7 April 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug [Blu-Ray Review]


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug blu-ray cover
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Released April 7th 2014
Released by Warner Home VideoRRP £13.00
Blu-Ray provided by publisher
Buy on Amazon.co.uk
The film itself

Whereas An Unexpected Journey was a leisurely-paced introduction to the characters with a lot of light-hearted antics (and songs!), The Desolation of Smaug goes in a much darker direction, slowly ramping up the tension ready for the final movie at the end of this year.

In some respects, Desolation suffers from the same thing that most mid-trilogy movies suffer from - there is some padding that could have been left out; the romance between Kili and Tauriel seemed like Jackson was trying too hard to draw parallels with Aragon and Arwen's romance in the original Rings trilogy.

Martin Freeman's performance as Bilbo Baggins once again knocks it out of the park. Bilbo is a quintessentially British character, and there is no better person to play him than Freeman, who can go from awkward to puzzled to horrified in a single expression.

Special kudos must also be given to Freeman's partner in (solving) crime, Benedict Cumberbatch, for a stellar performance as the ego-maniac dragon Smaug. His sinister voice is captured brilliantly, and Smaug's expressions very closely resemble those of Cumberbatch himself. Considering he's playing a fire breathing dragon covered in gold, that's a pretty big achievement.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug barrel escape

How it looks

If you're looking for a reason for why Blu-Ray was invented, you need look no further than The Desolation of Smaug. Unlike the brighter, happier tone of An Unexpected Journey, the second installment takes a darker turn that is reflected in a gritter quality to the cinematography.

The barrel chase scene is an epic piece of cinema, with the exception of a couple of first person 'splash' shots that have a noticeable reduction in visual quality.

There's also a really strange scene with the reveal of the Necromancer that uses a jarring infinite zoom technique that looks tacky no matter how many times I see it. But in a movie that's two and a half hours long, these things don't detract from the overall beauty of the film.

The extras

A Hobbit movie isn't complete without its high-quality documentaries. What you get on the same disc as the movie is a follow-up feature called New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth Part 2, which, at a disappointingly short 7 minutes long, falls far from the grandiose feature-length documentaries we're used to seeing.

The bonus disc of the Blu-Ray contains a 40 minute feature called Peter Jackson invites you to the set, which is shot in the same high quality as the movie itself. What you get is a candid, hands-on look at the ins and outs of the production of Desolation, including set design, costumes and makeup. You also get a few trailers too, which is nice.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug behind the scenes

This is far from the comprehensive set of features we know will turn up in the Extended Edition, so if you're a features kind of person, I'd say hold on to your wallet until later in the year.

Final thoughts

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug takes the spectacle of the first movie and adds to it an extra element of gravitas without compromising its charm. There are a few extras to be had, though serious fans would do well to wait until the inevitable Extended Edition is released. A great movie to have in your collection, and one to watch time and again.

Liked this review? How about:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Extended Edition [Blu-Ray review]

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on his Google+ or Twitter profiles for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.

5 April 2014

A metric butt-ton of books! [TBR Tower]


"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."
- C.S. Lewis

To be read tower including books by Jasper Fforde and Jon Sprunk

I've not done one of these in an age, and so there are a fair few books I've amassed over the past few months. Thanks to the guys at Tor UK, Hodderscape and Pyr for feeding my literary addiction. In no particular order, I give you the April 2014 TBR Tower!

Above - Isla Morley

I received this as part of the Hodderscape Review Project, and I'm about 2/3 of the way in. Not my usual cup of tea, but pretty damn gripping!

Blood and Iron - Jon Sprunk

I missed out on Shadow's Son and I saw nothing but great reviews for it, so I was happy to get my hands on this latest novel from Sprunk.

Banished - Liz de Jager

As a blogger-turned-author who has a three book deal with a major publisher, Liz showed us all that you mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling. YA urban fantasy isn't my usual thing, but I'll at least give this try with the lemon-law.

The Barrow - Mark Smythe

One of the first books I've had from Pyr. After I really enjoyed Jen Williams' The Copper Promise, I'm in the mood for more swashbuckling action!

Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor
Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor

Only recently heard of this one. Sounds like fun, and that cover is just gorgeous. I'm a bit concerned I won't enjoy so much as it's a sci-fi, so I'll probably lemon law it.

The Forever Watch - David Ramirez

This is a lot more sci-fi that I think I can handle. I may lemon law this one if I get time to do so, but chances are it won't stay on the tower for long. Sorry, David, it's just not my cup of tea.

The Problem with Promises - Leigh Evans

Another YA urban fantasy/paranormal romance? Might give this one a miss - there's only so much I can take. I think I might have enough for a YA giveaway in the future though. Who wants some of that?

The Edge of the Water - Elizabeth George

Yea ... there's too much YA paranormal romance on my bookshelves these days...

The Three - Sarah Lotz

Now we're talking! A bit of dystopia to brighten up my day! I was quite taken in by the teaser trailer for the book. This should be quite a thrill to read.


Have you read any of these books yet? Any on your radar? Let me know in the comments!

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on his Google+ or Twitter profiles for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.

1 April 2014

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein [book review]

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert A. Heinlein
Published by Hodder
Paperback - 288 pages
Published 14th March, 2005
Part of the Hodderscape Review Project

In a nutshell

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress tells the story of an uprising on a lunar penal colony. From the earliest seeds of dissent among the population to the eventual war with Earth, we follow the trials and tribulations of a society just trying to survive on a harsh world.

What worked

The book uses artificial intelligence and computer sentience as one of its major hooks, and I like the nudges towards questions such as can computers have souls, and at what point does artificial intelligence become real intelligence? Heinlein’s portrayal of the ‘dinkum thinkum’ computer Mike is sympathetic and humorous, and for a non-human, he became my favourite character in the book.

I also really enjoyed the culture that Heinlein created around this penal colony. As a world removed from the culture of Earth, the self-proclaimed “Loonies” are something quite unique – their language has created new forms of slang and merges elements of Russian and Chinese, and law and order takes on an entirely different form than that of Earth.

26 March 2014

UK prisons restrict access to books - is this a good idea?

UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has defended plans put into place last November that restricts access to books in prisons. This is counter-intuitive and could do more harm than good for inmates' rehabilitation.

The so-called "prison book ban" is part of the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme [read in full],which was put forward in November 2013. This document outlines items that can not be sent to prison inmates by their family unless their behaviour is good enough to earn them an incentive.

Some of these items are:

  • Shaving brushes
  • Cigarettes
  • Calendars
  • ... and, of course, books

17 March 2014

Talking Game of Thrones Season Four with Exposure USW Radio

The fourth season of Game of Thrones airs next month, and in the run up to the new season, I was asked to give my take on what to expect in Westeros this time around.

This interview was part of  Cardiff Exposure USW Radio's feature on Game of Thrones, and you get to hear me sounding extra Welsh (yay!)

The interview does contain spoilers for the first three seasons of Game of Thrones, but no spoilers about the books or season four itself.

If you can't use the widget, you can hear the interview on Soundcloud.

This was my first radio appearance (one to tick off the list!) so I rambled a little bit, but if the opportunity ever comes to do it again, I'll be more prepared.

Need to catch up with the first few seasons? Check out The Kings Roadmap. Or if you're still unsure about who's who in Westeros, here's a little infographic that might help.

What are you hoping to see in this season of Game of Thrones?

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on his Google+ or Twitter profiles for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.