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Midweek movie news

You’d think Jewish New Year and Labor Day coming so close together would slow down the pace of movie news a little, but leisure is for suckers and Yahweh is just another bit player in this hard luck town.

* The talk of the geek-o-sphere for some time is going to be the announcement of a massive and potentially trendsetting film/television cross-over adaptation of Stephen King’s multi-volume “The Dark Tower” mega-epic. Universal, which has had some very tough times lately, is taking what I’m guessing could be a make-it-or-break-it gamble on the project, the news of which was broken by Mike Fleming earlier.  I’m not a King reader, but I am intrigued by the fact that it’s a western-science fiction-horror cross-breed. In any case apparently the plan is to start with a movie, go to a 22 episode not-so-mini-series, and then onto another movie, another series, then wrapping it all up with movie. The idea being to provide fans with both the grandeur of theatrical films and the detail and time of a television series.

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It’s intriguing but laden with potential pitfalls. One is that it demands an awful lot of time and people who aren’t following the series may feel shut out of the latter two movies. The other is that, quite frankly, I feel the “A Dangerous Mind” creative team of director Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman — who I gather will be writing and directing the first two films and the entire first series at least, which could be some kind of record if that’s what’s really going to happen — simply haven’t indicated they’re up to this kind of material. I hate to say it but winning Oscars can be negative indicator sometimes.

It’s not that I doubt their ability to crank it all out. Howard is obviously a very competent director who knows how to make highly professional material and I have tremendous respect for him as an individual and one of the more positive forces in Big Moviedom. However, he’s always shown a tendency to play it safe and often a bit dull when the chips are really down creatively as a director and none of Goldsman’s movies have been all that inspiring to me either. All I’m saying is that I had a good feeling about Peter Jackson taking on “The Lord of the Rings” and I have a bad feeling about it, though I’d seriously love to be wrong.  Something tells me this project needs a real lunatic and Ron Howard is one of the sanest guys in show business. Huge King fan Quint at AICN has similar misgivings. He has a more riding on this than I.

* Simon Abrams is right re: “Kick-Ass” doing a lot better than people assumed. Even though I cover the weekend grosses here, we all make way too much of those openings and fail to look at the overall picture. Calling a movie a bomb that makes nearly half its budget in its opening weekend is just idiotic anyhow. The actual success of the film may have figured in the ongoing financial struggles between Lionsgate and Carl Icahn.

Aaron Johnson is

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“The Hobbit” needs a new director

So, I was trying to get some other stuff done during the long Memorial Day weekend and thinking I could take a break from constantly monitoring the news as surely nothing earth shattering would happen in the movie world over the three days. However, all it took was one quick look to find I was late to learn of the geek movie bombshell of all time, or at least this month.

Via Mike Fleming and Anne Thompson comes the following: it seems that MGM’s serious fiscal troubles have delayed things as long as cowriter-director Guillermo del Toro’s insanely busy career can stand. Therefore, despite the huge amount of preparation that’s already been done, he is stepping aside as director of the two-planned films of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” the “Lord of the Rings” follow-up inspired by the children’s novel that preceded the literary LOTR, later turned into the glorious three part epic directed by Peter Jackson.  Del Toro will, however, continue working on the screenplays for the upcoming films.

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Del Toro — one of my favorite filmmakers now working and, by all accounts and signs, a real stand-up guy — gave the bad news, alongside Peter Jackson, to those who care most, the devoted fans of the late author J.R.R. Tolkien, at theonering.net. It’s definitely being portrayed as the most amicable of semi-partings with both del Toro and Peter Jackson, the LOTR director who’s been overseeing the entire Tolkien project, chiming in. Here’s part of del Toro’s statement:

“After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures. I remain grateful to Peter, [co-writers] Fran [Walsh] and Philippa Boyens, New Line and Warner Brothers and to all my crew in New Zealand. I’ve been privileged to work in one of the greatest countries on earth with some of the best people ever in our craft and my life will be forever changed. The blessings have been plenty…Both as a co-writer and as a director, I wish the production nothing but the very best of luck and I will be first in line to see the finished product.”

Guessing about who the replacement director has already started. Early word is that it likely will not be the obvious choice, Peter Jackson, who it’s safe to say, has done enough for the Tolkien legacy — though Anne Thompson reports he told a New Zealand newspaper he would consider doing it if he had to “to protect Warner Brothers’ investment.” At this point, I’d say so many different things could happen it’s useless to speculate, but that won’t stop anyone.

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Well, maybe this will tide you over, Tolkien-adaptation wise. No, probably not.

I was really hoping to have time for a decent Friday night/end of week movie news dump, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve no time to do one of my usual semi-comprehensive end of week looks at movie news tonight. Fortunately, outside of continuing discussions of how the receipts of “Kick-Ass” will turn out over the weekend, not a huge amount that’s too earth shattering is going on.

However, I do have time for one item that will definitely put a mild damper on the days of hobbit-heads of all shapes and sizes, and aren’t almost all of us at least slightly hobbit-headed. We have word — really more in the nature of a reminder — from none other than producer Peter Jackson that the all-but promised twin film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s unintended prelude to The Lord of the Rings books, The Hobbit, to be directed by Guillermo del Toro aren’t exactly a 100% completely done deal yet, though I’d be beyond shocked if they somehow didn’t happen considering the talent involved and the success of the earlier films.

