Tag Archives: The Hobbit

So much for that idea

I knew John Boorman was one of the parade of filmmakers who took a run at adapting The Lord of the Rings but I didn’t know the details of the script Boorman wrote. Apparently one of the high points of the Lothlorien sequence was Frodo getting it on with Galadriel:

United Artists (which acquired the movie rights to The Lord of the Rings from Tolkien before his death) originally was going to have John Boorman write and direct a film adaptation, but Boorman’s script confused the heck out of the studio. (Actually, with its Frodo/Galadriel love making scene, his script confuses the heck out of me as well.) And to make matters worse for United Artists, they had agreed to pay John $3 million for this badly written piece of garbage. As they were deciding whether to move forward or not, Ralph Bakshi (a big fan of Tolkien) approached them and asked the studio heads what they thought about having him direct three animated films that were closer to Tolkien’s original books. United Artists said that was fine, but they needed $3 million to cover the cost of throwing away Boorman’s script. At that point, Bakshi approached MGM (which wasn’t hard, because they shared the same building with United Artists) and MGM was so interested, they bought all the rights from United Artists for the $3 million, wiping UA’s books clean and taking on the project themselves with Bakshi as director. Unfortunately for Bakshi, the man who made that decision for MGM (Dan Melnick) was then fired, and the new guy (Dick Shepherd) didn’t want anything to do with Tolkien. That’s when Bakshi contacted Saul Zaentz, whom he had previously worked with, which led to Zaentz acquiring the movie rights from MGM and asking United Artists if they were still interested in doing the project. United Artists was back on board, and Bakshi ended up making the animated film that cost $4 million to produce and grossed $30 million. (Despite making money, neither Zaentz nor United Artists had any interest in a second or third part.)

Well now. I think we can agree that it’s just as well United Artists pulled the plug, even if it did lead to Ralph Bakshi’s inept and incomplete animated version. The daisy chain continued for another couple of decades and at the end waited Peter Jackson, so happy smiles all around.

Something just as ridiculous almost happened to Dune, another bulky classic that defeated a number of directors before making it to the screen. According to Harlan Ellison, the screenplay written by Alejandro Jodorowsky added an incestuous relationship between Paul Atreides and his mother. (That version, needless to say, was never made, but Jodorowsky had hired Swiss artist H.R. Giger for design work, and through him Giger met Ridley Scott, who used him on Alien, so once again happy smiles all around.) There must be a dumb screenwriter’s textbook somewhere that advises spicing up a difficult literary property with a sex scene between the two least likely characters. It’s been done over and over with Beowulf, and each time the screenwriter was convinced he’d concocted something outrageous and original. The saying “there’s nothing new under the sun” goes double for bad ideas.   

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The last big thing

When the first of three films based on The Hobbit opens in about two months, a certain number of theaters will show the movie at a speed of 48 frames per second — double the current standard of 24 frames per second. A preview of the 48-frame print drew a mixed response, though the problem could simply have been that the preview was too short to give eyes and minds the time to adjust to the higher resolution of the image. At any rate, I’ll be curious to see the new technique in action — though only after I’ve seen the film in the standard format.

Some of you may be old enough to remember Cinerama, a film technology introduced in the late 1950s that provided an overwhelming, immersive viewing experience. I’ve never seen a Cinerama film. I have vivid memories of seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey during its initial late 1960s run in a cavernous New York theater. Though billed as a Cinerama show, the screening was actually in single-screen 70 mm instead of the three-screen process used for true Cinerama shows. I couldn’t have cared less at the time: 2001 in 70 mm blew my mind in every conceivable way. Seeing it in true Cinerama style probably would have altered the cellular structure of my brain.

Film historian and blogger David Bordwell talks about Cinerama in connection with the new Flicker Alley DVD release of This Is Cinerama, the demo film used to tout the wonders of the new technology. Film aficionado David Frohmaier has apparently come up with a display technique called Smilevision that puts across the three-screen effect while cleaning up some of the bugs that led to its abandonment.

