Friday, 28 December 2012


Epic trailer

WRITER: Joss Whedon

DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon


Glory has Dawn and is having her prepared for the ritual bleeding which will open the portal, allowing her to return home but in the process dropping all the walls between dimensions, causing death and carnage on a global scale. If opened the only way to close the portal and thus save the world is to kill Dawn. Giles spells this out to Buffy in no uncertain words. But Buffy is resolute that nobody will be killing her little sister, no matter what, even if it means the end of the world. And she will stop anyone who tries. Thankfully the gang come up with a plan to try and prevent Glory from opening the portal to begin with hopefully bypassing the need for any Dawn killing. Using the dagonsphere retrieved from the monks who made the Key in to Dawn, plus Olaf the Troll’s mighty troll hammer, the Scoobies plan to keep Glory occupied and on the ropes until she misses her brief opportunity to open the portal.

Using poor Tara as an unwitting guide, Buffy and the gang follow the brain-sucked witch as she is mystically drawn towards the gathering of Glory’s disciples, all of them coming together at the site of the forthcoming portal opening. There, the Scoobies are met with the imposing sight of a huge tower especially built for the occasion. Meanwhile Dawn has already been taken to the top of said tower by the minions, where she’s been tied up and left ready for Glory to come and begin the ritual bleeding.

Battle quickly commences.

Using the Buffybot and the dagonsphere to confuse and distract Glory, Buffy manages to get part-way up the tower in an attempt to rescue her sister… only to be attacked by Glory. The two engage in a furious fight up and down the tower but eventually end up falling from it to then continue their fight back down on the ground. As they continue their fight, Willow sneaks up on Glory and, using a spell, manages to take back what Glory stole from Tara. This returns Tara to normal and also weakens Glory significantly.

Meanwhile Spike, Giles, Anya and Xander are pinned down by the mob. But Spike spies someone else up on the tower with Dawn. Turns out that nasty demon Doc is back. He’s armed with a knife and is looking to help Glory by starting the ritual. Willow, using magic, clears a path for Spike who makes a break for it and rushes to the top of the tower where he engages Doc in a brief but futile battle to save Dawn. Spike is quickly bested and thrown off of the tower. Wasting no more time Doc cuts Dawn, spilling her blood. And the portal begins to open.

Back down below, Buffy has finally bested a weakened Glory, pummelling her in to submission using the mighty troll hammer. Glory, defeated, turns back in to Ben as Buffy runs back up the tower to get to Dawn. As Buffy goes, so Giles comes to seemingly help a wounded Ben. But instead of helping Ben he smothers the young man, killing him, thus preventing Glory from ever returning.

Reaching the top of the tower, Buffy quickly dispatches Doc and goes to help Dawn. But Dawn refuses her help, saying that she has to die as the portal has already opened and the demon dimensions have already started bleeding in to our world. Buffy can see the portal, a growing ball of light just below them, and all the hellish creatures that are now coming through it. But even so, she stops Dawn from throwing herself off of the tower.

It is then that Buffy has an epiphany.

She finally works out what the First Slayer meant when she said that death was Buffy’s gift. Buffy also remembers that the monks said they made Dawn from her – flesh, bone and blood. The same blood courses through both girls’ veins. Summers blood - the key to everything.

Buffy makes a decision.

After whispering to a tearful Dawn, she gives her sister a kiss, then turns away, runs along the gantry and throws herself off of the tower, plunging down in to the energy vortex below.

A short time later, as the sun rises on a new day, the Scooby Gang back on the ground are devastated to see the lifeless body of Buffy who sacrificed herself to close the portal, to save the world, saving her sister too.

The final image of the episode is a lone headstone with the engraved legend reading:

Buffy Anne Summers


Devoted Sister
Beloved Friend

She Saved the World
A Lot


Self sacrifice - especially for those you love; discovering who you really are and what meaning your life truly has, and learning how best to pummel a hell god in to submission using a really big hammer.


Glory, Ben, Doc, fate.


