Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Happy Birthday Tobe Hooper



This Friday the 25th January sees the birthday of the director Tobe Hooper. So in celebration of a unique filming talent I give you my own appreciation of perhaps the seminal example of his work.




Picture the scene - it's the early 1980's in a small Yorkshire town in England. A young man who has more than a few dreams in his head, stars in his eyes, and a growing obsession with all things Science fiction and horror, hears something startling and wondrous on a national news bulletin.  Namely, a that particular movie which had over the years gained a reputation of controversial and mythical proportions, arguably as no other has in the history of movies, was finally to be released on video. Amazingly after some 7 years after its initial production the seminal horror movie The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was finally going to see the light of day over here in the UK. Believe me, this was big news. Since its release in the UK in early 1975 the availability in cinema's had been withheld by the British Board of film classification who believed vehemently that the magnitude of violence, particularly in two noted scenes and the feeling of claustrophobic terror in the last 3rd of the film, was far too much for the sensibilities of a British audience. Therefore deeming that it was therefore unsuitable for a BBFC X certificate to be issued. Ah bless the BBFC for protecting us from making up our own minds.


So it finally seemed in those dark and distant days of 1981 that the British Board of film classification had finally seen sense it seems and permitted the movie's release - though as it shortly turned out, the video was soon to be removed from the video stores after new video classification rules came in ('Thank you' Margaret Thatcher...). Indeed, no theatrical or video release was going to take place for another 18 years, thanks to the backward and miss-placed 'protection' of the the public sensibilities. 

However, before it was unceremoniously pulled from the shelves, a lucky few of us had managed to get our hands on the film, and it's iconic horror bad-buy, that had by now achieved cult status of fabled proportions.

"The trip is going swell so far"

The plot is cunningly simple. It is 1974 and a group of teenage friends are travelling through the back roads of Texas on their way to their grandfather's apparently vandalised grave. Among them are Sally Hardesty, and her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin. At one point they pick up the hitchhiker from hell, who they quickly realise is a little unstable as he slashes both himself & Franklin with a knife. The others manage to eject the hitchhiker from the vehicle, but shortly after wards, they are forced to stop for petrol at an old property that they've stumbled upon. What none of them realise is that this house is the home of the knife wielding hitchhiker together with his evil and quite frankly not very nice family of cannibalistic psychopaths. This is not going to end well for the group of friends as they are picked off one by one.



"Nothing to see here, move along"



Forget the basic storyline. Put aside opinions on the quite frankly ropey and amateurish acting (the cast taken mostly from Hooper's teaching friends and students). While you're at it, if you haven't ever seen the film, ignore the rather miss-placed and over sensationalised claims that the film is nothing more than pure violence and nothing else. No, this is a movie purely for the emotional and sensory experience of the viewer. Indeed, there are times, particularly in the last act of the film when that the experience becomes more of a sensory and emotional overload - such is it's intense and unsettling power. There are scenes and images within this film that burn themselves onto your consciousness for a variety of reasons. Yes there are scenes of unyielding violence which will shock, even on repeated viewing, particularly from one of the true iconic horror characters, Leatherface.



An example of the beautiful textured cinematography

The cinematography is frankly stunning, originally shot on poor quality 16mm film, this seems if anything to add to the overall atmospheric ambiance, partly in the external country scenes but particularly in the internal terror scenes. 

As I mentioned previously, it wasn't until 1999 that the BBFC realised that years of complete miss-interpretation of the movie had taken place. Contrary to popular misconception, there is no over-reliance on explicit violence ( in fact there is a distinct lack of blood and gore throughout). Rather it is the often implied threat of violence and atmosphere that creates the power to shock and discomfort the viewer. 


I could also talk at length about Leatherface and his family's treatment of the teenagers being an evocation and allegory of America in the 1970's with such things as the Watergate scandal and Vietnam making it it quite clear that the modern world world was cruel and nothing like your childhood memories said it was. No one is safe, no-one can be trusted. The hippy peace loving days of the 1960's were long gone.  But I'll leave that sort of discussion for those far more qualified and able than I.




