Film 2019: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug


Middle films are always a bugger. They start in the middle and finish in the middle: pitched directly into the action without any suitable scene-setter and lacking any wholly-satisfying conclusion. Not every extended trilogy has a Battle of Helm’s Deep to provide the perfect pseudo-climax. The Hobbit does its best in ‘The Desolation of Smaug’, with the terrifically constructed battle between the Dwarves an the Dragon inside Erebor, but it still has to depend upon a cliffhanger on which to halt. I found it a disappointment first time round and it’s still the same now, when the final film’s another Sunday away, not another December.

That said, Part 2 is a decided uplift on Part 1. It has an awkward double-start, first a very clever flashback, like the Smeagol-Deagol scene that opens ‘The Return of the King’, to Bree in the rain, Thorin Oakenshield in the Prancing Pony and a ‘chance’ meeting with Gandalf the Grey. This is taken from one of those scenes that Tolkien couldn’t fit into the book and which turns up in the Appendices, and at greater length in Unfinished Tales.

Straightway from that, we go to the Dwarf party on the run again from Azog and his pursuing Orcs and rapidly holing up with Beorn. It feels awkward because it has no independence and it’s dealt with too quickly and back-ended with a bit of comedy, reflecting the original children’s book that’s really out of place this far along.

Still, that’s the last of that. There are still comic scenes to come, mostly surrounding the Master of Lake-Town and his obnoxious, servile assistant Alfred (Alfred? Alfred? Beorn, Bard, Smaug, Bilbo, Alfred… Alfred? een if it is spelt Alfrid). This requires a double-act between Stephen Fry and Ryan Gage, one of whom I thoroughly do not like and the other who’s just too good in his role to be comfortable watching. Their humour is based on throwing in cheap rude words, like bollocks and cock, but it isa dimension away from the chilish slapstick Jackson has tried to take from the book.

After the scene at Beorn’s, Jackson stops trying to marry up any of ‘The Hobbit’s tone to the fillm and things are better for it. The Desolation of Smaug can then concentrate on its own tone, fast, dynamic and serious, letting the comedy arise from what’s on the screen, such as the brilliant barrel-escape down the elvish river, fighting off Orcs and Elves with unstinting glee and vigour.

Much of what Jackson et al. invents in this film is simply an expansion on what Tolkien has written that was treated perfunctorily. Bilbo frees the Dwarves, they escape in barrels, full stop. Another, incredibly effective scene is created out of even thinner justification: Cate Blanchett makes a tiny cameo as Galadriel to send Gandalf north as a revised justification for his leaving the Dwarves at Mirkwood, not for an off-screen White Counsel (unmentioned in advance) raid on Dol Guldur, but rather to urgently check the barely accessible and utterly creepy tombs of nine evil Kings. These are all empty: Nazgul…

And Gandalf’s investigation of Dol Guldur, his discovery of the half-mad Thrain, his encounter with the Necromancer and realisation it is Sauron, his capture, all these are drawn into this film where, in strict Tolkien mythology, they date from further back, but they are still all crucial elements of the overarching story that includes The Lord of the Rings, just placed onscreen rather than confined to deep background.

Where Jackson is on truly unjustified ground is in the creation of Tauriel, the elf-warrior-maiden and her ‘relationship’with the youngest and most normal-looking Dwarf, Kili (Aiden Turner). I’m dubious about the ‘love affair’ but as Tauriel is played by Evangeline Lilley, I can’t argue with the decision. Lilley is in her element, especially in the fighting scenes, where she’s as fluid and fearsome as Legolas (Orlando Bloom, another returnee). Jackson’s on firmer ground with having Legolas along: neither he nor Thranduil, his father, are named in ‘The Hobbit’ but it’s obvious in retrospect that they must have been there.

The middle film scores by speeding things up considerably, to remove the stodginess, kicking out the songs and (most of) the slapstick and showing a great deal more confidence in its decision to go for the tone of The Lord of the Rings overall. It’s still a middle film in Middle-Earth, with no real event to conclude it, but I still enjoy it thoroughly.