Funny thing — one of the early shots in This Is Cinerama is a trip on a rollercoaster filmed from the front car. That reminded me of Brainstorm, a largely forgotten 1983 science fiction film directed by Douglas Trumbull, the magician behind the startling visuals in 2001. (It’s mostly remembered as Natalie Wood’s last film — she drowned during the production, and Trumbull had to fight to get the redone film released at all.) Trumbull had conceived the film, which is about the invention of a device that records thoughts and memories so others can experience them, as a showcase for his own Showscan technology, which would have projected the image at 60 frames per second. When the inventors prepare a mental “demo reel” of their own, it starts with a rollercoaster and other images that may have been Trumbull’s inside reference to This Is Cinerama. Talk about an in-joke! 

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Drive, he said

Cosmopolis, an unreadable novel by Don DeLillo, has begotten a somewhat watchable film from David Cronenberg, which in turn has begotten a highly listenable soundtrack by Cronenberg’s longtime collaborator, Howard Shore. And I do mean “collaborator.” Cronenberg gave Shore his entree to film scoring with The Brood in 1979, and he’s used Shore’s music on all of his subsequent films except The Dead Zone.

Though there are plenty of long-running relationships between directors and composers — I’d be hard-pressed to think of a Steven Spielberg film that hasn’t been scored by John Williams — few compare with Cronenberg and Shore in terms of artistic quality. Alfred Hitchcock relied on Bernard Herrmann to give his films warmth and humanity, to the point that I’d give Bennie co-auteur status on just about all of Hitch’s certified great films. But Shore’s approach is more adaptive than Herrmann’s. His scores for Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, and Crash, for example, do not announce themselves as Shore’s work the way Vertigo, Marnie, and North by Northwest are instantly recognizable as Herrmann’s compositions. Shore is also exceptionally astute in his choice of collaborators. His use of Ornette Coleman makes Naked Lunch an exceptional soundtrack. The Lord of the Rings is a showcase for beautiful female voices, such as Aivale Cole, Isabel Bayrakadarian and Emiliana Torrini.

Shore’s work for Cosmopolis has some of the same metallic sheen as Crash (appropriately, since cars figure heavily in both flicks), but without the earlier film’s spiky menace. Shore wrote his music to be performed by Metric, a Canadian band with a bright, synthesizer-heavy sound that works for the protagonist’s disaffected mindset. Like the young financier in his stretch limo, the music combines forward motion with a sense of drifting. There are very few composers whose work I want to get even before the film comes out. Shore is one of them.

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Not-so-middling Earth

This new trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has me thinking Peter Jackson was put on this earth for the express purpose of showing up John Boorman, Stanley Kubrick, and every other big-name director who contemplated taking a crack at The Lord of the Rings.

I’ve watched the trailer several times now with the alternate endings (thoughtfully compiled in the clip above) and it has me remembering the evening, ten-plus years ago, when a friend invited me to a screening of the Lord of the Rings preview reel Jackson had prepared for the Cannes film festival. At the time, I knew Jackson chiefly  as the splatter auteur behind Brain Dead. He’d shown unexpectedly depth and discipline with Heavenly Creatures (and, with his casting of Kate Winslet, an eye for talent) but the followup, The Frighteners, had been more than a bit of a mess. Meanwhile, I’m old enough to have seen Ralph Bakshi’s bungled attempt at an animated version of The Lord of the Rings in the theater, and let’s just say my hopes weren’t very high.

The half-hour preview started on exactly the right note, with a hobbit-sized Peter Jackson sitting in Gandalf’s wagon. The montage of scenes carried through to the Mines of Moria sequence, with everything from the bucket falling falling down the well to the fight with the cave troll and Gandalf turning to face the Balrog. After that came another montage, leading up to Frodo in Mount Doom, turning and announcing that he wasn’t going to destroy the ring after all. As I recall, Frodo’s eyes were like black marbles, so the climax obviously underwent some rethinking.

At any rate, I left the screening eager to see the whole film, and since then I’ve been a complete fool for all three movies. I’m getting some of that same buzz from this Hobbit trailer, and I can hardly wait for December to roll around. This time I’ll be able to go with Eldest Daughter, who got hooked on Middle-earth watching the extended DVD versions.