Nevertheless, the films have not been greenlit and, therefore, no start date has been set. For the same reason, no actual casting has been done. Oh, and by the way, the script was only finished last week. (Well, some movies don’t have a script when shooting starts. Some good ones, too — but not too many that weren’t made by Billy Wilder and none that requires this level of technical preparation.)

Of course, considering everything, doing the films should be a slam dunk but, as previously mentioned in many places the ongoing disaster and ensuing sale of MGM has simply gotten in the way. The Playlist has the details and the, er, gentle reminders to be cool, though most of the actual news is contained in this brief interview with Moviefone.

In the meantime, well, any excuse to run this great musical moment from “Flight of the Chonchords.” How often can you summarize over 10 hours worth of movie in under two minutes, and with such a good collection of beats?

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Blu Tuesday: The Lord of the Rings – The Motion Picture Trilogy

While we all patiently await Guillermo del Toro’s big screen adaptation of “The Hobbit” (currently scheduled to be split into two parts and rumored for a 2011 release date), Warner Bros. has decided to whet our appetites by releasing “The Lord of the Rings” on Blu-ray. It’s certainly been one of the most requested titles since the format first arrived on the scene, but now that it’s finally here, the release has only been mired in controversy. Although a lot of fans have been aggressively vocal about the studio’s decision to only release the theatrical editions at this time (one look at Amazon’s product page shows an average rating of 1.5 stars), the reasoning behind the boycott is absolutely ridiculous.

It’s not as if Warner Bros. is trying to dupe consumers into buying two versions of the movies like they did with the DVDs. In fact, they were kind enough to announce fairly early on that HD versions of the extended cuts would be made available closer to the release of “The Hobbit” in theaters, namely because director Peter Jackson wants to produce all-new bonus material for that set. So why the outrage? Quite simply, because the only thing fanboys know how to do better than overhype a movie is complain about it. Sure, it sucks that fans of the extended editions have to wait so long, but to think that the studio has some kind of secret agenda is pure hogwash. Plus, some people actually prefer the theatrical editions to the overly long extended cuts (myself included), so it’s nice to see that Warner Bros. is offering that option from the get-go. If you don’t like it, too bad.

After all, you don’t hear fans of the theatrical editions complaining about the lack of new bonus material on this set, and that’s actually a more viable argument. You still get all of the special features from the original two-disc DVDs (with the exception of a new video game trailer in place of the old ones), as well as digital copies of each film, although it’s hard to imagine watching “LOTR” on such a tiny screen. It would have been nice if they had included a few new extras with this release, but that shouldn’t really affect whether you buy the trilogy on Blu-ray, because it’s really about the movies themselves, and they look and sound better than ever.

Each film is presented in full 1080p video (and in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio) and boasts a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 lossless audio track with a thunderous bass that won’t disappoint. The picture is also crisp and clean for the most part, although some might notice that “The Fellowship of the Ring” looks a little soft compared to the other two films. That’s likely a result of the way it was filmed as opposed to anything having to do with its transfer to HD, but I’m sure everyone will have their own theories. Still, even with a few minor imperfections, this remains a must-own for any fan of Jackson’s epic trilogy. Those who disapprove of the release can complain all they like, but after seeing just how awesome these movies look on Blu-ray, they’re going to find it pretty hard to resist.

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Blu Tuesday: The Lord of the Rings

Okay, so this doesn’t technically come out until April 6th, but seeing as how I’m already planning to cover a much bigger release that week (hint: it shares the same title), it’s probably as good a time as any to discuss the Blu-ray release of Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 film, “The Lord of the Rings.” Although it once held the honor of being the only cinematic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous text (and hence the reason why it still has its share of supporters), Bakshi’s animated version isn’t even remotely deserving of having the word “classic” appear on the cover.

In fact, there are so many things wrong with this movie that it’s hard to believe anyone actually likes it. The biggest problem is with Bakshi’s decision to incorporate rotoscoped live action footage alongside the traditional cel-shaded animation, because while it might have seemed ambitiously artistic at the time, it comes off looking incredibly hokey. It’s also quite distracting, often making the animation look worse than it really is. Then again, I’ve never really been a fan of Bakshi’s work, so his reputation as an artist is completely lost on me.

Of course, even if you can get past the shoddy animation, Bakshi’s version only encompasses the first two books in the trilogy, abruptly ending after Gandalf saves the day at Isengard with no real concern for the fact that there’s still more story left to tell. Fans eventually did get to see the finale to the animated tale in 1983’s equally disappointing “The Return of the King” (albeit without Bakshi’s involvement), but it doesn’t make its absence in “The Lord of the Rings” any less bewildering. Obviously, it’s easy to criticize the film when the only thing you can compare it to is Peter Jackson’s award-winning trilogy, but how can you not? After all, the only reason people put up with Bakshi’s film in the first place is because it was the only one available. And now that Jackson’s movies are being released on Blu-ray as well, you’d probably be better off just forgetting this edition ever existed. Heck, I just watched it a few hours ago and I already have.

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