Due to overwhelming demand, Ryan McDonald and I have finally returned to complete our journey through Middle Earth. After our smash hit episode all bout The Lord of The Rings Movies, our listeners wanted, nay DEMANDED, a follow up episode exploring the other, less beloved big screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. That’s right, this episode is all about The Hobbit Trilogy!
Unlike the nearly universally praised Lord of The Rings films, many fans criticized The Hobbit, feeling that 3 films to cover one of Tolkien’s shortest works was one film too many and an unnecessary cash grab by the studio. The individual films in The Hobbit Trilogy were viewed by some as being overly long and even boring.
Some of the criticisms surrounding the films were fair, other weren’t. As a Tolkien junkie, I loved spending as much time as possible in Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth. The characters, the heart, the spectacular action set pieces, the groundbreaking special effects, I loved it all! I couldn’t get enough. I remember when the films were being made, I followed the production closely and when the movies were released it was an event for my friends and I. I was the guy who thought things like “They’re going to make 3 movies back to back instead of 2? Fuckin’ A! I love it! Bring it on!”, “They’re releasing extended editions on blu ray, just like LoTR? SICK! Add to shopping cart!”. My point is that I definitely have a positive personal bias with these films. While I’m the first to admit that I’m not 100% objective, I sincerely believe these are excellent films.
There are phenomenal performances from Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, and Richard Armitage, just to name a few. There are some beautiful, profound moments in these films. Not to mention the action and battles scenes which kick all kinds of ass! Oh, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon, Smaug. He’s terrifying and fascinating all at the same time. The motion capture performance and voice performance by Cumberbatch, along with some VFX wizardry from the guys at Weta, combine to create one of the best motion capture CG characters of the past decade. I almost forgot to mention Howard Shore’s predictably excellent score.
But enough beating around the bush! Listen to the show below, where Ryan and I offer up our arguments for why these films are underrated, we give some background about the films problematic pre-production, and discuss our favorite characters and moments from the Trilogy. Of course, like every great episode of The World’s Best Podcast, we inevitably take some fun detours along the way
At the beginning of the episode, we announced that we’d calling attention to a great charity dedicated to fighting colon cancer. The organization is Colon Cancer Coalition of Boston, you can check out their website right here:
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Earlier this year, Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia ended after their third season. As far as I know, they completed the story and ended according to the schedule that creator Guillermo Del Toro had envisioned. I loved the series, and I was sad to see it go. Then about a month ago or so, I saw on one of those “Everything new coming to Netflix in December” articles, something called “3Below: Tales of Arcadia,” and the article had an image, and it was clear that the animation was similar style to Trollhunters, but the article itself didn’t mention whether or not the two were related, so a quick IMDb check confirmed that his was a spinoff series, and a brief conversation with Paul, he informed me that this was the second in a planned 3 part series.
Anyway, the show has been out for about three weeks, and I just finished watching the first season, and I’ve got to say it’s pretty good. It’s not as good as Trollhunters, (my 2 year-old would give up about thirty seconds into every episode and say “we watch real Trollhunters now?”) but it’s good.
First off, even though the two main characters Aja and Krel, extra-terrestrial (they don’t like the term aliens!) siblings living in Arcadia were featured briefly in Trollhunters, the show had a little more work to setting it up than Trollhunters did. Trollhunters starts out on Earth, on a pretty standard version we would all recognize, and then reveals that there is a secret underworld of trolls, and other magical creatures; they start with the default and add. 3Below however starts on a planet known as Acaridian 5 and tells the story of Princess Aja and Prince Krel on the day they are to become the King and Queen in waiting, and are attacked by enemies and have to go on the run. We don’t see Earth until the end of the episode. This doesn’t make it a worse show that Trollhunters, but certainly it gives it a different set of challenges to overcome. They do so pretty well, but it takes just a little longer to really get invested.
I’m not going to get too into spoilers, but I will say that one of the things I really like about this show, is that they create a lot of new mythology within this universe, and they aren’t just applying the same formula as Trollhunters to this, meaning it’s not an Madlibs style situation where they’re like alright we need this role because Trollhunters had it. Trollhunters is largely about Jim and his friends going after something, and this is definitely more of Aja and Krell running from something, and not necessarily in a cowardly way, but in order to protect their kingdom.
