Wednesday, September 30, 2015

OLD VS NEW: The Hobbit

I'm gonna try something new.  This is an idea that I've playfully borrowed from the Nostalgia Critic...meh, I doubt he'll ever read this.  And if I'm mistaken...I have no money.  Don't sue me.  Recently, we finally concluded the Hobbit "trilogy" and well...most of you likely know by now how I feel about that series...if you don't, the review is up. But this isn't the first time the story of the Hobbit has gone on screen.  As some of you know, in 1977, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. directed an animated version of Bilbo Baggin's journey to the Lonely Mountain.  I was first introduced to this as a very small child, and it birthed my love of the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Now as an adult, of course, the animated movie has problems, but again, if you've read my review of the trilogy by Jackson, you'll know that there are many problems in those movies too.  So with all that being said...which version tells the story of "The Hobbit" better?  Well I'm gonna narrow it down to five factors.  So sit back and relax and enjoy Old VS New: The Hobbit

The first factor I will be diving into will be the title character, Bilbo Baggins himself.  Which version portrays Bilbo better?  Now keep in mind that this doesn't include what he does in the movies per-say.  This is based soley on his personality, and overall portrayal on screen.  Does Martin Freeman make me feel like I am watching Bilbo Baggins?  To be honest...yeah.  Yeah he does.  In fact, in my review, I actually gave Martin the credit he deserved for portraying a great Bilbo Baggins.  That's not to say the animated doesn't do a good job either.  Bilbo is a complete rookie in the art of adventure, and throughout the book, he is constantly thinking about the comforts of home, and how he very much misses it.  In the animated movie, this is portrayed very well.  But there are times however, that I believe a lot of the character is just lacking overall.  Such as when the final battle of the five armies takes, place.  Bilbo seems a bit too chill in the animated version.  A line he says that is laughably cheesy, as the Dwarves charge the men and elves, is the line "Personally, I'd rather be back in Hobbiton."  He says it like it's just another day at the store.  In the Jackson movies, while there are times  I feel Bilbo is out of character, Martin puts more emotion into the role.  He not only misses his home, but shows concern for his companions, and at times, shows legit fear in certain situations.  It's a well performed role for Martin, almost on the scale of Frodo or Sam in the LotR trilogy if you ask me.  Martin took the role and became one with it.  Perhaps it was the limitations, but the animated version just can't rival that.  Point one goes to the trilogy.

The factor I'm going to look at is Gandalf.  Gandalf has always been a staple character in the lore of Middle Earth, and one of the most iconic characters in the universe.  And I gotta say that he's also well represented in both films.  Even in the Rankin/Bass version of Return of the King, Gandalf is decently represented.  But as the Nostalgia Critic pointed out in his own Old VS New of the animated LotR VS the Jackson LotR, Ian McKellen puts a phenomenal effort to the role of Gandalf. I dare say that he was the best cast member of the trilogy. So naturally, he'd be back for the Hobbit movies, and again, though there are times I feel he may be off (but I can't exactly blame him as he showed emotional difficulty in how Jackson shot these films), he still portrays the Gandalf I know and love. He speaks in riddles, proverbs, much like the Gandalf of the books. In the animated version, while the voice acting is absolutely great, he feels more like an adventurer who goes straight to the point. I guess that's a disadvantage of having less time to fully portray Gandalf as he should be depicted. Ian shows life in Gandalf, a passionate character, a concerned character, and the fondness of Bilbo really shows in both trilogies. In the animated version, the only character showing any real fondness of anyone is Bilbo of Gandalf. Gandalf barely pays any attention whatsoever. Now that isn't to say that there aren't times I feel like Gandalf is out of character, like the possible love interest with Galadriel...but he still outshines the animated version by a long shot, and easily gets the point for the trilogy. 

Our third factor is one of my favorite factors of the story, which is the dragon, Smaug. far as appearance goes, the Jackson films easily take the cake. Smaug was a CGI marvel, almost rivaling that of Godzilla. Almost. He was incredibly built up in the first film, and looked great in the other films. But that is about all I can say about him. Why? Because...he just doesn't represent the Smaug I know and love. Now that isn't to say that the animated version is perfect, because Lord knows he isn't. He almost looks like a cat in appearance. But as far as personality, the animated version nearly nails it. It near perfectly portrays Smaug as the arrogant and boastful dragon he is. The Jackson films do a decent job at it...but they overdo it. There are times in the movies that Smaug is just laughable as a dragon. He never uses the fire when it would benefit him most, he doesn't act like the dragon I know to be a fearsome beast, and man...the best part about Smaug was just incredibly dull in the Jackson films...the boasts. The boasts in the animated version are phenomenal. In fact, the entire encounter with Smaug and Bilbo is very well done in the animated series, but you can go on YouTube, and look up the animated version of Smaug's boast, and it is just incredibly done. I also gotta say that the voice of Smaug is better in the animated. It's deeper, and much more intimidating. And Smaug acts much like the Dragon we are supposed to believe is threatening. He nearly incinerates Bilbo numerous times, and when he attacks Laketown, he doesn't do any boasting or stalling. He just goes to town and razes the town. He doesn't play games. He takes Laketown by surprise, and that is the Smaug I know. It's this ferocity and all around personality that takes this point. Jackson nailed the look, but that was all he nailed. The Animated version takes this point.