Meanwhile, I wonder if that Cannes preview reel is posted anywhere online? I’d love to see it again.

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The long and the short of it

Movie writers in need of a space-filling trend piece or analytical thumbsucker have one topic they return to again and gain: movies are getting too long. Type the question Are movies getting too long? into Google and you’ll score plenty of hits from every year of the past decade. The recurrence of this topic led Roger Ebert to opine that “no good movie can be too long, and no bad movie can be too short.” Since two of this year’s biggest hits — The Avengers and The Hunger Games — are nearly two-and-a-half hours long, and other blockbusters waiting in the wings — Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit — will probably be in the same range, I expect we’ll see the topic trotted out again before too long.

Funny thing is, when you look at this inflation-adjusted list of all-time box office champions, only one Top 10 film clocks in under two hours: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was Walt Disney’s first attempt at the labor-intensive field of feature length animation. The rest are comfortably above the two-hour mark, except for E.T., which falls two minutes short. And two of the most enduringly popular flicks, Gone With the Wind and Titanic, are very long indeed, as are Dr. Zhivago, The Sound of Music, and The Ten Commandments. The next ten titles tell the same story: except for animated films, which are aimed at a young audience with a limited attention span, the majority of the flicks are over two hours long, and sometimes quite a bit longer.

Since film is the most immersive art form, it follows that the most successful films take the time to make the viewing experience as detailed and absorbing as possible. So while I have my own list of movies I would be happy to see shortened — some of which I’d be delighted to edit myself, with a chainsaw and acetylene torch if possible — it appears that audiences tend to agree with Ebert. If the length of movies is indeed a problem, it’s mainly a problem for movie critics. If I hear of anyone shedding tears for that tribe, I’ll be sure to write it up here.  

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Friday finds

My homies find the perfect way to tell Anders Breivik to go fuck himself.

A new translation of Theodor Fontane, with great pictures of Stirling Castle.

The list of the covers of the e-books of the knockoffs of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Saul Bass was a genius. What, you don’t believe me? How about some more examples?

Ward-heeling with incense.” Genius. Just genius.

Racing stats? Racing stats?

Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects pioneer behind Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey, talks about the cinema of the future. What will it be like to watch The Hobbit in its higher-resolution version?

I left my hardanger in San Francisco.

Tales from a radio obsessive.

Mining the sky — a few links, a few thoughts.

Want a free Monster? Of course you do. And here it is.

“I defy any writer to move to Paris and not be posing like Hemingway in a café within the first few months. I had that kind of Lost Generation love when I first moved to Paris. Actually, I wrote about this in an essay for the Huffington Post years ago, about the way that hanging out in cafés and pretending to be a writer like Hemingway actually did make me a writer. I wouldn’t necessarily have self-identified as a writer before I studied abroad in Paris. I was more of a reader than a writer. But I guess if you pretend to do something for a while, you realize that, oh, wow, that was just a way to do get to something that I guess I secretly wanted to do.”

That is one deserted highway.

Having fun with a feeb.

Don’t steal art.

Is watching this video really worth three minutes of your life? Once you know, it will be too late.

“Eric Danville, author of The Complete Linda Lovelace, and a technical adviser on the Amanda Seyfried film, once asked Lovelace: ‘Why did you join up with feminists trying to ban porn instead of feminists trying to fight domestic abuse?’ Lovelace’s response? ‘The people fighting domestic abuse never approached me. Catherine [MacKinnon] was the first person to really approach me’ says much about how she led her life. Dance with the one that brought you.”

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Linktopia

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley were published within a few years of each other, but their visions of America and “the road” are much different. Compare and contrast. (We’ll put aside the question of just how far Steinbeck really got on his journey.)

How to play Gandalf the Gray, from the man who ought to know. Consider it a refresher for The Hobbit in eight months.

I had no idea there were so many Harry Crews fans in the ranks of alternative rock. But I’m not surprised at the writer’s cussed response to that fact.

