Even “Catching Fire” had this problem, though I found that a lot more involving. The only one that’s ever really felt satisfying as a stand alone film is “The Empire Strikes Back”, even though that didn’t really have an ending either. It was saved by having one of the best twists in its climax, though, and it stands as one of the best sequels ever made.
“The Desolation of Smaug” isn’t catchy title, and its matter of fact blandness sort of becomes the symbol of why this film is not very memorable. You’d pretty much only watch it if you were going to watch the entire trilogy of “The Hobbit”. It does leave you craving for the final film, “There and Back Again”; but I think Jackson could have done a better job trying to give this its own identity as well.
This isn’t about the BEST 10 movies of the past 10 years. I probably haven’t seen the best 10 movies of the last 10 years. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some great obscure foreign film I’ve never heard of, or some documentary that I skipped over or something…this is just my list of 10 movies that I could watch over and over again and that I adore personally. Your lists will differ, I’m sure. But mine’s clearly the best.
#10: The Descent (2005)
Written & directed by Neil Marshall
I start off with a horror movie, and I think it’s one of the finest horror films of this age. It’s not as well known as movies like “The Strangers” or “The Ring” but it’s far better than either of those because it’s not only a creature feature–it’s also a psychological horror film where you’re not really sure if what’s going on is real or not. That might sound cliché and stupid; but Marshall handles the balance exceedingly well and you never feel cheated either way. It’s an all female cast of spelunkers who find that there are these nightmarish “Silent Hill” looking things that only compound the problem they have of being lost in a large cave that they don’t know how to get out of. But there’s also a subplot of the main character who lost her husband and child in a single car accident; and one of her friends may have had an affair with the husband. The thing I like about this subplot, too, is that it never overshadows the main story with melodrama. It’s very nicely put together by Marshall and is by far his greatest achievement in filmmaking so far.
Written & directed by: Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson’s career has been a little more up and down than I thought, especially around this time when he already had “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore” under his belt. And this movie was even better than both. Combining family drama with offbeat comedy, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a very strong film. It never goes too far in either direction, although some of its quirkiness may turn some people off. But I think it’s Anderson’s most accessible film. And the soundtrack, once again, is outstanding. Nick Drake, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, this one captures the feel of the movie so well. I think it’s Anderson’s last great film; he’s made a few good ones since…but I still haven’t forgotten “The Life Aquatic” and boy do I long for a lobotomy for that one. Very strong performances by Ben Stiller and Gene Hackman especially, who contributes a lot of humor to this story of pathos. It’s Anderson at his best.
Written & directed by: Quentin Tarantino
I wasn’t sure to expect with this movie, because all we saw from the previews were the scenes about the Basterds, a rag-tag group of Nazi hunters that are all Jewish. It was a plan of vengeance, that was obvious. What I got, though, was probably my favorite Tarantino film of all time. While I thought “Pulp Fiction” was fantastic, and probably one of the most important films ever made, there’s something about this movie that I just can’t get enough of. I love that he doesn’t make his foreign actors speak English. For an American made film, almost half of it looks like a foreign language film. I also like that for a movie that’s as bloody and war-related as it is, it begins extremely quietly and slow-paced. But I love what Tarantino does with the quiet conversation scenes. There’s always tension in the room, and you know something is going to happen, you just don’t know when. It’s incredibly suspenseful. The opening scene, for instance, has a Nazi commander searching a French farm house that has been known to harbor Jews. Instead of interrogating the man of the house, however, they simply talk. Meanwhile, the Jewish family he’s harboring is underneath the floor. The camera dips once and shows us them hiding, and then it pans back to the room. And the talking goes on, and on. But you’re clinging to your chair, waiting to see if he knows. My favorite sequence takes place in an underground bar where a game is being played, and there are Nazi imposters in the bar that could be figured out to be infiltrating. You’re just waiting for a moment where things break out. The use of suspense is outstanding, and the theme of vengeance being all-for-naught is also refreshing. You’d think this is just an anti-Nazi fun filled movie. But the lesson to be learned is far more poignant.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan / Written by: Christopher Nolan/Jonathan Nolan
This movie will be on a lot of people All-time Overrated List I think in the coming years rather than All-time Best Films list. But I really think if you step away from the hype, it is still a very solid film. It’s dark, it’s sleek, it’s intelligent–yes, pretentious too. I forgive it in this case because the plot moves quickly enough that I never felt bored. Obviously the strongest thing about the movie is Heath Ledger as the Joker; but there are some other things about the movie that I liked–I still like that Batman is a more tortured soul, and that he makes decisions in this film that he ultimately regrets and has to live with the tragic results. I like that a heroic character becomes a villain–even if it was rushed a bit. Two-Face certainly could have been given his own film. But I didn’t think it was a total waste. Besides the Batvision subplot, I think most of the film works extremely well. As a superhero flick, it’s epic. But even more, as a character drama it’s very complex and endearing. It’s my second favorite Batman movie, besides “Batman & Robin”. Just kidding. “Batman & Robin” was better.
