With the release of "Assassin's Creed Liberation HD" this week, the year in video gaming has begun. While the first few months of the year are usually pretty quiet, this year there's a couple of major titles hitting the stores along with a lot of indie ones. Check out the release schedule as it currently stands below:
Basement Crawl (PS4)
Might & Magic X: Legacy (PC)
Broken Age Act 1 (PC)
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z (PS3/360/PSVita)
Strike Vector (PC)
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4/XB1)
Tomb Raider: Game of the Year Edition (PS3/360)
Rekoil: Liberator (360)
Earth Defense Force 2025 (PS3/360)
Fable Anniversary (360)
The LEGO Movie Videogame (PS4/XB1/PS3/360/Wii U/PC)
The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief (PS3)
Far Cry Compilation (PS3)
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3/360)
Toukiden: The Age of Demons (PSVita)
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (PSVita)
The Last of Us: Left Behind (PS3)
NASCAR '14 (PS3/360/PC)
Rayman Legends (PS4/XB1)
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (PS3/360/PC)
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare (XB1/360)
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles (PS3)
Divinity: Original Sin (PC)
South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3/360/PC)
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (PS3/360/PC)
Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky (PS3)
Dark Souls II (PS3/360)
Citizens of Earth (Wii U/PC)
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster (PS3/PSVita)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (PS4/XB1/PS3/360)
J-Stars Victory Vs (PS3/PSVita)
inFamous: Second Son (PS4)
Deception IV: Blood Ties (PS3/PSVita)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (PC)
The Witch and the Hundred Knight (PS3)
MLB 14: The Show (PS4/XB1/PS3)
The Elder Scrolls Online (PC)
LEGO The Hobbit (PS4/PS3/360/Wii U/PC)
Tropico 5 (360/PC)
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PS4)
Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi (PS3)
Warlock 2: The Exiled (PC)
EA Sports UFC (PS4/XB1)
Raven's Cry (PC)
Secrets of Raetikon (PC)
Wasteland 2 (PC)
Ultimate Naruto (PC)
Age of Wonders III (PC)
Double Dragon Neon (PC)
Project CARS (PS4/XB1/Wii U/PC)
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments (PS4/PS3/360/PC)
The Walking Dead Season 2 Ep. 2 (PS3/360/PSVita/PC)
The Witness (PS4/PC)
The Wolf Among Us Ep. 2: Smoke & Mirrors (PS3/360/PSVita/PC)
East vs. West - A Hearts of Iron Game (PC)
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
MLB 14: The Show (PS4/PS3/PSVita)
Murdered: Soul Suspect (PS3/360/PC)
Oddworld: New N' Tasty (PS4/Wii U/PC)
Watch Dogs (PS4/XB1/PS3/360/Wii U/PC)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4/XB1/PC)
Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4/XB1/PS3/360/PC)
Shadow of the Eternals (Wii U/PC)
The Crew (PS4/XB1/PC)
The Order: 1886 (PS4)
The Sims 4 (PC)
Alien: Isolation (PS4/XB1/PS3/360/PC)
Call of Duty 11 (PS4/XB1/PS3/360/PC)
Halo 5 (XB1/360/PC)
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS4/XB1/PS3/360)
Persona 5 (PS4)
Pillars of Eternity (PC)
Star Citizen (PC)
The Legend of Zelda (Wii U)
Ace Combat Infinity, Bayonetta 2, Below, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Carmageddon: Reincarnation, Child of Light, Deep Down, Drakengard 3, Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey, Dying Light, Elite: Dangerous, EverQuest Next, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, The Evil Within, Fortnite, Godus, Hellraid, Hitman 6, Hohokum, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix, Mad Max, Mercenary Kings, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Mirror's Edge 2, Quantum Break, Rime, Shadow of the Beast, Starbound, Strider, Stronghold Crusader 2, Sunset Overdrive, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Tales of Xillia 2, Tom Clancy's Rainbow 6: Patriots, Tom Clancy's The Division, Transistor, Trials Fusion, Until Dawn, Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Wolfenstein: The New Order
Of course video game release dates are far from static. Even more so than movies, game release dates are in constant flux so quite a few of these titles are likely to be pushed into 2015. What are your most anticipated upcoming games? See if you can guess mine below:
If I could just get you to affect Ben Kingsley's Mandarin voice from "Iron Man 3" for a moment and repeat following: "The name of an iconic character, the bathroom fight origins of 'Casino Royale' James Bond, the motorcycle riding ability of Jason Bourne and a 'Mission: Impossible' support team. Are you ready for the new Jack Ryan?" The only answer is in the words of the Mandarin's alter ego Trevor "BLAH, BLAH, BLAH."
A crowd of university students are huddled around a television watching the unfolding events of September 11th 2001. In that crowd is grad student Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), who inspired by that world changing moment, immediately enlists as a marine. Unfortunately on deployment in Afghanistan he's a passenger on a helicopter attacked by an enemy rocket.
Barely surviving the crash, enduring a physical recuperation with the assistance of Dr. Cathy (Keira Knightley), he's poached by CIA recruiter William Harper (Kevin Costner) to finish his degree and become a covert analyst on Wall Street. Years into his tenure Ryan must travel to Russia and infiltrate Viktor Cherevin's (Kenneth Branagh) team to uncover the validity of the impending attack.
Branagh (Thor, Hamlet, Frankenstein), who also directs, begins "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" with a promising atmospheric, post 9/11, reinvention of Tom Clancy's literary clydesdale that increasingly devolves into a frustrating mess.
How do you know that it's a globetrotting international thriller? The veritable barrage of establishing shots travelling all across the globe with dramatic inter-titles, that's how. The nauseating repetition will cause frustrating exhales. The fast cutting frenetic chase sequences feel like they were left on Paul Greengrass' cutting room floor.
Slavishly adhering to the ludicrous pace cleanses Branagh's directorial identity from the picture. Two moments; Ryan's stalking through a clusters of panicked students and the ominous architecture of Harvard University in London to discover the attack on the twin towers, and the reveal of Cherevin feel different because Branagh's allowed to draw you in. You feel like you're occupying the aura of the characters, breathing their air.
Writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp (a notorious script fixer) use pace to disguise the giant leaps of character progression. In hours Ryan, an analyst reeling from the shock of his first kill, is a totally proficient spy using Bruce Wayne level fake drunken-ness to deceive Cherevin (Branagh).
Cathy (Knightly) discovers Ryan's secret CIA employment concealed for over ten years and within eight minutes (as pointed out by an actual a quote by Costner's Harper) she's not only O.K with it, but she's being enlisted for a covert operation.
Finally, as the film rolled into its climax Pine shows off his 'one of a kind' analyst skills by pacing up and down a flight deck barking at headset wearing drones to search social media for terrorists. Literally as he's speaking his investigative recommendations you're seeing them take place; thereby making the one unique aspect of the character obsolete.
Knightley's Cathy is a doctor in title and scrubs only. Her 'inspirational' quality was completely lost on me. Pine and Knightley do not have one iota of chemistry and their relationship is flimsier than Pine's believability as an analyst.
Pine is completely miscast as Ryan. He's far too cocky and confident to play an authentic studious guy, willing to sacrifice anything for his country. He constantly seems lost in thought, not a calculating focus, but like someone who's overthinking every aspect of the portrayal; which looks a lot like someone trying not to lose control of their bowel.
Costner's resurgence as a seasoned mentor figure is one of the saving graces of the film. His weathered leading man looks, toggling between the charm and intensity of a seasoned espionage practitioner works in spades.
Branagh too tries to bring something grandiose, yet quirky to Viktor Cherevin. There's such volatility to his private character that he's even willing to beat up his male nurse for not administering the medicine correctly. He thinks he's untouchable and it manifests larger than life vanity. He's a better villain character than this film deserved.
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is giving Branagh a chance to get in Dr. Frankenstein's shoe once again; Cozad and Koepp ignore the library of source material and assist in creating a monster from elements of other successful spy characters.
With all the year's films now out in U.S. theaters, Metacritic.com has revealed what films, games and TV shows were the best of the year based on the aggregate scores of the top critics.