It’s a Joss episode. It just does, okay?

The “Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer…” – for this episode, the 100th, it is a super fast compilation of all the show’s key moments from episode 1.1 right up to date. This leads in to a boy running from a vampire…only to be saved at the last minute by Buffy who fights and then stakes the vamp. The disbelieving boy asks her how she can do that, because she’s just a girl. To which Buffy replies simply, “That’s what I keep saying.” This is a pre-title sequence, which in just a couple of minutes is a perfect summation of the entire show.

Giles and Buffy arguing over killing Dawn and Buffy’s shocked reaction when Giles shouts at her.

Anya and Xander having comfort sex in the Magic Box basement.

Xander scaring himself when he suddenly uncovers the Buffybot stored in the Magic Box basement.

Anya subsequently scaring herself by uncovering a toy fluffy bunny in the magic Box basement.

Spike’s comment about Buffy’s speech not exactly being the St Crispen’s day speech, Giles’ reply and Spike’s follow up.

Xander and the wrecking ball

The Buffy vs. Glory fight up and down the tower. It’s very athletic with some great stunts and choreography.
Giles unleashes Ripper to chilling effect.

The sacrifice sequence as Buffy realises what she must do, with the slowly rising sun behind her and a tearful Dawn before her, followed by the act itself and the plunge in to the portal as overlaid we hear her earlier whispered message to Dawn.

Spike’s shattered reaction to seeing Buffy’s broken body on the ground.

The final shot: the headstone and its engraving.

Joss’s script. It brings together perfectly all the thematic strands of the show and of this season in to one perfect moment: Buffy’s realisation of who she truly is and what she has to do. It’s quite beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time.

The performances. All are at the top of their game here but once again SMG just kills it. The emotional weight and intensity of her performance is quite something. I always enjoy how Joss directs her. He likes tight close-ups on her face because he knows she sells inner turmoil and harnessed emotions so well - the look from deep in her eyes, the subtle twitch of a lip. Also worth noting is James Marsters who proves Spike is no mere monster on a leash. The last shot of him, collapsed, crying in to his hands over Buffy’s body is possibly the one single image from this episode that lingers.

Christophe Beck’s score is beautiful and emotional.


Spike gets bested by Doc a bit too easily.

The battle on the ground is a bit small scale – only about a dozen or so minions and crazy people to fight.


Devastated Spike


Guy: ‘But... you're just a girl.’
Buffy: ‘That's what I keep saying.’

Buffy: ‘I'm counting on you to protect her.’
Spike: 'Til the end of the world. Even if that happens to be tonight.’

Giles: ‘If the ritual starts every living creature in this and every other dimension imaginable will suffer unbearable torment and death. Including Dawn.’
Buffy: ‘Then the last thing she'll see is me protecting her.’

Buffy: ‘This is how many apocalypses for us now?’
Giles: ‘Six at least.’
Buffy: ‘Feels like a hundred.’
(An in joke as this is the 100th episode)

Xander: "Spike's sex-bot. Why didn't they just melt it down into scrap?"
Anya: "Maybe Willow wanted it."
Xander: "I don't think Willow feels that way about Buffy... I mean, I know she's going through a lot of changes..."
Anya: "To study."
Xander: "Right. Robotics. Science."
Anya: "Pervert."
Xander: "Other pervert."

Buffy: ‘I sacrificed Angel to save the world. I loved him so much. But I knew what was right. I don't have that anymore. I don't understand. I don't know how to live in this world if these are the choices. If everything just gets stripped away. I don't see the point. I just wish that... I just wish my mom was here.’

Xander: ‘Smart chicks are sooo hot.’ (looking fondly at Anya)
Willow: ‘You couldn't have figured that out in tenth grade?’

Buffy: "Remember: The ritual starts, we all die; and I'll kill anyone who comes near Dawn."
Spike: "Well, not exactly the St. Crispin's Day speech, was it?"
Giles: "We few, we happy few..."
Spike: "...we band of buggered."

Buffy: ‘Dawn, listen to me. Listen. I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles ... tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world ... is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.’