Another thing that I really like about this show, is that they manage to pull in characters we’ve gotten to know through Trollhunters, and build upon them. We get to see Jim, Toby, and Claire, but we also get to see Steve, who’ a bully on Trollhuntersgiven some fleshing out, fully realized on this show, as he quickly has a crush on Aja after she kicks his ass. We get to see Senor Uhl, less as the authority figure to be thwarted or avoided, but more as the protector when other humans seem to target the twins in their human forms.
(Steve & Aja. Steve’s come a long way…)
All in all, I really liked this show, and I hope that we get to see another season or two (whatever Guillermo Del Toro has envisioned) and now that I’ve seen how aliens and magic have played with each other in this setting, I’m really interested in seeing what he has in mind for the 3rd series he’s planning.
Note: The following review contains some spoilers in the main article and a major spoiler warning for certain sections of the article.
The Shape of Water is the latest film from visionary director Guillermo Del Toro. He’s brought us such films as Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, both Hellboy films, and Pans Labyrinth just to name a few. To call Del Toro a visionary doesn’t do him justice. His films are creative and visual masterpieces. There is no mistaking who is behind the lens in a Guillermo Del Toro movie and The Shape of Water isn’t any different.
There are a handful of directors that I give a complete pass to. Meaning I don’t need to know what the movie’s about, or who’s in it, I don’t even need to know the title. If they’re making a movie, I’m seeing it. Directors like Quentin Tarantino, Mathew Vaughn, and Edgar Wright come to mind. For years Del Toro was without question on that list, but his last few films haven’t quite met the standard I expect from Guillermo Del Toro. Though I love the concept and the world building, Pacific Rim wasn’t the knock your socks off sci-if epic I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the movie and I’m looking forward to the sequel, but Pacific Rim did disappoint me in multiple key ways. Then we have Crimson Peak, the concept screams Del Toro, a gothic Victorian-era haunted house horror mystery. I just flat out disliked Crimson Peak. What should have been a home run for the director was a big whiff. I absolutely had not given up on Guillermo Del Toro as a filmmaker, but in my opinion, he needed a win.
Because of this, it was great to hear such positive buzz for this movie. I’m pleased to say that The Shape of Water is exactly what I has hoping for a beautiful modern day fairy tale with gorgeous visuals, memorable characters, compelling performances and and a touching love story. In other words, this is a Guillermo Del Toro film in the best sense of the term.
Set in the 60’s during the hight of The Cold War, Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito a shy, mute woman who works alongside her fiend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) as members of cleaning staff at a military facility. Elisa leads a simple, quite life. She does her job and comes home to her roommate Giles, played by the great Richard Jenkins. Elisa may be mute, but she can hear perfectly fine and communicates through sign language to the people around her who understand it. Elisa’s life is turned upside down when an high security “asset” is brought into the facility where she works. The U.S. government have captured “something”. The “something” is of course The Creature at the heart of the film. An aquatic human-like creature that was captured somewhere in the Amazon. He looks like Abe Sapien meets The Creature from The Black Lagoon. Almost all of the government higher ups and scientists (with a few key exceptions) view this creature as an animal, a monster and nothing more. Just something they can experiment on to find a way to one up the Soviet Union. They’re especially interested in The Creature’s ability to breath in two distinct environments and how that could help America in The Space Race. I don’t think The Creature is given a name or nickname in the movie. The characters call The Creature things like “It” or “Him”. But this isn’t a a mindless animal, as Elisa will quickly find out.
After an incident in the room where the Creature is being held, Elisa and Zelda are brought in to clean up. Zelda just wants to do her job and get the hell out of there (A very smart attitude to have in any movie featuring a giant fish man), but Elisa I’d mesmerized by The Creature. When Elisa and the audience fully see The Creature for the first time, we see a powerful, unique, and in some ways very human being. Compared to a similar Del Toro character, Abe Sapien from the Helboy films, this Creatures face and eyes are far more human than you would expect.
Because Elisa is mute and thus viewed as “less than”, it’s much easier for her to get into the lab/torture chamber where The Creature’s being held without being noticed. Elisa begins to make daily lunch visits to The Creature and over time these two beings develop a profound bond that goes beyond anything either of them have experienced. Loneliness and the desire to connect with someone else are at the ideas heart of this film.