The Cinematic trailer - stunning in itself




In my humble opinion, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is perhaps the single most powerful example of horror movie making that I have ever experienced, either now or for that young man in the early 1980's………

So, a very happy birthday Tobe, may you have many years of 'shocking' in you yet


Tobe Hooper Filmography

Film

  • Eggshells (1969)
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
  • Eaten Alive (1977)
  • The Funhouse (1981)
  • Poltergeist (1982)
  • Lifeforce (1985)
  • Invaders from Mars (1986
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 (1986) 
  • Spontaneous Combustion (1990) 
  • I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990) 
  • Night Terrors (1993) 
  • Body Bags (1993) 
  • The Mangler (1995) 
  • The Apartment Complex (1999) 
  • Crocodile (2000) 
  • Toolbox Murders (2004) 
  • Mortuary (2006) 
  • Destiny Express Redux (2009) 
  • Djinn ( 2013)

Television

  • Salem’s Lot (1979)
  • Haunted Lives: True Ghost Stories (1991)
  • Nowhere Man (1995)
  • Dark Skies (1997)
  • Dance of The Dead (Masters of Horror) (2005)
  • The Damned Thing (Masters of Horror) (2006)

Sunday, 13 January 2013

John Carpenter - My top 5 movie favourites


I was reading an article in a film magazine the other day entitled 'Great writer/Directors' "Excellent" I thought, particularly when i saw that the first edition was talking about one of my personal favourite directors. Then my heart sank when I saw one of the opening lines…..."Oh, John Carpenter. What went wrong? He's not that good any more is he?" 

Give me strength, or to be more precise, give the man a break. 

It has been something of a bugbear of mine for some time that even at the 'height of his fame' Carpenter never quite achieved the level of reverence that his work should have done. Here in the UK and other parts of Europe he is regarded as something of an auteur - it seems that in the States he is generally regarded as that guy that made one or two decent slasher films then went on to produce movies that started with "John Carpenter's….." A case in point is the first movie in my favourite 5 list below, Assault on Precinct 13, which bombed on it's release in the USA but went onto to great success a year later this side of the pond. As a matter of fact, it wasn't the only movie to struggle on it's initial release, more were to follow in the same vein. Even the success of Halloween, which is arguably his most important movie in terms of impact on not just the horror genre but on cinema as a whole, still didn't guarantee him the status other directors have enjoyed.

I haven't researched the total amount of money his films have grossed over the years. Nor am I able to quantify his impact on modern culture, for me it is immeasurable. Yes, some of his later films may not contain the quality of his 'classics', but he he is still producing some interesting and varied work, never afraid to pursue his art. If you must criticise people, criticise those who want to play safe, to cater to the greater masses. John Carpenter can never be criticised for that.

So, here it is. My personal favourite 5 films from one of America's foremost directors.



1) ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)


Yes I know. Those of you that know this 70's classic will be immediately asking just what this movie doing on a sci-fi/fantasy/horror blog. Well it's my favourite Carpenter movie by a mile. It's my blog, my rules. So there.



'Well you took your sweet time getting here……"




It's a film that didn't do particularly well commercially or with the critics, which we'll see is a running theme for this list. The plot of the movie is basic and takes place over just a few hours ( A classic Carpenter modus operandi)  and has periods where little is happening or even said. It is what Carpenter does with the material, the creation of near unbearable atmosphere and tension, great action sequences and a simply stunning example of ensemble acting that makes this a movie classic.

The story begins with 3 separate story strands on a Saturday afternoon in LA that will eventually come together to form the tension filled second half of the movie. The first part features Lieutenant Ethan Bishop, played by the always excellent Austin Stoker, who has just undertaken a new assignment after receiving his promotion. He has been given the seemingly innocuous task of commanding an old police precinct (Anderson) during it's final hours before it is closed forever. The station is manned by a skeleton staff composed of another officer and two civilian secretaries.

Meanwhile, a Los Angeles street gang called 'Street Thunder', who recently have had six of their members slain by the local police after recently acquiring a huge cache of automatic weapons. Vowing revenge they decide to drive around the streets looking for people to kill. Quite clearly, these are not nice people…..One of the gang shoots and kills a little girl and the driver of an ice-cream truck. The girl's father, in a helpless rage pursues the gang in turn shoots the gang member, whose fellow gang members chase the man into the Anderson precinct. The staff try to ascertain his problem, but by now he is in a catatonic state of shock, he is unable to explain to anybody what has happened to him.

The 3rd strand meanwhile sees a prison bus stopping at the Police station in order to get medical assistance for one of the three prisoners being transported to Death Row at the state prison. 

What then follows for the remainder of the movie is a classic siege scenario as what seems like hundreds of gang members have surrounded the station, cut off the power and now intend to kill everyone inside, forcing the few police and convicts to work together in order to live. 

The true genius in this film is Carpenters ability to turn what, is on the face of it, a standard urban cop thriller and give it the essential spirit of a classic horror movie. That is why this film  in this list. 