In 2008 at the 60th Annual Emmy Awards, The Gift won the special audience voted award for the most memorable moment in TV history – Buffy’s end sacrifice – beating out shows such as The X-Files, E.R. and Mash amongst others.

Joss originally planned The Gift to be Buffy’s genuine finale because at the time the WB were dropping the show due to not being able to come to financial terms with the show’s maker 20th Century Fox. Thankfully though, midway through the season, rival network UPN made Fox a strong offer. They purchased Buffy and allowed it to run for a further two seasons before finally ending for real.

Here in the UK it was nearly impossible not to know what happened in this ep before it was screened. One national newspaper even ran a "Buffy Dies" special and Sky One kept on showing trailers featuring Buffy's grave, the first trailer running directly after The Weight of the World. Doh!


It’s a gift from Joss. 5 (out of 5)

And so ends my Buffy season five rewatch/review. On to season six sometime soon.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012


A short daily from this ep featuring SMG and Alyson Hannigan

WRITER: Doug Petrie

DIRECTOR: David Solomon


With Buffy catatonic Willow steps up and takes charge ordering the gang back to Sunnydale while she tries a spell to help Buffy. Spike says he knows a guy who may be able to help them defeat Glory and get Dawn back. Meanwhile Glory has Dawn back at her HQ where her minions have now almost finished building an enormous tower upon the top of which Dawn is to be used to open the portal which will allow Glory to return home. As Glory and her minions prepare Dawn for the coming ritual Glory is getting a taste of Ben’s humanity as the magic keeping them apart starts to fade. She begins to feel twinges of guilt…and hates it, making her even angrier towards poor Dawnie, and when Ben returns for brief periods he in turn begins to remember all of the terrible things Glory has done. Across town, Spike and Xander go to visit Doc, the demon who helped Dawn with the spell to raise her mom from the dead. It turns out Doc is actually a worshipper of Glory and tries to kill Spike but ends up getting stabbed himself as Spike makes off with a box Doc tried to destroy. But Doc isn't dead and opens his eyes just as Spike and Xander leave. Back to Buffy, and Willow has managed to get inside her friend’s head, following the Slayer around in her own mind as she is locked in a cycle of guilt. The cycle begins with a memory of Buffy as a little girl, witnessing baby Dawn being brought home for the first time. It then moves on to The Magic Box where adult Buffy, putting away a book, has a brief moment of wishing it would all be over. Finally, the cycle ends with Buffy smothering a grown up Dawn with a pillow, telling a horrified Willow that this is who she is, that she killed her sister and that death is her gift. The cycle then starts all over again, repeating over and over, much to Willow’s confusion. Eventually Willow figures out what is going on and manages to get through to Buffy, convincing her that Dawn is still alive and needs her help. Buffy snaps out of her catatonic state and, crying, hugs Willow. As they return to the magic shop, Xander tells Buffy that Ben and Glory are one in the same. Giles then reveals that a bloodletting ceremony will occur to open the portal and that said portal opening will bring down the barriers between all dimensions creating utter carnage and torment for humanity. And there is only one way to stop it once started. Dawn must die.


It’s all about the destructive power of guilt – especially misplaced guilt.


Glory, Doc, Buffy…kinda.


A nice idea. Finally, the horrendous life Buffy is forced to lead catches up with her poor damaged psyche. I mean, how many traumas can one person take? Losing Dawn to Glory after she promised never to let any harm come to her was the final straw for our poor Slayer’s mind. Time for it to take a break then. And having Willow go in to Buffy’s mind and discover the root of her problem and then address it head on is also great. Her final solution may be a bit pat and wouldn’t make her popular with practitioners of mental health care (“Snap out of it!”), but for Buff it works. Thankfully.

Great to see Kristine Sutherland back as Joyce in a memory of Buffy’s.

Great to see Joel Grey back as Doc. He does creepy/slimy really well.

The actress playing little Buffy (aged 5 or 6 maybe?) is adorable and very good, though she doesn’t look much like SMG.


