…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “Peter Jackson

LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring


While watching  Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring on the big screen, my friends, as you, realize that I have never seen it until now. Yeah, it’s really sad.

Movies with people with long hair look more dated than movies with people with short hair. This is the conclusion I got from looking at Frodo Baggins’ (Elijah Wood) hair. But I don’t say the word dated as an insult and other elements in the movie that give it that vintage-y vibe. The colors here are deeper as opposed to saturated or drained. The CGI, which is unfortunately becoming director Peter Jackson‘s signature as of late, is almost absent if not beautifully seamless.

And yes, I’m surprised at how Peter Jackson-y this movie is, having fewer similarities with King Kong and more with his earlier and raw work like Heavenly Creatures. He takes shots of Frodo and other characters in a voyeuristic way through windows or  through uncomfortable arm’s-length distances. It’s also close-up heavy, like that of Gandalf the Grey’s (Ian McKellen) who makes us feel like he’s larger than life. Jackson also gives that sense of urgency, telling Frodo, and us the audience, about strange lands from which Hobbits are supposed to stay away. In the same vein, tracking shots and zoom outs, like the one when Gandalf visits Saruman (Christopher Lee), have just enough wobble to let its audience know that a human being is behind the camera.

After a prologue, this trilogy starts with peace, showing the Hobbits living within the greenery of the Shire. Short shot lengths follow the unnamed citizenry of Hobbiton, their images accompanied by the bucolic music. The Hobbits seem immortal and magical but they’re more relatable because their lives aren’t as busy as the other races living miles away. The movie is more famous for its fantasy and its battle scenes, but this beginning shows how the hobbits are beautifully oblivious towards what could be lost. The same short cuts are employed when other races disturb the peace, as Jackson introduces the black riders. His camera bordering on sadomasochistic fetishism as he closes up on their hooded heads and horses’ hooves or mouths – i.e. they might be scary but those armored gloves look shiny and intricate. And when the Uruk-hai assemble their army, the Orcs’ faces crying out for battle.

The same rapid cuts are used when Arwen (Liv Tyler), a female elf, rescues Frodo, a male, and says something in Elvish to wash the black riders away. I mention the genders to obviously point out how the scene subverts expectations towards them. The only other thing I can say about that is that it reminds me of how these horses are weapon as they were used in historical crusades, the riders evoking evil Conquistadors while Arwen rides on with her virtuous looking white horse. It’s an intensely badass scene, transitioning into one of two hallucinatory hazes, the first one involving Frodo convalesces in Rivendell, as he sees other elves comforting him. These white flashes strangely fit into the movie itself.

Ok I lied. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Fellowship, having seen glimpses of it when Teletoon was constantly playing this movie. They go to Mount Doom via the Mines of Moria where the titular fellowship made up of men of random races fight the Orcs. Gandalf and a Balrog have a death match culminating into Gandalf saying ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!,’ that seminal moment in gay history. Gandalf’s loss is one of two blows against the fellowship, but I held back my tears because rangers from the noble race of Men like Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean) are on the screen. I had this irrational feeling that if I did cry, those men would have jumped off the screen and made fun of me for being such a wuss. Which says a lot about how it handles that event, these characters gaining control despite Gandalf’s absence.

The rest of this leg of the epic journey is pretty masculine with the well representation of Aragorn and Boromir, but it’s  masculine in a valiant and not in a constricting way. The movie also questions that aspect of themselves, with Aragron’s self loathing doubts and Boromir’s close calls with temptation. It’s a great story about clashes and friendship set in the most luscious of fantasy worlds.

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Shots of Fantasy: Heavenly Creatures


ph. Miramax

This post is for Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.

The second time I saw Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures was on the big screen, brought by CINSSU in the winter of 2008. Peter Kuplowsky introduced it, saying that this movie never gets shown in its proper format and getting it on 35 and screening it will do the film justice. Which makes my best shot above gloriously majestic. Peter Jackson doesn’t need to go the extra mile to show the girls’ fantasy world. This shot, instead, is all about inclusion, Jackson including Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline Yvonne (Melanie Lynskey), making them as small as the unicorns on the right hand side. They’re immersed into the fantasy instead of being its voyeur, legitimizing the [ETA] Fourth World’s tangibility.

