Sunday, December 21, 2014

Review: Left Behind and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

 HERE'S A TURKEY for Christmas: Left Behind, the movie (2014 version). When I saw the trailer for this movie, the combination of promo and the title made me suspect it was an updated remake of the 1995 novel 'Left Behind' by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. But I mostly dismissed the idea because this movie stars Nicholas Cage. You see, I have a copy of this novel and enjoyed reading at the time it was published. It was an instant classic and went on to spawn a complete series of novels. It's essentially a right-wing evangelical church read, but written well enough to grip you even if you're not usually that way inclined. So, Nicholas Cage? Well, it turns out that Nicholas Cage is the best bit of this movie, but the movie is a turkey in exactly the same way that Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' was a great book but a turkey of a movie. Books work in ways that films don't and vice-versa. 'Left Behind' is thin on action but OTT on its message -- from the Bible-thumping mum and the woman in the airport, to the little touches like the fish pendant in the abandoned car, to the good muslim on the plane who has (obviously) been left behind -- simply because it had to be. The trailer and the film are obviously trying to get their message through to more than just the rapturous (sic) community, but in the end I suspect it's only the faithful (sic) who will be its audience. The average parent who buys it, thinking it will be a good family movie, will wish the dvd had been left behind in the shop.  And that's a pity. However, as one character says near the end of the movie, "This is just the beginning"... as with Tom Hanks and Dan Brown's novels, Nicholas Cage and his co-stars are set up for a series here.

The BBC ran their Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies review under the headline, "Is final Hobbit movie a flop?" The resounding answer is No, I saw it yesterday and it's the most impressive use of 3D that I've yet seen -- the death of Smaug, the dragon, is particularly striking (sic) -- but the problem is that the dragon dies very early on in the movie, Of course, the book couldn't just end there, so Tolkein added the Battle of the Five Armies to follow things to their natural conclusions and tie up all the loose ends, etc; but I was rereading my copy of the novel recently and noticed that even Tolkein ran out of plot steam. After all, war is war and battles are battles; there's a limited number of things you can do with them. The entire Battle of the Five Armies (i.e., 75% of this movie) takes only a handful of pages in the book, and, since Bilbo is unconscious during most of it, it is cursorily summarised in a 'Bilbo was told' paragraph or two. So it's visually exciting, fast-paced, violent (but not Tarantino) and great to experience. But don't expect much of a story.

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