The fourth factor I will look are the minor characters of the story, which include the Dwarves, the Bowmen, and other characters. There's plenty to talk about. The Jackson movies I believe portrayed the...important dwarves at least rather well. But a downside that the Jackson movies do is the fact that they concern themselves with cameos and original characters that don't even appear in the book. It's an argument that's been done before, so I will keep it brief, but these characters do absolutely nothing to enhance the story. Tauriel is this elf who serves to be in this love triangle between Legolas who appears, and Kili. I was open to this, but it wasn't executed well enough for me to care enough. In fact, some of Tauriel's dialogue in the movie is absolutely laughable. In a bad way. It is some of the most clichéd dialogue I have heard since Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith batter between Anakin and Padmé. And THAT was pretty bad. Jackson also tries to fit in Galadriel and Saruman in ways that just don't fit if you ask me. If he'd bother trying to flesh out the other characters of the actual Hobbit story, I wouldn't have such a if deal, but even that is portrayed off if you ask me. There were multiple times that Thorin didn't seem like Thorin, and Bard had been downgraded from a nobleman of respect to this...laughing stock of a fisherman almost. In the animated version, while the Dwarves aren't focused on as much, the tension between Thorin and Bilbo only builds similar to that in the novel. Thorin rarely smiles or looks at Bilbo in favor because he holds doubt that Bilbo can benefit them at all. Much like the book. And because I love epic speeches, Bard in the animated version does in fact do the epic Black Arrow speech from the know, instead of that over the top steadying the arrow on the son's shoulders nonsense of the Jackson movies. Little things the Animated version does that make me appreciate the minor characters more than the trilogy. Which gives the animated version the overall point.

The fifth and final factor I will look at is the overall story itself. Which version successfully portrays the story of the Hobbit?  Both have their strengths and weaknesses in the story, but I'm going to point out the biggest deciding factor.  When the Nostalgia Critic decided which was superior with the LotR movies, he immediately pointed out that the Jackson movies were told mutch stronger because unlike the animated version, each movie represented a book in the trilogy, where the animated tried cramming the first two into one, thus resulting in a weaker story. Here, ironically it's the exact opposite. The Hobbit doesn't have three books, it is one book. And while it's a long book, the trilogy was unnecessary. There are things not associated with the story that never should have been. And before you bring that aged argument in that Gandalf's sidequest is written in the Silmarillion, that doesn't justify its inclusion in the trilogy. It doesn't. It ironically makes Gandalf look really stupid in my opinion, especially when he, Saruman, and Galadriel talk about Sauron's return and the One'd think Gandalf would at least inquire of Bilbo's magic ring that he knows he possesses. But that's beside the point. Forcing the Hobbit into a trilogy was a huge mistake, because while the Animated film may have a few problems of its own in story, it kept the focus on where it needed to be kept. Bilbo. The Hobbit isn't meant to be a love story, it's not meant to foreshadow the Rise of Sauron, it's not meant to be anything, but one Hobbit's adventure into a bigger world. And the animated version nailed that. Jackson may have nailed a lot of characters, but how can I appreciate Martin's performance when he is constantly shelved, while the spotlight shines on Elf and Dwarf romantic drama? Or something that won't even come into play until the actual next trilogy? The Animated film may not look as visually appealing in action, may have story inaccuracies of its own, but it knew the story it was telling from beginning to end, which is why I can easily call it the superior film.  The Jackson films have enjoyable aspects, but all in all, they do not hold up to the original story they are supposed to be telling. 

The final point goes to the Rankin and Bass Animated Version, the superior film. 

Agree with what I've said? Feel free to share your thoughts down below, and as always, thanks for reading. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Repentless by Slayer

I haven't written a music review in a while, so this will be a little fun.  Let's talk about Slayer.