I've divided the lists into three sections - films, TV shows and major console games. Check out the scores below:
This list does NOT include old film re-releases such as "Voyage to Italy" and "Tristana". Films also have to have AT LEAST ten reviews to be considered, which is why high scoring works like "Best Kept Secret," "Gideon's Army" and "Out of the Clear Blue Sky" are not included.
- "12 Years a Slave" - 97/100
- "Gravity" - 96/100
- "Before Midnight" - 94/100
- "Inside Llewyn Davis" - 92/100
- "The Gatekeepers," "Her," "Stories We Tell" - 91/100
- "American Hustle" - 90/100
- "The Act of Killing" - 89/100
- "Blue is the Warmest Color" - 88/100
- "All is Lost" - 87/100
- "Drug War," "The Great Beauty," "Let the Fire Burn," "Nebraska" - 86/100
There's also a tally of the movies most frequently mentioned by individual film critics in their year-end Top Ten lists. On that front the best films this year are:
- 12 Years a Slave
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- Before Midnight
- The Act of Killing
- American Hustle
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- Blue is the Warmest Color
Not far behind were "Frances Ha," "Upstream Color," "Stories We Tell," "All is Lost," "Short Term 12," "Captain Philips," "The Great Beauty," "Blue Jasmine," "Spring Breakers," "Dallas Buyers's Club," "Fruitvale Station," "A Touch of Sin," "The World's End," "Leviathan" and "Mud."
Best TV Series
The reviews for shows on the site are often for the first few episodes of a season, and so aren't as reliable overall as the film scores. Documentaries and specials like "Louis CK: Oh My God," "Africa" and "The Flag" aren't included:
- "Breaking Bad: Season 5" - 99/100
- "Enlightened: Season 2" - 96/100
- "The Returned: Season 1" - 92/100
- "Broadchurch: Season 1" - 91/100
- "Game of Thrones: Season 3," "The Hollow Crown," "Justified: Season 4" - 90/100
- "Mad Men: Season 6" - 87/100
- "Southland: Season 5," "Top of the Lake" - 86/100
- "It's Always Sunny..." Season 9," "Masters of Sex: Season 1" - 85/100
- "Girls: Season 2" - 84/100
- "The Fall: Season 1" - 83/100
There's also a tally of the TV shows most frequently mentioned by individual TV critics in their year-end Top Ten lists, which I think is actually a more reliable indicator. On that front the best shows on TV right now are:
- Breaking Bad (AMC)
- Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
- Game of Thrones (HBO)
- Mad Men (AMC)
- The Americans (Showtime)
- The Good Wife (CBS)
- Enlightened (HBO)
- Masters of Sex (Showtime)
- Justified (FX)
- House of Cards (Netflix)
Not far behind were "The Returned," "Orphan Black," "Parks and Recreation," "Top of the Lake," 'American Horror Story," "Downton Abbey," "The Walking Dead," "Veep," "Scandal," "Hannibal" and "Rectify".
Best Console Games
Scoring for games on the site is something of a mess as episodic releases, DLC add-on packs and iOS games are often given their own scores. To keep the list reasonable, I'm sticking to full game releases only on the Playstation, Xbox and Wii (old and current gen).
No DLC add-ons, no single episodes of larger games (eg. "The Wolf Among Us: Ep 1. Faith"), and no re-releases (ala "Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara," "Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate," "Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut," "Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut") are included:
PS3 & PS4
- "Grand Theft Auto V" - 97/100
- "The Last of Us" - 95/100
- "Bioshock Infinite" - 94/100
- "Rayman Legends" - 91/100
- "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag" - 88/100
- "Hotline Miami," "MLB 13: The Show," "Tomb Raider" - 87/100
- "Battlefield 4," "Diablo III," "FIFA 14," "Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien" - 86/100
- "Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons," "DMC: Devil May Cry," "Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch," "Rocksmith 2014 Edition," "Trine 2: Complete Story" - 85/100
- "Guacamelee!," "NBA 2K14," "Resogun," "Skylanders Swap Force," "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist" - 84/100
- "LEGO Marvel Super Heroes," "Spelunky" - 83/100
Xbox 360 & One
- "Grand Theft Auto V" - 97/100
- "Bioshock Infinite" - 93/100
- "Rayman Legends" - 90/100
- "XCOM: Enemy Within" - 89/100
- "Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force" - 88/100
- "Diablo III," "NBA 2K14," "Rocksmith 2014 Edition," "Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien" - 87/100
- "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag," "Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons," "DMC: Devil May Cry," "Tomb Raider" - 86/100
- "BattleBlock Theater" - 85/100
- "FIFA 14" - 84/100
- "Skylanders Swap Force" - 83/100
- "Super Mario 3D World" - 94/100
- "Rayman Legends" - 91/100
- "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Walker HD" - 90/100
- "Pikmin 3" - 87/100
- "Need for Speed: Most Wanted U" - 86/100
- "Edge," "Mutant Mudds Deluxe," "Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien" - 84/100
- "Star Wars Pinball" - 83/100
- "LEGO City Undercover," "Resident Evil: Revelations" - 89/100
- "The Wonderful 101" - 78/100
- "LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes," "New Super Luigi U" - 78/100
One of the more curious things in movies is the 'CinemaScore', an exit-poll service which essentially measures audience satisfaction with a film. It isn't so much a measure of quality as it is one of expectations met.
That's why critically acclaimed films like "The Help" and "Marvel's The Avengers", along with less regarded films like at least two Tyler Perry vehicles, all scored an A+. On the flip side, a 'C' is generally considered disastrous. Often it goes to bad films, yet occasionally acclaimed films like "Boogie Nights," "Drive," "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Hanna" all scored Cs.
Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" scored a C+, and now his latest effort "The Wolf of Wall Street" sits right alongside with a C.
This has led to a large online debate regarding why 'Wolf' scored so low as it was quite upfront in its marketing about being a wild, sex and drug-fuelled celebration of greedy capitalists overindulging themselves.
Some appear to have objected to the film for its basic appeal. That's kind of understandable - watching smarmy yuppies snort through mounds of cocaine, screw hookers and generally get a lot more fun out of life than most of us office slaves does not exactly sound like a fun prospect at Christmas. Why bother seeing DiCaprio shoving a candle up his ass when we can do that ourselves in the comfort of our own homes?
There has also been issues with the moral of the story, which is that it pays to be a white collar criminal. Scorsese's shies away from showing DiCaprio's Belfort character suffering any consequences for his actions until the end, and even then it's less than two years detention in a swanky country club - not exactly fair punishment for destroying the lives of thousands. Meanwhile Kyle Chandler's FBI agent, one of the few empathetic characters, is portrayed as the sucker caught in a daily office grind he'll never escape.
Others have had problems with the basic film itself as its episodic nature and extended three hour runtime have come under fire for issues of pacing and bloat. Critics haven't come to a unanimous consensus, most seem to have liked but there's a vocal opposition as well which has led to a fairly good (but not awards calibre) 77% and 7.6/10 score on Rotten Tomatoes along with a 76/100 on Metacritic.
Does the CinemaScore matter? It matters to studios in the most important way - money. An A+ CinemaScore is a good indicator of a long, prosperous theatrical run with excellent repeat business. A low CinemaScore means the film is unlikely to get good word of mouth (and thus will disappear quickly). Though pulling in an impressive $9 million on Christmas Day, Paramount will likely be watching the film closely in coming days to see if the domestic box-office revenue truly is sustainable.
For those who have seen it, why do you think audiences may be rejecting the film? For those who haven't, what is it about what you've seen in the film's marketing that's turned you off? Have your say in the comments below.
Another year, another several hundred movie trailers have gone online promoting films both big and small. Of course trailers are separate to the films themselves, and a great film doesn't necessarily mean a great trailer. Today, I take a look at what I thought were the best film trailers for this year.
The rule here is the trailer (not the film) had to come out this calendar year. As a result some trailers don't qualify, such as "Stoker" which released all its previews last year. Others like "Pacific Rim," "Iron Man 3," "Oblivion," and "The Great Gatsby" did have trailers this year, but those weren't as strong as their initial teaser trailers launched back in 2012.