A fab short trailer for Assault on Precinct  13





2) THE THING (1982)


Quite simply, a film now regarded as as science fiction/horror classic, though at the time of release was another critical and commercial flop (so once again, to those who are quick to dismiss his later films, beware). It is another of Carpenters films that has a magnificent ensemble cast of familiar, but in this case not overly well-known, character actors. It has a great location, elements of true emotional tension and horror. Oh, it also has one of the finest and unsettling climaxes that you could ever imagine, an ending that has also courted controversy and deliberation amongst fans as to who is actually 'The Thing'.






In this vastly superior version of the 1951 original the story begins with a  terrified Siberian Husky running across the frozen wasteland towards an American research outpost and being pursued by men in a helicopter shooting at it. Even after the dog finds safety with the Americans, the men in the helicopter  land and keep shooting until one of them is shot and the other accidentally blows himself up with a grenade. The Americans learn that the men in the helicopter are in fact from a nearby Norwegian research facility and so decide to fly over to the the Norwegians camp where they find it in ruins with every dead. That subsequent night at the American facility, the dog mutates into the Thing, and the American team realise what really happened to the other camp as they see that the Thing has the ability to transform into anything it kills. For the rest of the movie the men fight an ever horrific battle against the monster, whilst at the same time trying to work out which one of their own ever decreasing team is the Thing in disguise. 


Blessed with a budget that reflected the success of films like Halloween and Escape from New York, the film boasts a plethora of wondrously gory special effects. These in turn become gorier and gorier as the story progresses, the scene when the Thing appears from a dying mans chest and bites off the hands off the doctors arms has particularly gone down in horror folklore. 

However, 'conventional' critics at the time tended to focus heavily on these gory issues and completely ignored the clever pacing of the story and the claustrophobic atmosphere of suspicion and despair the men find themselves in. As a consequence The Thing suffered at the box office in competition with Spielberg's E.T (god help the taste of the general public) and it wasn't until a few years later that the film began to acquire its true status as an stunning piece of cinema. 

Looking back now with the benefit of time its clear to see that the movie is still visually and musically excellent (a fine score by none other the Ennio Morricone) and the much vaunted special effects still look reasonably fresh…….oh, and the feeling of paranoia, that you can't trust people who may not be as they appear still resonates from the actors.  As for the debate about the ending, specifically who of the survivors is actually infected…….hmmm.


                                                                                    The Cinematic trailer for The Thing

  






3) ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)



The first of the two films in this list to feature the delicious Adrienne Barbeau, who for the few of you that don't know, was the then wife of John Carpenter. The lucky, lucky man. The movie also contains something of a stellar cast, which considering the budget available ( only around 6 million dollars) says everything about the reputation Carpenter was starting to accumulate after the worldwide success of Halloween. Major names such as Donald Pleasence, Earnest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton all strut their fine stuff. Add to that, Kurt Russell ( already an established Disney actor), Isaac Hayes and the delicious Adrienne and you have a fine ensemble cast that project the fairly straightforward plot into the realms of classic status.





Adrienne 'Delicious' Barbeau.



Made in 1981,  Carpenter set the film 16 years in the future to 1997, a dystopian imagining where by this time crime has spiralled out of control, the prisons had become overflowing and now New York City is a maximum security prison where all prisoners are placed, with no chance of release. Here they are left to their own devices, which since its conversion 9 years before has now become a place of nightmarish proportions. No police or civilians are allowed to set foot on Manhattan as an enormous containment wall surrounds the island, and mines have been placed on all the bridges and tunnels treading to the prison colony.

The story begins on board Air force one, on which the US President is on his way to international peace summit with a cassette tape the holds the essential information for the  proposed treaty. Unluckily for him however, the plane has been hijacked by terrorists and is forced to crash onto the island. However, luckily for him, he is the President so gets first dibs on the escape pod which is jettisoned from the plane and disappears into the depths of the prison streets.

The Police chief (played by the always excellent Lee Van Cleef) offers a deal to an ex special forces soldier who has now become a criminal,  "Snake" Plissken , played by Kurt Russell (making his second appearance on this list). The deal is simple; If he manages against the odds to rescue the president and retrieves the cassette tape within 24 hours, Plissken will receive a full pardon. Snake reluctantly agrees to attempt the rescue after he has been injected with microscopic explosives that will rupture inside him. The explosives can only be deactivated in the final 15 minutes before they explode, thus ensuring that Snake does not abandon his mission and decide to 'leg it'.  If he returns with the President and the tape in time for the summit then he will be spared. The fact that no-one has ever set foot in the prison, or escaped from it is just a minor inconvenience...



