TBT – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

TBT – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Today is St George’s Day: a time where the English get patriotic, in other words drunk, because of the story of some geezer slaying a dragon. It’s a day of English-ness, heroics and fire-breathing dragons. It’s also a day when you have to put up with fucking annoying people managing to irritate you with these aforementioned traits. It seems to me there is a perfect film out there that sums up the characteristics of the day. The film also happens to be celebrating it’s 10th anniversary this November whilst the novel it is adapted from will be 15 years old in July. Well it looks like the fates are with me this Throwback Thursday. I fucking love it when a plan comes together.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Firesaw the Harry Potterfilm franchise continue its slow descent into the world of dark fantasy. Following on from Chris Columbus’ family-friendly, slightly fuddy-duddy, opening duo, Alfonso Cuarón was the surprising choice to take up the challenge and certainly upped the game. With every new release, the series, and indeed its young cast, grew more confident, mature and willing to take risks. This fourth instalment was helmed by Mike Newell, a director with a varied professional history: he was an equally unexpected choice to try his hand at adapting JK Rowling’s much-loved novels for the big screen.
I have to confess, The Goblet of Fireis my least favourite of the Potter films and that includes the incredibly childish and twee first two. This has nothing to do with the book because, whilst it will never be my favourite in the series, I love the excitement of the Triwizard Tournament and I always cry over the graveyard scene. The film just doesn’t stand-out when compared to its brothers. This is probably an unavoidable consequence of the sheer scope of the novel. It was fucking huge and screenwriter Steve Kloves had a lot material to cut to make this happen.
The film is still a lengthy affair, running at over two and a half hours, and you definitely feel it by the end. So much goes on in the novel that you can’t help but think that maybe Kloves could have taken a few more bits out? Such as the annoying and unnecessary Rita Skeeter: despite my overriding love for Miranda Richardson, Skeeter added to nothing but the film-length. There are already an exhausting number of narrative strands to follow: a Quidditch World Cup; the drama of the tournament; the new characters that need to be introduced; the children’s everyday school-life; teenage angst; romance; the Yule Ball; and the unforgettable threat of Lord Voldermort’s return. Phew.
Everything is fighting for attention and, because of this, the editing often seems choppy. There are several moments when you can’t escape the feeling that scenes were originally longer and cut for the sake of time. Frustratingly, these bite size pieces only feel unnecessary and waste even more precious time. This doesn’t feel like the kind of film Newell set out to make and it doesn’t feel like the kind of feel Potter fans were really hoping for.
It’s certainly not what I was hoping for: Newell doesn’t quite live up to expectations when it comes to the action sequences. Harry’s encounter with the dragon is never as thrilling as the legend of St. George and the subsequent Triwizard challenges never quite reach the excitement levels that they should. Everything is rushing towards the huge finale that fans of the books have been waiting for but, in the end, even this is rushed through. Ralph Fiennes is an excellent choice to bring the Dark Lord to life but his showdown with Harry doesn’t resonate as much as it did in the novel. The Goblet of Firedoesn’t feel like a film in its own right but something rather perfunctory that is leading to something bigger, better and more dangerous.
Although, to give him some credit, Newell is strong when it comes to the focus on character. If the first two chapters gave us Harry Potter’s annoying childhood, The Goblet of Fireis oozing with teenage hormones. Our heroes have suddenly entered their adolescence and sexual awakening (with a little help from some a few Veelas). The boys also have suitably rebellious yet still conservative messy hair. If I’m honest, the focus on character over action is probably where my major problem with The Goblet of Fire comes from. It focuses solely on Harry and his increasing sense of self-importance. When you’re dealing with a hero that’s as fucking disagreeable as Harry Potter is then you need some thrilling action to distract you. I’m not going to sit through a film that wastes its dragon potential in favour of pathetic teenage arguments and God complexes.

Mike Newell does a good job with a difficult task but it cannot be denied that it is problematic. It doesn’t necessarily feel like a Harry Potter film; maybe more of a cheesy American teen drama with a few CGI mythical beasts. The Goblet of Fire isn’t the black sheep of the Potter films but it is the awkward cousin who you do everything to avoid at reunions. 
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Watching The Hobbit trilogy has felt a bit like Christmas dinner. The first course is absolutely delicious and you come away satisfied and hungry for more. By the time the second one gets under way, you realise you’re getting fuller and could probably made do with some smaller portions. Then comes the dreaded final course. After the first two you’ve had so much fucking food you might burst but then someone brings out the Christmas pudding. You know you don’t need it but you eat your portion anyway and spend the rest of the day, uncomfortably full, half regretting you’re decision. It’s all lovely in itself but together it’s just too much.