Onto the winners:
1. Man of Steel - Trailer #3
The first trailer was a bit of a wash, the second trailer was a one of the better trailers of the year on its own with its astonishing visuals and choral music. Yet it was the third time out that Warners utterly nailed it with a three-minute short film that perfectly encapsulated everything that was so great about the character of Superman. It soars with a grand sense of nobility, self-sacrifice, triumph and hope - it's a piece of epic myth, something Snyder's problematic and often awkward final film isn't.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street - Trailer #1
A two minute blast of pure kinetic energy, thanks in no small part to Kanye's "Black Skinhead" backing track, the first trailer for Martin Scorsese's "Wolf of Wall Street" cares little about the plot. Instead it's a glorious celebration of relentless, all consuming greed - a party anthem for the pure, unbridled capitalism of a Western corporate culture driven by ego-fueled fratboys with no scruples, no guilt, and no fear of consequences. The editing with Kanye's song is incredibly well done, and a great juxtaposition of two of the world's most ridiculously overpaid occupations (stock marketers, hip hop artists).
3. Under the Skin - Teaser
The most 'out there' trailer of the year, the teaser for Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" boasts an incredibly creepy aesthetic akin to 1970s/1980s European horror works by greats like Dario Argento or Nicolas Roeg. The unsettling music, the desolately beautiful Scottish coastal locations, Scarlett Johansson as a seductress who doesn't seem to fit quite in, and of course all the nightmare imagery of demonic figures and men being engulfed by some sort of liquid black mass. It's just a stunning looking creation.
4. Gravity - Triptych Trailer
Warners didn't put a foot wrong with the marketing of Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity". Each trailer was electric, tense and superbly constructed. Yet the single most memorable move of the entire campaign was three days back in August when three separate near two-minute trailers were released, one a day. Unlike the other trailers which were edited for time, each of these were essentially clips - three single scenes utilising Cuaron's single take approach. The lack of cutting helped to increase the already high levels of suspense and tension from the previous teaser, while the final trailer a few weeks later seemed like an afterthought after this feast.
5. Laurence Anyways - U.S. Trailer
How does one sell a near three hour, French language film about a male-to-female transsexual's relationship with her lover? If you're rising young French Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan you do it by cutting together a dialogue-free trailer that plays far more like a trippy 1980s music video. Set to Visage's new wave classic Fade to Grey, the trailer showcases the film's stunning party sequence filled with garish fashion, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads. I'm not sure how well it sells the film, but it's definitely memorable.
6. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - Trailer #1
The first trailer for Ben Stiller's tale of a meek corporate drone breaking free and living life to the full is a great piece of art on its own. Driven purely by Monsters and Men's "My Head is an Animal" song, aside from a standalone joke at the end, you get a basic idea of the plot and a rush of wild imaginative imagery. The subsequent full trailer is just as good, though the need to explain the plot gets a little bit in the way of the sheer purity of this first teaser.
7. Godzilla - Teaser
Following on from the the wondrous San Diego Comic Con 'proof of concept' trailer from 2012 which was made before the film was shot (and subsequently leaked online earlier this year), the first actual teaser trailer for the "Godzilla" reboot hit the other week and, though not quite as memorable, was still excellent. The first two-thirds in particular are perfect, a single scene showing several men doing a parachute jump through eerie looking clouds into the ruins of a major metropolis, glimpsing the monster and its scale in the process. The use of György Ligeti's "Requiem" (the monolith music from Kubrick's "2001") adds a nice touch of class and scope as well, it's almost a shame the trailer has to cut to more ordinary human scenes in the last third.
8. Need for Speed - Teaser
Music can make or break a trailer, combining the right song with the right material and careful editing is what can make an ordinary film look extraordinary. Case in point is "Need for Speed," a video game adaptation that, on concept alone, sounds bland and familiar in the extreme. Yet, the trailer works wonders. A combination of Max Richter's haunting "Sarajevo" music, Aaron Paul delivering an almost Shakespearian monologue about revenge, Scott Waugh's impressive visuals, non-CG enhanced car chase action, a tagline already familiar to many, and skilled cutting all combine to deliver something beautiful.
9. Only God Forgives - Red-Band Teaser
It ended up being one of the most divisive films of the year, some adoring and a lot hating Nicolas Winding Refn's so style-driven approach to this relentlessly violent Thailand-set underground fighting revenge tale. Yet, it was the kind of film that boasted numerous great teaser trailers filled with shots of neon-soaked locations as Ryan Gosling with his v-necks and smouldering hunky appeal beat the crap out of various people. Of all the clips, it was this one set to the trippy karaoke number that closes out the film that blends best with the movie's hypnotic imagery.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Teaser
Marvel had a couple of strong trailers this year, the easy standout being the first teaser for its "Captain America" sequel. While I didn't mind the first film, I wasn't much of a fan and the character himself always seemed the dullest of the Avengers. So I was somewhat shocked by the complete shift in tone for the sequel, moving towards something with far more depth, weight and potential than the retro 1930s adventure tone of the first film. From the thorny moral issues in play to a refreshingly restrained use of CG beyond a handful of money shots, it showcases an intriguing grown-up sensibility to the Marvel universe.
11. Captain Phillips - Trailer #1
One of the most tense and succinct trailers of the year, the first preview for "Captain Phillips" keeps much of the film, specifically the second half, under wraps. Instead it focuses on the film's setup and strong suspense elements involving the boarding of the ship by Somali pirates. The concept is clearly laid out, the style and tone of the film perfectly conveyed - it's a great model of pure efficiency.
12. The Conjuring - Teaser
Creepy. There's no other way to describe the first trailer for James Wan's "The Conjuring" which keeps the focus small and relatively grounded. There's no explanation of the setup, most of the film's major characters don't appear. Instead it's a well-paced cutting together of two of the film's creepiest linked moments involving Lili Taylor playing a clapping game with her kids. It's so effective because it's all suggestion, unlike the subsequent trailers and the film itself which had to show the ghosts (ie. fat extras in albino make-up and period costume hand me downs) and thus reduced their impact.
13. The Raid 2: Berandal - Red-Band Teaser
Gareth Evans' original "The Raid" did so much with so little, taking a bare bones concept and very little in the way of plotting or character and delivering a viscerally thrilling action film. The same came be said for this first trailer for the sequel. When you think about it, all we're really seeing is a guy punching a wall, and some random unknown faces and acts of violence. Yet Evans' slick editing, the incredible skill of the actors/fighters, and much more varied and intriguing looking locales make it all look thrilling.
14. The Grand Budapest Hotel - Official International Trailer
"Take your hands off my lobby boy" has to go down as one of the more memorable trailer line deliveries of the year. Ralph Fiennes is the focus of the first trailer for Wes Anderson's quirky new comedy. This is the first time they've worked together, but the fact that Fiennes seems to deliver Anderson's humor like he was born for it makes the trailer work all the more. It's an out and out broad farce, with a stunning cast getting up to a ton of old fashioned slapstick fun. It's also one of the few 4:3 aspect ratio trailers released for a major modern film in recent years.
15. X-Men Days of Future Past - Teaser
Considering it was released just after filming was finished and only contains one or two completed visual effects shots, Bryan Singer's first trailer for this epic X-Men team-up is remarkably complete. Lacking punchy visuals, the trailer instead shifts the focus in a way that both succinctly explains Logan's time jumping consciousness, and conveys an ultimately hopeful message. It does lose points for overused score elements, particularly Hans Zimmer's "Journey to The Line". Still, an extremely promising first teaser.
16. You're Next - Trailer
Segueing from an emotional family reunion drama setup to a horror story about home invaders in creepy animal masks, it's a fast and scary trailer that works effectively without showing any gore. Juxtaposed wonderfully with Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," it lets the simple setup and unsettling visuals do all the work for it.
17. Spring Breakers - Trailer #1
While several versions made it online, the original teaser is still the best for Harmony Korine's tale of gun-toting, bikini-clad babes that exploded across your eyeballs with its Starburst on steroids aesthetic. It, and the subsequent previews, took what was essentially a low-budget indie no-one had heard of and helped turn it into one of the more iconic looking movies of the year, and one that is popping up on numerous top ten lists. It helps that the preview is an utterly wild mesh of fluorescent colors, nubile bodies in barely there costumes, booze, drugs, money, guns, ski masks, and James Franco with dreadlocks and gold teeth just milking it for all its worth.
