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Posted: Friday, December 28, 2007 10:00 pm

At long last, Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema have resolved their considerable differences, and are re-teaming to film two more Middle Earth movies. One will be an adaptation of "The Hobbit," and the other will be based on various other writings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Like most "Lord of the Rings" fans, I was initially psyched at the prospect of a triumphant return to Middle Earth.

But my enthusiasm was significantly dampened when it was revealed that Jackson will be producing the films, but will most likely not be directing. Since my boundless admiration for P.J.'s filmmaking talents is far greater than my affinity for Tolkien's stories, I'm now skeptical of this endeavor.

The fact that Sam Raimi is reportedly the studio's top pick for director does nothing to placate my skepticism. Raimi is a fine filmmaker, no doubt, but he's just not right for this project. The first two "Spider-Man" movies proved that he can oversee a major production with confidence and finesse, but he's done nothing to indicate that he possesses the keen visionary sense that was central to the success of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

For a fantasy project of this magnitude, New Line would be wise to go with another rumored contender: Guillermo del Toro. With last year's "Pan's Labyrinth," he demonstrated an auteur's eye for fantasy filmmaking not seen since Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures" in 1994, and I have no doubt that he would handle the material with the impassioned zest it deserves.

LET IT BE: The hot DVD this holiday season seems to be the fourand five-disc collector's editions of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner: The Final Cut." As a longtime fan of Scott's exciting, visually stunning dystopian vision of the future, I wouldn't mind finding this set (complete with four different versions of the film, including the original 1982 theatrical version with Harrison Ford's voice-over narration intact, and the much-hyped "final cut" that Scott fine-tuned this year) under the tree on Christmas morning. However, it still begs the question: Was this really necessary?

No artist is ever truly satisfied with his work. No matter how much you perfect something, when you look at it years, months or even days later, some aspect of it always seems amiss. When a film truly does not represent what the filmmaker intended (as was the case with the original cut of "Blade Runner," which Scott had to significantly alter to please test audiences), then he should always go back and release the version he wanted, provided he has the means to do so.

But Scott got that chance with the 1992 Director's Cut, in which he deleted the narration, drastically changed the ending, and added a scene that implied the film's android-hunting hero was himself an android. The alterations made in this "final cut" are largely cosmetic. Special effects are improved and continuity gaffes are corrected, but it's pretty much the same movie repackaged as a new version when a restored print of the director's cut would have sufficed.

What I'm wondering is, just how far will this business of tweaking technical "flaws" go, when all it does is compromise the integrity of classic films (*cough* "Star Wars: Special Edition" *cough*)? I'm just waiting for the day when they re-release "Gone With the Wind" in a 10-disc tricked-out edition, featuring an improved, all-CGI version of the burning of Atlanta - because that's how Victor Fleming would have done it if only he had the technology, right?

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jwallis@runbox.com.

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