Tuesday, 18 June 2013

LOTR Books: Recent purchases

I recently bought four books concerning Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. After receiving The Hobbit: Official Movie Guide for my birthday back in January, I realised that even though I am fascinated by the LOTR trilogy, I have no books on it. The Hobbit movie guide gave so much behind the scenes information, interviews, etc, (I definitely recommend this one) that it made me hungry for more information on LOTR. To feed that hunger, I went ahead and bought four very impressive books:

The Art of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by Gary Russell.
The Art of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by Gary Russell.
The Art of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by Gary Russell.
The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films by Doug Adams.

One aspect of the trilogy which I adore is the locations, sets, and general artwork; so much work and so many artists worked on this project and here is a book giving you as much information as possible about some of the artists and their contributions. At the forefront of the teams are of course John Howe and Alan Lee - both world-renowned for their artwork concerning Tolkien's work, and when Jackson embarked on adapting the books, he asked Howe and Lee for their services because he admired their work so greatly. Beautifully pieced together and written by Gary Russell (the time and effort to compose these three books is astounding) you have the creative world behind LOTR at your fingertips, each so stunningly presented that the books are works of art themselves.

I highly recommend these books for any fan of the films and the books. Adapting books - especially LOTR which has so much detail, so many different landscapes, races, etc - takes so much hard work. Even if you have an amazing idea, if it doesn't work then you have to make alterations or start from scratch. There are some fascinating parts in this book that describe the process of making certain sets/costumes/creatures, for example, the Balrog in Moria. You are shown different sketches of how it may have looked, but also they show photographs of the model of a Balrog's head in different lighting so that they could get an idea of how it would look fearsome/dark/deadly.

Below you will find some stills of each of the books. My favourite locations are Lothlorien, Moria, The Great River, The Dead Marshes, and Minas Morgul, so it was really fascinating seeing Lee, Howe, or another artists original drawings, how they changed them, and then how they finally appeared in film. There are a lot of green-screen shots too where we see the actors looking at nothing but a field, but then after the artists and special effects team have worked on it, suddenly the actors are looking at a deep valley full of wildlife and forests. The composition of a Rivendell miniature into a mountainside which is also composed from images of different mountainsides, waterfalls, etc, was particularly fascinating.

All three from 'The Art of...' collection by Gary Russell.
Beautiful front cover showing Argonath on The Great River from Fellowship.

Lothlorien is one of the most visually stunning locations in film history - wouldn't mind living there!

The tower of Orthanc and Barad Dur dominate the front cover for Two Towers.

So much effort went into the lighting of Fangorn in order to create the right mood; should they go for greens/browns/ blues?

The location we were all anticipating the most... Mordor; The Eye of Sauron roars with fire, surrounded by ferocious clouds.

Minas Morgul; Howe's artwork for this is truly outstanding. How can you make a drawing look evil and menacing?

Another book I bought recently was The Music of The Lord of the Rings written by Doug Adams. I haven't read it yet like my other books but I cannot wait to. This is the most detailed, informative piece of work compiled about a film soundtrack - but that's pretty fitting seeing as the size and depth of LOTR soundtrack is enormous and greater than anything in cinema before. Howard Shore's score for the films has been praised critically and commercially, but there are so many reasons why his score is so acclaimed and loved. It transcends the realms of cinema music by lightyears, and it is wonderful that all of his hard work has now been put together in this beautiful book. I've had a quick flick through and not only is the music discussed in detail, but each track is broken down and dissected - it is a dream book for anybody who loves the LOTR soundtrack as much as myself. I can't wait to really get stuck into this book and listen to each track whilst studying its analysis. Here are some photographs:

The book even comes with an exclusive extra recordings disc. 

Snippets from Shore's music notes features his annotations, etc. Amazing!

I love The Lord of the Rings, and these four books - although pricey - were worth every penny. They tell me everything I could possibly know or want to know about Jackson and his teams masterpiece. Never before has so much information and behind the scenes secrets been kept, recorded, and produced for a film than for LOTR, and being a project of such enormity and depth, there is tonnes of information for you to get lost in and wonder at. I'll cherish them always and keep them on my bookshelf proudly for the rest of my life. Thanks Gary Russell and Doug Adams!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Desolation of Smaug - 1stTrailer: My Thoughts

BEWARE! SPOILERS (if you haven't seen the first film or read the book)

The much-anticipated first trailer to Peter Jackson's upcoming film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has finally been released. After the first installment of The Hobbit franchise received a mixed reception (yet still managed to rake in the money - $1.17 billion worldwide according to boxofficemojo.com) it would appear that expectation for the second installment is even greater than it was for the first. By the looks of people's reactions across the internet, most were interested to see if we got a peak at Smaug, or Orlando Bloom reprising his role as our favourite elf, Legolas. We got both of those things as well as a host of others. This trailer is a very good one. It shows a lot considering how early it has been released and really has that 'I have to see this now!' factor. Here I'll just share my thoughts on 8 things that intrigued me most when viewing the first trailer. If you haven't seen the trailer already then you'll find it below:

Our first shot is of The Lonely Mountain (I'm guessing) which reminds the audience of the destination of the quest. But just as we are shown this intimidating landscape, we hear an authoritative, wise, and regal voice who states the basic premise of the quest, 'to reclaim a homeland and slay a dragon.'