As usual in a Guillermo Del Toro film, the creature design is spectacular. Under the astonishing makeup and prosthetics that make The Creature real is Del Toro mainstay Doug Jones .Unsurprisingly he gives an incredible performance in this film. The Creature s both otherworldly and surprisingly human. If there’s been a cool creature created using make-up effects, odds are they were played by Doug Jones. For Del Toro alone he’s played Abe Sapien, The Faun, The Crooked Man, The Angel of Death, and more. He also played The Silver Surfer in the bad, but not unwatchable Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer. But the physicality that he brings to this role is completely unique, which is important considering he played Abe Sapien who had definite physical similarities to The Creature in this movie.
The idea of loneliness and the desire to connect extends very well into the arc of Richard Jenkins’ character Giles. He’s an older homosexual man in the 1960’s and his arc works as a powerful contrast with the growing connection between Elisa and The Creature. He’s an artist working in the ad industry constantly being shown the door because he’s homosexual. There’s an emotionally powerful scene when he attempts to open up to a man who works at a diner Giles frequents. When the man is disgusted by Giles’ gentle advance on him, the mix of heart break and embarrassment that comes across Richard Jenkins’ face is gut wrenching. This does an excellent job of setting up Giles’ reaction to Elisa and The Creature later in the film.
As Elisa and The Creature’s connection grows deeper, she finds out that the government assholes in charge of this project intend to kill and vivisect The Creature. So, Elisa decides to break The Creature out with the help of Giles, Zelda, and a sympathetic scientist working at the base. Now, this is the point in the movie where a lot of interesting major and minor plot and character developments play out. So I’m going to put a big SPOILER WARNING notice here and you can scroll down until you see another big END SPOILERS notice. Here we go…
STILL HERE? OK
OK, so once they break The Creature out, they bring it back to Elisa and Giles’ apartment where, even though he can stay out of water for extended periods of time, the keep him in the bathtub. Along with salt and special chemicals given to Elisa by the aforementioned friendly scientist, The Creature can breath in the tub water. They plan to free him in the ocean, when heavy rains will give them a safe spot to let him go, but they have to wait about a week for the rain. In the meantime, Elisa and The Creatures relationship continues to develop and we learn a little bit more about The Creature itself.
At this point in the story, the bond between Elisa and The Creature is stronger than ever. The Creature is living with Elisa and Giles until they can make their daring escape.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re asking yourself one question: Do. They. Fuck? The answer is a resounding yes, multiple times in fact. That’s right, they go there. Though we don’t get to see what The Creature was working with (much to my chagrin), Elisa does describe to Zelda how it went down, anatomically speaking. When we see The Creature standing full frontal, it appears to be flat down there. But as Elisa tells Zelda, there’s a slit in his crouch area where his penis comes out. I’ll reiterate, we don’t get to see it, but the day after they do the deed for the first time, Elisa can’t keep a smile off her face. So he must have been packing some heat down there. Giles’ acceptance of Elisa’s and The Creature’s show’s that he understands that you need to take love wherever you can find it
Moving on, we do get some hints as to The Creature’s origins. One of the government officials makes reference to the fact that the locals who lived near where The Creature was caught worshipped him as a river god. As we see we see later in the movie The Creature does possesses certain abilities. At one point, Giles has a wound on his arm, The Creature places his hand on the wound and gently puts his head against Giles’. Not only is his arm healed, but the next day Giles seems to appear a few years younger. Later, in the final act of the film, both Elisa and The Creature are mortally wounded by gunshots. The gunshots have no lasting effect on him, but The Creature’s able to completely heal Elisa. It’s also implied that he can give humans the ability to live and breeze underwater is he does. Anytime he uses his abilities, parts of his body glow slightly, which was a cool effect. Basically, The Creature’s a supernatural river god of some kind. Part of the fun is that we don’t get any answers to the questions these incidents bring up.
If I had to give the film any major criticism its that the villain played by the great Michael Shannon is pretty one dimensional. He runs this high security facility (but they actually have pretty shitty security) and he kind of views himself as a cog in the wheel, his focus is to do a good job and move up. He’s also a bit of a religious zealot. At one point he says something like “God created us in his own image. God doesn’t look like that thing, he looks like us. That Creature is an abomination.”. That’s about as deep as he gets. But this is Michael Shannon so he still does a shitload with what he’s given.
