Give Martin Freeman an empty room and he'll give you comedy. The best parts of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — an admittedly mishandled movie in large — involved his subdued grimaces, his Chaplinian waddling, and the way he carried himself with equal parts neurosis and snark in every scene. If there is one primary misstep of An Unexpected Journey's terrifically improved sequel, The Desolation of Smaug, it is the spiritual absence of Bilbo Baggins.
Freeman's good-natured but disgruntled Hobbit takes a backseat to the Dwarf team in this chapter of Peter Jackon's three-part saga, distributing the heavy lifting among the front lines of the bearded mooks. Thankfully, we're not shafted with too much "Thorin's destiny" backstory, instead focusing on the trek forward, through far more interesting terrain than we got last time around. The Dwarves voyage through a trippy woodland that'll conjur fond memories of The Legend of Zelda's unnavigable forest levels and inside the borders of Lake-town, a man-occupied working class monarchy that is more vivid and living than any place we have seen yet in the series. And while Unexpected Journey's goblin caverns might have been cool to look at, none of the quests in Desolation feel nearly as close to a tangential detour. Every step the Dwarves take is one that beckons us closer to the central, increasingly engaging story.
Desolation is not entirely without its curiosities. While Gandalf's mission to meet the Necromancer serves to connect the Hobbit trilogy to the Lord of the Rings movies, the occasional cuts over to the wizard's pursuits are primarily distracting and just a bit dull. Although we're happy to welcome the Elf race back into our Middle-earth adventures, it's easy to imagine a version of this story that didn't involve side characters like Legolas and Kate... I mean, Tauriel... and still felt whole (perhaps even more cohesive). The latter's love affair with hot Dwarf Kili seems like a last minute addition to the canon, and one not built on anything beyond the cinematic rule that two sexually compatible attractive people should probably have something brewing alongside all the action.
But the most egregious of crimes committed by Desolation is, unquestionably, the shafting of Bilbo Baggins to secondary status. Yes, he proves himself a savior to his fellow travelers four times in the film, but long stretches of action go by without so much as a word from the wide-eyed burglar. When he finally takes center stage in his theatrical face-off with Smaug — an exercise in double-talk reminiscent of Oedipus outsmarting the Sphinx — the film picks up with a new, cool energy, with a chilling fun laced around the impending doom of their back-and-forth. We've been waiting since the first frames of Unexpected to see how the dragon material will pay off, and it does in spades... albeit in the final third of Desolation, but with equal parts gravitas and fun, to reunite us with our Tolkien passions once more.
Benedict Cumberbatch's dragon doesn't do much to subvert expectation — he's slithering, sadistic, vain, manipulative, and vaguely Londonian. But tradition feels good here. Smaug's half hour spent toying with the mousey Bilbo (who does get a chance to showcase his aptitude at small-scale physical comedy here) is terrific in every way.
Its Hobbit problem aside, Desolation proves itself worthy of Bilbo's past proclamation. "I'm going on an adventure!" more than pays off here, in the form of mystifying boat rides, edge-of-your-seat efforts in dragon slaying, and the most joyful action set piece we've seen in years. Twelve Dwarves, twelve barrels, and one roaring river amounts for enough fun to warrant your trip to the theater for this latest outing into Middle-earth.
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The filmmaker and his partner Fran Walsh have been quietly funding the West Memphis Three investigation for years after they joined celebrities like Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines among those keen to prove the men accused of the murder had been wrongfully convicted.
The West Memphis Three - Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Damien Echols - were set free on Friday after admitting guilt to the murders. They promptly staged a press conference and insisted they had spent 17 years behind bars for a crime they did not commit, but agreed to a plea deal to escape prison.
And Jackson and Walsh never doubted the trio's innocence and paid for an investigation to find the real killers.
Jackson's manager Ken Kamins tells EW.com, "When Peter and Fran got involved, they had to decide how to best serve the case. Damien, Jason, and Jessie had great public advocates in Eddie, Johnny (Depp), Natalie, Henry (Rollins)... and everyone else who was raising money and bringing public attention to the case. Peter and Fran, therefore, decided to put their attention into funding and spearheading DNA work, hiring forensic and other experts, plus extensive private investigations into all aspects of the case.
"Because Peter and Fran’s role required a very close relationship with the defence lawyers, in particular Damien’s team, they have always respected and understood that their role had to be of a confidential nature.
"They have worked very closely with a number of Damien’s attorneys and over the years they have become close friends with Damien and (his wife) Lorri. They have always believed that if they could get Damien free, Jason and Jessie would benefit too."
And now the men are free, Jackson and Walsh plan to keep funding the search for the real killer or killers.
Kamins adds, "This work is ongoing. Peter and Fran are heavily involved in ongoing investigations, and the release of the guys is far from the end of the story."
Despite not definitely knowing who will and will not be in it or when it will release, there's one thing that we are concretely aware of concerning Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: Warner Bros. Pictures will be FULLY financing and distributing the epic motion picture worldwide. So even after the MGM financial meltdown nearly killed the mega-sized project, the Lion's Head won't even be carrying the two-part blockbuster! What a bunch of corporate non-sense...