Apart from the trip around the inside of Buffy’s noggin nothing much happens. Dawn gets to be ranted at by Glory some and the gang finds out about the bloodletting ritual, but that’s about it.


Frustrated Spike slapping the back of Xander’s head when Xander still can’t remember the truth about Ben and Glory, followed by their mutual yelp of pain – Xander’s due to the slap and Spike’s due to his chip firing.


Spike: "Better part of a century spent in delinquency just paid off. Hot-wired Ben's auto. Who's for getting the hell out of here?"

Spike: "Is everyone here very stoned?"

Glory: "Funny, 'cause I look around at this world you're so eager to be a part of, and all I see's six billion lunatics looking for the fastest ride out. Who's not crazy? Look around... everyone's drinkin', smokin', shootin' up, shootin' each other or just plain screwing their brains out because they don't want 'em anymore. I'm crazy? Honey, I am the original one-eyed chicklet in the kingdom of the blind 'cause at least I admit the world makes me nuts. Name one person who can take it here. That's all I'm asking. Name one."
Dawn: "Buffy."

Young Buffy: "You talk funny."
Willow: "Yes, as you'll tell me again when we're older, and in chem class."


In season 2's 'Killed By Death' the young Buffy had dark hair as did the Buffy in Dawn's memory in 'Blood Ties', but here the little girl playing Buffy has blonde hair.

The actress playing little Buffy is called Alexandra Lee and a year after being young Buffy she had the honour of being Katie, Dr Mark Greene’s last ever patient on E.R.


A reasonably weighty 3 (out of 5)



WRITER: Steven S. DeKnight

DIRECTOR: James A. Contner


Buffy grabs Dawn and makes a run for it from Glory, who gives immediate chase. After a brief battle Glory gets knocked down by a truck which allows the sisters time to escape. Regrouping with the rest of the gang, Buffy decides they all need to run away, that they can’t win this fight and must flee to somewhere safe. Spike steals them a big motor home and the gang heads out of town, out in to the desert in a vain attempt to get away from Glory. Unfortunately the Knights of Byzantium give chase on horseback and a running battle ensues along the desert highway with Buffy atop the speeding vehicle fending off the continuous attacks from the warriors on horseback. Soon though, a well-aimed spear takes out Giles in the driver’s seat and the camper turns over and crashes. The gang manages to flee the ruined van to a deserted gas station where they engage in a brief battle with the pursuing Knights, capturing the Knights’ leader in the process. Using magic Willow creates a protective barrier around the gas station as the gang prepares for a prolonged siege against the nasty Knights outside. But Giles is badly hurt and needs medical attention. So using rules of warfare Buffy negotiates a truce to allow for medical help to arrive…in the form of nurse Ben, who treats Giles and saves his life. Unfortunately Glory soon decides to make an appearance and Ben turns in to the hell god right in front of the gathered Scoobies, though only Spike amongst them can seem to remember after the fact that Ben is Glory and vice versa. After a short fight, Glory grabs Dawn and makes off, killing all the gathered knights as she leaves. A panicked Buffy rushes after her…only to find that Glory and little sis have vanished in to the night. Utterly traumatised by her failure to protect Dawn, Buffy lapses in to a catatonic state from which her friends seem unable to rouse her.


The pressure is on and everyone looks to you to make the big decisions, to tell them what to do in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Do you rise to the occasion or do you crack under the strain?


Glory and those pesky Knights of Byzantium


Rollercoaster. Spiral is a non-stop rollercoaster of an episode. It is jam packed with action and desperate decisions and desperate measures. Buffy is pushed to the edge and beyond as she has seemingly no way out of the situation she finds herself in. Fight or flight kicks in. And as fight seems impossible then flight it is. And the Slayer goes on the run.

Road Warrior. Buffy goes all Mad Max as she engages in a running battle along a desert highway against pursing warriors out for blood. It’s a big and exciting sequence with athletic fights atop (and inside) the speeding motor home as the gang fends off seemingly endless arrow, sword and spear attacks.