24: Live Another Day – 10.00pm – 11.00am


Before it all went south…

As endings go, this wasn’t a bad one, and it made for the best, most consistent and most convincing episode of the entire series. Perhaps that’s not surprising: only 43 minutes or so of screen time to resolve all the set-ups doesn’t leave much space for any idiocy, though this being 24, it couldn’t completely avoid a trip to the land of the implausible contrivance on the way.

You’ll also notice that this was a thirteen hour long episode crammed into one hour. It’s been rumoured all along that there would be a twelve hour leap, just to square the circle of 12 not being 24, no matter you push, poke, prod or stretch it. The leap came fifteen minutes from the end, cutting out twelve hours at a stroke and leaving enough time for loose ends to be tied off into a presentable bundle and the cast to get the hell out, leaving the vast majority of its audience already assuming there’s going to be a Season 10, and suggesting that this time they should maybe go for 18 episodes…

Well, I don’t think they’ll do that, or if they do it would be a completely different show that maybe ought not to be named 24. Actually, as you’ll have guessed, I don’t think they should do it anyway: this one was way too risible for far too long for the prospect of extending the idea yet again.

So: when we left at 10.00pm last episode, the Chinese Government was steaming towards Okinawa at a rate of considerable knots, ready to start a world war with non-optional nuclear weaponry, Jack and Kate were charged with grabbing Cheng Tzi to prove he was the culprit, and Cheng had Audrey trapped in a park under the gaze of a sniper instructed to kill her if she moved. Oh, and Chloe had woken up from her helter-skelter trip down the wooded verge of the road to Southampton Dock.

Audrey’s plight was not just a pointless piece of malice but rather a lock to stop Jack tracking Cheng. Needless to say, Jack was all set to go rescue Audrey, but since he was better suited to bloody-vengeance-wreaking, Kate volunteered for that job, whilst Jack completed a record-breaking trip to Southampton, including stopping off to pick up Chloe en route. And even then, the faithful Belcheck beat him there.

Chloe’s out for redemption herself, after having been manipulated into this by the egregious and now late Adrian. She needs to make it up to Jack: she is, after all, his only friend. Jack reassures her that she has no guilt to bear, that she has to let it all go.

Whilst Kate completes a perfect secret rescue, killing the sniper, Jack and his buddy invade the Russian ship that will shortly remove Cheng from the jurisdiction, guided by Chloe who’s set up Comms to track heat patterns like some online multiplayer kill-or-be-killed game.

The Chinese fleet approaches the ‘Of course you realise, this means War!’ perimeter with President ‘Hawk’ Wei still believing that ‘Dove’ Heller has gone out of his mind and actually provoked this situation.

And a second sniper appears out of the long grass, shooting a couple of Kate’s team before driving off unscathed. Unfortunately, he has not just shot CIA agents, he’s shot Audrey. Fatally. The President’s daughter dies on a park bench, with a panicky Kate trying to apply ineffectual emergency medical treatment, and for the first time inside an episode, the digital clock ticks to an ad-break in silence, the traditional 24 rite that honours the passing of someone important.

The sensible thing to do is not bother Jack at this particular moment, but Kate, feeling incredibly guilty, has to ring him, in the middle of a gunfight on the Russian ship, to blurt out the bad news. Though Jack has been displaying throughout a zen-like calm as to the raddled destruction of his life and everything in it, this moment comes close to breaking him. Collapsing like a stringless puppet, he pulls his handgun from its holster, as if about to end things. Instead, the light of vengeance replaces it and he swings into one final, fast, brutal and comprehensive orgy of violence, killing everyone except Cheng.

Cheng tries to kung fu him, Jack simply smashes his head in against a locker and, after a few dozen satisfyingly vicious punches to the head, he gets on the phone to CIA HQ to demonstrate that Cheng is bloody but alive and have him confess his name. Luckily, that file is enough for Wei to give way (ouch), because the moment the tape is switched off, Jack snatches up the kind of samurai sword that you always find hanging up on Russian ships (oi!) and parts Cheng’s hair at the neck.