We are shown glimpes of other locations as the voice goes on, including the Woodland realm (above) - which looks very much similar to the design of Lothlorien and with bits of Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring, but with more green and brown tones, and a more twisted/wild look (suiting Mirkwood) which makes it noticeably different yet undoubtedly belonging to the race of Elves (elegant, magical). 

1.) Thranduil. 

As the voice comes to the end of his statement we are shown a shot of Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm played by Lee Pace. Being Legolas's father, it is obvious that the make-up department have tried to make him look similar to his onscreen son, with very light blonde hair and dark brows. He has a fantastic crown that resembles elegant yet dangerously spikey branches, hinting that although the Elven race is graceful and beautiful, it can also be deadly. I have never seen Lee Pace in his screen work but just from the few seconds of this clip I can see he will do a superb job as Thranduil. His voice has a deep, commanding, superior, and almost languid quality to it, making him seem wise and as old as he is. It would appear that Pace has really studied his character in the book whilst ensuring that he appears equal in importance and royalty to Galadriel, Celeborn, and Elrond form the LOTR films. Cate Blanchett, Marton Csokas, and Hugo Weaving in the LOTR trilogy all gave their characters a gravitas, magic, mystery, and all-knowing quality, which made them seem like real Elves (Celeborn in the Extended Edition of LOTR - wish they hadn't cut his scene with Aragorn). Pace has a lot to live up to after Blanchett, Csokas, and Weaving did such a tremendous job, but it seems like Pace will fit in well with Elven royalty in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth already, and is every inch the King of the Woodland Realm.

2.) Legolas.

As soon as it was announced that Orlando Bloom would be returning as Legolas, the majority of us had our anticipation levels reach stratospheric heights. Yes, Legolas is not in the original book but seeing as his father Thranduil is then I don't really see the harm in including him at all. It gives a sense of continuity with the LOTR trilogy, and as long as there isn't a massive change to the story by including his character then I see no problem whatsoever. My first thoughts when seeing Legolas was that he looks older, much like I thought in the previous Hobbit film when I saw Gandalf, Galadriel, Frodo, Saruman, Bilbo (old), and Elrond. Yes I know it's obvious that they would all have aged because they're human too, LOTR was filmed over a decade ago, etc, but seeing Legolas was a sad reminder that it was over 10 years ago that we first saw those films. I was a kid at the end of primary school when FOTR came out, and now I've graduated from university. Was it really that long ago that we first saw Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien's Middle Earth? Nevertheless he still looks beautiful and he is still our Legolas; it was really wonderful to see him back with his bow and arrow. The line, 'Don't think I will not kill you dwarf,' is brilliant, and harks back to the friendship Legolas has with Gimli in LOTR, a friendship that began as hostile enemies, yet ending with one of the truest and most beautiful friendships in literature. I wonder if we'll see Legolas perform death-defying stunts like he did in LOTR. Fingers crossed! Go Bloom!

3.) Beorn?

This is a very short glimpse of a bear but I'm guessing it's Beorn. Because the clip is so short there is very little to say, however, I am curious as to how Jackson and his team will make Beorn convincing as a "shape-shifter" and if his form as a bear is realistic. They did an excellent job with Treebeard who was a talking tree/Ent, so I doubt that we'll be disappointed with Beorn.

4.) Tauriel.

Arguably the most controversial move Peter Jackson and his team have made in The Hobbit trilogy is the creation of an entirely new character that isn't in the books. I can understand why Jackson wanted a female character in the Hobbit films because it appeals to a wider audience (females); LOTR didn't have that problem because you had 4 female characters; Rosie Cotton, Arwen, Galadriel, Eowyn (the latter 3 being very important to the narrative and strong, female roles). But to create one is risky and has upset many fans. I have never seen Lost so I don't really know what Evangeline Lily is like as an actress, but in the trailer she seems fine, she seems like a proper elf, and I hope that she proves Jackson's move to be a good one. I won't be happy if they make her this tough, kick-ass, rebel elf that has a romance with Legolas - that will be ridiculous, annoying, and totally unnecessary. By the looks of the trailer though she'll be a good addition and not cause major changes to the narrative. Good luck, Evangeline Lily!