Buffy goes bye bye. Poor Buffy, everyone is turning to her, wanting more and more from her, and she doesn’t know what to do, except to run. She has one role in life now: protect her sister. And she fails to do that. The shock of her failure drops our girl in to a catatonic state, a glassy eyed zombie who has retreated deep in to herself, away from the big bad world. It is worth noting that Buffy’s mental health has always been a lurking issue in this series. She confesses to time spent in an institution, and reality to her always seems a fragile concept. This comes to a head in the underrated season six episode ‘Normal Again’.


I’ve fallen. Oh dear, at the start when Buffy and Dawn are running away from Glory, Dawn very quickly falls over and squeals in pain, forcing Buffy to pick her up and carry her as she runs on. A terrible cliché that makes Dawn seem pretty darn pathetic.

The Knights Who Say "Ni!” The Knights of Byzantium are still a daft concept, at least visually. They just look like Monty Python extras from The Holy Grail. How on earth would dozens of medieval garbed men on horseback brandishing deadly weapons be able to make their way around contemporary California without getting arrested and/or sectioned? And that must be one quiet highway for no one driving by to have noticed a big medieval battle and siege going on and to report it to the police.


Back flips and kicking ass atop a speeding motor home. Cool!


Glory: "Last words, Slay-runt?"
Buffy: "Just one-- Truck."

Anya: "Anybody else feel that?"
Willow: "What?"
Anya: "Cold draft of paralyzing fear?"

Anya: "We should drop a piano on her. Well, it always works for that creepy cartoon rabbit when he's running from that nice man with the speech impediment."

Anya: "Oooh, snacks! The secret to any successful migration. (pulls frying pan and Spam from her bag) Who's up for some tasty fried meat products?"

Dawn: "You're not fleeing, you're...moving at a brisk pace."
Buffy: "Quaintly referred to in some cultures as 'The Big Scairdy Run-Away'."

Tara: (looking out motor home window) “Horsies!"
Willow: "Tara!"
Giles: "Weapons?"
Spike: "Hello! You're driving one!"
Willow: "Don't hit the horsies!"
Buffy: (to Willow) "We won't!" (whispers to Giles) "Aim for the horsies."

Dawn: (bandaging Spike’s hands) "Keep the pressure on."
Spike: "Always do, Sweet Pea."


What with the Holy Grail-esque knights and Anya's offer to cook Spam there seems to be a whole Monty Python thing going on here.

Steve DeKnight’s original script was much bigger scale with more epic fights, especially in the opening escape from Glory. But Joss read it and ordered him to cut it right back as it would take weeks to film and cost millions more. Steve drew the line at the Winnebago chase though. That HAD to stay in.


It’s all too much for the Buffster 4 (out of 5)


Willow vs. Glory

WRITER: Rebecca Rand Kirshner

DIRECTOR: David Grossman


Buffy withdraws from college to take care of Dawn, who it seems has been regularly skipping school. Buffy is warned by Dawn’s school that unless things change she might be found unfit to be Dawn's legal guardian and have Dawn taken away from her. After unsuccessfully trying to convince Giles to be the stern authority figure Buffy resolves to take on the role much to Dawn’s disdain. Elsewhere and Willow and Tara have their first fight with Willow ending up storming out. Glory finds Tara sad and alone, siting on a bench at the college fair. At first Glory thinks Tara is the Key but after tasting her blood realises she isn’t. So instead Glory drains Tara’s mind, turning the poor girl in to yet another of the crazy people in Sunnydale. Meanwhile Giles, Anya and Willow capture one of Glory's minions, who reveals to them that Glory thinks Tara is the Key. Willow rushes off to save her girlfriend, but she arrives too late. Overcome with fury, Willow goes after Glory seeking revenge for what she did to poor Tara. Using some dark magic Willow manages to briefly hurt the hell god but Glory soon gets the better of the witch and Willow would be toast if it weren’t for the Buffster turning up at the last moment to save her. A short time later and Willow, Tara, Buffy and Dawn are gathered in the witches’ dorm room discussing what to do next. Suddenly a furious Glory appears by ripping out the entire outside wall. At that precise moment Tara, still out of her mind, looks at Dawn and says she sees her as pure green energy. Glory smiles coldly as she finally realises the true identity of the Key.