18. Room 237 - Trailer
There's a lot of strong reactions to this documentary about fan obsession with Kubrick's adaptation of "The Shining," to the point that some (including myself) found the film so pedantic it was almost torture to watch. The trailer on the other hand is pure Kubrick fan service, a homage to the famous blood elevator scene of the film combined with the unsettling score and stark credits-like critical blurbs for the film. Simple, clever.
19. Her - Trailer
While we are some time off from mass sexting with Siri, the trailer for Spike Jonze's story of a lonely man and his love for a computer operating system with a feminine voice actually sets up this rather awkward scenario with such comfortable ease it's almost startling. The subsequent full trailer does a better job with the film's more heavy emotional character beats, but this first trailer sells the premise, a far trickier accomplishment. It's also a more complete story in itself.
20. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Teaser
Antiestablishmentarianism is always an effective theme and the first trailer for the "Hunger Games" sequel was surprisingly a strongly political one about standing up to corrupt authority. There's little focus on Katniss' trials and the arena antics, and in some ways the trailer is better for it - showcasing the ruthlessness of President Snow, the rebellion of an oppressed people, and Katniss coming to realise her true role as a reluctant revolutionary. Plus it's hard to top that great uilleann pipes synth music which is strongest in this preview.
Sleigh Bells' "Crown on the Ground" track doesn't so much support as overwhelm the teaser trailer for Sofia Coppola's take on celebrity-obsessed youth culture "The Bling Ring". The full trailer dials it back down a bit whilst also playing up the more outright ridiculous nature of these vapid characters, resulting in a stronger preview. Watch Here
While brevity is not a quality you'll find in "The Hobbit" final films, they do make for damn good trailers. The 'Desolation of Smaug' final trailer perfectly teases its title character in its last thirty seconds. The two minutes before that though are just as good, blending some truly epic visuals with themes of betrayal, greed, and even forbidden love. Watch Here
The red-band trailer for "This is the End" is actually quite daring with its single scene bit of acidic humor from Danny McBride along with some quick cuts. Watch Here
Micro-budget thriller "The Purge" sold itself well on the high concept of its premise rather than the fairly standard home invasion movie the final film ended up becoming. Great use of "America the Beautiful" as well. Watch Here
Too many trailers, especially with similar cuts, can be a problem. Both the Coens' "Inside Llewyn Davis" and David O. Russell's "American Hustle" had strong trailers, and a LOT of them, to the point that the different variations blurred together and thus were hard to pick apart. Watch Here & Watch Here
Whatever your feelings for the final film and how useless of a remake it was, the first red-band trailer for Spike Lee's "Oldboy" sold its premise well and looked promising enough that many were wondering if this would be one of the few remakes that could work. Turns out it didn't. Watch Here
How does one pull off a rom-com trailer without relying too much on formula? Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes a good case with the "Don Jon" trailer with its clever repetition and use of Marky Mark's "Good Vibrations". Watch Here
If there's one thing that's shocking about the full trailer for Paul Schraeder's "The Canyons" is how appealing it makes the film look. From the dilapidated cinemas to what looks like Lindsay Lohan actually acting for the first time in a while, it's impressive. Shame about the film. Watch Here.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIRD SEASON FINALE
Last night's third season finale of Showtime's "Homeland" brought a major shake-up to the thriller that has frankly been in the works since the first season - the death of Nicholas Brody.
Already renewed for a fourth season, the sometimes thrilling, often frustrating and occasionally ridiculous third season closed out not so much on a cliffhanger as what could have easily served as a full on conclusion for the series.
In a strange attempt to seek redemption, Brody assassinated a high-ranking Iranian official, and was ultimately hanged for it, in order for Saul's plant to get the rogue nation under U.S. control.
Brody's death has been a long time coming, in fact he was supposed to be killed off at the end of the first season - though plans changed once it was shown Carrie (Claire Danes) and Brody (Damian Lewis) shared such chemistry together. Then the plan was for two seasons. Ultimately it became three, with Brody absent for much of this year.
The show is now about to get around to doing the thing it originally planned to do long ago - reboot itself. With Brody properly gone this time, his family out of the picture, Saul now in the private sector and Carrie now considering a job as section chief in Istanbul - where can the show go?
The most logical scenario? Jump forward a year (or several), beginning with Carrie and Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) in Istanbul at work as they try to stop a new threat. Saul would come back into the action in some form a few episodes in.
But can that bring the show back to the heights it once achieved? Whether it likes to admit it or not, the show was originally built on Brody and the questions over his loyalty. Fans have stuck with it through its various fumbles over the last two seasons in a big way due to the Brody/Carrie dynamic.
With him gone, what's left? The most Brody-less first two-thirds of this season give the best indication of what kind of show will remain. Will you tune in?
Arnold Schwarzenegger built his name on action, not to mention a lot of bodies. In fact a new half-hour Youtube video has compiled the "Schwarzenegger Kill Count" which tallies up every single death that Arnie's on screen characters have caused. The final total? 509.
Everything from a random bit of spouse shaking in a guest spot on "Streets of San Francisco," to the slaughterhouses of "Commando", "Predator," "Total Recall," "Raw Deal," "Red Heat," "The Running Man," both Conans and multiple Terminators.
"Hercules in New York," "Red Sonja," "Kindergarten Cop," "The Last Action Hero," "True Lies," "Eraser," "Batman and Robin," "The Sixth Day," "Collateral Damage," "The Expendables 2" and "The Last Stand" also all have their fair share of corpses.
It's utterly gratuitous, senseless, bloody violence... and man is it great.
One film down and Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" trilogy is already a massive success with a billion dollars in box-office under its belt. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures is ready to unleash the middle chapter of the trilogy in cinemas this December - "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug".
In July last year I, and several other online journalists, went down to Wellington for a few days to visit the set of the trilogy and talk with everyone involved. We went through the various departments and conducted many interviews. I already covered much of the trilogy basics and events depicted in the first film in my extensive set report for that film's release. Today, I'm focusing on specifics about the second film. The new locations, new characters, new creatures and new challenges for the team involved in the films.
2. THE TONE & LOOK
When the studio shifted from a two-part film to a trilogy, the 'cutoff' line where the original first film ended - the Hobbit's arrival in Lake-town - was shifted to partway through the second. As a result, the early parts of the movie continue the road trip feel of 'An Unexpected Journey'. Accoring to production designer Dan Hennah: "It's sort of the road movie thing, we're still on the road, we're still going somewhere, and it's pretty big. Film two has a lot of bigger single elements than film one. But we're not in them for any longer than we were on film one."
The second film also sports a darker tone than the first, though that's the nature of the story. John Callen, who plays one of the dwarves, says: "it does get darker as it goes along, but just as with Tchaikovsky there is always a ray of hope in there somewhere."
One person whose influence will come more into the fore in the sequel is "Pacific Rim" filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. As we already know, del Toro was originally slated to direct the project and had a big hand in the film's lengthy pre-production phase - especially during the creature and set design phases. del Toro departed the project before Jackson took over, a period of time which Jackson calls the worst in the entire production.
"The worst time was the time from the point that Guillermo couldn't do the movie anymore to the point that we started shooting," he says. "That was complicated by a whole dispute we had with Actors' Equity in Australia which nearly made us take the movie and take it over to England to shoot. We came within a day or two of that decision. So it was very stressful for about six weeks, six, eight weeks."
Jackson also had an ulcer to deal with at the time. However, things soon brightened up: "Since the day we started shooting it's all been great. It's actually been a huge amount of fun. So the surprise for me has been how much I've enjoyed it. I'm happy I'm doing it. I'm really, really pleased to be doing it. And that's a surprise. I didn't know how much I'd quite enjoy it till I started."
When del Toro was onboard, "he designed a very del Toro looking type of film, which was cool, and that would have been a different movie to this and it would have been really interesting," says Jackson. "There's definitely an influence of him through there. But I've also pulled back on a lot of it to steer it more to the look that we did on the original Lord of the Rings films, too. So, you know, it's a mixture… there's elements of his DNA in there."