Since the release of the first Hobbit film in 2012 I have defended Peter Jackson’s decision to drag the short children’s novel out to make three films. I argued that this relaxed and time consuming process worked well with the style Tolkein played up in his LOTR trilogy. However, upon finally sitting down to watch the final instalment at the beginning of January, I suddenly found myself wavering. Having lived with the Smaug-shaped cliffhanger for 12 months I was excited to finally see the great dragon wreak some havoc. What I got for my year long wait was 10 minutes of confusing CGI smashing and a weird, human bow and arrow. Yes, for all that waiting, Jackson only goes and kills Smaug off even quicker than you can finish your popcorn. What was the fucking point?
There is a lot to enjoy about The Battle of the Five Armiesbut I couldn’t help finding it all a bit unnecessary. I admit that I sat there in a bit of a strop because it had become painfully clear that Jackson was stretching this as thin as possible. So little happens in this film and what does happen is just not interesting enough to cover up that fact. There aren’t as many fun, geeky references for die-hard fans to pick up here and Bilbo becomes much less prevalent in all the chaos. The titular Hobbit who has so far guided us on this journey is thrown into the background as other, less interesting characters, take centre stage.
Having finally ended their journey and watching some other schmuck deal with their annoying dragon, the dwarves have everything they’ve ever wanted. Now they just have to keep hold of it. As it turns out, a fucking massive, unguarded pile of gold and jewels is something everybody is willing to kill for. Having spent the last two films building up the bravery of this ragtag band of brothers, The Five Armies shows them hiding from much of the conflict they have helped create. It’s fucking inspiring stuff.
Meanwhile, a weakened Gandalf is still trapped in Orc-ville desperately waiting to tie-up any remaining lose ends, no matter how unnecessary, with Jackson’s previous trilogy. Now the Necromancer has been unmasked, it’ll take some of the most powerful actors from LOTRto draw him back into that dark corner of Middle Earth. In scenes never before associated with The Hobbit, Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond help him escape by battling the dark forces only for Gandalf can go and situate himself in the middle of another fight he isn’t ready for.
There are obviously several stand-out moments that are incredibly exciting: I’m mainly thinking of the time when, thanks to a little outside help, the 92 year old Christopher Lee kicks orc ass. Part of me feels that that alone makes the film worth it. There are several shining lights within the cast; notably Luke Evans and Evangeline Lily as The Bard and the Jackson original, Tauriel. These two still manage to bring a refreshing and emotional performance in the midst of the tired appearances from Jackson regulars and the floundering of great actors lost in a CGI world.
For someone who created some excellent battle scenes in both The Two Towers and The Return of the King, Jackson has a great deal of difficulty keeping track of his five armies. The main part of this film I taken from such a small section of the book that there was a great deal of potential for greatness. Instead of the well choreographed and exciting battles we’re used to seeing, the Battle of the Five Armies is a complete clusterfuck of fantasy creatures fighting over some gold, complete with Billy Connolly on a boar.
Let’s be honest though, this battle was never really going to work, was it? After all, a massive, confusing battle over evil is one thing but a massive, confusing battle over money is just… confusing. I sat through the hour or so of fighting in this film wondering one thing: why should we care? The various races of Middle Earth coming together to fight for power and wealth? It’s fucking Victorian!
By this point there are just too many characters to keep track of and too many campaigns to follow. Everyone, Jackson included, just gets lost in the fray. For something that doesn’t take up much room in the book, the battle of the five armies truly outgrows its cinematic surroundings and becomes as Falstaffian as a battle is ever likely to get. It’s a shame that such brilliant actors and characters aren’t given enough time to develop. The director really struck gold getting Richard Armitage on board as Thorin but he has never really let the actor stand out. This final instalment was the perfect chance for him to shine but he was relegated to hamming it up as the fucking mad dwarf king. This whole “dragon sickness” plot is pushed a little too close to soap opera territory.
The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t a mitigating disaster but neither is it the film we hoped it would be. Of course, you will read plenty on the internet about the amount of the plot that is either a figment of Jackon’s imagination or out-of sync with Tolkein’s timeline. By this point, that’s just to be expected I’m afraid. It was always going to be a fucking stretch and you’re fighting a losing battle if you do anything but accept things for the way they are. Yes, Thraduil mentions the Ranger Strider despite the fact that Aragorn would only have been a boy at this point. Calm the fuck down. It’s Jackson’s lead up to The Fellowship of the Ring, he had to get a mention of the eventual King in there somewhere. This trilogy is Jackson’s gateway drug to the harder stuff on offer in LOTR. If you must get angry, this is the internet after all, then get angry about how fucking stupid it is to signpost the audience’s way into a story they’ve all seen more times than they can remember. It’s like that moment in Revenge of the Sith when Lucas emphasises the names of Padme’s children as if anyone watching is still fucking surprised.