James W. Hall speaks out in defense of “trashy” fiction. Since he moved from poetry to thrillers such as Under Cover of Daylight and Bones of Coral, he knows whereof he speaks. I’ve noticed that the novels of a supposedly downmarket writer like John D. MacDonald have a lot more to say about their era than much of the critically lauded works of the time.

James Madison and his slaves.

The Hustler magazine stylebook.

James Baldwin meets William F. Buckley Jr. The argument has a very familiar ring to it.

Robert Caro has been writing his biography of Lyndon Johnson for 38 years. That over half as long as his subject’s actual lifespan. The next volume of the epic comes out May 1. I revere Caro’s biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, but I have to admit I became exasperated with the length of Master of the Senate, the previous LBJ volume.

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A moment of geekery

Is it too uncool to acknowledge how much I’m looking forward to seeing The Hobbit? So be it. I was never the biggest fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, so I went to see Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring with no particular expectations and ended up falling hard for the entire series. Funny to think that was a decade ago. What I particularly like about this trailer is the emphasis on character and the details of performance: the way Gandalf says “No” when Bilbo asks if he can guarantee a safe return, or the seriousness that fills the room when Thorin sings. (I’m reminded of that gorgeous scene in The Two Towers when Theoden recites “Where is the horse, where is the rider?” as a wordless chorus fills the soundtrack.) So, yes, I’m dying to see both installments of The Hobbit in the cineplexes, listen to Howard Shore’s soundtrack music, watch the extended editions (can there be any doubt of those?), and finally get a look at Smaug. Jackson has said he wants to outdo Vermithrax Pejorative. It’s high time somebody tried.

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Friday finds

Paying last respects to Gil Scott-Heron. And again. And again. And again. A list of his essential recordings.

A great day at Harper’s Ferry.

Jump cut or match cut? All I know is, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Call me a geek, call me a nerd, but I really am looking forward to seeing these.

“I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the initial cut would remain a pure flat surface in the earth with a polished, mirrored surface, much like the surface on a geode when you cut it  and polish the edge. The need for the names to be on the memorial would become the memorial; there was no need to embellish the design further. The people and their names would allow everyone to respond and remember.”

Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul are buds again. Here is video proof. Take the Naipaul-inspired authorial gender test.

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Friday finds

Blogger-illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi offers a mini-history of illustrations for J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, starting with some of Tolkien’s own pictures and concluding with this 1967 sketch by the great Maurice Sendak, part of a proposal for a new illustrated edition. Unfortunately, Sendak was sidelined by a heart attack shortly before he was to have met with Tolkien about the project, leaving us to wonder what the creator of Where the Wild Things Are would have done with Smaug. Meanwhile, the tsuris that The Lord of the Rings films managed to avoid (and is being visited tenfold on the production of The Hobbit films) continued with the hospitalization of director Peter Jackson.

Frederik Pohl recalls Gustav Hasford, whose Vietnam War novel The Short-Timers was the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket.

Geoff has a very personal and emotionally generous reaction to Toy Story 3.

Hunter! Scavenger! Hunter!

I seldom agree with conservative apparatchik David Frum about much of anything– and I despise his war-whoring on Iraq — but I do enjoy his readiness to ridicule radio ranter Mark Levin, second only to Rush Limbaugh among the gas giants of the conservative solar system, and first in his readiness to respond to even the slightest criticism to torrents of childish invective. Frum has been happily slapping around Levin’s magnum bolus Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, and the reluctance of other conservatives to point out Levin’s intellectual malfeasance in any but the most circumspect terms. Now Alex Knapp has joined the fun by blogging the book chapter by chapter, which might seem like an exercise in pure masochism were it not for the fact that Levin’s tome is a kind of intellectual grease trap in which most of the cherished notions of movement wingerdom can be scraped loose and subjected to scrutiny. Knapp’s first chapter is here, and subsequent installments are here, here, and here.

Mount Shinmoe, the volcano used for the secret rocket base in You Only Live Twice, is erupting.

The life and times of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs.

Urban infiltrators drink up.

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