It’s a self-imposed challenge that if I haven’t written about the movie on my blog, I have to rewatch it. By 7:06 PM of the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, I would have seen this movie a whopping four times. On Facebook, Chris D. Mischs called it an ‘ugly’ movie. This is the first time I have heard the movie being called that, and it let me cloud my mind. But I guess it’s a marvel that it took that fourth time for me to see its flaws, like the pans or zooms ending with either Juliet or Paul of them turning around to face the camera that makes the film less naturalistic. Or when Juliet exclaims ‘That’s great!’ while finding out that Pauline can break into the latter’s dad’s safe for their fare money. Which leads us to how this movie is about two hormonal teenagers who act without hesitation, and the queer politics involving them and their crime.

the Kurosawa shot

I did see positive aspects of the film. Its cinematic references, despite the obvious one from The Third Man to the subtle homages to Throne of Blood and the Sound of Music. How Winslet, although imperfect in this film, can seamlessly switch from one emotion to another. Or that yes, Lynskey and Sarah Peirse look the same but I never realized how much the actress who plays Juliet’s mom looks much like Winslet herself.

My second and third viewings made me assume that Juliet is the dominant person in the relationship, the one with the nice big mansion. Paul hangs on to her every word, subscribing to Juliet’s fantasies and crushes, but she does get to hold the reins too, like when she tells Juliet that her breath smells like onions. Juliet couldn’t have suggested to kill Paul’s mom (Peirse), Paul did. There’s even the moment when Juliet hesitates in the act but Paul looks at her as if to do her part. It’s the same ambivalence when I watched it those second and third times. My focus then was on Paul’s relationship with her mom. The second time, I sided with Mom, the third with Paul.

I first saw this film when I was ten or eleven, airing on a local channel. Winslet became more recognizable worldwide because of Titanic, and for some reason I remember her movies being played a lot back in the Philippines. The opening scene just shocked me. Kate wasn’t just the girl in Titanic, she was an actress.

I can’t remember any other time I’ve felt that in between then and now. I guess that means I’m easy to impress, put a little blood and screaming and I’m captivated. I’ve noticed that except for two movies, she’s always made great entrances. Whether she adds scenes that top the first one or not, I’d still remember how her character is introduced and rely on either the pathos or enthusiasm there. And good God can the girl cry.

How did this movie slip through the cracks of the Philippine censorship board? Back then I thought that everything in Hollywood spoon-fed me was great, but movies like this gave me a new criterion for what makes a great film, a criterion that I stood by until my second year in University – the more fucked up a movie is, the better. Which is obviously reductive, since I needed the few more viewing to appreciate its cinematography, pacing, acting and all of that.

It also felt rebellious as a boy who has yet to discover his sexuality to have seen two characters who cross the line without blatantly calling themselves that. I distinctly implanted the close-up of the psychiatrist’s teeth as he diagnoses Juliet and Paul with the condemning word ‘homosexuality,’ and back then I defended them as not homosexuals because I thought their intense and pure friendship shouldn’t bear that denigrating title, which reflects my innocence or ignorance on the subject itself and that they weren’t homosexuals because they didn’t look the part.

On Ingrid Randoja’s seminar last year because I’m so cool, she noted this as one of canonical lesbian films in the gay 90’s. This and the one with Jennifer Tilly where she and her girlfriend kills someone too. Which again subverts my recent reading that it’s one of those ‘gays who KILL’ movies. I still don’t know how to feel about a movie that packages a stereotype differently. Despite the little flaws that I see now, watching this film is like the girls seeing the Fourth World. It’s something radical and I hope it’s not too much to thank Jackson and the actors for making a movie that shook my world.