Like the Star Wars prequels themselves, The Battle of the Five Armiesbecomes a bit of a showcase for all of Jackson’s worst qualities. The battle scenes drag on for fucking years, stories are resolved in whichever way allowed the writers to finish quickest, the romance is completely overblown, and the signposting to his later story is just fucking laughable at this point. Like Revenge of the Sithis for the Star Wars saga, The Five Armies is both the best of the LOTR‘prequels’ and the stupidest. It is as technically astounding as it should be but none of this matters when you’re just watching Jackson continually flogging a dead horse before your very eyes.

I guess I didn’t hate it but it was the first time during these trilogies that I was disappointed with the director’s approach. Non-stop action and tireless entertainment are one thing but I value necessity and validity of existence above all else. Plus, I guess I just find it fucking hard to swallow the “money is evil” message when it comes from the mouth of a man who stretched out a fairly short children’s book into a 9+ hour film going experience.  
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit came out last year amid great despair that it wasn’t a fitting adaptation of Tolkien’s loved children’s fantasy. As you may recall, I loved it and thought the real-time Dwarf dinner would have been exactly how Tolkien would have envisioned a film version of his simple tale. I was filled with excitement for the second instalment as soon as I stepped out of the cinema that first time but, thanks to the pressures of Christmas and a shortage of staff at work, I was left to wait until last week to view it. With the state of mind I was in, Peter Jackson would have had to do something horrific for me not to be even slightly impressed. Particularly when one of my many great loves, Benedict Cumberbatch, was the sexy voice of Smaug the dragon.

Unlike the first film, which many strange people argued was too sedate and slow, the second starts off at breakneck speed. Well after a brief flashback to Gandal (Ian McKellen) and Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) first meeting. Then it jumps right back into the middle of the action where the thirteen dwarves and their two companions are still on the run from the bloodthirsty Orcs on their tale. What follows is a fraught 100 minute long escape from this continued enemy and several new foes, including giant spiders, kick-ass elves and fishy townspeople. It is a relentless race to a seemingly unreachable mountain that never stops throwing menace into the equation.
Jackson’s decision to turn the simple quest into something more exciting with this additional chase still drags down the plot but, once again, allows for some exciting action sequences. As unnecessary as this threat may be, it does allow for Desolation of Smaug’s most outstanding scene: a high-speed, head-spinning river barrel escape. The camera places the audience in the raging waters as Orcs descend upon the unprepared party. It’s the kind of sequence that wouldn’t look out of place in the Lego video game of the film and is as exciting, humorous and well choreographed as we’ve come to expect from Jackson’s Middle Earth.
Undoubtedly though, the biggest moment comes once we are already about 1 hour and 50 minutes into the film in an annoying attempt to keep the audience on tenterhooks. Bilbo takes his first shaky steps into Erebor and shrinks in the middle of a huge pile of gold and jewels. Although, you can’t help but realise that there is one thing missing: we came here looking for a dragon and we’ve been waiting for nearly 5 hours so it needed to be spectacular. Smaug is a revelation of CGI: helped immensely by Benedict Cumberbatch’s spot-on voice and motion-capture performance. Thanks to the same process that brought Gollum to life in a disgusting and creepy manner, we see the Sherlock star’s menacing grin in the face of the monstrous creature. It’s mesmerising. You will most certainly watch on in wonder as he emerges from a pile of coins and slinks around his lonely mountain kingdom with a bellyful of fire ready to be unleashed at any moment.
The face-off scene is no less disappointing and very nearly lives-up to the Hobbit’s previous memorable tête-à-tête with the wretched Gollum. The encounter has everything it needed: humour, tension and genuine threat. After attempting to steal back Thorin’s prized Arkenstone, Bilbo the thief is discovered by the deadly dragon and must appeal to his vanity to save his life. It is a scene that relies on words and cunning and is something that stands out in this otherwise hectic film. However, this reserved but brilliant exchange must inevitably give way to another over-the-top action sequence in which Bilbo and his friends come up with the most complicated escape plan in the history. It is once again a joy to watch but I can’t help wishing things had been a little subtler in terms of moving the plot forwards.
Of course whatever you might think of the narrative on show, Peter Jackson and his team have created another masterpiece. The land of Middle Earth continues to be imagined with mind-blowing detail and care. Thankfully, this instalment offers Jackson and co. the chance to create as yet unseen landscapes instead of just reintroducing the audience to Bag End and Rivendell and it makes all the difference. With the hazy forest of Mirkwood, Thranduil’s woodland kingdom and the vast, glassy lake on which Esgaroth lies, there is a never-ending ocular feast for the audience. Even the already seen Dol Guldur gets a sinister make-over in this second instalment as Jackson highlights the growing darkness that is slowly and silently taking over Middle Earth.