Co-writer Fran Walsh adds: "He [del Toro] wrote the script with us, he was involved in a huge amount of design process, and he cares very much about it, so we got him as our collaborator and partner in this film."
3. THE SCRIPT
In terms of adapting the material, Walsh says that one of the most difficult elements to adapt from the book was that "we have got fifteen characters at any one time vying for screen time, that's hard." Specific characters that were also tricky to adapt were the Dragon Smaug, and Bard the Bowman as the latter is "underserved in the story … finding how to make him work within the story was a bit of a trick as well" says co-writer Philippa Boyens. To do that, they fleshed out the Lake-town sequences a lot and added some fresh character dynamics.
Of the whole "Hobbit" trilogy, Boyens claims the smoothest and easiest sequence to translate to screen was the Gollum scene in the first film. On the flip side, the elements that were changed the most often were the various character backstories, making sure to reveal just the right amount exposition and figuring out where to position the release of that information across the overall saga.
Boyens and Walsh's single favorite character to write for was Smaug whom Walsh calls a "beautiful character to be given to adapt to a screenplay". Boyens agrees, labelling the dragon "Wonderful. A true psychopath." They also adjusted the dialogue during readings with the character's voice actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, because "he has done some extraordinary stuff. We won't tell you what it is, but I've never seen an actor do that before… I didn't think it was something that someone could do" says Boyens.
Both writers came under fire from Tolkien purists for their changes to the material on the 'Rings' trilogy. They expect they'll get a similar reaction here, most notably regarding the inclusion of the female Elven character Tauriel. "The lack of female characters in The Hobbit has certainly been something we have been aware of and we have wanted to address to some degree," says Walsh.
Boyens provided a few more details about Tauriel: "She is different to Arwen and Galadriel. She's a Silvan Elf and she's very much got that feel, a more earthy feel. I think, given that we've introduced a female character, I don't think we've done anything that people are going to object to too much, I don't think. I hope."
Yet one of the big draws was getting to write scenes that would lead to moments in the 'Rings' trilogy having more of an impact. Walsh says: "There's certain things that I want to see play, like the moment when-- Because Galadriel and Gandalf never have a scene, and now they do and we managed to get some stuff in there. So when she's told that he's fallen in Lord of the Rings, 'Where is Gandalf? I would like to speak to him,' it will mean so much more. When you go into Moria and you see that tomb and it's Balin's tomb and Ori wrote those words 'drums in the deep'."
4. NEW LOCATIONS
New settings for the second film include three massive cities built for the production, the locations essentially getting darker and more barren as the journey progresses. A sequence not in the book but assembled from Tolkien's other works is Gandalf's subplot, and a further exploration of the fortress of Dol Guldur. As seen in the first film, it was designed to be a place of death - sharp angles, awkward staircases, sheer drop-offs and nasty foliage overgrowth.
A key sequence from the books that is being recreated is the attack by giant spiders in the dark forest of Mirkwood. The creatures are the offspring of the ancient creature of Shelob whom we glimpsed in "The Lord of the Rings: "The Return of the King". Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo Baggins, called filming that scene an intense day: "Because it was physically and emotionally quite draining. It was quite draining. Because for him, all this stuff was coming out of him that he had no idea was in there. Killing, a killing rage that came out of fear, and then we went into hate, which for Bilbo is a real difficult thing to handle, I think."
The first city the dwarves arrive at is the human city of Lake-town (aka. Esgaroth), a location Hennah said was his favorite piece of design across the whole trilogy. The entire town is built on water, there are no straight lines, and boats move in and out around the setting. It's a logistically complicated set, built upon numerous layers and full of activity, which also makes full use of 3D with its long canals.
The second is the human city of Dale, glimpsed in the opening prologue of the first film and what the designers call the biggest set of the entire trilogy. While the previous appearance was the city at its height, here it is in charred ruins following the attack by Smaug seen in 'An Unexpected Journey'.
Hennah says: "When the dwarves come to Dale, it's a ruined city, there's dead bodies, or remains, mummified bodies, there's a lot of ash, there's a lot of burnt out windows and doors, a lot of foliage has grown up through the city. And we arrive there midwinter, so there's a bit of snow." As the city is the furthest East we see of Middle Earth, the design team were heavily inspired by Tibetan architecture.
That city's close proximity to the third city - the stony halls of the dwarf kingdom of Erebor, also meant that the two cities see a cross-pollination of architectural influences. This third city is the one built into the Lonely Mountain, now occupied by the dragon Smaug, and will show signs of Smaug's residence over the years.
It's described as a sprawling, rambling city which follows seams where the dwarves have mined. Hennah says: "The whole inside of the mountain is green marble flecked with gold and jewels and various other natural things. And the premise was that the Dwarves had gone into that mountain and stated mining and finding all this beautiful stuff. And basically as they mined, they created architecture. So every hole is somewhere that they have taken gold and jewels and minerals from."
Both Dale and Erebor will play much bigger parts in the third film.
5. THE DWARVES
The actors playing the dwarves have a camaraderie with each other, mostly through taking the piss out of each other at every opportunity. Actor Jed Brophy (Nori) says: "We say things like, 'Is that the way you're going to do it? That's a brave choice.'," while Graham McTavish (Dwalin) added that another favorite insult was: "Yeah, I don't care what the director says, I think you're great."
McTavish is quick to add that they all get along: "Considering what we've all been through, which is like some sort of bizarre, dysfunctional scout camp where you're forced to wear strange outfits for eighteen months, we've all got on really, really well, actually, and have, I would say, got on better and better as the job's gone on."
McTavish says his costume is one of the heaviest of the dwarves, clocking in at 37 kgs (81 lbs). Things got really demanding when they had extra gear which bumped that count up to over 50 kgs (110 lbs) AND they had to run up a hill in the rain. It's a tough job, but each of the dwarves have five 'doubles' on hand for different purposes and shots - scale doubles, stunt doubles, riding doubles, picture doubles (for very wide shots), and digital doubles.
One highly uncomfortable thing is a side effect of the silicon make-up each sports. When they sweat it shoots out in spurts from the weakest spot on their faces - the area around their tear ducts. Mixing with the talcum powder that's applied before the make-up goes on, the dwarves will randomly appear to be crying milk. None of them envy the makeup artists who have to remove their sweat soaked prosthetics at the end of the day.
McTavish sports some of the most extensive prosthetics of the dwarves, whereas Aidan Turner only has a 'nose tip' - something that hasn't escaped McTavish's notice: "One of the prosthetics artists gave me one of Aidan's tips. I have it in my pocket of my robe because I like to look at it every now and then just to remind me why I hate him so much. It's this little thing. Yeah."
Their leader, Thorin Oakenshield himself Richard Armitage, says: "We've created such a bond with each other because we've been together for eighteen months now and we know each other's best points and worst points. It's a great group of people and there are no arseholes, if you'll excuse the expression. So it works. It ticks over really well. I don't think we'll get a tattoo. We're trying to think of something else."
Mark Hadlow, who plays Dori, says the entire experience has "actually been a bit of a cathartic one for me… I think, the second week that I was here, the earthquake happened in Christchurch where my family was. So I got to experience how these guys have become so much of an important part of what I do. We've become extremely close. We've become extremely close, we really have. And that also extends to our team."
6. WETA WORKSHOP
Times have changed since the original 'Rings' trilogy, though the artists at Richard Taylor's WETA Workshop remain as much a fixture of the New Zealand filmmaking community as Jackson does. 13 years ago, WETA had around three computers in use, they now have 86. They used to hand-carve wax to imprint stamps into their leather costumes, they now use laser cut acrylic. They created around 600 design illustrations for the 'Rings' trilogy, as opposed to the 8,000 or so they've done for "The Hobbit". They also now employ an extensive amount of 3D printing and milling.