So: nuclear war averted, but Audrey dead. In the midst of rejoicing at the former, Heller’s deputy chief of staff broaches the latter, to the President’s genial disbelief, only for Heller to collapse when the news is finally taken in.

Back to the dock: Chloe’s been quiet for some time, and in fact she’s missing, after the kind of struggle that leaves behind a few bright spots of freshly laundered blood. Almost instantly, a mysterious call on Jack’s mobile has him going all stony-faced and agreeing to a meet with the unidentified caller. Is this?

We leap into daylight. At the CIA, Eric tries to reassure Kate that Audrey’s death is not her fault: nevertheless Kate hands in her ID and gun and leaves. Meanwhile, Eric releases Mark Boudreau into the custody of the Agents who will escort him back to America for his trial for treason. Audrey’s flag-draped coffin is prepared for boarding Air Force One and, in a final, and genuinely poignant conversation with Stephen Fry, Heller recollects a day before flying to England when he spent twenty minutes staring at the photo of a beautiful woman on hisdesk, wondering who she was: it was Audrey.

Before long, he will not remember this day, will not remember his daughter’s horrible death, will not remember anything. It’s something of a corny manner but, no matter the crappy material he’s been given, William DeVane is a very good actor, and he sells it right.

Last though is Jack, driving to a demolition site under armed guard, to meet a sleek, black helicopter. The mystery of Chloe’s kidnappers was moot, and it was far too short a real time for concern: it is the Russians, and it’s a simple handover, Chloe for Jack. She tells him he doesn’t have to go through with it, but Jack reminds her of what she said: Chloe is his best friend. He is on his way to Moscow. There is no remotely plausible way he’s coming back. As Belcheck spirits Chloe away, the helicopter rises. The clock ticks down to 11.00am. As with Audrey, the tick is silent.

It’s over. I really haven’t enjoyed this series, apart from taking the rough piss out of it, and I maintain that it was a stupid idea to have made it, but if it were done, then to have sealed off the ending of Jack Bauer so firmly was its truest and most real step. Jack cannot return without burdening another series with a weight of fatuity that simply cannot be shifted. So let’s thank Keifer Sutherland for the good seasons, and tactfully draw a veil across the shit ones.

That said, many have suggested, from quite early on, that 24 could be preserved by relaunching it with a new lead, and why not Kate Morgan? It’s a perfectly plausible scenario, though I have my douts as to exactly what proportion of what has to be a strongly masculine and right-wing oriented audience would really take to a female lead, especiaaly when she starts going kill-crazy in the Jack fashion. Such as sticking a knife in someone’s chest, holding him up by it and walking him backwards a a human shield whilst you shoot anything that moves. Can an audience watch an attractive and sexy blonde woman do that sort of thing with the same equanimity they do with a bloke?

But if they do bring this series back with a new lead, I’d counsel a change of name. I think 24 has become too wedded to Jack Bauer, for good or bad. Keifer Sutherland would be too big a ghost to exorcise.

Anyway, not my problem. My task is done. I hope you’ve had fun following this series.

Goodnight.

24: Live Another Day – 7.00 – 8.00pm


A spoiler?

Sigh.

Ater last week’s dramatic drone attack on Wembley, there were plenty of people on-line convinced that Heller wasn’t dead: that Chloe had doctored the feed, fed in a cloned loop and that Jack had spirited the President away from the centre spot in the nick of time. I hoped they were wrong. I’d rather admired Heller’s quiet dignity in going to his death and this kind of convoluted, oh so clever trickery was, in dramatic terms, flat and banal. Needless to say, the internet got it right, despite 24‘s usual trick of leaving William DeVane’s credit out of the opening titles.

At first, it looked like a success: everyone hung around in mourning, Stephen Fry paid tribute to the late President (I’m sorry, I cannot give credence to Stephen Fry as anyone except Stephen Fry, which is why he just doesn’t work as Prime Minister Alistair thingy), Audrey refused to be consoled by Creepy Mark and, most importantly, things started crashing into the sea off Dover. Yes, Mama Terrorist Margot was keeping her side of the bargain, despite Smartarse son Ian’s fanatical reservations. Five down, one to go, until Smartarse sussed out the trick. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so the wrathful Mama Margot sent the last drone to bomb Waterloo Station, where people were desperately trying to get out of London in the wake of the Wembley bomb.