"Just call me Snake"




The film is a tour-de-force of acting, plot rhythm and excitement. Yes the special effects aren't amazing. the computer graphics in particular haven't aged well. However, the atmosphere and raw emotion created by Carpenter and his ensemble of actors, together with the synthesiser soundtrack more make up for any shortcomings. Indeed, the film location (a burnt out area of St Louis acting as the Manhattan prison) serves as an extra character, providing a claustrophobic sense of city desolation. 



The movie trailer for Escape from New York




4) HALLOWEEN (1978)

One of those few movies that has morphed from being just a film in itself and worked its way into not only being a seminal example of the horror slasher genre, but has also become part of of wider cultural and public consciousness. 

The production of the film has itself gone down in movie folklore as It was made on a shoestring budget of only $320,000 and shot over just 28 days in 1978. In fact, the money to make the film was so tight that the main female lead (Jamie Lee-Curtis) was only paid $8000. There wasn't even enough money to buy a real mask for the Michael Myers character so instead a cheap William Shatner mask was purchased for a dollar and a film assistant was put to work with some left- over false hair and white spray paint to make a few adjustments. The money saving didn't stop there as the fake paper leaves used to simulate the late Autumn falling leaves had to be collected by one of Carpenter's minions after each shot in order to be re-used later in the movie.

At the last count, the film has so far grossed  over $70 million worldwide.


"I'm a bit bonkers I am"…..




The film begins on Halloween in a small Illinois town in 1963.  A young boy, Michael Myers, witnesses his older teenage sister,  and her boyfriend kissing in the living room. After seeing the two teenagers sneak up to his sisters bedroom  he puts on a clown mask, takes a butcher knife out of the kitchen, and waits until the boy leaves before entering her room and stabs her over and over again until she falls down dead. He then walks downstairs and wanders outside, with the knife still in his hand. Michael's parents, who have just arrived home, pull off the clown mask that Michael is wearing, to reveal the angelic looking face of the young boy.

This opening scene is a masterpiece of film-making. Designed to look like a continuing single, tracking, point of view shot  that serves to only very slowly make the audience aware that something terrible is about to happen. The final horror is on seeing the boy's face for the first time after he has butchered his sister. It is not the face of a monster. Watch the entire opening scene below if you don't believe me!

The stunning opening scene, in all its glory.



Some 15 Fifteen years later on the day before Halloween, Michael's Psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (a masterful performance from Donald Pleasence), arrives at the sanitarium in which Michael has been institutionalised. However,  Michael has managed to escape, stealing a car then murders a trucker and stealing his uniform and heads for his hometown with the Doctor in pursuit . On reaching the town Michael breaks into a small store and steals a Halloween mask, a rope and a knife.

The following Halloween day, a young high school student Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee- Curtis) continually sees the mask-wearing Michael around town, but nobody believes her.  Then later at her house she sees Michael outside in the yard, staring into her room. Laurie is starting to become frightened. 

That night, Laurie is babysitting a young boy while at the same time her friend is doing the same with a young girl.  When her friend gets a call from her boyfriend to go and collect him to brings the girl to the house where Laurie is babysitting. But on her way to pick up her boyfriend her friend is killed by Michael, who was hiding in the back of her car. Meanwhile back at the original house another couple of Laurie's friends sneak in and head to the bedroom, where they have sex. While downstairs, the boy is skewered on the wall with a kitchen knife, then Michael strangles Lynda with a telephone cord as she talks on the phone with Laurie. Feeling worried, Laurie heads over to the house to investigate…….

                                                                                Perhaps my favourite scene from the movie.



It is a truly seminal film which provided the blueprint for numerous copycat slasher movies, which in turn became gorier and gorier as the years progressed ( not necessarily always a bad thing!). However, I feel the last word on the power of Carpenter's filming is that contrary to popular belief (and the conservative film critics), the level of blood and gore in this film is remarkably low. In fact he only blood seen is when Judith Myers is killed, on the body of the man Michael killed for his clothes and on Laurie's hand and arm after escaping from Michael. It is actually the emotional power of the casts performances that drives the film - Curtis is especially convincing as the scream queen turned plucky survivor ( strong women being a recurring theme in many of Carpenters' films. The music too once again adds to the various scenes that at times almost suffocate the viewer with an ever increasing panic. A masterpiece.