Written & directed by Stephen Spielberg
Here’s another one that gets a lot of bad word of mouth; it got mixed reviews, and Spielberg was accused of destroying a possible Kubrick project and wasting it. I can’t disagree enough with the detractors of this imperfect masterpiece. I think it’s one of Spielberg’s most personal films, along with it being a love letter to Kubrick himself. Most of the negative comments are directed at the ending; they all thought it should’ve ended with the boy finding the Blue Fairy at the bottom of the ocean that at one point had been Coney Island. While that would have been dark, and cool–it would not have been an ending. The film’s theme is about getting what you want too late, and not being able to move on. Finding the Blue Fairy as something that was just a symbol of the past was not a true resolution to the plot. The boy still had to find his parents. The movie is two halves: the first half is about a set of parents that want to covet a relationship with a child, and yet something’s always missing because the child is synthetic; and there‘s something to be said about the fact that their biological kid is a sniveling brat. The second half is about a synthetic child that wants to covet a relationship with his mother, who is real. At the end, they are long gone, as well as all of humanity. It’s the complete opposite of the first half of the film. And in the end, the day he spends with his mother IS synthetic, which turns him into a real boy–and he finally dies. Now that, to me, is far more beautiful, far more bittersweet and even tragic in a way; and it’s far more POWERFUL than if the film ends with the boy finding the Blue Fairy. So that’s my defense. Is it perfect? No. It probably could have been a bit shorter. It probably could have had a stronger handle on its theme. But it holds true to everything that Spielberg is all about as a storyteller, and adds an element of Kubrick that makes it dark enough to be less conventional than the typical Spielberg film. It’s all about loss and grieving and broken families, and that’s where Spielberg thrives.
Directed by: Peter Jackson / Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens
I have to include all three films and treat them as one here, although I’d probably watch “Fellowship” over “Towers” and “King”; but all three are part of the same story and to me is one of the strongest adaptation of a book in the history of film. It breathes new life into the “Lord of the Rings” and does so with such a command by Peter Jackson, it will have to go down as his greatest accomplishment. His career was delightfully progressing from his bloodspattered early days of “Bad Taste” and “Braindead” to the more mature but still off-the-wall “Heavenly Creatures” and then the fun, weird “The Frighteners”. All of these seemed to lead up to a perfect storm of creativity, expression, imagination, and…fun. The look of this film is magnificent. The performances by Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, and Vigo Mortensen are fantastic–but one I really thought was special was Sean Astin’s. While there was all the homoerotic talk between Frodo and Sam–the story really is about a friendship that is very deep. This film is epic fantasy but it is also a story about relationships. All of it is well handled by Peter Jackson. He took all of his best elements and put them forth in this trilogy that I think will go down as the best film trilogy besides the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino / Written by: Frank Miller
If you ever wanted to see a comic book truly put to film in its total essence, I don’t think there’s a better example than “Sin City”. It combines the talents of two gifted filmmakers along with Frank Miller, whom you could tell had a lot of fun with his own material, adapting it to the screen. This collection of talent on one film is as great as the Romero/King/Savini holy trinity that made “Creepshow” in ‘85. The movie is just a bunch of vignettes, but all of them are woven together so well that it feels like one big story. There are some sickening things going on in this film, but it all looks so good it’s hard to be reviled. It’s more than just an exercise in style; it’s got nice, fleshed out storylines and some really strong performances by Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis. And who can forget a Jessica Alba pole dance? This movie, again, takes joy in its excess violence and nudity, and because it revels in it…we can’t help to follow its lead.
