Now post production and only a few months away from widespread theatrical release, Peter Jackson’s long-awaited ‘Lord of the Rings’ prequel, ‘The Hobbit’, has already generated considerable hype. It hearkens back to the success of the original ‘Lord of Rings’ series while at the same time tapping into contemporary cultural trends, particularly with the inspired casting of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. What self-respecting ‘Sherlock’ fan could miss the chance to see their idols together once more, particularly as the next season of their beloved series has been put on hold for the sake of the movie?
But as well as reeling in multitudes of ‘Sherlock’ fans, ‘The Hobbit’ has the potential to exert a broader, more family based appeal than any of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies; if it is anything like the book, it will have fewer scenes of remorseless, brutal bloodshed and more encounters with fantastical creatures, fewer complicated political feuds and more snappy dialogue between highly eccentric characters. In short, the film looks set to attract a diverse range of audiences, everyone from ‘Sherlock’ worshippers to children enthralled by fantasy adventure to Tolkien experts—or at least it did, before the bombshell was dropped.
It was announced that there would be not one, but three ‘Hobbit’ movies; the story would be split into thirds and released as one small segment after another. This news reignited the debate over the rise of the sequel that has been dragging on, fruitlessly, for years—do the sprawling franchises of the past decade represent the height of epic storytelling or a headfirst dive into the cesspool of commercialism? Whatever view the audiences and critics take, the outcome is always the same; they will end up dragging themselves back to theatres to see sequel after sequel, complaining all the way. But something about the restructuring of the ‘The Hobbit’ touches a nerve; it represents a definite break from the past, a new milestone along the road of movie development, since it signifies the rise of an entirely new type of sequel.
Not too long ago, sequels were generally added to the original movie as an afterthought. Any movie that stood out from the others and managed to find its own particular niche in the market, like ‘Shrek’ or ‘Madagascar’ or ‘Toy Story’ or ‘Home Alone’, would go on to spawn endless reproductions of itself, generally until the series ran into the ground and the last spark of originality was entirely extinguished. But the original movie as well as each subsequent sequel would have a structure of its own, a perfect story arc with a beginning, middle and end. The relative independence of each movie in the series gave the audience the pleasant illusion of free will; technically they could watch just the first movie and leave it at that, or even watch one of the many sequels and get a relatively clear idea of the plot. But with this new version of the sequel, even that illusion is stripped away; if the audience wants to know the fate of the characters they love and the conclusion of the struggle they care about, they have no choice but to pay the ticket for the next movie. Little by little, sequels have become encoded into a film’s very DNA; the entire film is structured around the presumption that audiences will have to come and see the next one, whether they like it or not. The cliffhanger ending, which has for so long been the staple of soap operas and reality television, has finally made inroads into the world of movies.
Of course, it can be argued that the ‘The Hobbit’ is by no means the first to embrace this lucrative innovation; cliffhangers were the driving force behind lengthy movie series like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’. But those series were structured according to the literary works they were based upon; even though there were rumblings of discontent over the splitting of the seventh Harry Potter book, fans begrudgingly agreed that as J.K Rowling’s longest work it probably deserved the most screen-time. ‘The Hobbit’ by contrast, does not naturally lend itself to a three part series; it is a single, cohesive adventure story, with nothing close to the epic scale and complexity of ‘The Lord of the Rings’. With no literary precedent to go by, the filmmakers must find their own way to reshape ‘The Hobbit’ into three semi-independent segments. For unlike a TV show, a movie series must do more than build up to a thrilling climax over several mediocre installments; each movie is expected to have some quality in itself that makes it worth the price of a ticket.
PHOTO/Film_Poster, Scott Monty
It’s safe to say that we are obsessed, and this obsession isn’t healthy. Our appetites for murder and serious crimes have greatly increased: we want more and we want it now.
The TV market in recent times has become saturated with crime dramas in their various forms, exposing a new trend in the interests of the general public. Even since December there has been not one but two different reinterpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s epic Sherlock Holmes. One displays the flamboyance of Robert Downey Jnr in response to the protective and charismatic Dr Watson of Jude Law, the other a socially challenged Benedict Cumberbatch grounded in reality by the devoted Martin Freeman. However different their characterizations both encompass exactly the mutating demands of the license payer: we have become virtually obsessed with the intelligence of crimes.
It is now not enough to follow through the classic Miss Marple or Poirot example of a “whodunit” situated around a large group of suspicious persons who all conveniently have a secret to conceal. We crave the massive plot inversions, the times where we are taken completely and utterly by surprise just waiting for the perfect moment of suspense followed by the communal gasp and the “I didn’t see that one coming”. These are the episodes that you watch attempting to run ahead of the plot and determine the perpetrator before said Sherlock can get there and where there is always that irritating family member that believes they have already cracked the case and whose smugness is only smashed when their criminal is inevitably discovered as a victim the following scene. These are the episodes that we cannot crack alone because there is no simple explanation. We love that.
The reasons for this new obsession arise partly from a reaction against the success of the American giants of crime drama such as NCIS, CSI, Rizzoli & Isles and Body of Proof and the British counterparts of Waking the Dead and The Body Farm. These shows base their episodes around the wonders of forensics and emphasize the scientific strengths of modern technology. Whilst this has led to considerable success (CSI has been running since 2000 and has two spin-offs: CSI: Miami, which has been running since 2002 and CSI: NY released in 2004) they are now falling victim to a growing trend of new dramas which focus around people and the psychology of not only criminals but their prosecutors too. Whilst CSI and NCIS are resigned to the lunchtime re-run slot on FX or Five USA, new dramas such as Lie to Me, Castle and The Mentalist are being given prime time viewing priority. This and the much anticipated hype over Stephen Moffat’s Sherlock all reinforce our new psychological obsession.
