Book Review “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles – Art & Design”

Author: Daniel Falconer
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Harper Design
Release Date: December 14, 2012

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

If you are a fan of “The Lord of the Rings” franchise and what Peter Jackson has done to the series, then “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Chronicles” is definitely for you.  The book focuses the art and design of the first film in the new trilogy “The Hobbit”. With Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson behind this film you know that it is going to hold the same charm that he brought over 10 years ago. I have to admit that Harper Design delivered here my favorite making-of film adaptation of the year. This is sure to leave every fan of the series literally drooling for more and counting down the days till next December for “The Desolation Of Smaug”. Perfect gift for the holiday season!

When you hold this book you just feel like you are holding a map of Middle Earth.  The cover is edged with a lot of detail and overall quality. Inside the book is jam-packed with over 1,000 images of every aspect of the production from concept artwork to photographs and development paintings.  Amongst the images is commentary from their artists including the concept art directors, Alan Lee and John Howe and others from the Art Department and Costume Department at Weta Workshop. I also need to point out that the book also has a very cool bonus fold-out map printed in glow-in-the-dark ink and a giant four-page fold-out of Bilbo’s contract. I mean that is worth the purchase alone.

I feel like the this book acts like a visual special features in book form. The detail of these pictures are just amazing.  We get to meet and learn about every aspect of the film’s characters, especially those awesome dwarfs. You see everything from costumes to hair to make-up etc.  Since this book was put together by Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer, you know that that means quality. This is official and guarantees that this book comes back with insider information and the top notch visual imagery. If you are a fan of this movie, then this book is a perfect companion and will hold you over until the extended Blu-ray release in 2013…or until you see the film again in theaters.

Film Review “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Ian McKellen
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hours 49 mins
New Line Cinema

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sometimes we build up our expectations, often to the point that we can never be satisfied. Francis Ford Coppola has made some film masterpieces but they are often compared, unfairly, to “The Godfather.” Michael Jackson’s “BAD” is a great album. But it’s no “Thriller.” After “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy Peter Jackson could have said “sorry, no more Tolkien stories for me.” But he’s back with the first of three films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Is it “The Lord of the Rings?” No. But you already knew that.

Taking place about 60 years before the adventures chronicled in “The Lord of the Rings” films, the story begins with an elderly Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) writing in a notebook. He is recounting his younger days for other Hobbits to learn from. The story is one of adventure, dwarves and a certain creature who goes by the name Gollum. What follows is a jaw-dropping visual carnival courtesy of Peter Jackson and company!

Full of everything from giant spiders to goblins, from Orcs to a giant dragon, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is a two hour-plus adventure into a world never seen before. The tale finds young Bilbo (Freeman) being visited by the great Wizard, Gandalf (McKellen) and thirteen Dwarves, led by the great warrior, Thorin (Armitage). Along the way they come across virtually every creature that Jackson and the people at WETA could devise. And this is the drawback of the film. It is almost TOO crowded with strange and exotic creatures. Like “King Kong” before it, it seems like Jackson decided if it can be made let’s put it on film.

The film is also shot in a process that’s is explained as such: normally film goes through a projector at the rate of 24 frames through the gate per second. Jackson has filmed “The Hobbit” at the rate of 48 frames per second, which gives the film an incredible clarity that is actually off putting for the first 20 minutes or so. However, once you get used to it the images are quite breathtaking, especially during the battle sequences.

There are two more films planned to tell the story of “The Hobbit.” Will they be better than “The Lord of the Rings?” Probably not. But if they’re anything like “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” that should be just fine.


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Book Review “The Making of Life of Pi: A Film, a Journey”

Author: Jean-Christophe Castelli
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Harper Design
Release Date: October 30, 2012

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

I have been a fan of Yann Martel’s international bestseller “Life of Pi”, since it’s release back in 2001.  It is a very ambitious story to turn into a film.  This release is the film’s journey from the pages of the book to the big screen.  It is part scrapbook, part travel guide and part production diary.  When I did my initial flip-through of the book, I couldn’t help but stop many times throughout.  To me that usually means that I am going to love the book.  It was very accurate, since I couldn’t put this wonderful graphic illustrated collection of “The Making of Life of Pi” down until I read it page-to-page.

There are many intimate interviews for the cast/crew, as well 275 photographs and illustrations including storyboards, sketches and artwork, thanks to photographer Mary Ellen Mark and artist Alexis Rockman. This book should have been called “a visual journey” because that is what it really felt like to be.  Whether it was marked-up screenplays or personal notes, this really told the story of how  Oscar-winning director Ang Lee brought Yann Martel’s international bestseller to life.  If you are viewing this book using the enhanced eBook, you get to experience the special features and also get a look inside the fifty-page fully illustrated “survival guide” that shipwreck survivor Steven Callahan created for Pi refers to during his journey.