WETA began working on this trilogy from about 2008 during the earliest stages of pre-production. Just to meet deadlines, the 'weapons' department alone had been running every day for over two years before we visited the set. They use elastomeric polymer, an equivalent to the hardened rubber that you see on the wheels of building scaffolds, along with low pressure injection molding technology to make many of their weapons. The bows are created in urethane so that the actors can fire them without arrows. Why urethane? Because firing a bow made out of more standard materials without an arrow "causes it to explode from the shockwave" says Taylor.
WETA also manufactures the silicon prosthetics - ears, faces, hands and feet used by the various actors. The level of repetition and sheer demand for prosthetics means that they can't manufacture a stockpile weeks ahead of time, they have to be able to produce them with a 95-97% success rate to meet each day's filming needs.
The dwarves did eight weeks of fitness training before filming began, even so more than a few say the most difficult scene involved running away from wargs (the latter parts of the first film) as it involved several days of flat-out running.
On the other hand, the sequence many say was a highlight was the one which they were filming when we were there - a scene involving Bilbo and the dwarves escaping from the grasp of the Woodland Elves via barrels down a rushing river. On-set, the rushing river was essentially a massive 'flume ride' - fake mountainous terrain built around a sizeable warm water channel that went in a loop and was being pumped to give the impression of a rushing river.
Despite their heavy costumes, the actors were having a whale of a time rushing along in the barrels like they were at a fun park, dodging imaginary arrows being shot at them by elves, and in some cases using their swords to swipe at elves on the rocks that would later be added with digital effects. Earlier in the production several of the dwarves shot parts of this sequence on the real Pelorus River.
Thorin Oakenshielf himself, actor Richard Armitage, says: "I think being choppered to the top of a mountain and running around all day in front of Mount Cook by a glacier was pretty awesome. But also being in those bloody barrels, it was like being at the fun fair for three days. In an unsinkable barrel getting dumped on with tons of water, it was just relentless, and kind of frustrating, but fun at the same time. And I was like, 'We will never have another day like that on a film set.' It was like being a child on a constant rollercoaster that you just didn't get off all day. So that was pretty amazing."
Armitage added that despite being in the water, they all got very hot because of the heated water and the physical activity of moving around so much in these barrels. There was also one functional problem: "[We were] really desperate to go to the loo. But they wouldn't let us get out of the barrels to go to the loo, so we were trying to work out who did it in the wetsuit and who didn't. I resisted for the sake of Wardrobe. I didn't want them wringing out my wetsuit at the end of the night."
8. THE DIRECTOR
Brophy, who has worked with Peter Jackson on numerous films, says of the filmmaker: "He's a visionary, he has the vision in his head, he surrounds himself with people who are all at the top of their game who share a similar vision, and he's always been very, very careful to make the movie that he wants to make. He never shies away from making people work really hard to get that. Yeah, I don't see a lot of difference in the way that he works, from the very first time. He's always been someone that-- I would do anything to work with Peter, simply because he pushes you to excellence. He's always pushing the boundaries of innovative technology and pushing the boundaries of what he can get people to do physically."
Co-star Armitage agrees: "You just find stamina that you never thought you had. And when you work with Peter, he pushes you harder and harder and harder and you think that's the last take and he'll always ask you for another one … he's detailed, and he's succinct with his notes, and his imagination is way beyond anything that I could ever perceive … and he thinks big, which encourages you to think big and to be more."
That has lead to the actors pushing themselves to be better than they thought they could be. Armitage adds: "I think my creative mind has been opened more on this job than anything else, so you come to work with loads of ideas in your head and he'll listen to everything ... So it has surpassed my expectations in terms of what I'm capable of. And I think it's surpassed his expectation of what he can ask you for. So everyone is going further than they ever believed they could.
Yet he's also a rock that even the veteran actors can go to. Sir Ian McKellen says: "He's very much the boss. He's not just the hired director, he's the producer, he's the mind behind it all and the imagination behind it all. But he's very available as a person, so that's a very nice combination. You know that if you talk to Peter and ask him a question, you get an answer and you know that's the answer."
Both the 3D and 48 frames-per-second filming technologies meant that certain tricks employed by designers and camera operators are no longer functional. At the higher frame rate, and with new shooting technology like a technocrane (which can essentially go anywhere), you can't get away with sloppy sets or costumes anymore. Fake buildings and props look fake - so have to be built out of the real materials where possible. The old forced perspective trick also no longer works with 3D technology, while the higher frame rate eats color, especially in the red part of the spectrum. So, the actual set design we glimpsed sported almost psychedelic over saturation of colors that end up looking fairly normal once they've gone through the post-production process.
As we glimpse around seven or so different races on screen (humans, dwarves, elves, hobbits, orcs, goblins, etc.), each has their own specific physicality informed by their bodies and their culture. An unexpected crewman on set we met was Terry Notary, a former Cirque du Soleil performer turned movement coach who was there to teach actors and extras how to move and perform consistently.
In the films, the dwarves are led by their gut so their movements are built around a solid body core and carry weight. The Goblins lead a tortured life where they never get to relax, so are flighty and sneaky with quick movements in various directions. Orcs are militaristic, they move from their chests and push through obstacles. Elves are the most interesting of the movers, driven by their backs and with a very calm center which means movements are smooth, precise, determined and seemingly effortless.
Yet the biggest problem Notary faces, and one that takes time to break, is the conditioning of the actors. The roles and movement require them to be both completely present and yet unaware of themselves, no posers allowed. The people playing the Orcs in particular had to learn to tone down their movements to some extent. It takes time, but everyone gets the hang of it and Lee Pace in particular he singles out as an exceptional grasper of his teachings.
The title character remains mostly a mystery in terms of appearance. One of the last creations of the film to get a finalised design, he's still the most secretive part the film beyond what we know of the creature from the books. Jackson played coy with us when we asked about him:
"He's a dragon. That's all I'm gonna tell you. Yeah, I mean, you want a really cool dragon and we're doing a really cool dragon. Not gonna tell you anything more than that. But I'm not reinventing the wheel. Like, I don't want to do anything too clever, I just want to make an absolutely terrifying-looking dragon. Well, I never try to compete with other people, you know, I don't think what our dragon looks like particularly compared to others, I have no idea. Other people can make up their mind about that."
However, he's not just any old dragon. As fans are well aware, Smaug isn't just a beast - he's a cunning, intelligent threat. Jackson says that had to be considered whilst making the designs: "Smaug has to be perfect for the story that we are telling, and everything that he needs to do in The Hobbit, be absolutely terrifying, be able to destroy a city, be able to have sly conversations with Bilbo, all of that we're building into the design of the character and the way that he looks. So hopefully we're building a good Smaug for The Hobbit."
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" opens throughout much of the world on December 11th & 12th, in the United Kingdom and United States on December 13th, and in Australia on December 26th.
If there's one person who continues to say "bugger" to notions of age, it's Sir Ian McKellen. The acclaimed 74-year-old thesp still as sharp and going strong as ever - tearing up the stage in various productions around the world, camping it up on the small screen in "Vicious," recently reprising his other iconic role of Magneto for "X-Men Days of Future Past," and preparing to play a retired Sherlock Holmes in Bill Condon's fascinating sounding "A Slight Trick of the Mind".
He'll next be on our screens though in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," the second film in Peter Jackson's 'Hobbit' trilogy in which McKellen now reprises arguably his most famous screen role to date - the wizard Gandalf. While Gandalf was in absentia for much of this part of the story in the novel, Jackson has used other elements of Tolkien lore to flesh out a subplot for Gandalf which also better bridges this trilogy with "The Lord of the Rings".
Speaking with him on the New Zealand set last year, McKellen says that filming conditions have changed quite considerably between the 'Rings' trilogy shoot back in 1999/2000, and the 2011/2012 shoot for "The Hobbit". This time they have "proper, state of the art buildings that are waterproof and windproof and weatherproof, have air-conditioning." With "The Lord of the Rings" it was shot in a paint studio, so every line he effectively spoke in the original trilogy was from ADR dubbing sessions. Another difference this time out is audience expectations:
"I think a big difference is that when we were making the films originally, we didn't really have any idea whether anyone else was interested in the films being made. It had been a long time waiting to be filmed, of course. So it was likely that a lot of people were very keen to see the films we were making, but we couldn't be certain.