Fair enough, thinks I, at least it’ll get Sky’s poisonous Kay Burley, who’s down there lending her own special branch of ignorance to the scene.

But we are failing to take into account Jack Bauer. Browbeating the still pub-bound Chloe into tracking Mama Margot to an otherwise deserted office block in Hackney, Jack calls in the Cavalry in the form of Barbie Doll Kate and the much-chastened Eric (plus an entire truck of guys with tommy guns) to clean out the guards whilst Jack inflitrates from the roof, climbinmg down the outside of the building on a makeshift rope of cables. Envisaging his making the traditional dramatic entrance, shattering glass as heswings into the room, I could think of nothing more than the legendary Stan Freberg in ‘The Banana Boat Song (Day-Oh)’ and that lovely line ‘I come through the window’.

However, Smartarse Ian, having shot the windows to buggery on sight, makes the mistake of leaning out, whereupon Jack grabs his hand and hauls him out for the fall (fifth floor). Time being tight, he shoots Mama Margot through the shoulder and, with the Waterloo bound missile already in flight, uses the override machine to divery it into a nearby lake at the literal last second.

Then, with Mama Margot screaming at him about all the deaths today that have been at his hands, he wraps up the plot by throwung her out the window too! Eight and a half hours, a new World Record!

But this show is called 24 (and there’s something like a twelve hour leap between episodes scheduled yet), so there’s time to kill (heh heh, poor choice of words there, sorry). This is not, however, to be three and a half hours of mopping up operations, do not fear, action lovers. First there is a suspiciously timely call to Barbie Kate from her Police contact, who’s just found the body of the late Jordan Reed, plus dead assailant, over in Camden.

Consternation spreads. She and Eric head over there where the total lack of any identification on the killer makes them suspect a Pro (and what was Jordan doing in Camden anyway?). Jack, who is securing the override device to bring in to CIA, suspects a connection to the now obliterated El-Harasi family (incidentally, the late Mahmoud, in whose name dear Mama has been working, turns out to have been only a second husband, stepfather only to Smartarse and Baby, in case anyone had been worrying about their genetic purity). And Mole Steve Navarro is shitting bricks over his eventual exposure.

Monotonous Adrian offers him a way out: escape, money, safety, on condition Navarro brings him the override device. This means getting it off Jack, not to mention out of lockdown in a secure CIA facility with the DoD already there to remove it for analysis. Navarro is sweating, knowing that Jack’s back-channel detection of the dead Pro’s fingerprints is going to lead to him. So what ingenious plan does he deploy? In a glass-panelled office, under the view of staff starting to look at him strangely because he’s being a bit wierd over Jordan’s death, he knocks out the DoD man with a sleeper hold, stuffs the override device into a holdall and – Station Chief that he is amd constantly in emand – walks unnoticed out of a back door. A back door in a secure, lockdown room. A back door in a secure, lockdown room that leads to deserted corridors, the basement and a fire exit (with no apparent security) into the back streets.

There are people who are taking this show seriously, who think it’s actually exciting.

Jack, of course, is hot on his heels, but just not quite hot enough. He was decoyed out of the way by a phonecall from Audrey, thanking him for saving her pa. There is an old flame seriously a-kindling there, possibly timely since Chloe, who has gotten out of that pub unmolested, after about three hours saving the world without apparently drinking even half a shandy, has finally brushed him off. Jack wants her to come in to CIA HQ to analyse the override device (a magical weapon, it transpires, that can override anything military, not just drones): that’s CIA HQ where, nine hours ago remember, Chloe was being tortured. No, Chloe’s done her bit and she’s not doing any more. Chloe’s going back to Monotnous Adrian.