5) THE FOG

"Almost midnight. Enough time for one more story. One more story before midnight, just to keep us warm. In five minutes, it'll be the 21st of April. One hundred years ago on the 21st of April, out in the waters around Spivey Point, a small clipper ship drew toward land. Suddenly, out of the night, the fog rolled in. For a moment, they could see nothing, not a foot ahead of them. And then, they saw a light. My God, it was a fire burning on the shore. Strong enough to penetrate the swirling mist. They steered a course toward the light. But it was a campfire, like this one. The ship crashed against the rocks. The hull sheared in two. The mast snapped like a twig.And the wreckage sank with all the men aboard. At the bottom of the sea lay the Elizabeth Dane with her crew, their lungs filled with saltwater, their eyes open and staring into the darkness." ……………….

The Fog tells the story of an abnormal, luminous fog that rolls in over a small coastal town in California, bringing with it the vengeful ghosts of sailors who died in a shipwreck of the coast  exactly 100 years earlier. It's not a perfect film by any means, there are numerous weaknesses and flaws, possible due to the over ambitious aims not being able to deal with another limited budget. Indeed, Carpenter himself regards is as one of his more imperfect productions, but it is film that has a special place in my heart, and not just because it once again features Adrienne Barbeau  - I 'm not an obsessive you know………


Adrienne Barbeau, still being delicious




The movie was made just after the huge success of Halloween and is one of the rare occurrences from this list of being a commercial success at the time of it's release, despite the problematic shooting and subsequent re-shooting of a number of scenes.

It begins with a simple lovely scene of an old sea-dog trying, and succeeding, in frightening the bejoopers out of some local kids with a creepy fireside story. 
We then hear that the town, Antonio bay is about to come together to celebrate the centenary of it's formation.  While the townsfolk prepare to celebrate, strange events are taking place in the area as objects suddenly move by themselves, television sets turn themselves on, petrol stations apparently come to life, and all the public telephones (remember them?) suddenly ring all at the same time. 
We learn that 100, the wealthy leper Blake bought a ship to transport his companions from a leper colony to California to build a town for them to live in for a better existence. However, while crossing a fog in a dangerous part of the coast, they were purposely misguided by the village campfire onshore, navigating the course of the vessel toward the firelight and smashing it against the rocks and killing all on board. The Fog is bringing the spirits of Blake and his crew to kill the residents…….



The fabulous opening scene to the movie - a perfect example of how a simple scene set up can be just as atmospheric as any moment of 'slash horror'



The Fog is a brave and ambitious attempt to manipulate story and character by running simultaneously a number of separate story lines which succeeds in making us relate to the residents of the coastal town by witnessing a real sense of community. All these strands are connected by Adrienne Barbeau's character as the late night voice on the local radio 9 and what a smooth sultry voice it is too), while playing playing her selections of easy Jazz. Indeed, this movie is another example of an excellent acting ensemble - Hal Holbrook is especially convincing as the priest tortured by the things he learns about his town. Visually too the film is stunning, in no small part aided by the skillful cinematography perfectly capturing the beauty and essence go the Californian coastline.



The music of John Carpenter


An often overlooked contribution to his movies is the music that Carpenter (the vast majority of which he wrote himself) provides for each production. Forced to write his own synthesiser music due to budgetary constraints in his first few movies Carpenter quickly realised the importance that music can provide. He's never content to let musical score simply accompany a film to fill the odd silence and occasionally add something to the overall effect. Instead the music often acts as a principle character in the story. 

The likes of Assault on Precinct 13 ( the music written in a staggering three day period), Halloween ( where perhaps he created arguably his most iconic piece of movie soundtrack) and Escape from New York would be far the poorer if Carpenter hadn't taken real care and passion to intimately wed the music to the cinematography itself. There are times, particularly in films such as Halloween when the musical score seems to be pushing the action along rather than the opposite way round. Moreover, as the music selection clip below shows, much of his music stands on its own merits as listenable in its own right.




A selection of music from his films……love it.

                                     











John Carpenter - Full filmography (Thanks to http://uk.movies.yahoo.com)


John Carpenter's The Ward (2011)

Director

John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars (2001)

Director

Vampires (1998)

Director

John Carpenter's Vampires (1998)

Director

John Carpenter s Escape From L.A. (1996)

Director

Village of the Damned (1995)

Director

In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

Director

Memoirs of An Invisible Man (1992)

Director

They Live (1988)

Director

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Director

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Director

Starman (1984)

Director

Christine (1983)

Director

The Thing (1982)

Director

Escape From New York (1981)

Director

The Fog (1980)

Director

Elvis - The Movie (1979)

Director

Halloween (1978)

Director

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Director

Dark Star (1974)

Director

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (part 2, the review)


I've seen it at last! I have to say that for the most part, the movie is mostly sensational, it really is. I have stayed away from attempting to write a detailed review, the dozens I have glanced over today mostly do it far more justice then I ever could do. However, I did want to say a few things, if only as an excuse to post more pictures from the film.