“The Making of Life of Pi” is the ultimate guide to the making of the film from pre-production through final cut. The film is such a large scale and you get to experience the how this, like I said, ambitious film was turned over to the big screen. We get to meet the unknown sixteen-year-old actor Suraj Sharma, who is taking the lead role of Pi.  We find out how he got the role and even did his own stunts. You also get to see that there was a massive wave tank that was built just for the for the film.  You even get to meet the film’s co-star, or should I say co-stars.  King, Themis, Minh, and Jonas are the four Bengal tigers used in the film.  Lastly we get to see how the heavy amounts of visual effects were used and blended to create this wonderful journey, all while shooting in 3D.

The book is authored by Jean-Christophe Castelli, who has a long working relationship with Ang Lee.  He started working with him way back for cultural research on “The Ice Storm” (1997) and then followed by the story development of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000).  There is a wonderful foreword from “Life of Pi” author Yann Martel.  This is a great sign, which means that the author endorses the film and believes in it. There is also an introduction from the film’s director Ang Lee.  I have been a big fan of his work in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” but not some much recently but this film looks to change that very soon. Thanks to this book, I will be first in line now to see “The Life of Pi” in theaters.

Book Review “The Toy Story Films: An Animated Journey”

Author: Charles Solomon
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Disney Editions
Release Date: August 7, 2012

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

The “Toy Story” franchise is simply the best animated series in history. It spans over the course of 15 years, has two 2 sequels each one more amazing than the last and is loved by “kids” young and old. It is rare that each film outdoes the one before it and this franchise did just that. It also helped Pixar become the juggernaut that it is today. If “Toy Story” would have flopped, things might have been a lot different for the studio. The author of this book Charles Solomon, also authored “The Art of Toy Story 3” back in 2010, which still sits on my coffee table through today. This book is so much more than just the “Art of” the film, it dives into the development and the stories of what went into creating this wonderful franchise.

Disney Editions has released some really amazing books over the years but still one quite frankly may be their best yet. “The Toy Story Films: An Animated Journey” tells the story of select group of incredibly talented visionaries used their imaginations and created, developed and shared with the us – Woody, Buzz, and the world behind “Toy Story”. There are many interviews with the animators, directors, and voice actors that brought these films and characters to life. There is also the production artwork showcased that was the inspiration behind them. If that all isn’t cool enough there is also a few untold details about originally proposed non-Pixar “Toy Story 3”, which is something I never knew. This book is definitely a must for those who love animation and the inside look into the story of about how this franchise was created to be what it is today.

If the book isn’t great enough it has a wonderful foreword from Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki, director of films like “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”. There is also a very encouraging afterword by Pixar’s own John Lasseter. After “Toy Story 3” wrapped up the trilogy, I was upset with the idea of no more installments but who knows what the future will hold. At least for the time being we get new “Toy Story Toons” shorts every year or two. If for nothing else this book definitely reminds us that we are never too old to use our imagination. Congrats Disney Editions and Charles Solomon for delivering my favorite book of the year.

Blu-ray Review “Pocahontas / Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World”

Directors: Tom Ellery, Bradley Raymond
Starring: Irene Bedard, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, Christian Bale, Linda Hunt, Frank Welker
MPAA Rating: G
Studio: Walt Disney Video
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Running Time: 153 minutes

Films: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

This release for “Pocahontas” 2-Movie Collection includes both “Pocahontas / Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World”. Of course we all know that “Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World” is not as good as it’s predecessor but is not the worst DTV sequel that Disney ever made. I would rather have the film included on this set to complete the series then on a separate release. This three-disc set includes 1 Blu-ray disc and 2 DVDs. “Pocahontas” never really found its main audience with fans, besides having a hit song “Color of the Wind”. I have always liked it and it is still a beautiful film and worth the purchase. Whether you like “Pocahontas” or it’s sequel “Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World”, this is still a must for all Disney fans!

This isn’t the only film released out of the vault though. Besides this film, August 21st saw the release seven animated films over five different Blu-ray, including “The Aristocats”, “Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure”, “The Rescuers / The Rescuers Down Under” and “The Tigger Movie”. Disney if you are reading this, I still want to see a Blu-ray release for films like “Robin Hood” and “The Sword in the Stone”…(hint-hint).