5.) Dol Guldur.

Gosh, how ominous and foreboding does Dol Guldur look? It looks so creepy and otherworldly... the ultimate lair for the Necromancer. This one is going to be risky too, as what takes place at Dol Guldur is not shown or told in the book as such, it is only hinted at, but we are told in LOTR what happened there (possibly a brief explanation at the end of Hobbit but I can't remember). Regardless, Gandalf is there with his sword, staff, and Radagast, and utters, 'It is undoubtedly a trap.' OMG. There's going to be some serious s**t going down at Dol Guldur and I cannot wait. 

6.) The Mirkwood Spiders.

When I saw the first Hobbit film in January my heart dropped when Radagast was inside his house and you could see the shadows of hundreds of spiders crawling up the outside of his windows. I hadn't read the book at the time, but being an arachnophobe, I immediately thought, oh no - not more Shelobs. The spiders of Mirkwood were terrifying in the book, especially with their metallic-y, hissing, speech. Somewhere online I read that they were descendants of Shelob but she is in a monster league of her own, evil in spider form- these spiders are slightly different and definitely smaller (fewf!). I have heard Jackson say that his team had to make these spiders different and distinct from Shelob herself. However, by the looks of the spider visible in this trailer, the spiders (thankfully) won't be as scary or monstrous as Shelob in The Return of the King. The spider you see in the above screenshot has skinny legs (they haven't shown it's body or face so I am still terrified of what they may look like) but at the moment the spider scene looks like it will be watchable for arachnophobes like myself. I want to be scared of the spiders in this film because of their evil nature not because of their appearance (the more I watch The Return of the King, the less of the Shelob scene I can watch.) For now, all looks positive. I do wonder if Jackson will let these spiders speak like they do in the book? Animals speaking can often look silly, so it will be interesting to see if they avoid this trait of theirs or what they do to make it convincing.

7.) Arrival at The Lonely Mountain.

'That my friend... was a dragon,' says Balin as the dwarves supposedly here a rumble from within the mountain. This promises us that there will be some dragon action in the second installment. I expect that half of the film will be set in Mirkwood whilst the rest will take place at the Laketown and the mountain. A great line for the trailer, it wets our appetite for what is to come. It also hints that the other, younger dwarves haven't really thought about what they've let themselves in for.

8.) Smaug.

Unbelievable, the trailer finishes with a sneak peak of Smaug himself. SHOCK! We only saw his eye in the first film, but here we see his shadowed face. Unfortunately, after reading comments online it looks like people thought the same as myself - he looks a little raptor-y? And a definite shift away from the look of dragons in classic children's literature. Jackson may have done this purposefully however, because he knows that with any clip he releases, he will be inundated with comments and criticisms. In Fellowship of the Ring we see Gollum twice but each time he is covered in shadow; this is because final touches were still being made to Gollum and his appearance really hadn't been finalised yet. That way, Gollum was still visible in the film but you couldn't quite make out the exact features of his face. I think Jackson may be doing the same here with Smaug. Testing what the audience thinks whilst his artists still work on getting the right look for Smaug. The shot of Smaug's eye at the end of the first Hobbit film was promising, so let's hope Jackson stills pulls it out of the bag. 

I do not envy Jackson and his team with creating Smaug though. From how the dwarves described the attack on Erebor, dragons sound like the worst creatures in Middle Earth - meaner, lethal, and more dangerous than Shelob, Nazgul and their beasts, or Balrogs - and dragons are ten times bigger! So Jackson and co. really have their work cut out for them to make Smaug the dragon seem as terrible as legend has it. They haven't let us down with creatures so far, I'm sure they won't this time either. 

Final thoughts?

Overall, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug looks promising, more action-packed, and full of thrills than it's previous installment. You can see some of the changes from the book in the trailer and it looks like most of them will be to make the story more suitable for cinema - not all scenes in books work on film. Fingers crossed that this time the pace and editing of the film will be more flowing and the story in general more planned out. The first Hobbit film seemed incredibly rushed and had a lot wrong with it - still enjoyed it though! I don't think I will ever grow to like the villain of Azog in the film, he really irritates me and annoyingly looks like a highly-computerised, thuggish Voldermort. From what the trailer shows it's going to be a fun-filled ride and a big improvement from the first film. Can't wait to see what Benedict Cumberbatch brings to his roles too, and of course, we know that Martin Freeman will be outstanding again. It's a shame we have to wait until December, ey? It will be worth the wait, I am sure, and makes the perfect early Christmas present. I'm loving this poster for it too (right >).