Van Helsing

  • Title: Van Helsing
  • Director:  Stephen Sommers
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre: Horror, Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh
  • Format:  B/W prologue only, then Color/Widescreen (old)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve never been out of the Abbey, how do you know about vampires?” – Van Helsing
“I read.” – Carl

“My life, my job, is to vanquish evil. I… I can sense evil. This thing, man, whatever it is, evil may have created it, may have left its mark on it, but evil doesn’t rule it. So I cannot kill it.” – Van Helsing (re: the Creature)

Van Helsing is much more about style than substance, though as the CGI-heavy film moves along, it does improve – and it has some great moments.

The film opens with a black and white prologue – Dr. Frankenstein is doing his famous experiment to create the Creature, but after it becomes alive, he is confronted by Count Dracula. Dracula kills Dr. Frankenstein, but the Creature escapes with Frankenstein’s body to the famous windmill. There, a crowd of local people confront the Creature with torches, quickly burning down the windmill, presumably killing both Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature.

One year later the film opens into full color, and shows Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) chasing Hyde of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fame. Unfortunately, when Hyde falls off a roof he turns back into Jekyll – and dies. Van Helsing is blamed for the murder. However, he really doesn’t have much to worry about because he goes to a supernatural MI6, where the cardinal, like M, is the voice of exposition. M explains that Van Helsing must go to Transylvania to rescue the last members of the Valerious family by destroying Dracula. Due to some sort of curse, that Van Helsing’s Secret Order was also involved in, if Dracula isn’t destroyed before the last members of the Valerious family die – the entire family (including the dead members) will be cursed for eternity. Yeah, OK – it doesn’t make much sense, but plot is more of an excuse in this film, than something that’s well thought out. Have plenty of popcorn and enjoy the show. Anyway, while at his secret headquarters, the Cardinal, like M in a James Bond gives Van Helsing basic info, some clues, and a torn piece of a scroll bearing a mysterious signet – which is identical to the signet on Van Helsing’s ring. Conveniently, Van Helsing has also lost his memory. After getting information from M, I mean the Cardinal, Van Helsing goes to see Carl, a friar with more than a passing resemblance to Q in the James Bond films. Carl (David Wenham) kits out Van Helsing with special gear. However, Van Helsing surprises Carl by requesting he come along to Transylvania. As he is a bookish, scientist-type, Carl isn’t that happy about it.

Van Helsing and Carl travel to Transylvania where they meet Anna, the last member of the Valerious family (her brother had been recently transformed into a werewolf). Anna, Van Helsing, and Carl need to find and defeat Dracula.

There is a lot of CGI in the film, and the entire thing is digitally graded to make it look darker. The action scenes are good to excellent but lack depth because the characters are not that well drawn. This is probably why I haven’t watched the film since it originally came out and I originally purchased the DVD. Anna is strong, capable, and an excellent fighter – but still manages to get captured by Dracula and has to be rescued by Van Helsing. Carl is an excellent character, and his ability to put together information from libraries and stained glass windows is a valuable addition to Van Helsing’s quest. I also liked his character. Van Helsing is cool – especially his costume, and his weapons, but because he has no memory, and the audience for the most part only sees him when he’s fighting – he’s an enigma, so as a character he’s hard to like – despite a good performance by Hugh Jackman.

About halfway through the film, as Anna and Van Helsing are escaping through some water-logged tunnels, they encounter the Creature. However, the Creature speaks, and feels bad for himself because everyone hates him. He also knows Dracula’s secrets. Despite orders to the contrary – Van Helsing not only works with the Creature but in the end lets him go. The Creature shows surprising humanity, and is one of the better things in this film.

Overall, Van Helsing felt like a graphic novel adapted for the screen, though the credits list it as an original film (that is, written for the screen). The visuals were very typical CGI, but at times were impressive. They made have been more impressive in 2004. The entire cast, especially some of the smaller roles, also did a very good job – the acting can’t really be critiqued negatively. The director also at times did some great things. A scene with a mirror in what turns out to be Dracula’s Summer Palace is particularly memorable. Likewise, there’s a hidden door scene that’s far from the norm done seriously in so many films and parodied brilliantly in Young Frankenstein. However, the film also reminded me of The League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen.