“Pocahontas and Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World” are both included on the same BD-50 disc, though this doesn’t affect either film’s presentation.  The 1080p video transfers look impressive on both films though age has not been kind to either one.  “Pocahontas” looks better than its DTV sequel since “Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World” shows its cheaper animation budget. Both “Pocahontas and Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World” contain a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. I thought that the music and score for “Pocahontas” definitely sounds better and overall really sharp.

The special features are decent for these films and definitely leave you satisfied.  There is an audio commentary track with Producer James Pentecost and co-directors Eric Goldberg and Mike Gabriel.  Overall not my favorite track ever but still informative.  The next two extras are presented in HD.  “Drawing Inspiration: The Lost Story of Hiawatha” follows Goldberg and animation historian Charles Solomon as they discuss the long-lost animated feature film that was never made. Highly recommended.  There is a deleted song called “If I Never Knew You” with optional commentary with Goldberg, Gabriel and Pentecost. There is also nine storyboarded scenes deleted from “Pocahontas”, running about 15 minutes. “The Music of Pocahontas” is a featurette on the film’s notable music and songs.  There is a cartoon short called “Little Hiawatha” from the 1937 Walt Disney Silly Symphony.  Lastly there is “Disney’s Virtual Vault” which included featurettes and extras from the original DVDs available via BD-Live.

Book Review “The Art of John Carter: A Visual Journey”

Author: Josh Kushins
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Disney Editions
Release Date: March 6, 2012

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

The film “John Carter” is visually amazing…whether you like the film or not. I happened to really like it. I thought it was very entertaining and fun. This book really brings forward John Carter’s best qualities…it’s visual effects. There is also a great nod to “A Princess of Mars” author Edgar Rice Burroughs throughout. If you enjoyed this film, I would highly recommend this book as a perfect companion to the film.

Disney Editions never let me down on their “Art of” books. This book really delivers the whole film in a nice wrapping. If you haven’t seen this film and read this book it will definitely send you out to the store to pick up the Blu-ray for sure. The art presented in this book is the highest image quality and fantastic paper stock. I am a big fan of intros and afterwords and this book does not disappoint. Director of John Stanton delivers a great kick-off to this visual journey. Also art director of “John Carter”, Ryan Church, respectively closes the book and does a great wrap-up job.

“The Art of John Carter: A Visual Journey” covers every aspect of the film starting with the character of John Carter to Barsoom to the Tharks. The art that is showcased in this book ranges from sketches, paintings, 3D renders and film stills used for comparison. I am big proprietor of Disney Editions books and I was completely satisfied with this book and I would even say it made me like the film even more. Now I get to go back and watch it again with the knowledge from the book and just realize how much work has really gone into the creation of this film from the pages of a book to the screen.

Blu-ray Review “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”

Directed by: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzman
MPAA Rating: PG
Distributed by: Warner Home Video
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Running Time: 94 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars (4 stars if it was in 3D)
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

When you approach “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” if you have to just let go and enjoy yourself. It is cheesy and over-the-top but that is where it gets its charm. The film is funny and really improves over the its predecessor. I mean Dwayne Johnson really steals this franchise and runs with it. I can’t wait for the next installment of this franchise! Now unfortunately, I was not able to review this Blu-ray in 3D but I have previously seen the film in theaters in 3D and let say that I prefer it that way. This film uses the 3D to the fullest extent with amazing visuals and in-your-face effects. Though still decent to watch in 2D, I would recommend if you have a preference to check out this film in the third dimension.

While the first film, took us on the Jules Verne adventure the story of “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. The film was also cheesy and over-the-top thanks to Brendan Fraser. This film focuses on the story of “The Mysterious Island”. Josh Hutcherson returns playing Sean who receives a coded distress signal from a mysterious island from his missing grandfather. Sean immediately leaves to attempt to find this island along with his new stepfather (Dwayne Johnson). Together with a helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman) and his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens), they set out to find the island in order to rescue Sean’s grandfather.

The Blu-ray tracks looks great on Blu-ray, really sharp and colorful, even though it is not in 3D. The audio is out of this world with its amazing DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. The releases comes with a combo pack including a Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet digital streaming copy. The special features though are not as amazing as the film, though decent. “Are You Strong Enough to Survive Mysterious Island?” is a fun interactive map that takes us on a journey through the Mysterious Island. There are five deleted scenes, unfinished and nothing really special. Lastly there is a funny-as-hell gag reel included.

Own it on Blu-ray Combo Pack or Digital Download 6/5!
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Pat Boone to “Journey” to Omaha in May!