Who, as the clock ticks, is driving her to Finsbury Square, to meet the runaway Steve Navarro…

Before we go, let us not forget (since the split screen reminds us in timely manner), that the President’s Lazarus-like reappearance spells all sorts of shit for Creepy Mark, in the shape of a forged Executive Order handing the now pardoned Bauer over to the Russkie’s.

And let us also not forget, since the scripters obviously have, that James Heller is no longer President of the United States of America: he resigned the post as of 7.00pm this evening. It will be interesting to see if anyone remembers that little wrinkle…

24: Live Another Day – 4.00 – 5.00pm


Jack Bauer-ette

Out of curiosity, last week, I did a bit of searching online about what others think of this unimpressive appendage to 24, discovering to my surprise that not only do they think that this is actually good, but they’re seriously comparing Live Another Day to some of the better series of the show.

Frankly, I find that unbelievable, but after watching episode 6 – which is the halfway point, remember, inflation having done a serious number of the concept of the show – I’m forced to concede that there were elements of this episode that actually deserved to be taken seriously.

As universally predicted, Jack gets released to chase down the only lead under the sun to the ever-more ludicrous Margot Al-Hazari, Terrorist Without A Cause. Said lead is an arms dealer who does jobs for Mama Terrorist but who can’t be bought or broken, so is only vulnerable to an approach by Jack, for which Jack wants a sidekick: Barbie Doll Kate (didn’t see that coming, no sir). Jack’s Cunning Plan is to sell Kate to Rasp the Arms Dealer as cover for dropping a virus into Rasp’s systems that will allow Chloe – who is being absolutely wasted (as well as looking absolutely wasted) just sitting on the phone and twiddling her computers – to get the vital info. Kate being Kate, she goes into it headlong.

There’s just one problem with Jack’s scheme which can be summed up in just two words: Stephen Fry.

Now I’m not amongst that great majority in these islands that thinks Mr Fry to be a National Treasure (I’d rather he was buried than dug up) but his presence as British Prime Minister to date has been made tolerable by his not getting more than about three lines per episode. Here, he gets rather more than that, though as he’s not playing the PM as Stephen Fry, thankfully. But, whereas Jack has bargained a completely surveillance-free mission from Heller, the idiot Brits surveil him like nobody’s business, decide he’s really double-crossing the Yanks, and send in MI5 and the Cavalry at exactly the wrong moment: cue chaos, lots of bullets, Rasp killing himself with a grenade, but at least Barbie demonstrates her worth by killing the guy torturing her with nothing more than a well-toned pair of thighs locked fround his neck.

But the bug is in the system, so phew, lumme.

Elsewhere, Mama Margot continues to demonstrate that she’s got more balls than the World Cup, by sending dutiful Baby Terrorist, fresh from having seen Feak and Weeble Navid carried out of the plot, to deal with Navid’s sister, Farah, who has been told to get out of London. Simone, sweating somewhat through the heavy leather gloves she’s wearing to hide the fact that she’s no longer as dactyl as the rest of us, reports the obvious: that Farah (and her angelicly winsome daughter) know fuck all, but better safe than sorry, and besides someone’s got to be slaughtered every hour or we’d lose confidence in Mama Margot the Terrorist.

So Simone goes to tea with her unsuspecting relatives. But no sooner does she pull out her flick-knife than, in a moment of weakness, she tells Farah to run, get out of London. But she immediately dives for the phone to call the Police, causing Baby Terrorist to struggle with her and accidentally impale the woman just under the left breast.

Which leads to a ridiculous chase as the eight year old kids rushes from the house, screaming blue murder, with Simone in hot pursuit and a have-a-go neighbour in equally hot pursuit. I say ridiculous, because not only does the eight year old easily keep ahead of a fully grown, long-legged and very fit young woman but, when the kid hits London traffic two streets over, she weaves through it unharmed, whilst Simone gets clouted head on by a bus. Oy vey!

If it weren’t for Jack’s mission, I’d be just as scathing about this series as I’ve been so far, but it at least showed a greater dimension than earlier episodes. Otherwise, we get two side-developments that are there to set up later elements in this truncated story.