Special Note:  I have the Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which not only includes the film Van Helsing but the original monster films Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man from the 1930s – all of which are worth watching at least once. And the original Frankenstein can easily become a Halloween tradition to re-watch.

Recommendation: Some good elements, but a bit average
Rating: 3 out of 5
Next Film: Wayne’s World

Advertisements

Thunderbirds

  • Title:  Thunderbirds
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Working Title, Universal
  • Genre:  SF, Adventure, Action, Children
  • Cast:  Brady Corbet, Bill Paxton, Sophia Myles, Ron Cook, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, Genie Francis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Alan, This equipment’s only to be used in an emergency! [Tin Tin and Alan look at each other] I guess this qualifies.” – Fermat

“It’s the children. They have it.” – The Hood
“No way. They’re dead. No one could live through something like that.” – Mullion
“I did.” – The Hood

“Alan? He’s just a kid.” – Gordon Tracy
“He’s a Tracy.” – Jeff Tracy

Thunderbirds is a live-action children’s adventure film based on the ITV Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series of the same name. For more information on the original television series see this post. The film is an origin story of sorts, set early in the career of International Rescue and the Thunderbirds. Jeff is very much an active part of the organization, and Alan – the youngest Tracy, is still at school, attending Wharton Academy, an all-boys boarding school, with Fermat, Brains’ young son.

Alan dreams of the day he can leave school behind and join his brothers in International Rescue as a full Thunderbird.  In this film, the Thunderbirds are the pilots of the machines as well as the machines themselves. Alan’s at school when he’s caught daydreaming by a teacher – and is given an extra report to write during Spring Break. However, soon all the students are watching a news cast – the Thunderbirds respond to an fire at an oil rig in Russia and rescue the trapped men, despite heavy rain and other problems. Alan and Fermat watch with the other students, but Alan, far from being worried about his older brothers and father – mimes their actions and wishes to be with them.

Lady Penelope, the family’s London agent, arrives at Wharton and picks-up Alan to bring him home to Tracy Island, because the rest of the family is obviously busy. Not only does she arrive in her 6-wheeled pink Rolls Royce – but Lady Penelope’s entire wardrobe is pink. Once she, Alan, Fermat, and Parker have driven away from any traffic the car turns into a flying car – and Parker pilots it to the Island.

Unbeknowest to Scott Tracy, however, when he and Virgil drop off the rescuees at a local hospital, one of them shoots a tracking compound onto Thunderbird 1. Scott doesn’t notice. At dinner, Alan asks his father when he can become a Thunderbird, and Jeff rebukes him saying he’s too young.

Alan and Fermat sneak into Thunderbird 1 where they accidentally start the launch sequence. The sequence is stopped without incident, but Jeff is so mad at Alan’s behavior he doesn’t give Alan a chance to tell him about the tracking goo he and Fermat found. (At this point the children don’t realize what the goo is for.)

John’s on Thunderbird 5, a manned satellite and communications station. He reports to Jeff on a couple of minor problems but his report is it’s basically a quiet night. Then, suddenly, and without warning, The Hood (Ben Kingsley) fires a rocket into Thunderbird 5. The satellite is crippled and John is in trouble.  Jeff, Scott, Virgil, and Gordon take Thunderbird Three, the giant, red rocket ship into orbit to rescue John/fix the satellite.

Meanwhile, The Hood invades Tracy Island.  Alan, Fermat, and Tin Tin see his sub – but are unable to stop the attack on Thunderbird 5.

The Hood bursts into the house on the island, looking around he recognizes Jeff’s picture. The Hood’s vendetta seems personal. The Hood forces Brains to activate command and control. Jeff and his boys enter Thunderbird 5, but The Hood locks the door so they can’t get out.  Jeff handles the emergency on Thunderbird 5 well, and finds and cares for his injured son, John.  However, the five men are unable to escape the satellite because The Hood’s locked and jammed the door from Command and Control.

