Reviews

Middle-Earth Eye Candy: 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

This film explores the bonds of friendship and the commonality among all races, and provides raging battles and daring escapes, as well as quiet fireside moments that reveal a character’s thoughts.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt
Length: 169 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros
Year: 2012
Distributor: New Line
UK Release Date: 2013-04-08
US Release Date: 2013-03-19
Website

“I’m going on an adventure!” an exultant Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) proclaims as he leaps over a fence and runs headlong into the story. The journey may have been unexpected for this hobbit, but for critics and fans worldwide, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a long-awaited, much-anticipated, and hotly debated Peter Jackson film. When The Hobbit was released late last year, fans and critics often focused their attention on whether this movie is comparable with Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, if J.R.R. Tolkien’s rather short novel warrants a new cinematic trilogy, and how a film shot at 48 frames per second affects the story’s and visuals’ quality. Bilbo had acquired a lot of baggage before he left the Shire.

The film initially received criticism that it strayed too far from Tolkien’s plot and characterization or that the first installment in the trilogy pulled the original story too thin, no matter that scenes detailing the White Council or portending the Necromancer padded the plot. Yet moviegoers worldwide enjoyed the film, enough to make The Hobbit the 15th highest grossing film of all time, with more than one billion dollars in global box office ($301.1 million in the US; $700 million from the rest of the world, by early March). The film boasts excellent performances from Freeman and Ian McKellen (returning as everyone’s favorite wizard, Gandalf). Its achievements in production design, visual effects, and make-up and hair styling were recognized with Academy Award nominations.

The DVD/Blu-ray release of The Hobbit offers an excellent opportunity to consider the film for itself -- not as a holiday blockbuster, long-expected prequel, or adaptation of Tolkien’s novel. Of course, seeing this movie on a big cinema screen (whether in 3D or 2D) is ideal, but even hobbit-sized screens can suitably take viewers back to the Shire -- and that is a trip worth taking.

The Shire is so lush and inviting that Jackson hates to leave it. With the final film in The Hobbit trilogy, Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth, for better or worse, will be complete. The Hobbiton living set (lovingly created and now permanently maintained on a farm outside Matamata) is more than a beauteous advertisement to visit New Zealand; it represents the comforts of home for Bilbo, that “everyman” hobbit providing entry into the story, and becomes a touchstone for the virtues of friendship and family. Although Bilbo hates to leave his comfy chair, books, and garden, he does so in the effort to ensure that others -- an unruly company of dwarves thrust into his life -- will someday be assured their own returned homeland.

Freeman is a master of the comedic expression -- including eyebrow raising, mouth quirking, and eye widening. He plays physical comedy well. Upon hearing about his prospective journey’s many dangers, an overwhelmed Bilbo thinks he has successfully overcome the urge to faint. A moment later he calmly admits he was wrong and promptly falls down. Freeman makes this action funny by underplaying the reaction.

With Freeman as Bilbo, the hobbit can survive the trolls’ gross-out humor with a bit of dignity, seem vulnerable during his first encounter with Gollum, and foolishly daring in protecting his new friends. Bilbo is at first unimpressed with Gandalf and rather prissy about his home, but he warms to the adventure, even while ever-so-humanly wondering if he should be on one. Freeman makes viewers want to know more about Bilbo and to travel with him; he keeps Bilbo’s reactions and actions believable, even within the broad parameters of fantasy that often require suspension of disbelief.

The film may be entitled The Hobbit, but its catalysts are 13 dwarves. Leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is a king without the familial kingdom, although he still knows how to make grand entrances, and the camera loves his brooding glower and flowing locks. He instigates this adventure by proposing to retake Erebor and the dwarves’ riches gleaned from years in the mines. To do so requires a long journey through “enemy” territory -- lands inhabited not only with trolls, Orcs, and wargs but the elves of Mirkwood who refused to aid the dwarves when they were attacked. Cunning dragon Smaug is an obstacle yet to be faced, and audiences get a glimpse of this fiery foe as an intriguing set-up for the second film.

Not only Thorin is Middle-earth eye candy. Fans dubbed Kili (Aidan Turner) and Fili (Dean O’Gorman) the “hot dwarves” for their youthful good looks. These dwarves seek adventure, although they do not yet know what perils their journey may include. They may not be the brightest warriors (being a bit slow, for example, to catch on to Bilbo’s attempt to save them from trolls), but they are loyal and fearless in battle. Not all dwarf personalities are as distinctive, but those award-nominated make-up artists and prosthetics designers developed a unique look for each dwarf.

The wizards cannot be forgotten. Ian McKellen is Gandalf to a generation of moviegoers and in this film is a welcome, familiar presence. Returning, too, is Christopher Lee as Saruman the White, well featured in the White Council scenes at Rivendell. New to the film is Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), whose enthusiasm as the eccentric, sometimes frantic wizard can be a bit over the top.

Some scenes are excessive (e.g., movie-battle violence) or unbelievable, even for fantasy (e.g., an escape on a crumbling, free-falling bridge that allows the dwarves to emerge with no visible injuries). Not everyone appreciates a good Rhosgobel rabbit race. But for every indulgence, there is a scene well worth watching more than once. The Riddles in the Dark segment is particularly enjoyable because of Bilbo’s and Gollum’s mental sparring, and the excellent Andy Serkis convincingly portrays Gollum as both heartrendingly lonely and horrifyingly vicious.

This Hobbit presents a grandiose adventure, complete with bloodthirsty villains, a shadowy evil presence, and the promise of a smart, smug dragon. It's a coming-of-age story, even if the hobbit in question is technically well into middle age in hobbit years. The film takes us from the depths of mines and a goblin kingdom to the heights of the eagles’ aerie. It explores the bonds of friendship and the commonality among all races. It provides raging battles and daring escapes, as well as quiet fireside moments that reveal a character’s thoughts.

The Combo Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet pack offers more than 110 minutes of extras and includes the ultraviolet code to make the movie accessible on multiple platforms. The theatrical and game trailers are interesting teases, but the video blogs are the stars of the special features. Fans who followed the movie’s progress on Jackson’s Facebook page (or traveled via Air New Zealand late last year) probably have seen Jackson’s video blogs that span the start of production through the Wellington premiere. The ten diaries not only highlight aspects of filmmaking, but they illustrate the dedication of crew and cast working on a long project that is in many ways a labor of love. Everyone seems happy to be working on The Hobbit, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

One final treat is designed for those who buy the film within a few days of its release. Just like Bilbo, Thorin, and company turned their gaze toward the Lonely Mountain, fans are prompted to do the same on 24 March. According to the Facebook page Sneak Peak at the Desolation of Smaug or The Hobbit website, "Peter Jackson will host a live first look at The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second film in The Hobbit Trilogy, on Sunday, March 24th at 3:00PM Eastern/Noon Pacific. Content will be streamed live, and an edited version will be archived on the Trilogy’s official website. Access to the live event will be limited to holders of an ultraviolet code available by purchasing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack, or 2-Disc Special Edition DVD. Select digital retailers will issue access codes upon purchase of the film."

Taken on its own, The Hobbit is not a perfect movie, but it's a good one, entertaining and beautifully filmed. When approached with a spirit of adventure, this Unexpected Journey holds some surprises for at-home audiences, whether they are visiting Middle-earth for the first time ,or the eleventy-first.

Enjoy a series of promotional videos here on The One Ring Net

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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