Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reel Facts & Opinions: Back to Middle-Earth

Author JRR Tolkien’s massive literary works involving the fantastical world of Middle-Earth, a realm packed tight with stories and adventures involving men, wizards, dwarves, elves, goblins, dragons, demons of the ancient world and little Hobbits, has seen an equally massive career in its adaptations to the big screen. So big, that it continues to make headlines long after the most recent film has faded to black. 

Director Peter Jackson’s adaptation of THE HOBBIT, which was beefed up into a trilogy of films by mining much of Tolkien’s expansive appendices’, will be returning to the big screen this October. The special extended editions, which includes more footage not seen in their original theatrical runs from 2012-2014 (but was included in the blu-ray and home releases), will play in 500 theatres on October 5th, 7th, and 13th, respectively. 

Jackson’s adaptation of THE HOBBIT was a box office success, even though it didn’t quite enjoy the critical success of his first Tolkien trilogy, THE LORD OF THE RINGS. It’s difficult to imagine people flocking to the gates to view expanded editions of films which were probably too long the first time around, but then again…this is Middle-Earth we’re talking about. Returning to that beloved world is always a treat, especially on the big-screen, and THE HOBBIT films did have their highlights with some stunning set-pieces and battles. Big-screen spectacle is what it thrives on. 

Speaking of battles, Jackson’s third film in THE HOBBIT trilogy, THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, will see its long-awaited home release of the expanded edition arrive in late November (which gives fans incentive to go see the expanded edition in theatres; they can beat the home-release by a month), and the interesting news here is that not only is this edition 20 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, but unlike the original version which was rated PG-13, this will be rated R for “some violence”. 

The R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is the first such rating for any of Jackson’s six Middle-Earth films. There had been word last year prior to the film’s release that the big end-battle had been cut down considerably (the running time was relatively short at 144 minutes), so it seems the bulk of the expanded cut would center around more killings and perhaps more bloodshed. How this will play out remains to be seen, but an R-rated Middle-Earth movie would certainly stand out among the somewhat kid-friendly films from THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. 

Speaking of kid-friendly Middle-Earth films, Turner Classic Movies has announced that it will air Ralph Bakshi’s animated take of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (1978) on September 2nd. The film, which was met with mixed reaction from critics and fans, served as an influence for Peter Jackson before he set out to make his live-action movies.  

Watch this at your own risk. Bakshi’s film, which was originally supposed to be called Part 1, only covers the first book and-a-half of THE LORD OF THE RINGS before abruptly ending after 133 minutes. Since Part 2 was never made, we’re left with half a movie with no real ending. The film was notable for its use of rotoscoping, which was an animation technique where scenes were first shot live-action, and then traced onto animation cels; basically using a hybrid of traditional hand-drawn animation and live-action footage. It was considered innovative at the time, but today it just looks bizarre. This Blogger finds the film (and most of Bakshi’s work) to be unwatchable crap. At the very least it serves as a curiosity piece and a sense of completion for any fans who can’t get enough of Middle-Earth. 


THE HOBBIT expanded editions arrives in theatres October 5th, 7th, and 13th. The expanded edition of THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES will be released November 17th

Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 THE LORD OF THE RINGS airs on TCM September 2nd

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