The plus points…..



One of the strengths of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was the casting of the multitude of characters. Time and effort had obviously been put into choosing the not just the main individuals but also those who had less 'air-time' - Craig Parker as Haldir is a perfect case in point with his emotive and sensitive portrayal of the doomed Elf……yes, Tolkien purists, I know that the movie took liberties with the book's account of Haldir's Elves. It worked I tell you, it worked!




"What do you mean, I'm too tall to be a Dwarf?"



The same can immediately be said of The Hobbit, again the cast is superb. For me, the really interesting friendship arc of the story is that of the one between Thorin and Bilbo. Richard Armitage as Thorin is excellent, providing the audience glimpses of depth within his character that the novel rarely examines. In the book we witness him superficially as grim and ill-tempered for the majority of the journey. Whereas director, Peter Jackson provides us with a real texture to Thorin's personality by adding the back story which was taken largely from the appendices of The Return of the King. It was great to see the relationship of Balin and Thorin expanded too, Ken Scott was marvellous as the former. This went a long way in answering one of my questions as to just how a short novel could be expanded into three long movies..... Oh me of little faith. 
   


'I do look like Ian Holme, honest!"




Martin Freeman is a wonderful Bilbo. He balances the combination of comedic and dramatic timing outstandingly. Some of the scenes are noticeably touching, particularly in some of the exchanges with the Dwarfs and especially when he decides to spare Gollum. Nothing is said, his facial expression is perfectly conveys his sympathy for the pathetic creature . His meeting with Gollum and the game of riddles, if anything, further improves on how it was conveyed in the book. Again the portrayal of Gollum was sublime, seeing the dual personalities arguing and competing against each other give a genuine depth to him that Tolkien was never ably to in the book.




A couple of minor quibbles…..



"No, I am not related to Jar-Jar Binks"


One significant disappointment was the inclusion of the Wizard,  Radagast the Brown, played by Sylvester McCoy. When I first heard that the character who had been omitted from the 'Rings' trilogy was to be included I was pretty happy, this is the wizard who refused to take stand against Sauron and to inspire Men, Elves, Dwarves and all free people of Middle-Earth for good. Instead  he "turned his back on the affairs of men and became more interested with the ways of nature", thereby protecting the world from Sauron in a much different way.

However, this movie sees him as nothing more than a hedgehog doctor who travels around on a sleigh pulled by rabbits. The scene where he and his rabbit sleigh evaded the Wargs while Thorin's band ran around like the Keystone Cops was frankly ridiculous. Radagast's free-floating intrusion into the main storyline again hints at a lazy plot-device. More importantly, he comes across as something of a clown, a figure to provide some comic interlude. 




"I'll just pop round to the pub over in Mordor"



My second 'teeny weeny' little gripe is in regard to one of the many strengths of the original work, which was Tolkien's strict observance of a time line presented in his books by constant referrals to phases of the moon……(cue cries of Geek Alert!!)…... As in the Rings trilogy, people who aren't familiar the books could be excused for believing that much of the story takes place with a few square miles in just a few days. Yet the story takes place over many many hundreds  of square miles over a period of months and years (the distance between the Shire and Rivendell is just over 300 miles itself), we never get the true feeling of that in the film….…just a minor gripe.




But lets accentuate the positives..



I fully understand that for those who haven't not read the The Hobbit this film might feel a little long and perhaps boring in parts. That's something that seems to have been mentioned in one or two of the reviews from newspapers that frankly seem snobbish in their appraisal  - John Walsh's piece in the Independent was especially patronising and dismissive in both of the genre and its fans. 

Oh blimey does the film look good. The New Zealand scenery is as truly breath-taking as ever, the sets are exquisite, the special effects stunning. 

I thought the pace of prologue was perfect and I enjoyed immensely being immersed in the introductory scenes in Bag End. The linkage between the beginning of the Hobbit and the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring was particularly inspired. I loved the visual interpretation. I loved the Dwarfs and the Trolls. I loved revisiting the Shire and Rivendell .and so did the packed cinema that I saw the film in.


I CAN'T WAIT FOR PART 2!