I guess its primarily about taking on new roles and stepping up and taking responsibility. Buffy is still firmly in big sister mode and is not yet filling the parenting void left by Joyce’s demise. As a kid still, Dawn needs firm rules, boundaries and guidance. Buffy can’t yet see herself in this role and so tries to convince Giles to do it. But Giles says no, realising that Buffy will have to step up as it’s the only way forward for the Summers family. Buffy gives in but attacks the problem as if she is a general ordering around a soldier and not a caring mother figure, much to Dawn’s (and Willow’s) dismay.




Tara and Willow – their relationship comes in to focus here and is put to its first relationship type test when they have their first big fight. As if there were any doubt the depth of their love becomes clear when Willow does what she does when Tara is hurt. The bit at the end with Willow feeding Tara and telling Buffy that no matter what, Tara is her girl is genuinely touching.

Buffy and Dawn – the crux of this season is Buffy taking on a more personal role of responsibility, of making her responsible for someone she cares about, giving her a new role in life, adding to her growth as a person and as a character. She takes a big if faltering step forward in that role here.

Glory – as always Clare Kramer is so much fun as the so very cute but evil and insane hell god. Her bubble bath with a loofer, a Mimosa cocktail and three blindfolded minions is highly entertaining.

The Glory vs. Willow fight – it’s a great little smackdown with the witch hurling all sorts of magic at the hell god with almost no success, though she does seem to slow her down a bit, allowing Buffy to arrive and buy them some time for an escape.

Ripper – Giles gets to go all ruthless hard man as he threatens and interrogates the captured minion. Thing is, we buy it. Giles can be genuinely scary and ruthless, as he will prove come the end of the season.

Kicking a couch – in the fight with Glory Buffy kicks a large couch at her, knocking her back. I just love that image for some reason. It’s weird but powerful. You just don’t see enough couch kicking in on-screen fights.

References - Not many genre shows get to include overt references to superheroes (X-Men), classic children’s literature (A Little Princess) and opera (Don Giovanni) in a single episode. One of the many things Buffy was great at was treating its audience as intelligent people who may love superheroes and general geekiness but may also equally love classic literature and the arts too. Basically all the same stuff Joss loves.

The cliffhanger ending – wow, what a great way to end an episode! Glory rips out an entire exterior wall only to discover poor Dawnie is her Key and is right there in front of her. Gulp.


Willow seems to have become a very powerful witch without us really noticing. I guess she has done lots more practice off screen. But to go toe to toe with a god and actually score some points is impressive.


Bath time for Glory


Glory: ‘Lotta sucky things in this dimension. Bubble baths? Not one of 'em.’

Xander (to Buffy): ‘Whatever you choose, you've got my support. Just think of me as... as your... You know, I'm searching for supportive things and I'm coming up all bras. So, something slightly more manly, think of me as that.’

Buffy: ‘It's really important that Dawn finishes her schoolwork right now.’
Willow: ‘I know it is, and I'm a big fan of school! You know me, I'm like (singing and doing a little dance), "Go school, it's your birthday"... or something to that effect.’

Willow (miserable): ‘I don't think I can sleep without her.’
Anya (helpfully): ‘You can sleep with me! (The group stares at her.) Well, now, that came out a lot more lesbian than it sounded in my head.’


In the Magic Box Xander is reading issue #109 of The X-Men titled "Ceremonies," written by Chris Claremont and pencilled by Thomas Derenick.

This episode is the first time Willow’s eyes go black.


We love it tough. 3.5 (out of 5)

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a pretty good movie. For the most part it’s a well made adventure chock full of great visual effects, creepy monsters and enough solid action to keep audiences reasonably entertained across its mammoth two hours and forty five minute running time.

