J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy of fantasy novels was a comparatively slim, quick read. But The Hobbit has been expanded into a trilogy for the movie adaptation by Peter Jackson, who earlier tackled LOTR to much acclaim.
In part one, An Unexpected Journey, the humble halfling Bilbo Baggins, portrayed by Martin Freeman, star of the British version of The Office, is tasked with joining a quest by 13 dwarfs to reclaim their lost kingdom. Along with way, Bilbo encounters trolls, goblins and wargs, and gets into a game of riddles with a mysterious fellow who lives by an underground lake. He also acquires a piece of "precious" jewelry that will later play an important role in the future of Middle-earth.
Returnees from the LOTR movies include Ian McKellan as the wizard Gandalf, Hugo Weaving as the elf leader Elrond and Andy Serkis doing the motion-capture performance for Gollum. Even Elijah Wood as Frodo turns up, even though he wasn't in the book, along with other interlopers from the Lord of the Rings, like the wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) and the elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett).
Newcomers to the franchise include strapping Strike Back actor Richard Armitage, portraying the dwarf leader, Thorin Oakenshield.
Jackson's Hobbit movies have been the source of many controversies, one of which has to do with the frames-per-second (fps) filming rate. Jackson, always one to embrace new technologies, filmed the movie in high definition at a high frame rate (HFR), and it's being shown at 48fps in some cinemas. Compared to the normal 24fps that most films are seen in, the HFR 3D Hobbit has a smooth, unflickering look that most viewers might compare to a videotaped soap opera or televised sporting event. In some cases, the 3D HFR is so immersive, it's making some moviegoers sick.
Critical reception is mixed – not as strong as the Lord of the Rings – with the consensus being that expanding the story into a trilogy of movies makes the story feel too dragged out.
It's in 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX and IMAX Digital, with some SF and Major Cineplex branches screening the HFR 3D version – just look for HFR logo on the theater company websites and choose carefully at the box office. Rated G.
Namaste India (นมัสเตอินเดีย ส่งเกรียนไปเรียนพุทธ, Namaste Song Krian Pai Rian Bhud, a.k.a. Three Marks of Existence) – Directed by Gunparwitt Phuwadolwisid, this feature had its world premiere earlier this year at the International Buddhist Film Festival Bangkok. The road-trip romance follows M, a young man who can't decide what to do with his life. Seeking direction, he embarks on a pilgrimage of Buddhist holy sites. Along the way, he encounters various characters who both guide and challenge him. At Major Cineplex.
Apologies for not posting an update last week, which fell during the King's Birthday holiday, one of the biggest movie-release dates of the year. I was out of town. Here's a recap of the releases:
- Hotel Translyvania – Monsters, it turns out, are more scared of humans than we are of them. To escape the torches and pitchforks, Dracula has built a lavish hotel in a hidden castle. But on his daughter's 118th birthday, a backpacker stumbles in and spoils Drac's party plans. The voice cast includes Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi and Selena Gomez. Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Laboratory) directs. Critical reception is mixed. In 3D. Rated G.
- Super Salaryman (ยอดมนุษย์เงินเดือน, Yod Manut Nguen Duen) – "Tik" Jessadaporn Pholdee heads an ensemble cast in this workplace comedy. He's the hard-driving boss of an office, where all the workers are pushed to create a new product or else they won't get their year-end bonus. Rated 15+.
- Now Is Good – Dakota Fanning stars in this drama about a teenage girl facing a diagnosis of terminal cancer. She makes a "bucket list" of things she wants to do before she dies. Jeremy Irving, Olivia Williams and Paddy Considine also star. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 13+.
- 3 Days, 2 Nights (สามวันสองคืน รัก.เลิก.เลย, Sam Wan Song Kuen) – Three directors collaborate on this romance produced by veteran filmmaker Thanit Jitnukul. It's about a young woman who's found a new boyfriend. She books a romantic getaway trip with her old one in order to dump him. Rated G.
- Red Scarf (ผ้าพันคอแดง, Pa Pun Kor Daeng) – After a string of Thai-Lao romance movies, Sabaidee Luang Prabang director Sakchai Deenan ventures into horror with this headless ghost movie featuring an all-Lao cast. Khamly Philavong, the actress from his previous films, stars as a woman haunted by a headless ghost who somehow manages to keep a scarf around his neck. No English subtitles. Rated 13+.
- Tai Chi Hero – The second entry in the highly stylized "steampunk" Chinese martial-arts fantasy series continues the adventures of the gifted young protagonist. Mostly Thai-dubbed but with original soundtrack and English subs at some SF cinemas branches. Rated 13+.
Respect His Teachings (เทิด เกล้า จาก คำสอน ขอ งพ่, Terd Glao Jak Kam Son Kor ...) – Just about every year around this time, there are special films offered in honor of His Majesty the King, who celebrated his 85th birthday this year on December 5. This year, there are nine features from the major Thai film studios, including Sahamongkol, Five Star, GTH, RS, M-Thirtynine and Oriental Eyes, all extolling the philosophies and innovations of His Majesty through various types of stories. The films have been screening at Major Cineplex since December 1. Some have English subtitles, some do not. The schedules are in Thai only, at the Major Cineplex website.