What I love most about Guillermo Del Toro as a filmmaker is that his films are modern day fairy tales (even when they don’t take place in the present). Del Toro himself called this “ A fairy tale for troubled time”. The director understands what most people forget; fairy tales may be filled with wonder, magic, and beauty, but they’re also dark, violent stories that end in death as much as they do “happily ever after”. For hundreds of years fairy tales were cautionary stories more than whimsical fantasies. While Del Toro’s films aren’t always cautionary tales (this film definitely isn’t) he never forgets the inherent darkness and brutality of a fairy tale. So few filmmakers can tell a story that can meld the vicious brutality that humans are capable of and still fill the story with magic, love, and beauty. Though some may be tempted to make the comparison, to call The Shape of Water a Beauty and the Beast story is somewhat reductive.
This a return of the Guillermo Del Toro I love. However, this is by no means his best work. The Shape of Water is a wonderfully told story about romance, loneliness, prejudice, beauty, and love. While I enjoyed this film quite a bit, I’d say its only a “MUST SEE” if you’re a Guillermo Del Toro fan or the types of films he makes. But with it’s top notch performances and gorgeous direction this should definitely be on your list of movies to see as Awards season approaches.
You might not have heard of Dreamworks’ animated show Trollhunters on Netflix. Until I talked to Paul about potentially writing about it on here, I wasn’t aware of anyone I knew who had watched it, other than myself. But it’s a great show, and I cannot recommend it enough. I started watching it, because I wanted to watch something that would keep my son’s attention (he was 9 months old when we began season 1) but wasn’t so inane that I would go blank behind the eyes. So, when I saw the poster on Netflix, and it boasted that it was created by Guillermo del Toro (director of Hellboy 1 & 2, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim) I thought it might be a good fit for us.
Trollhunters, is an action adventure cartoon that I think pretty much all ages can enjoy. It tells the story of Jim Lake Jr. who becomes the first human ever to become a trollhunter, when the previous trollhunter is killed in action. (These aren’t really spoilers as it’s kind of all revealed in the first 5 minutes of episode one.) Jim is in high school, and much like other YA fiction, he is thrust into a world that mixes his normal growing up troubles with life and death stakes. In this way, it’s not too original, but it is fun!
Trollhunters, thrives in it’s characters. Jim is less steadfast than a typical Harry Potter kind of protagonist, but is a more believable teen for it, and it makes the call to responsibility even more impressive. Toby, his best friend, plays on the typical scared side-kick trope, while at the same time being a total bad-ass, which shines through in his ability to help out with Jim’s training, and his own desire to do the right thing. Blinky and AAARRRGGHH!!! (that’s how IMDb spells it) are my two favorite characters, because they are the trolls who are tasked with helping Jim to become the trollhunter that the good troll community needs him to be. Blinky is voiced by Kelsey Grammer, and it is endlessly amusing to hear him read lines that seem so silly, with such gravitas.
So, what do I want to see with Trollhunters? Well, in order to answer that, I need to explain something. Jim, is voiced by Anton Yelchin, who died in an accident more than a year ago. Yelchin had finished recording season one by the time he died, but until recently, I hadn’t realized that he had also recorded (not sure if it’s complete or there is some patchwork with another actor) season two.
Yelchin does a great job voicing Jim, but I don’t think he has to be the voice. That is where I come to my point. I’m glad we get two seasons of Anton Yelchin, but I really hope, that Trollhunters is going where it naturally would have, had Yelchin lived. His death was tragic, and I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, but as far as the story is concerned, I don’t want it to shift to reflect his death.
It’s something that many TV shows, and movies have to deal with, this idea that if someone dies, they have to figure out how to move on with their story, and unfortunately it seems to rarely work out well. When Heath Ledger died for example, he was working on the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, and in order to finish the movie, they recast with Jude Law, Johnny Depp, and Colin Farrell. Because of the nature of the story, it didn’t seem to have too significant of an effect on the movie (which seemed like it may have been a mess regardless) but look at the other posthumous Ledger movie, The Dark Knight. Sure, Ledger had finished The Dark Knight, and so that movie remains untarnished by the flaws of a mid production death, but as a franchise, what would the third film have been had Ledger lived? It’s something I’ve wondered since before The Dark Knight Rises was released.
The point is this, Anton Yelchin is great in this role, but ultimately, we don’t have a Ledger situation, where recasting seems sacrilegious, we have a voice over of a teenage character, and there are a lot of ways of adjusting to a new actor, without being disrespectful to Yelchin, and without having to shift the storyline, or the tone of the story.
Check out Trollhunters on Netflix if you watch the first episode, you’ll get the feel for the show, and I think you’ll fall in love with it! Season two comes out on December 15.