Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mockbusted #1: Age Of The Hobbits (aka Clash Of The Empires, aka Lord of the Elves, aka The History of Mankind)

I decided to start a new review series specifically for mockbusters after reviewing Rise of the Black Bat. I'm doing these reviews separately rather than including them under the larger Cinema File banner for two reasons. First, I definitely intend to go back to some older films from years past, and I tend to reserve the Cinema File for more recent releases, and secondly, because in addition to a standard review, I want to focus specifically on the comparison between the original and the imitation. Given my recent rather arch review of Peter Jackson's latest film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I thought it was only fitting to start here, with Age of the Hobbits, an Asylum production (as most of these will be), and apparently the first in the company's history to receive a court ordered injunction due to copyright infringement, resulting in a less mockbustery name change.

The internet already did this for me. Thanks internet!

I know I'm gonna sound like a total contrarian dick for saying this, but I had so much more fun with this movie than I did with The Hobbit, and not in the "so bad it's good" riffing sense either. Don't get me wrong, from a purely production standpoint, in terms of special effects, sets, acting, and so forth, its pretty bad, and doesn't hold a candle to all the stuff Jackson had millions of dollars to make look nice. But when it comes down to the basic story, the thing that doesn't require a big budget to make good, there's no contest, Age of the Hobbits wins easily. This is mostly due to the fact that the stakes are just higher. Instead of an arbitrary journey to reclaim homeland lost long ago taken on by others which a hobbit joins essentially on a whim, here we have the Hobbit clan attacked by Rock Men (this world's version of orcs), with many of their number kidnapped on the eve of a sacrificial full moon, forcing an alliance of tribes to rescue them. I had reason to care about the plight of these characters that kept me engaged, where all the other film had was long drawn out set pieces existing purely as Tolkien porn.

Dragons? And it didn't take three movies to show them?

The traditional magical fantasy setting is here replaced with a jungle epic with what could be taken for lost Amazonian tribes in an uncharted part of the world, and I instantly find them more interesting than the divisions between halfling, dwarf, elf, troll, and so on. The Hobbits are all portrayed by little people, and the first thing most will notice is the often laughably bad dubbing over their voices, but if you can get past that, their society, religious beliefs, and culture have much more depth than anything I saw in the more mainstream film. The Rock Men are basically humans, except for shark like teeth and a taste for human flesh (also poorly dubbed), but again, they are much more threatening than the orcs, mostly because they actually manage to kill several of our main characters, which I suddenly realize never actually happened in Jackson's film. All of the dangers in this film just seem to have more bite (no cannibalism pun intended), even if the special effects can't depict them as well. We've got venomous lizard monsters, giant spiders, and even an army of dragons. Those last two examples were actually my favorite aspects of the original Hobbit story, and because Jackson saw fit to pointlessly expand his movie into three films, I didn't get either of them there, but I got them here.

So much hotter than the fleet of rhyming dwarf dudes

Also, the protagonists are far more interesting and well-rounded. Instead of a lot of slow majestic shots of the main lead looking like a bad ass designed to convince me he is one, here our warrior character (played by Stargate SG-1's awesome Christopher Judge) is actually shown doing bad ass things, no camera tricks or movie magic necessary. He's not just singularly obsessed with a mission that could have been taken up anytime or gruff solely because the script says he has to be so he can warm up in the end like the other guy, he's a noble warrior who betrays his clan to fulfill a debt and live with honor, even if it means he might die or start a war in the process. Everything about the character dynamics and the resulting arcs pay off so much better in this movie. Add to that Bai Ling in a skimpy loincloth as a kick ass warrior woman, and a crisp, breezy running time of 90 minutes, and there is just no comparison. Another thing that occurs to me is how much of a sausage fest these mighty quests are, not just in The Hobbit, but in the Lord of the Rings as well. In Age of the Hobbits, it's much more balanced, and ultimately so much more entertaining.

Eventually he uses that spear to kill a giant spider, remember how awesome that wasn't in The Hobbit?

Age of the Hobbits, apart from the name and physical size of one of the tribes, is virtually nothing like the original book or the ensuing movie, and yet in one sense, it almost seems to have more respect for the story than The Hobbit does. That may sound strange, considering just how much care was put into adhering so strictly to the text (too much, in my view, at the expense of entertaining storytelling), but when I read the original book as a kid, I was never as bored as I was with the movie. Jackson spent so much time getting lost in the details to please the insufferable canon Nazi's of the Tolkien fanbase, that he forgot the quick and dirty adventurous spirit of the whole thing. Age of the Hobbits had this in spades, laughably bad production values notwithstanding, and I was never bored. I groaned a few times at the cheese, but then I did that in the Hobbit too (was that other wizard guy stroking off that porcupine/gopher thing, or what? I was kind of nodding off at that point to be honest, so I didn't see it too clearly.)

Bitches love the raccoon hat

The point is, while I wouldn't go so far as to call it a classic, this particular mockbuster was a solid watch for a night, at least for this cynical jackass anyway. I honestly wouldn't mind seeing a sequel to this movie now that I think about it, exploring some of the other tribes and monsters, or maybe introducing a little more magic and intrigue into this world. I'm certainly more excited about the prospect of that than seeing the next Hobbit movies at any rate. If you get a chance, I'd say keep an open mind and give this movie a shot. Ignore your natural impulse to dismiss low budgeted productions without the pretty trapping of theatrical epics, and really compare and contrast the themes being expressed and explored. If you can do that, I think you'll agree, this is clearly the superior effort.

Okay, that's complete bullshit, no one will ever agree with me on this one, but there it is. See you next time.


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