Now, once the first film came out and it was confirmed, although a lot fewer people saw that than saw the third film, in the cinemas anyway, we knew we'd been involved in successful filmmaking. So then when we came back to film a lot of extra stuff for the second film and the third film, we knew we were making films that people wanted to see. How often can you say that when you are making a film? And in this case, the same again. We know the audience is waiting. Well, that's a wonderful feeling. Now, whether they are going to like it, that's another matter, but we know they are going to come and see it."
One thing he loves is being able to play Gandalf the Grey from 'Fellowship of the Ring' again, rather than the stuffier Gandalf the White from the other two films:
"Our favorite, Peter and my favorite, was Gandalf the Grey. Now we're back with Gandalf the Grey...meddlesome, trouble, good humor, generous. And dirty clothes, dirty fingernails. So it's back with him now. Whether he's any different from the Fellowship of the Ring Gandalf, no, I think it's the same person. I think the scenes that Gandalf is in that are not in The Hobbit, when we see what he has been up to, does lead on a little bit more to Lord of the Rings, when he is trying to get an overall view of what's happening. Which isn't much in the novel."
One challenge he had, especially early on in the production, was having to film various scenes on his own against a green screen:
"It was pretty severe to begin with, acting with fourteen other people who weren't in the room. Doesn't make for spontaneity, really. You just have to do what you've planned. That's not what filming's about, usually. But Peter's been very good and has reduced that sort of filming to the minimum. The other day Martin Freeman was walking in a shallow ditch so that he would look smaller. Well, that's lovely, because I'm allowed to look at him then.
But it was true in Lord of the Rings I never got to look Elijah Wood in the eyes. We were never in the same place to do that. I was always looking at the mask of his small-scale double and he was always looking at a big pole, seven foot two. So in this film, Peter's managed to allow us to act together in a way that we didn't before.
He's had a good time seeing some familiar faces on the film's set, but has only shared a few scenes with them:
"Old friends have been back, but I've not worked with them too much. And old friends from my private life like Stephen Fry, who I know well, but I've never worked with him before.
Cate Blanchett. Her husband doesn't know but she and I are going to get married quite soon. Which will surprise a lot of people. But you see, we only met at a party last time, we weren't on screen together. Well, we were on screen together but we didn't meet. Here, we had a whole week, or maybe two. That was a thrill because she's a great screen actor and a very congenial person, for me. She's based in theater. That's her main job at the moment, running a theater. So there wasn't a moment that we didn't have stuff to talk about.
And Hugo Weaving back, another Australian. So that was rich, really, very rich. Now, unfortunately, the scene we were doing, the main scene we were doing together was one that included Christopher Lee. I say unfortunate because he filmed his bit in London. We filmed with a very, very credible double who could imitate Christopher something alarmingly well.
Well, and then Elijah was here. What a treat that was. Dear, dear Elijah. And this film has got his blessing, as it were. I think he's so appropriate. You know, when people ask what making these films are like, you can imagine, can't you? Some awkward customer playing Frodo and somehow spoiling it for everybody.
Well, exactly the opposite is with Elijah. Elijah is always full of the right spirit for the right occasion. And so supportive to this venture, and wanted to come along and be in it and that was lovely. And where there's a hobbit, there's usually a Legolas, and so it was lovely to see a rather grown up Orlando and his beautiful family. Who else is new? Or old rather. Well, Andy Serkis. But now directing second unit. Big boss. I think I did his very first day as the director of the second unit."
You may be surprised to learn that McKellen was initially reluctant to return as Gandalf, and to make another long filming commitment like this:
"I don't like to play a part that I have played before… Now here I am, back doing it specifically, that's actually the same person. And it is a long commitment, and at my age I have to decide, "Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to go on this journey? Because if not, I can go on another journey."
So there was a lot inside me saying, "No, no, no, what's the point? I've done it. Am I going to enjoy it? Am I going to find anything new in it?" And against that, what persuaded me was could I bear the thought of somebody else playing Gandalf? Because it's easily done. You put anyone in the outfit and they look like Gandalf. Not that clever.
It was a friend who said, "Ian, just think of those fans," who I am always going on about. I meet these little people, these eight year olds who love Gandalf. They love him. Not me, him. And she said, "You have to do it for them, don't you?" And that cleared my mind totally, so yeah. I couldn't actually face talking to an eight year old and explaining why I didn't want to be Gandalf again. Because he wanted me to be."
The character of Gandalf himself hasn't changed much in the thirteen years since filming:
"The wig is the same, the beard is the same, the makeup-- Rick Findlater, fortunately, is the same. So we're back trying to look the same. The fact that I'm thirteen years older, I don't think it's been much of an advantage. Except other people's perception of me. I mean, I can tell...if I walk through dressed as Gandalf, I can see heads turning. They like to look at him. But that doesn't take any effort from me.
Everyone says, "Oh, it's remarkable, and you look exactly like you did in The Fellowship of the Ring." No, I don't. I'm thirteen years older and it shows. I don't know that the voice is exactly the same. Anyway, nobody's told me that I'm getting it wrong, and they would have been quick enough to do that.
Indeed, it seems Jackson and his writers Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens are ready to jump on the smallest detail being out of place:
"You can get a little bit lazy as an actor when you have a director who is so on top of his material as Peter is. And Fran and Philippa as well. Their eye is unerring. If they see something they don't like, they are the first to tell you and to get it changed. That's what I mean about it being a home movie, it's the three of them. They live next door to each other. They are in and out of each other's lives all the time because they are working on these films and there's nothing that they are not interested in. Should Gandalf have ear hair? Or hair coming out of his nostrils. They will know. They will have a view."
That hasn't stopped McKellen from having a little fun though and suggesting ideas such as Gandalf showing off his morning routine:
"The one disappointment is that Peter had half-promised, he may not remember, but at some point we said, "Wouldn't it be fun to see Gandalf getting up in the morning?" And Peter's always saying he likes the guy who does sleep under a hedge and gets up and saves the world. Yes, so do I. But we do have a scene briefly where Gandalf is seen to be washing. And it's about time someone in Middle-earth washed.
I had, I thought, the brilliant idea of, "Why doesn't Gandalf have a huge pack on his back?" You know, with all the things you need when you are travelling. "That would look ridiculous." "Okay." So I said, "Well, why can't I keep everything in my hat?" So if he was hungry, he just went in and out came an apple. Or a sandwich. Or a toothbrush. Or a razorblade. Oh, he doesn't use a razorblade. Except on his chest. So everything was in there, you know? And that would have been a wonderful thing because he can do a bit of magic. And why has he got this big, pointy hat? Because it's a big, pointy bag that he wears on his head. But we never got around to that.
That's my only disappointment with this script, that there isn't a little bit more of how they actually survive in between the scenes. We see the dwarves eating a lot and drinking a lot. They never seem to go to the loo. I suppose it's those costumes. Perhaps they have some machinery inside I don't understand. And it's easy enough for Gandalf to relieve himself, it's just a gown. Lift it up. Sometimes don't even bother."
Martin Freeman certainly knows how to pick projects. The British actor has been winning fans world over for his role as John Watson in the BBC's "Sherlock," made a fun appearance in one of the roles in Edgar Wright's "The World's End" this Summer, and is now a big time Hollywood player thanks to the starring role of Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" trilogy.
Back in June last year I spoke with him about the first Hobbit film "An Unexpected Journey". A few weeks later, I was able to finish that interview by speaking with him about the second film in the series - "The Desolation of Smaug".
Freeman admits he wasn't a die hard fan of Tolkien's work growing up:
"It's hard to say I was a fan, because I haven't got posters up or anything, you know? I don't know what qualifies as a fan. I like them. I've admired them very much and thought that he did them brilliantly. Yeah, I just think, because it wasn't really part of my growing up and The Hobbit wasn't part of my growing up. It wasn't really in my world, particularly."
"The Desolation of Smaug" not only boasts a change of location regarding the film's story, it also sees a distinct change in tone to something a bit darker and less frantic. Once they reach Lake-Town:
""It's a different pace, it does feel like a separate film. It feels like it's a bit more-- There's more space in certain parts of the story. It really breathes. Certainly in Lake-town, we spend longer there than you do in the book, that's for sure. Too long for me, I'm not in it enough. That's subjective."