Peter Jackson’s King Kong


Should I save my erudition for the time that the original King Kong and I will intersect again? Will the things I’ll be talking about here redundant with what I’ll be writing about in the original film? Should I be totally snarky for this post? Do you want to see Adrien Brody body check a dinosaur? To all those things, maybe. Every economical moment in the independently produced (an indie film before Cassavetes? I know, right) original film is expanded in Peter Jackson’s remake, whether that’s a good thing or not.

ph. Universal

A fanatical 1930’s film director Carl Denham (Jack Black) and his film crew sail towards the South Pacific without telling all his crew that they’re looking for Skull Island, bearing a name that no Draper Daniels advertising should attract. Skull Island is exoticism manifested in cinema in the most stereotypical yet self-aware ways. When they actually get there they check off Stefon’s list – savages with ‘tribal’ body make up (there’s no way that their skin color is natural. It’s like the white native kid in “Giligan’s Island.”), King Kong (Andy Serkis), dinosaurs and giant insects. There are a lot of forested valleys sheltering at least the animals in this film, making me wonder why a place with this many inhabitants is as small as an island and hasn’t been officially mapped yet. But then I’m not a geographer. And of course, the two boat crew who will gather footage/rescue Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) will go through a process of elimination, the bit players eventually getting killed off.

I might also save my veneration of Watts for my inevitable by undrafted post on Mulholland Drive, so I’ll keep to talking about her presence in the film. I’ve seen this movie at least twice now, and her story is the one I remember instead of Fay Wray’s rendition of the same role. Unlike the modelesque or Manic Pixie Dream Girls today, he slightly button nose and small but thick lips make her look like a 1930’s beauty, elastic both to that decade’s glamour and poverty. Despite looking like a Ziegfeld/Busby girl, her more refined voice mixing in with her vaudeville colleagues make me think of what Katharine Hepburn’s character in Stage Door would have been like had the film shown her story for a longer time period.

One of the points of this film is to watch if she can scream like Fay Wray, but there’s a physical aspect to her role. Ann’s first steps towards the ship on the Big Apple’s docks look very much like a brave decision, being the first of many daring jumps she makes when she traverses through Skull Island’s dangerous terrain. She instinctively entertains Kong through the same flips and juggles that she performs on the New York the-a-ters. Who knew that vaudeville had practical uses? Running out of tricks, she eventually tells him ‘no,’ a simple word that she layers with defiance, crying out for Kong’s respect.

Most of the mythology within the original King Kong deal with ‘humanizing’ the eponymous animal. Yes, the first close-up we see of Kong shows a wound on the right side of his face, showing his vulnerability, but this remake enhances his ‘humanity’ as he learns it from Ann. He lets her live. He gets captured and chained, allegory of America’s history within Atlantic slavery, overreading of Kong’s provenance from the South Pacific as locus of post World War I American imperialism, yadda yadda yadda.

As he terrorizes New York, he grabs any blonde he sees as if obsessed by it  but is able to differentiate between those paler examples to Ann than with the real thing. And since I’m running low on my word count, I’ll overread that the platonic union is Ann the oppressed woman and Kong, oppressed because he’s ‘different.’ She also teaches him another word, ‘beautiful,’ referring among things to her, to Skull Island, to the sunrise. Teaching Kong ‘humanity’ isn’t just about boundaries between persons as it is teaching him to appreciate what one experiences with others.

The movie’s fictional world also shows theatre, film and freak show as interchangeable, that there are no hierarchies between the three. The first sequence shows stages with diverse of stage acts in a city that is discovering ways to entertain itself. The film also shows these acts constantly change and the actors leaving one job for another only to find that next opportunity closed, just as what happens to Ann. New York’s players and playwrights have to move from one thing to another to survive. We’ve already seen Ann’s transformation, but playwright Carl practically kidnaps Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and both have to go along and keep writing and creating along the ride.

Later in the film, Carl’s blockbuster show plays blocks away from Jack’s replaceable comedy which is down the street from Ann’s dance revue. The more strange part about Carl’s show is the audience, paying an admission ticket only to be repulsed, decked out in furs as if watching Eugene O’Neill or a Balanchine. I shouldn’t have underestimated Skull Island earlier, since Manhattan Island itself has a lot to offer. And yes, the dangers within both islands are like oranges and stolen apples.

Gotham does have its advantage. Robert Osborne remarks that Kong’s size changes throughout the original. I can never train my eyes to detect those discrepancies, but I’m sure that Jackson makes his size more consistent in his remake. Being the big man on Skull Island, he’s dwarfed by the Empire State Building, a mammoth he has to climb and will unfortunately get him cornered.