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron / Written by: Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby
I think what I liked most about this movie is how bleak it is, and how much it really builds this dystopian world in which no children exist. For some people, maybe this is the best world you could ever live in. But it is utterly depressing to think about, with no future, nothing to look forward to. In the film, there’s even a suicide drug that’s so popular, there are ads littered everywhere on streets and on TV. Clive Owen stars in a very strong role as a man who joins a group of rebels that actually have a woman who is pregnant. They have to protect her, but there are many bloody realistic battle scenes that have you on the edge of your seat, hoping she can get to safety. This movie pulls no punches, and even kills off one of its big stars early, and still somehow ends in a satisfying manner. It’s very taut at times, and it’s very engrossing. I like that it’s a kind of nativity story, too; about the protecting of life, whether you’ve conceived it or not. It was one my favorite films of 2006.
Written & directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
If you haven’t seen this movie, and are a fan of fantasy/horror/storytelling…stop whatever you’re doing and see this movie. And PLEASE see it in its native language, subtitled, and NOT dubbed. Not because the dubbing job is bad; but because dubbing itself is lame. And it would take away from a great dramatic story. Del Toro is Mexican but he has a fascination it seems with Spain, and more precisely, the Spanish Civil War. So that’s the underlying theme and backdrop to this otherwise fairy tale of a girl who is brought to meet her stepfather, who is a captain of the Spanish army, trying to quell a rebellion. Her real father is dead, and her mother is a dutiful wife to the captain. The girl, though, embarks on a fantasy journey that can be as dark and deadly as the real life war that’s going on. The way Del Toro uses visual horror is amazing. Every one of his creatures comes to life and while some are more terrifying than beautiful, they are all wonderful to look at. It’s a sad story for the most part, because we know it’s not real. We want to believe in the fantasy, as little Ofelia does, but reality comes crashing down as it always does. It’s a very sweet story as well as it is tragic, and it’s terrifying at times, too. Just a brilliant film, and one of the best of the decade.
And now…my number one movie…is something a bit different. But I couldn’t think of anything that makes me smile more than…
Directed by Trey Parker / Written by: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady
Maybe this film suffered from bad timing (Roger Ebert didn’t find it amusing at all) but as time grows on, this movie becomes more and more dear to me. During the reign of W, America always seemed to be butting into foreign affairs that were revolving around terrorism, as it was called the War on Terrorism. Well, because there’s no known true villain (besides Osama Bin Laden), we started a few wars just to sort it all out. Parker and Stone are at their best when they’re angry and anarchic, and this is their best execution of their satire that I’ve ever seen. Not just because it satirizes American foreign policy and its flag-waving jingoism; but because it savagely satirizes every single thing about America that is oversaturated and over the top. What makes it fun is that it uses the typical Hollywood Action Movie as its conduit. A beautiful overproduced score is a great contrast to the shoddy production values of the sets, and of course, the marionettes. Everything is done cheaply, but loudly. And everything is done on purpose. All of the songs mock all the sugary sweet top 40 Billboard genres that we’re forced to listen to on the radio (including an hilarious one about film montages), and all of the dramatic dialog is so stupid, you can’t help but laugh because you KNOW it’s been in a Michael Bay film sometime (“Maybe feelings are feelings because we can’t control them.”). This movie had me howling with laughter; but meanwhile, also nodding my head to how stupid this country can be when it’s so simple minded. It ridicules the so-called patriots in this country who don’t understand our true enemy, and who are more of a detriment to our society than even the enemy that we’re attacking. The point of this film is that WE are the true terrorists. And at this time in our history, it couldn’t be more spot on. I call this the “Dr. Strangelove” of our generation. At the time, that movie perfectly satirized the present day America that was also insecure about the Cold War and communism and so in love with war. This movie does the same, but adds the sweet touch of making fun of Hollywood as well. And the most brilliant thing is that this could have been a movie that Hollywood would’ve taken seriously had it not been for the puppetry. In fact, it already has. It was called “Armageddon”. As much as I love “South Park”, and most of what Parker & Stone do–this is their greatest accomplishment, and this film belongs in the discussion of greatest comedies of all time.
That’s my list! Fuck yeah
It’s relieving to know that there are people in Hollywood like Peter Jackson that have some power now. I’ve always believed in the guy, going back to his “Beautiful Creatures” days. I saw “Meet the Feebles” after he had made it bigger (possibly because it wasn’t in DVD rotation until he started making some money) but he’s always had a passion for fantasy, sci-fi, and imaginative storylines. All you have to do is watch one of his films and you’ll know that within the first 10 minutes.