Dol Guldur is the setting for another stand-out sequence and it is one that both delighted and left me in a bit of a quandary. Whilst memorable in its own right, the big moment when Gandalf has his first face-to-face with the illusive Necromancer is also the moment when I really began to agree with the critics who believed Jackson was dragging this out a bit. There is a lot of impressive action and visuals but Sauron still looks a bit too much like the smoke monster from Lost to be really terrifying. Plus, we already know who he is and how the story ends so the dramatic tension of this reveal is weakened.  For the first time I found myself wondering if Jackson had gone too far making this new film an out and out prequel to his incredibly popular trilogy.
Even the comic and joyful tone of the original story is lost thanks to the increasingly sinister tone that is overtaking everything. The Desolation of Smaug is a truly dark film. I lost count of the number of times someone was decapitated or tortured. Now as a stand-alone Peter Jackson film this isn’t a bad thing: after all nobody quite manages to blend dark forces with comic moments and emotional touches in the way that PJ does. However, as an adaptation of The Hobbit it is starting to wear a little thin. Admittedly, Tolkien thought about rewriting his lovely children’s tale to give it a tone more in keeping with the later trilogy but he continually changed his mind. The Lord of the Rings is shrouded under the dark cloud of Sauron whilst The Hobbit is a much lighter and comic tale because that threat doesn’t exist yet. There are some brief glimpses of comedy within the narrative where Martin Freeman gets the chance to show us the kind of character Bilbo could have been. He was born to play younger Bilbo but he simply isn’t being given enough to do. His comic, dramatic and emotional potential is lost in favour of the Dwarf’s greedy quest. Aside from the Smaug face off and a few brief moments with the ring, Bilbo is fast becoming a bit part in his own life story.
Lack of character development is still a problem within the Dwarf party as a whole. Aside from Thorin, there are only a handful that have been properly introduced and only Kili (the pretty one) who is given any real material to work with. This is fine until the party splits in two with Thorin, Bilbo et al. going one way and Killi, Filli, Balfor and the other one staying in Laketown. I have no major issue with this split but, keeping most of your recognisable Dwarfs away from the Misty Mountain did give the impression that the great party that had set out from Bag End had suddenly shrunk down to two Dwarves and a Hobbit. Something that is most disconcerting when loads of them kept popping up in Erebor.
However, there are some more glimmers of hope within the new cast members. Most notably being the elves of Mirkwood. Many die-hard Tolkien fans may object to the return of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas (and I admit I was in two minds about it) but there can be no denying that this is one elf who is too fucking awesome to ignore. He brings some much needed action and general kick-assery to this sequel. Plus, he has
a new companion in the feminine form of Tauriel: a Peter Jackson original character who adds a much needed strong female presence to the proceedings as well as a strange flirtation with Kili. Again, I’m not sure how I feel about this dwarf-elf-elf love-triangle but it wasn’t laid on as thickly as I initially feared. I’ll have to wait and see how it proceeds next time before I decide whether it holds a significant place in the narrative or is simply a chance to allude to the Arwen/Aaragorn/Eowyn romance of the previous films.

The two brightest stars to come out of The Desolation of Smaug (after Dragon breath himself) are Legolas’s father Thranduil (Lee Pace) and Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans). Thranduil is not your typical Elven king. Everything he says is dripping with potential threat and he constantly looks ready to chop your head off if you say the wrong thing. Lee Pace plays the role perfectly and any time that Thranduil is on screen (not nearly enough if you ask me) he commands your attention. I can’t wait for him to participate in the Battle of the Five Armies. He’ll kick goblin butt. As could Bard who, despite a fairly low-key introduction for him and his foreboding prophecies, will have a great part to play next time around. Luke Evans plays the hero in waiting with all the grim-face Welshness we could have hoped. His inevitable return is certainly something to look forward to.
So to conclude this unstructured and befuddled review I will say this: what Peter Jackson has given us with The Desolation of Smaug is a bloody good prequel to LOTR but a fairly annoying adaptation of The Hobbit. It is a great action adventure with some amazingly memorable sequences and settings. However, it is undeniably bloated and heavy-handed. This film deals with only a handful of chapters and the stretch is beginning to show. Just how many times can the group be captured before escaping in order to get captured again? In some ways it is better than the first (which I still really like) but in others it is disappointing. Sadly, there are a lot of people out there who vehemently disagree with Jackson’s approach with these films and will heap criticism onto a much-loved and talented filmmaker because his vision differs with theirs. I can’t place myself in this camp because, whatever else you think, this has all the trappings of a good Peter Jackson film. My suggestion is take a step back from the book that may or may not have shaped your childhood and just go with it… then go home and reread the book that may or may not have shaped your childhood.