Anyway, that's the story folks. We're kind of just waiting around for more. We know that this past summer, Guillermo del Toro left his directing position. Then, Peter Jackson decided that he was going to direct. After that, Ian McKellen decided to reprise his role and said that they were going to start filming in January (which is right now!). Now, things look a little bit more clear. In October, we learned that Martin Freeman would play BIlbo Baggins and that a whole bunch of international and American actors were cast (follow that "In October" link to read about the full cast, or simply click the link to "The Hobbit"). Though filming hasn't started as expected, next month is now the supposed start date. We'll keep you up to date on all the news regarding the mother of all prequels, but for official info read on for the press release:
LOS ANGELES, CA, January 6, 2011- Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber, MGM Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officers, Toby Emmerich, President and Chief Operating Officer, New Line Cinema and Alan Horn, President and Chief Operating Officer, Warner Bros. Pictures today announced that MGM and Warner Bros have concluded a deal for Warner Bros. Pictures to handle international theatrical and video distribution responsibilities on MGM's behalf for Peter Jackson's highly anticipated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit". This arrangement results in Warner Bros. Pictures handling the bulk of worldwide distribution, while MGM will handle international television licensing for the films. MGM and WB will work collaboratively to coordinate marketing and release plans worldwide.
Jackson, who directed all three "The Lord of the Rings" films, will helm the two films back-to-back, telling the story of "The Hobbit" from screenplays written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro.
The two "Hobbit" films are set to begin production in February 2011, with release dates targeted for December 2012 and December 2013. Jackson will utilize groundbreaking visual effects and his incomparable storytelling to bring Tolkien's novel to the big screen. Both "Hobbit" movies will be filmed in Digital 3-D, using the latest camera and stereo technology to create a high quality, comfortable viewing experience.
Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Carolynne Cunningham are producing the films for New Line, Warner Bros and MGM, with co-writer Philippa Boyens serving as co-producer and Ken Kamins and Zane Weiner as executive producers. The Oscar-winning, critically acclaimed "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, also from the production team of Jackson, Walsh and Cunningham, grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide at the box office. In 2003, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" swept the Academy Awards, winning all of the 11 categories in which it was nominated, including Best Picture - the first ever Best Picture win for a fantasy film. The trilogy's production was also unprecedented at the time.
Guillermo del Toro Leaves The Hobbit
In what is only the latest setback for the debt-wracked MGM Studios, Guillermo del Toro has decided to step down as director of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien's prelude to The Lord of the Rings. The two-part Hobbit prequel, which is being produced by Peter Jackson, is still slated for release in December of 2012 and 2013, but the delays caused by MGM's financial troubles were too much for the auteur director of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy, who had several other projects queued up, including possible remakes of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
MGM co-owns the rights to the The Hobbit with New Line Cinema, the studio that produced the first three Lord of the Rings movies. The Hobbit tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, Frodo's (Elijah Woods) uncle, who is tricked by Gandalf (hopefully to be played by Ian McKellan again) into helping a band of dwarves steal a treasure guarded by the dragon, Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo steals from Gollum the One Ring, helping to set in motion the series of events that take place in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Although Del Toro had signed on for what he realized could be a half-decade commitment in New Zealand, he became increasingly frustrated with MGM's inability to greenlight production. "In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming 'The Hobbit,' I am faced with the hardest decision of my life," Del Toro said in a statement released Sunday on the Lord of the Rings fansite TheOneRing.net. "After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures… The blessings have been plenty, but the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project."
"We have been caught in a very tangled negotiation," del Toro continued. "Now I have been on the project for nearly two years. We have designed all the creatures, the sets, the wardrobe, animatics and planned action sequences and we are very, very prepared for when it is finally triggered. We don’t know anything until the MGM situation is resolved."
MGM was recently granted another extension on its massive 3.7 billion dollar debt by the hedge funds and creditors that now essentially control the company, which should keep the industry titan afloat for a few more years. Production of The Hobbit is now scheduled to continue as before, with principal photography beginning this winter. Sources say that del Toro's departure is not anticipated to alter the start date.
"The bottom line," said producer Peter Jackson recently, "is that Guillermo just didn't feel he could commit six years to living in New Zealand, exclusively making these films, when his original commitment was for three years." However, Del Toro will continue to co-write the script with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson.
Although Jackson said Monday that he could potentially step in to direct The Hobbit if it was necessary to "protect Warner Bros.' investment," Jackson's manager, Ken Kamins, told Entertainment Weekly today that "As for Peter directing, that’s not something he can consider at this time as he has other commitments to other projects.”
Those "other commitments" are probably the three back-to-back Tintin movies that Jackson is making with Steven Spielberg, based on the well-known children's comic. Spielberg has reportedly finished motion capture photography for the first film, and Jackson will be directing the second beginning next year. As for The Hobbit, Jackson was unsure as to when the studio would greenlight production. “I just don’t know now until we get a new director. The key thing is that we don’t intend to shut the project down…We don’t intend to let this affect the progress. Everybody, including the studio, wants to see things carry on as per normal.”