Okay, I will not lie.  Going into this album, I was VERY skeptical.  I love Slayer.  The controversy, the energy, the dark music, lyrical themes, it's a devil side of me that I enjoy...despite ironically holding to a faith that completely opposite, but that's beside the point.  The point is, after the awesome album that was "World Painted Blood", I wasn't sure exactly how they could go further.  And then all this stuff with Dave Lombardo and Kerry King happened...and of course, we had the tragic passing of Jeff Haneman.  I wasn't the only Slayer fan in doubt.  I was starting to think it was time for Slayer to throw in the towel.  They've been beat up lately.  And with the  rehiring of Paul Bostaph, who was the drummer for Slayer throughout most of the 90's, I gotta say I was skeptical.  The only album I really liked by Slayer with Bostaph sitting on the throne was "God Hates Us All" (ironically also released today....14 years about your horrible coincidences).  The first track I heard from this album, "Implode" only strengthened my worries.  I wasn't sure what I was hearing.  So...the album was released today.  How does it hold up?

Well...better than I thought.  It's safe to say that Slayer isn't letting the hard times get them down.  And that's something to be admired.  But I will say that for what it was hyped out to be by Kerry King, as the "Reign in Blood" for Paul Bostaph, I am honestly not sure I agree that it's all that it was said to be.  In fact, after the first few tracks, I kinda feel the album is lacking in many areas.  The tempo is slower than the average Slayer album (say for bits and pieces in the album), which to me is rather questionable.  There's a charm in Slayer songs I find it hard to headbang in tempo with.  With "Repentless", while its fun to headbang in time, and mind you there are a lot of moments in this album I found myself headbanging to, I can't help but feel that there's just something missing.

The opening tracks of this album are great.  It's got a fun and dark opening instrumental, leading into the intense title track, and I gotta say, Tom sounds great.  It's hard to imagine a guy his age able to scream as intense as he can still.  I immediately get that energy that he has been so great at giving for the past 30 years.  He keeps that energy throughout the album.  There's no lack of energy like in albums I feel he didn't do too well in such as the 1998 disappointment "Diabolus in Musica" and even bits and pieces of "Divine Intervention". He is shouting all the way through, and it's wonderful to hear.

And I will say that despite Jeff's mastery of the riff no longer a part of this band, Slayer does still know how to give some good melodies and riffs.  Kerry...I still think he's a bit of a jackass, but he's doing his part to keep Slayer alive, and that is something to be admired.  And if Gary Holt is indeed here to stay with Slayer now...he's about as good a replacement as they could ask for.  He doesn't fall behind, and he has fun with the group.  And with Paul back, and blasting as well as he did on "God Hates Us All", the Slayer sound is ripe, and much cleaner than what it was in the 90's.  I will say that I think it was cleaner with the previous two albums, but "Repentless" does indeed present a much cleaner sound than the albums of the 90s.  

There are a few questionable tracks, such as "Cast the First Stone", which almost made me wonder if they were paying on the lowest tuning of the guitar they could.  Honestly during the opening, I could almost see the strings vibrating lazily off the guitar.  But it should be said that the enjoyable tracks outweigh the questionable ones. As I said, I enjoyed the title track, but I also enjoyed "Vices", "When the Stillness Comes" and "You Against You".  Even "Implode" sounded better than from what I remember.  Maybe I just needed a second listen.  I'm not sure.  But there are moments in this album that I question.  For example, the opening of "Cast the First Stone" and the ending of the album, which is something I feel should match the intensity of the opening of any album, especially in a Slayer album. I feel the ending kinda fades away in this rather dirty ending.  It's almost comparable to Metallica's white noise ending of the album of St. Anger.  Maybe that's a bit of an that IS an overstatement, but it is one of the things I thought of when I heard it, and I'm not sure it fits here.  But it's a minor gripe, and for what the album is, most of the gripes I have do not detract from the overall enjoyment of this album.

Do I like the album?  Yeah.  I like it a lot.  But do I like it to the point where I will call it the "Reign in Blood" of Paul Bostaph?  Probably not.  Those are some big words, and this album doesn't have that kind of material to match that.  It has great material, but nothing quite on that scale.  But the ride is still enjoyable, and Slayer has proven to this fan who was in doubt, that they're not dead yet.  Do they have more in the future?  I hope to see at least one more, maybe a bit more energetic than this one, but if they can keep the brutality that they've captured here, and the darkness that they are so famous for, I think Slayer fans have nothing to fear, and only hopes for some good times up ahead.  If you were in doubt like I was, give it a listen.  If you are expecting the album to live up to Kerry's words...maybe approach with caution, but don't pass this album up. have my attention again.  And I thank you for getting it.  

Album Grade: B