The demands for this higher level of intellectual interaction whilst crime solving is perfectly embodied in the Sky Living favourite Criminal Minds. This isn’t a new show and has been bucking the trend for just over half a decade: generations in the life of a television show. The team led by Aaron Hotchner utilises the tech expertise of Penelope Garcia only minimally relying principally on the behavioural science genius of Dr Reid, Morgan, JJ and Prentiss in the BAU. The episodes invert the “whodunit” concept by revealing to the viewer at the beginning the identity of the criminal, their location, their MO and their next victim. This creates a chilling exposition of serial killers as each and every episode is spent on tenterhooks as we watch the team desperately try and track down the culprit to save the next victim we know to be in mortal danger. They’re not always successful. This kind of intelligent, full of suspense drama keeps us coming back for more as we are never disappointed with the genius of the criminal plot.
The latest Sherlock figure to emerge is Patrick Jane in The Mentalist on Channel 5. These episodes are more predictable than Criminal Minds but it is the way in which Patrick solves them which breathes life into the series. He can trick people into thinking he can read their minds, when in fact he is following the Sherlock example of merely paying attention to intense and often obscure details. Just as Sherlock battles Moriarty his intellectual equal, so Patrick battles Red John, a cunning serial killer who has evaded capture for 12 years, counting among his victims Patrick’s wife and daughter. The distinct MO of Red John leaving behind a smiley face drawn in the victim’s blood chills the viewer and leads to an unravelling of Patrick as he cannot achieve his sought after revenge as Red John remains always one step ahead.
It is perhaps when these genius figures are thwarted or challenged by extreme cases that our interest is at its greatest. There is a small part of us that relishes the exposition of a weakness in these figures as it brings them down into the realms of ordinary humanity. But even if they go completely unchallenged we will still watch them, as we remain utterly fascinated by their careless and detached method of dealing with truly horrific yet wonderfully intelligent crimes.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective has had many incarnations. He’s been gay, camp, serious, tall, short, loud, quiet and most recently a bit of a brawler but one thing remains constant. Sherlock Holmes is always interested in the questions at hand. How can a movie be both clever and idiotic? How can it simultaneously be frenetic and lazy? How can a film possibly be so modern yet so out-dated in equal measure? Well look no further because Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is here to provide the answers.
Never one to take a fair, even-handed approach to those untrustworthy thieving gypsy types (my entire experience based of course upon Guy Ritchie films and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and the fact that I’m nothing if not an idiotic mindless consumer) his latest incidentally concerns a traveller called Simza (Noomi Rapace). Through some convoluted plot machinations she becomes embroiled in a scam masterminded by the masterful Moriarty (Jared Harris) a Cambridge professor and Holmes’ intellectual match who plans on starting a World War. Sherlock catches wind and soon finds himself in a game of cat and mouse with his ultimate rival. Meanwhile Dr Watson ties the knot with his fiancée causing Holmes to slaver homoerotic subtext all over himself and Watson at any given opportunity from then on. Business as usual then.
As is typical of this wildly contradictory film Robert Downey Jr’s finally goes full schizo with Sherlock and almost comes unstuck. The whole flawed/crazy genius schtick can only go so far before it becomes a bit too random for its own good. One minute a super sleuth the next an petulant child wearing ridiculously implausible disguises, it takes Jude Law’s Dr Watson to save the day in the end. Playing a solidly good straight man he helps keep Sherlock’s lunacy on a somewhat level playing field. But rest assured, when the duo get it right it’s great entertainment.
Ritchie’s direction also has its ups and downs. He directs everything nowadays likeThe Matrix didn’t happen. When in 1999 the Wachowski’s started slowing the world down for dramatic effect they immediately brought slo-mo into then straight out of fashion. God knows how they managed to do it but Ritchie hasn’t noticed. Whilst there is an actual reason for Sherlock’s slo-mo fight planning, the splintering tree scene replete with massive high-caliber explosions should seem tonally redundant. But somehow it isn’t. It all seems terribly out of date and try hard and sometimes it may seem like it’s all Ritchie can do to stop himself from screaming ‘stylish steam-punk anachronism’ in your face but somehow he pulls it off. Amongst the numerous swiftly cut montages and the over the top camerawork it really is a joy to behold such a tonal marriage between the film’s impressive period feel and it’s more modern and often tacky cinematic garnish.
So, whilst Ritchie does a bombastic job Hans Zimmer attempts to do the same, but the score is not a patch on his original for 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. Blasting away with a harrumph here and a ear splitting parp there, it starts to really grate after a while. The intermittent parping also continues in the script which whilst sporadically clever and witty too often falls into nonsense and dead ends. It is also no where near clever enough to satisfy. Holmes and Moriarty’s final face off as so often happens in this film is a physical fight rather than a complex and erudite unfurling of all that has come before. Often instead of reasoning and deduction Holmes solves things with a gun or his fists. I think it’s telling that the main set piece on show here involves a huge munitions factory.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is therefore a bit of a mess. But an entertaining one nonetheless. Oh, and Stephen Fry’s Mycroft gets naked. There’s always that…