Over the years, film historian Bruce Crawford has provided the people of Omaha with presentations of classic films, making each showing more memorable by including special celebrity guests. For his 30th classic film event, Crawford will be screening the 1959 adaptation of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” starring James Mason, Pat Boone and Arlene Dahl. Mr. Boone will be Crawford’s special guest at the screening.

The screening will be held on Saturday, May 19th, at the Joslyn Art Museum’s Witherspoon Hall Theatre, located at 2200 Dodge St, Omaha, NE. The film will start at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are $25.00 and are available at all Omaha area Hy Vee Food store customer service counters. A limited number of tickets will also be available at the door the night of the performance. Proceeds benefit the Nebraska Kidney Association. For more information call 402-932-7200 or visit

Tribeca Film Festival Review “Journey to Planet X”

Directed by: Josh Khoury and Myles Kane
Producer: Trisa Barkman
Featuring: Troy Brenier, Eric Swain
Tribeca Film Featival
Running time: 78 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Josh Koury & Myles Kane’s documentary on two friends making DIY sci-fi films in Florida has the great fortune to be debuting at Tribeca at the same time as Chris Keneally’s Side by Side (read my review here.) The latter bringing home the point that the digital revolution in filmmaking is democratizing who can get movies made while the former is a case study in exactly that.

Eric and Troy are the two men behind these films, ones that could not have existed without the advent of the consumer level video cameras as seen in Keneally’s doc. Armed with a blue screen-painted space and local talent, they churn out films under the impossibly titled Ginnungagap Filmwerks banner. Eric sees it as a fun hobby while Troy in this upcoming project’s case, is striving for something more.

The film’s central tension between the two men is Troy’s pushing on Eric to take their weekend moviemaking as seriously as he does. Such improvements include their blue screen being painted green (easier to work with on video) and Eric replacing his seven year old PC with a new iMac.

It’s an interesting documentary insofar as Troy’s ambitions for his movies to be taken more seriously does not, for better or worse, go to the extremes of say, the delusions of the men in 1999’s American Movie. Nor does the pair’s film budget pose as much of a problem. There’s one mention of Eric footing a lot of the Home Depot bills, but it’s not a make or break point of the process. The fun in watching this documentary is in Koury and Kane’s unironic, nonjudgemental approach to documenting people enjoying making something together. Despite the friends and family screening of Planet X garnering unexpected–to Troy at least–laughter, the filmmakers are pleased to bring enjoyment to any audience. At 78 minutes, it’s a nice, lightweight look into amateur movie making.

Upcoming TFF Screenings of Journey to Planet X:
Mon. 4/23 – 8:00pm, Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 4
Sat. 4/28 – 1:00pm, AMC Loews Village 7-2

Book Review “Halo: The Art of Building Worlds – The Great Journey”

Author: Martin Robinson
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: October 18, 2011

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

When it comes to “Halo”, it is one of the most beloved franchises by its very expressive fans.  This book right away has a big shoes to fill.  The book is not only visually amazing but it also covers over a decade of “Halo” ranging from “Halo: Combat Evolved” to “Halo: Reach” to even “Halo: Legends”.  It is a great celebration of the art from the franchise. The book covers everything from characters to landscapes to weapons and includes with sketches and concepts art by many acclaimed artists such as Ashley Wood, Alex Chu, and Frank Capezzuto.

The book features seven chapters spawned over almost 200 pages.  The first is about the “Architects of the Past”.  This chapter focuses on a lot of landscape concept art and includes some never before seen art concepts. Since “Halo” takes place in space, the created for this have endless possibilities and it is great to be able to catch some of that in this images. The second is called “We are Their Instrument” and focuses on the baddies in the game ranging from the Elites to the Jackals to the Hunters.  The third is called the “Tools of Conquest”. This chapter focuses on the vehicles and space crafts used throughout the series. It is something that usually doesn’t get to be enjoyed as much in the game itself. The fourth is called “A Monument To All Your Sings” and focuses on the creatures in the series like “The Flood”.  The fifth is a “Welcome to the Corps” and focuses on the soldiers and weapons in the game from UNSC to ODST to Spartans.  This is easily one of my favorites. The sixth is called “Folks Need Heroes” and focuses on the Spartans kicking some ass in different situations.  The seventh is called “Homeworlds” is the “pretty” chapter focusing on various landscapes and locations.

The book features an introduction from “the face of Halo,” Frank O’Connor.  It is short but sweet and definitely reaches out to “Halo” fans and would get them pumped for this book.  The idea of “Halo” itself just screams “give me an art book”.  There is so much amazing design that goes into the characters, landscapes, weapons and just the “Halo” universe itself.  This book is a true must for “Halo” fans awaiting the next addition to this fantastic series.