But it ain’t no Lord of the Rings. A fair way from it unfortunately.

Now I’ve not read Tolkien’s The Hobbit but the story (at least as seen on film) is very simple and very episodic. Like The Lord of the Rings it is a journey and a quest film and is made up of a collection of mini adventures in the form of frantic chases, fights and last minute escapes. All of which is fine. But what’s not fine is that The Hobbit’s action sequences are just too silly and chaotic to make any real impact. And too often they have no real bearing on the actual story being told or on the characters involved. For example, I have no idea what all that mountain rock giant stuff was about. Why were they fighting each other? I don’t get it. And the chase through the underground Goblin Kingdom is just a frantic, cartoonish piece of nonsense with no real structure or pay off. Sadly there’s nothing in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to rival the emotional and visceral intensity of the Mines of Moria from Fellowship, Helms Deep from Two Towers or the final battle of Pelennor Fields from Return of the King. The thing about LotR is that every fight/battle/escape feels as if it comes at a price, taking a major toll on poor Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Boromir et al. Their battles are scary, hard won, bloody, painful. You are genuinely afraid for them. Here though, you just don’t get that. The fights and battles and escapes play more like unconnected levels on a gorgeously produced video game. You’re never really invested in what happens because it all looks and feels too OTT and cartoonish. I kinda zoned out in parts, not feeling very engaged by or emotionally involved in what was going on. I mean, there’s only so many endlessly collapsing bridges/mountains/buildings/trees and stupidly high falls for obvious CGI stuntmen that I can be bothered to care about.

Another problem is Martin Freeman. I’m not his biggest fan and he pretty much just plays himself as Bilbo – kinda hapless and bland. Lots of comedy double takes and bewildered expressions. The band of dwarves fare better with Richard Armitage very good as their leader, the grim, brooding Thorin, along with other familiar faces buried beneath make-up such as James Nesbit, Ken Stott and Being Human’s Aiden Turner. Meanwhile Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee all reprise their old Lord of the Rings roles and are all wonderful (as to be expected). Other supporting roles are perfectly fine. But by far the stand out of the cast is Andy Serkis, back as Gollum. The sequence known as Riddles in the Dark featuring Serkis as Gollum riddling against Freeman’s Bilbo, who’s become lost in caves below the Goblin Kingdom, is utterly fantastic and well worth the price of admission alone. The CGI motion capture used for Gollum is better than ever and quite astounding. But it would be nothing without Serkis’ funny/tragic/pathetic performance. In fact, it is with Gollum that the film finally comes to life, recapturing some of the sense of magic and giddy thrill it’s been missing. Boo then when its back to business as usual with yet another last minute frantic chase followed by yet another Gandalf save to end the movie on.

So, apart from the awesome Mr Serkis, is there anything else that stands out as being particularly good?

Well, yes, Howard Shore ’s score for one. It is lush and rousing and exciting, utilising familiar themes along with new ones. Also the film’s design and art direction are pretty good, as is Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography, though it does feel a little flatter than it did in LotR. Weta’s effects are mostly pretty good too if a tad cartoonish with the reliance seeming to be more on CGI this time instead of the wondrous miniatures and high quality make-up of old. Oh, and one can’t forget the sheer beauty of New Zealand and how it still thrills the eye with some simply gorgeous scenery and vistas. Another great advert for tourism to the land of the Kiwi.

In the end, I enjoyed The Hobbit well enough but not as much as I should have done. I get the feeling it should really have been just the one kick ass movie, or at a push, two kick ass movies with a lot of the fat trimmed away. But we’ll see. I hate being harsh on Jackson as I utterly adore his Lord of the Rings trilogy. And things could well pick up and improve quite a bit seeing as how next Christmas promises a very, very big dragon to fight along with plenty more nasty orcs. I just hope The Desolation of Smaug can recapture some much-needed magic and excitement and can actually make me care about all the frantic CGI shenanigans going on onscreen. I really, really do hope so. 3.5 (out of 5)