A role like this is a big commitment for any actor to take - three films and well over a year of filming in a country on the complete opposite side of the world to Freeman's home base in the United Kingdom:
"It felt like taking something on. Just logistically, the time and the commitment and the time away from home. This is as far away from my house as you can get. Although on the one hand, it feels like a no-brainer, like, 'Would you like to play Bilbo Baggins?' 'Yes, of course.' Of course. The side of it that is a long time away from your home and the people you love is obviously something to be taken seriously and not sniffed at. But yeah, the opportunity was too good, it was too big and too once-in-a-lifetime, obviously, to turn down … I knew it would be enjoyable and hard, and it is both of those things. And in some things, enjoyable because it's hard and vice versa."
It's also a far different experience to anything Freeman has worked on before, even other major Hollywood movies:
"It's different in that I've never done anything of this scale before, so everything about this is kind of different to one's experience before. Everything's bigger, everything's longer, everything lasts longer. Yeah, you're looked after well, which is nice. It's nice for any actor to be a bit cushioned, is nice. But I didn't really know what to expect, I just knew that it would be fucking weird and unlike anything I had done before. The job itself doesn't change. Your job is to make people believe you are the person you're playing, whether you're in a short film or a radio play or The Hobbit or whatever, essentially your job is the same. But yeah, in terms of the degrees of scale."
Because of the sheer length and demands of the project, Freeman admits one has to take their time with it:
"It's strange, you have to pace yourself. If you come out of the blocks at a hundred miles an hour, within four weeks you'll be burned out, because if you have that kind of youthful impatience about it or that youthful vigor, which is obviously great, but you'll be dead in a month. Because you have to do your time. You have to, in a way, just get your head down and do the work and not expect every day to bring riches and not expect every minute to bring wild excitement, 'cause it just doesn't.
It doesn't on films, anyway. We all know that people who've never been on a film set think it's way more glamorous than the people who work on them. We know this to be a universal truth, and this is no exception. Especially if it's something that goes on this long.. I hope they're successful, of course we hope they're successful, but just that the productions are so massive that you kind of have to know your place in it, in a way, that you're a cog in this enormous wheel. And that takes some concentration."
The character evolves over the course of the story, but as filming of the scenes is not chronological it requires keeping track of the changes:
"We're always on the lookout for that… we certainly keep an eye on which point of the story Bilbo is at, and Bilbo, certainly by the second film, should be a different-- Not a different person, but be showing different things about him than when he was in Bag End at the start of the film.
It's very clear who and what he is at the beginning of the first film. He's us, really. Those of us who are lucky enough never had to have killed anyone or been in a war and who like home and home comforts, that's who he is. He's the audience in that way. And he never stops, because what he's going through is completely alien to him in a way that it would be to the audience.
But by the time he's killed a few things and people and other species and been in near-death experiences a lot, yeah, he's very different, I think, yeah. In that way that people who come back from combat are different. They are essentially still the same person, but they have-- the old cliché of "they've seen things." It is a cliché because it's true, and that never leaves him, I don't think. But yeah, he's not going to come back as Jean-Claude Van Damme. Do you know what I mean?
There are little bits where Bilbo proves himself all the way throughout both films to be of worth and to be, if not heroic, then certainly very brave and for there to be more to him than meets the eye. Because at first he's even smaller than the dwarves are, he's not got any battle experience, he's not hardened to anything. So they are obviously wondering why the hell he's along for the ride. And they think he is along for the ride, and it takes time for Bilbo to prove that he is not a passenger."
His fellow "Sherlock" co-star Benedict Cumberbatch wasn't on-set during filming of the Smaug scenes. Cumberbatch provides the voice of the character in the final film, but did some of his voice work before they Freeman got around to filming the Smaug scenes:
He had recorded his stuff before I got there for this last block. And I had Leith, our dialect coach, reading in over the Voice of God, the sort of amplified mic. "Amplified mic?" What am I, my f--king grandfather? "Amplified mic." S--t. Over the cat's whisker of the radio and the valves of the gramophone player. So yeah, that was all done with her voice, very, very loud, and me reacting to it.
I'm familiar with Ben's voice and Peter had played me his read as it stands there. I mean, it might change again on Smaug. So I had Ben's voice in my head while I'm getting the dialogue from Leith. So at least we were able to do something live, so I can actually still change my delivery because Leith is up for changing what she's doing, so she responds to what I'm doing. It was rather good, actually.
In terms of filming the scenes with a nonexistent dragon, it's actually a bit more complicated than you might expect:
"Lots of tennis balls… and different cue lights changing for when Smaug is going to be-- Because obviously he moves a lot quicker than anyone on two legs does, any human does, so even that eye line would be too slow. Sometimes he's able to move like that. So it's a lot of really rudimentary theater one-oh-one. And it's all imagination there. This is a good experience for that because it's a real mixture of disciplines, a real mixture of literal materialist stuff that you can see, feel, and touch and stuff that you absolutely, absolutely have to pretend, the way you did when you were four. And those two things can happen in the same scene or a lot of the time in the same day as you're filming."
Working with Peter Jackson was initially more of a challenge than he expected, but the pair soon figured out a good working relationship:
"He's great. He's cool. He's good, he's professional, he is kind of funny. He likes lightness, I suppose. He likes a lightness of touch on set. He's serious about the work obviously, but he's got a twinkle in the eye, and he likes a gag, he likes a joke. I think we all just look at him thinking, "How are you not having a nervous breakdown?" Just juggling everything he has to juggle is so-- I don't know, it's extraordinary, really.
We got the measure of each other, I think, early on. I think it took-- It wasn't immediate. In terms of stuff he was giving me and in terms of things I was giving him, I think we had to sort of come closer to each other and sort of suss each other out a little bit.
From my point of view, I enjoy days when I have lots to do with him. Because there are some days where I don't really have a lot to do with him, when I'm on set all day. The focus is something else, or the focus could be an effect, or the focus could just be on another character. But the days when the focus is quite Bilbo-centric, I like working with him. He's very no-nonsense. He doesn't really go into tracts of philosophical stuff. He's the nearest "enter, louder, faster" sort of director, which sometimes is really helpful. Because sometimes you actually just want somebody to say that. And I think he trusts that you have all that other stuff going on with you anyway."
Sadly, Freeman says he didn't get to work with the older Bilbo, Ian Holm, and in fact didn't get to meet him. He has gotten to know the dwarves quite well though, and has found that dynamic interesting:
"Genuinely, we're all a group. It's been lovely, really. And one of the things I'm really proud of is that no one's chinned anyone. And though everyone out of that many men together and that much testosterone and that much potential ego flying around, it's-- Yeah, one of the things I'm really happy about is that we've not had a major falling out, we've not had a major set-to. Of course, there are days when you go, "Oh, f--k's sake, you again." But that's for all-- People will be thinking that about me, about everybody, but it's just because we're together all the time.
But there's enough of us, I think, to protect from that. If there were four of us for this long, I think that would be really, really hard. But with, how many, fourteen including McKellen, there's a lot of us in a big group, and so you can go there one day, and if that gets too much, you can go over there. It's nice. And we all respect each other's privacy a lot because, yeah, we're all grownups. I would love to be glib and sarcastic about it, but no, we do get on remarkably well. Yeah, I'm really proud of that about us, actually."
He's also very prepared for people calling him 'Bilbo' on the street in the days to come.
"I've had things shouted at me in the street for the last ten years, in Britain anyway, which have been defining things for those times or for that time in my life, "Oh, God, I'm always going to be this," or, "I'm always going to be that." God, if I have a few years of being called Bilbo, then that's fine by me. When you're younger, you can see that kind of thing as a prison more, you can see it more as a trap, because it's almost like a backhanded compliment. Because you think, "Yeah, you're calling me that but you don't know what else I do.'…
Well, actually, the older you get the more you think actually you should be so lucky that you do a role where people identify that with you anyway, because most actors don't get one. Do you know what I mean? So I think the fact that I've had a few, and this is another one, I'm really, yeah, I'm very lucky with that, yeah."