First, Creepy Chief of Staff Mark has his own private conversation with Jack about Audrey, as a result of which he fends off the Russians over the Executive Order that hands Bauer off to them. Unsurprisingly, they want a conversation with President Heller about why he’s rescinded it, which will prove awkward for Mr Boudreau, given that he forged the President’s signature to it.

Then Jordan, the analyst who fancies Barbie Doll, brings up yet again Kate’s inability to spot her husband was a Russian spy. It’s not our weekly reminder – Kate herself has already undertaken the ritual for the hard of thinking – because Jordan, in the middle of this all-consuming crisis, has investigated Kate’s computer and discovered that records relating to the late Mister M have been deleted. And despite Boss Navarro telling him to leave it until this drone-thing is done, Jordan runs a background recovery programme.

Do we have a mole? We have a Mole! We might not have a CTU still, but the glorious tradition persists. And, from the very dodgy phone-call he makes to alert an electronically disguised voice, our mole is none other than… big bossman, Steve Navarro! Oooooh.

So. It’s already halfway done, but 24 is actually starting to look a bit interesting (probably it will really hit its stride round about episode 13… no, wait). Let’s see if it continues this improvement in hour 7.

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Uncollected Thoughts


Continued from last year…

Firstly, let me say to those who are depressed or disgusted at Peter Jackson turning the slight, childish The Hobbit into three very long films whose style and tone do not reflect exactly this children’s book, and which contain material not appearing in the book but instead expand upon matters only referred to obliquely by Tolkien (or in the case of Evangeline Lilly’s female elf-warrior, Tauriel, woven out of whole cloth: don’t bother going any further. You won’t agree with a word I say.

I loved the Lord of the Rings films. I did not find them faultless, especially not the middle film, The Two Towers, where I still take great issue with the changes made to the story, but overall, having due regard to the source and considering the requirements of translating books into film, I regard them as superb. Having been reading the book for nearly thirty years beforehand, I could not imagine it being possible to film it successfully.

So I’m already ok with a Hobbit trilogy that takes its cue from the LOTR films, and which – since its story is a precursor to the events of Lord of the Rings – decides not to undercut its illustrious predecessor by turning its world into a hobbit-romp with silly songs. Since the two stories are inextricably linked by Tolkien’s own decision to inextricably link, how the hell else are you going to tell the stories?

I read Lord of the Rings first. I wanted to read The Hobbit for more of the same, without knowing anything in advance of its true nature, and I was awfully disappointed. Peter Jackson’s films are far more what I expected in January 1974.

So: what of Part 2?

I have been firmly instructed not to give anything away to anyone about The Desolation of Smaug at our Christmas meal tomorrow night, so I will restrict comments then to two words: ‘Oh’ and ‘Wow’.

I thoroughly enjoyed An Unexpected Journey last December, and disagreed with those who found it bloated, but I can understand the criticism now. TDOS moves at a rapid pace, from scene to scene, without ever lingering too long in any one moment. In that sense, it’s like The Fellowship of the Ring, in keeping to the spine of Tolkien’s story, but compressing everything into a more continual period of time.

The film starts, slightly disconcertingly, in flashback, in, of all places, Bree (in the pouring rain). Thorin Oakenshield, pursuing vain rumours that his father has been seen in the wilds, seeks shelter for the night, only to meet Gandalf the Grey. Nor is the meeting by chance: Gandalf is concerned about the North, about the need to shore up Middle Earth’s defences in that quarter. Which means that the Dwarves must re-take the Lonely Mountain and dispose of the Dragon…

From here, we go into the pell mell of the film. There’s no disguising that structurally it is not a distinct story, with a shape and purpose of its own, not even to the extent of The Two Towers. It begins with Bilbo and the Dwarves still in flight from Azog’s Orcs (and even though Azog himself is summonsed off the trail by his master, the Necromancer, the chase goes on, a constant driver of the action, with his lieutenant, Bolg, now in command), and it ends on a cliffhanger, Jackson having opted for that type of ending in the absence of something climactic in the book that does not leave him entirely to close to the end.