Speculation has already begun as to who will be tapped to fill del Toro's shoes. The Hobbit has always been The Lord of the Rings' more fay, fantastical cousin; a director who could couple the book's lighthearted tone to the darker Middle Earth of Jackson's imagining would be ideal for the project. Unfortunately, that director was probably Guillermo del Toro. Still, there remain a number of directors who have experience successfully adapting fantasy novels: Alfonso Cuarón, who directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as well as Children of Men could be a winner, as could the redoubtable Tim Burton. (Although what part would Johnny Depp play? One of the Twelve Dwarves? Smaug?) For more of our take on who could replace del Toro, check out 5 Directors Who Could Helm The Hobbit.
Losing del Toro is a major setback to be sure, but there's still reason to hope that MGM will be able to look past its debt-ridden ledgers to create a prequel worthy of the source material and Peter Jackson's trilogy. Let's just hope that as the deadline for The Hobbit approaches, the project's execs take the time to find a director who is right for this film, not just one who is available.
The Hellboy auteur has walked away from work on the Lord of the Rings prequel, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's first book, and blamed his decision to quit the project on the ongoing delays.
The production has been put on hold indefinitely because of the problems facing the MGM movie studio - the company behind The Hobbit has spiralled into debt in recent years and was put up for sale in 2009, but has so far failed to find a buyer.
Jackson, who directed all three previous Lord of the Rings films, will act as a producer on The Hobbit and was expected to be favourite to take over as director following the departure of Del Toro.
But his manager Ken Kamins insists the director is already booked up and won't be able to commit to the film.
He tells Deadline.com, "Peter has and has had obligations and commitments to other films that would make it impossible for him to direct The Hobbit at this time, even if it was offered, which it hasn't been. I've been quietly working on setting up a film for him to direct while Guillermo would have been directing The Hobbit... All of that said, Peter's commitment to The Hobbit is total and (he) will do everything necessary to protect the franchise and the investment made by New Line, Warners and MGM."
To those only vaguely familiar with The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel about a murdered teen who observes her family — and tracks her killer — from beyond Peter Jackson might seem like an odd choice to direct the film adaptation. Why would the visual effects maestro who orchestrated such grand spectacle in films like King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy be attracted to Bones’ somber reflective subject matter wherein nary an orc or a goblin can be found?
Shortly after the film's opening moments Jackson’s definitive answer arrives in the form of the “in-between place ” a breathtaking limbo where our wide-eyed heroine 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) arrives after her life is cruelly cut short by a next-door neighbor and closet predator named ominously enough Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Susie’s experience of the afterlife as a sort of spiritual way-station featuring elements of both heaven and hell (but mostly heaven) is a veritable CGI playground for Jackson one in which he can employ all of the digital tools in his vast arsenal in the service of a powerful affecting story.
And what a gorgeous playground it is. As Susie journeys through her wondrous netherworld — sometimes alone sometimes accompanied by a perky young spirit guide named Holly (Nikki SooHoo) — Jackson serves up a succession of exquisitely rendered landscapes for her to explore from placid spring meadows to boundless Alpine slopes to lush green forests. Jackson knows all too well that the issue of life after death especially when considered in regards to those who left us too soon is fertile emotional ground. With the help of an irresistibly expressive Ronan he mines it shrewdly.
Back on Earth unfortunately The Lovely Bones takes the form of a poorly-constructed deeply unsatisfying police procedural. Frustrated by the authorities’ inability to find the killer Susie's anguished father (Mark Wahlberg) mounts an investigation of his own aided occasionally in Ghost-like fashion by his daughter’s unseen hand. Tension rises as the mystery unravels — Jackson having drawn us in with his shamelessly manipulative handiwork has us by the emotional short-hairs so much so that we’re willing to overlook the film’s gap-laden storyline redundant narration underdeveloped supporting characters and a generally underwhelming Wahlberg. We just want payback damnit.
But when The Lovely Bones’ moment of truth arrives Susie abruptly changes her mind effectively turning almost every preceding plot point into an infuriating red herring and depriving us of the emotional release Jackson so steadfastly prepared us for. What we’re left with ultimately is an experience akin to taking a shot of morphine and watching someone play the videogame Myst for two hours (a span that might very well be reduced to 45 minutes if the film’s copious slow-motion shots were all played at normal speed). And once the anodyne buzz wears off the comedown is agonizing.
Filmmaker Peter Jackson is disappointed after Hollywood studios Fox and Universal pulled out of financing video-game movie Halo, reportedly because they are worried at its escalating budget.
Movie bosses had asked executive producer Jackson and computer-game giant Microsoft to reduce their profit margins on the reported $200 million project--a request which both allegedly refused.
The studios were also concerned that the costly film is being made by a first-time director, Neill Blomkamp.
But Jackson spokesman Ken Kamins says, "The only budget the filmmakers ever spoke about was $145 million less the 12.5 percent rebate that you get from shooting in New Zealand, which would put it at about $128 million. That was the only number that was ever discussed."
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