He and his production company put up pretty much all the money for this film directed and co-written by 29 year old Neill Blomkamp, which is about an alien spacecraft that “crash” lands in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the alien occupants become “citizens” of a quarantined area called “District 9?. Pretty much every implication of racism, apartheid, worth of life, and intolerance is explored throughout the narrative and it winds up a fairly clever, fun, and darkly comic fable that–while violent and at times very vulgar, is also charming.
The film’s first twenty-five or so minutes is a bit jarring, in that it flings different POV’s at you at random times, trying to give you an up-to-date idea of what’s going on in “District 9? through a series of interviews and documentary footage. The footage includes talks with Wikus van der Merwe, who eventually is identified as the “hero” of the film, or at least the main character. Wikus is introduced to us as somewhat of a “Company Man”, who is promoted to the head of a group of people to move the aliens out of “District 9? since the human occupants have had enough of them.
A little bit of info on the aliens themselves: they’re creatures that have insect-like qualities, and are extremely ugly. They’re referred to as “prawns”, a derogatory term because they resemble the underwater creatures themselves. There are gangs of these creatures, and they’ve overflowed the city of Johannesburg to the point where they are “sectioned off” and only allowed in certain areas. What does this remind us of? Of course, this is the main theme the film plays with, and it does so fairly well, even if it is a bit obvious.
No one wants these creatures around, and so this group of people have to attempt to get them out of “District 9?–but it’s not so easy, as Wikus learns quickly. Wikus is also married to the daughter of a powerful government official, who was in charge of promoting Wikus to his new position–but he has very little confidence in him, and doesn’t like him. It’s kind of obvious why–he’s an alpha male, and Wikus is a bit spineless. He doesn’t want a violent attack on the creatures while they evict them, but in the course of trying to evict one family, he is exposed to a black liquid that eventually begins to altar his body.
Wikus soon finds that he is becoming one of the creatures. He doesn’t want this to get out, but it eventually does, and he becomes a potential victim of science until he breaks out, and lives as a fugitive in “District 9?. Other things that are going on in District 9 include a group of rogue Nigerians who are buying and collecting the alien weaponry found on the spacecraft–the drawback is that no human can operate it. The Nigerians believe they can use witchcraft and “eat” parts of the aliens to get the power to use it, but to no avail. When Wikus shows up and his ailment is discovered, the Nigerians want him too–well, at least–they want his arm.
Wikus befriends a prawn that he earlier had to evict, and learns that he and his son have hatched a plan to get the spacecraft working again, and go back to their home planet. Wikus also learns that they can cure him and get him to be human again. Once the government learns his whereabouts, and the Nigerians as well, all hell breaks loose and this is where the film turns from an intellectual sci-fi film into balls out action packed shoot-em-up.
To be honest, this didn’t bother me. Much in the way that “Sunshine” devolved into a “slasher film”, the third act didn’t betray the original plot and theme and therefore, I didn’t have a problem with it becoming more of a visual experience rather than a cerebral one. Plus, it is just really cool to see the alien weaponry actually used. If you’re going to set it up, you have to pay it off, and it’s paid off very well.
In fact, the whole movie looks good. This is a credit to the fact that Jackson put up the money–this could’ve been a failed low budget sci-fi film that looked silly; or, it could’ve been a script that sat on a shelf for decades before being picked up by Michael Bay and turned into Transformers 3. Instead, this is a smart film that while it loses itself a bit in action packed violence, never loses itself to the point where you forget how important the theme is in the first place.
This is a movie about tolerance, and it’s executed well enough to be given praise. It deserves a chance to be seen, and I think if you have the right mindset, it may even open your eyes to some of the same problems we face in the real world. Even though these prawns are creatures, in some ways they’re no different than you or I. It promotes the idea of unity rather than segregation; only in this narrative it may be too late for that to happen. There’s been criticism that this film shows Nigerians in a negative light, and that it cheapens the angle of the Apartheid. I think because it’s science fiction, you have to look at it in a more symbolic sense rather than a literal one. As far as vilifying, it depends on how you look at it. I think the entire film gives enough credit to characters where it’s due, and only a few of the “villains” are cartoonish–and the most vile isn’t a Nigerian. Though the film does become more action packed, the film’s climax also leaves ambiguity; but its final scene is incredibly touching.
It’s probably the best movie the summer has to offer, and I have a feeling it will be passed over because of its complexity. But if you’re willing to give it a chance, it delivers.