For the week of March 19th, New Line and Warner Home Entertainment are bringing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to Blu-ray. Despite the film's near-universal financial success - to date, it has grossed more than $1 billion - An Unexpected Journey did not find the critical support bestowed upon director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Some viewers found it too poky, others found it too silly, while many people criticized Jackson's decision to split the relatively slight J.R.R. Tolkien adventure story (most paperback editions clock in at around 350 pages) into three nearly three-hour-long features. To some extent, all the criticism have merit, though they lose sight of how pleasurable entering Jackson's Middle-Earth iteration can be. His cinematic eye is as candy-hued and mysterious as it's ever been, and he presides over An Unexpected Journey's many action sequences with a kind of controlled mania. Best of all are the two lead performances. Sherlock and The Office star Martin Freeman brings his understated warmth and wit to the role of Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellen is - again - a delight as Gandalf the Grey.
In his Blu-ray review, Kenneth Brown takes into consideration the film's issues while praising its many pleasures: "The Hobbit isn't perfect. It isn't a sacred adaptation of Tolkien's text, or even one that rivals any of The Lord of the Rings films. It's a gorgeous, gripping, at-times enthralling return to Middle-Earth, though, with far more to offer the Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien folds than many are willing or perhaps able to admit."
Also hitting the HD format is Sony Home Entertainment's Zero Dark Thirty. Like An Unexpected Journey, Zero Dark Thirty was mired in controversy after it hit theaters, generating a not-inconsiderable amount of scandal for its ambiguous depiction of torture - director Kathryn Bigelow does not portray it as an absolute good or evil - as well as for its historical content; U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain accused Mark Boal, the film's screenwriter, of manipulating intelligence reports about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in order to make them conform to more traditional genre beats. While controversy can be a good thing for a movie's financial fortunes - and Zero Dark Thirty has certainly benefitted in this regard, grossing an impressive $94 million domestically off a $40 million production budget - it also killed a more artistic appreciation of what Bigelow has achieved. Without sacrififcing any of the rigorous action geography that made her Near Dark, Point Break, and The Hurt Locker so entertaining, she's deepened her craft, casting the search for Bin Laden as an existential journey into the mind of Jessica Chastain's unsettlingly focused government agent. Zero Dark Thirty is to The Hurt Locker what Zodiac was to Seven for David Fincher: it's the fullest, most satisfying emergence of Bigelow's cinematic gifts and obsessions.
Martin Liebman called Zero Dark Thirty "quite the remarkable movie in any number of ways. It's highly controversial but grounds itself in an almost frighteningly real authenticity that must be seen to be believed. The film's ability to captivate its audience and maintain a steady rhythm even with an extended runtime and a foreknowledge of even some of the secondary story items is truly remarkable. Bigelow's craftsmanship is so good it seems almost beyond the limits of the medium; she captures an essence, an authenticity, an attention to detail, a grittiness, a reality that's incredibly difficult to achieve in film, and she does so by telling a story everybody knows but few really know and even fewer truly understand."
Finally, we end the week with two catalog releases from the Criterion Collection: Badlands and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Badlands is the full-length directorial debut of Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Terrence Malick, and in many ways, it's the outlier in his compact body of work. Whereas most Malick pictures (The Thin Red Line, The New World, The Tree of Life) spill out of a two-hour frame on their way to three hours, Badlands runs a precise 94 minutes; with ruthless economy, Malick tells the Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate-inspired tale of two lovers (Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek) whose cross-country trek turns into a homicidal killing spree. As such, it's a far more propulsive and far less mediative venture than anything else Malick has made - and for that reason, many of Malick's detractors often hold it in fairly high regard - yet Badlands still shares the obsession that informs the director's subsequent films: it is intensely, desperately concerned with the relationship between human cruelty and the spiritual world.
Svet Atanasov's Blu-ray review noted Badlands's unusal blend of violence and poetry, how "the film's lack of interest in attaching some sort of logic to the madness is arguably the key reason why it works so well. It does not glamorize or condemn the killings; it simply witnesses them and then moves on, marveling nature and life. Unsurprisingly, viewing Badlands is quite the surreal experience – it is difficult to embrace the film but it is absolutely impossible not to admire it."
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is also a fairly challenging viewing experience, albeit for completely different reasons than Badlands is. This dramedy looks to cartoonist David Low's iconic Colonel Blimp character for inspiration; directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger used this stereotypically British caricature to demonstrate how three generations of warfare impacted their home country. This is an epic film, told on a grand scale, but Powell and Pressburger root it in honest, messy human frailties. They never go for easy laughs, regardless of the source material - in their hands, Blimp becomes one of the screen's great tragic heroes, an uptight career soldier who has to lose most of the things he loves in order to realize his imperialist mindset no longer reflects the realities of modern combat. Along with The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp might be the Archers' masterpiece.
Svet Atanasov writes that "this most beautiful film...which Winston Churchill once wanted banned, offers a fascinating examination of British values and culture. At its core, the film also mourns an entire era that was replaced by a new one during which cynicism and populism were embraced in the name of patriotism. The entire second half of the film focuses on Candy's struggle to accept the changes that are reshaping his country...[It] suggests that ideas and policies alone cannot be used to condemn people or justify wars, simply because they are not and cannot be universally accepted by everyone. The many interactions Candy has with [German officer] Theo, for instance, promote a degree of tolerance that was undoubtedly quite unusual in 1943, which is when the film was completed. Giving the enemy a human face was not something British officials wanted to see in a film that was expected to support their policies."
Definitely want to add Hobbit to my collection, but on the fence about buying it now or waiting for a box set or extended edition. But really, hasn't the book been "exteneded" already with three movies? Curious about Zero Dark Thirty. Don't know if it is still playing at a theater around here. Still have to pick-up Roger Rabbit from last week.
Extended Edition of The Hobbit? I do not think I would want to see more.
Splitting The Hobbit into 2 two hour(+) movies was questionable to begin with, then Peter Jackson decides to make it 3 nearly three hour movies? Just guessing that they will all be nearly 3 hours, the second and third could end up being a lot shorter than the first.
The Fellowship of the Ring (the book) is about 531 pages (Theatrical version of the movie is 2:58:00)
The Two Towers (the book) is about 416 pages (Theatrical version of the movie is 2:59:00)
The Return of the King (the book) is about 624 pages (Theatrical version of the movie is 3:10:00)
The Hobbit (the book) is about 310 pages, much less than each of the Lord of the Rings books (half of just The Return of the King) but will end up being between 8:00:00 and 9:00:00 (maybe more) long!?!? Before any "Extended Editions" are considered!
I do know that they are using the appendices from The Return of the King for much of the content of this new trilogy, but that does not excuse this ridiculous concept. They HAVE to put in something other than what was in the original book, they would not have enough to finish the first 3 hour book without using something else.
Now, I understand that films are a different medium. I do not expect a 1:1 telling of the story. But would they consider doing this if the Lord of the Rings trilogy wasn't such a success?
After saying all this, it might be hard to believe but I did enjoy An Unexpected Journey. I just think I would like it much more if it were a tighter film (It felt long, but I really enjoy another visit to Middle-earth. And I know I cannot really give an opinion about the Trilogy as a whole only seeing the first 3rd. But I can say I do not think I will like it more that LOTR) I really liked seeing Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprise their roles (in a *slight* prequel to The Fellowship of the Ring) I thought Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen were fantastic! Andy Serkis/Gollum was even better here than his excellent performance in LOTR. I wish we had more of Benedict Cumberbatch. Richard Armitage was superb.
I will probably get the Target version with the Bilbo LEGO minifigure.