It’s all action, all motion all the way between, though the pace does slow somewhat during the time the Dwarves are endungeoned in the Wood-elves’ kingdom, where Tauriel, after being introduced as a doughty fighter, is superficially depicted as a romantic interest: remotely by Thranduil, who forbids her to give his son any hope of love with her, and directly by the young dwarf Kili. Despite reactions of disgust at the idea of a love story being welded into the plot, it’s actually handled quite well. There are no declarations, no snogging and only the very briefest brushing of fingers.

Mostly Tauriel fights, and she’s not only bloody good at it, she looks bloody good at it (always did like Evangeline Lilley on Lost).

The king’s son? Did I not mention his name? Of course it’s Legolas, and where Andy Serkis memorably recreated Gollum this time last year, Orlando Bloom is hurling himself about athletically for a good half the length on the film

The two long scenes are the Dwarves’ escape from the elves, which instead of being comic and bucolic is instead a fight, with the Orc band trying to kill the Dwarves, the Elves trying to recapture them and everybody killing Orcs, and the clash between the Dwarves and Smaug, the Dragon, inside the Lonely Mountain which is the effective climax to the film, and which is bloody brilliant and does not feel in the least overdone or extended. I mean, this is a Dragon, for Iluvatar’s sake, you don’t just hit it with half a brick and it falls over. You need at least half a mountain, and still he’s coming at you.

Whilst the events of this section of Tolkien’s original are followed in strict order, every scene is re-imagined with a dramatic viewpoint. The spine is there, and the essential marks are hit, again in the order of the original, but there is a greater firmness and intensity to each and every moment. This is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings and much is, quite correctly, made of the gathering storm that is to follow.

This is emphasised by the parallel story of Gandalf, leaving the Dwarves on the edge of Mirkwood, as he does in the book. This time, he doesn’t just vanish off-screen, to reappear much later: something in the atmosphere of Mirkwood, and in mental communication with the Lady Galadriel, sends him on a mission to the North, to the Tomb.

This was a moment of some confusion at first for me: Tomb? Whose Tomb? They can’t surely be about to blow it by suggesting Sauron has a Tomb, can they? No, Jackson hasn’t been utterly inconsistent. The Tomb is dark, forbidding, dangerous to access, but what it held is gone, breaking out of barred cells. There are Nine…

Sylveste McCoy reprises Radaghast in an entirely humour-free cameo, before he is sent to Lothlorien, to Galadriel. Gandalf goes alone into Dol Gulder, to confront the Necromancer – a stunningly effective concoction of rushing CGI shadows – and to identify him, as long ago he did offstage, between books in fact, as Sauron.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s brilliant use of material that Tolkien ‘lost’ in the Appendices and it provides an echo of The Twin Towers by giving us a parallel tale to the main story.

As with An Unexpected Journey, I watched the film in 3D, which was again highly effective after the initial unreality of the effect. The film makes very skilful use of it in terms of elf-arrows, which zing around from every point of the compass, but the two moments that stuck in my mind came fairly early on. There’s a bucolic scene in Beorn’s house where fat bumble bees buzz around, slow and contented: I don’t get on with bees and wasps and I damned well didn’t need an absolutely massive bumble bee flying out if the screen and into my face, thank you very much.

The same goes for the Spiders of Mirkwood. There’s a moment in The Return of the King that I can’t watch. It’s where Shelob comes hurtling into the centre of the screen, straight at you. No matter how hard I try, how rational I am about it being only a film, only CGI, I cannot watch it: my eyes slam shut every time. And that was in 2D: the Mirkwood spiders might not be in Shelob’s class but when they’re coming out of the screen into your face they don’t need to be.

So yes, I loved this. I thought it was bloody brilliant, from start to finish and I had no idea of the time passing whilst I had my eyes on the screen. Which, through both glasses AND 3D glasses, is no mean absorption. It’s main flaw? The twelve months to go between tonight and part 3: There and Back Again.

And if Peter Jackson does want to mine some more material from the hidden years in between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, if it’s this involving, he has my permission to get right on with it.

To be continued in December 2014…