Alan, Fermat, and Tin Tin (Kyrano’s daughter) go the Thunderbird Silos – they use the Firefly and the Thunderizer to escape The Hood’s henchpeople, Mullion and Transom.  They slide down an exhaust pipe into the Ocean surrounding the Island, then get to shore. The three need to come up with a plan. They decide to cross the Island on foot, through the jungle to the Island’s satellite dish to try to contact Jeff on Thunderbird 5. After a few adventures, they make it.  They have some difficulty with the transmitter, but eventually get it working.  Alan asks what to do – but Jeff tells him to follow protocol and get to Lady Penelope.

Alan would rather have an more active role. He finds one of the family’s old hover-sleds, and builds a sidecar-like device so he can carry Tin Tin and Fermat as well behind them. They are chased by the Hood’s Henchpeople, Mullion and Transom.  Fermat and Tin Tin are caught, and put in a freezer with their fathers, Brains and Kyrano.

Meanwhile, Alan is still free, and he sees Lady Penelope and Parker arrive. He follows and sees them challenge and fight the henchpeople in the Tracys’ living room.  Although the British agents fight extremely well, they are no match for The Hood’s mind control – the are caught and put into the freezer with everyone else.

The Hood, Transom, and Mullion head off to the Bank of England in Thunderbird 2 – having gotten the guidance computer chip Fermat had taken out of the machine.

In the freezer, Parker remarks that he can open the lock if he had a small piece of wire. Lady Penelope offers him the underwire from her bra. Everyone had discretely turned away as she retrieved it.

The group manages to rescue Jeff and the boys on Thunderbird 5 just before the satellite burns up in a decaying orbit, as well as reversing the sabotage to the satellite airlock door to Thunderbird 3. Then, the group, including Lady Penelope take Thunderbird 1 to London.

The Hood lands Thunderbird 2 in Jubilee Gardens, near the London Eye.  They take the Mole and dig a route under the Thames towards the Bank of England, their route cuts the supports of the monorail – causing a disaster.

Meanwhile, Jeff and his boys head directly to London in Thunderbird 3.

Alan arrives in Thunderbird 1 – he lands and uses Thunderbird 4 (the yellow sub) to rescue the monorail car, with help from Tin Tin who secures the line around the monorail, which is then lifted by Thunderbird 1.

Jeff watches his youngest son in action, and is proud of how his handles himself. He lands Thunderbird 3 in Jubilee Gardens next to the other Thunderbirds.

Once the people from the monorail are safe, the Thunderbirds and Lady Penelope go to the Bank of England to stop The Hood.  Lady Penelope, thanks to The Hood’s special powers, and Jeff end-up locked in a vault.  Alan, with the help of Tin Tin’s use of her own special powers, defeats The Hood.

At a celebratory beach party, Jeff gives International Rescue pins to Fermat, Tin Tin, and Alan – and welcomes Alan officially into the family business.

Thunderbirds is a fun family movie. It always makes me smile whenever I watch it, from the opening animated sequence, to the ending credits theme tune by Busted, “No strings to hold them down,” indeed.  Yes, it’s a kids movie, and Jeff and the older Tracy sons are basically stuck in Thunderbird 5, completely helpless for the majority of the movie. The movie emphasizes Alan – and shows us his journey from teenager, to full-fledged International Rescue member. Jeff Tracy does come off as an, excuse the expression, bit of an hard-ass, but explanations are given. The Hood hates him because when International Rescue responded to the collapse of his illegal diamond mine – he wasn’t rescued, but stranded. Being trapped led him to develop his mental powers. When Alan asks if The Hood’s story is true – Jeff tells Alan, yes, it is, and that sometimes you can’t save everyone, even though International Rescue saved 600 people that day. Alan then asks, “What was Mom like?” To which Jeff replies, “She was like you.” Jeff had been inspired to start International Rescue after his wife was killed in an avalanche.

There are some notable differences from the TV show the movie is based on – one of the most notable is that the International Rescue members, that is, the Tracy boys who pilot the Thunderbird machines call themselves Thunderbirds as well. In the series, their organization was always International Rescue, the machines were Thunderbirds, and the pilots were the Tracys. Though, as it was a secret who IR was – I could easily see the public also calling the pilots Thunderbirds rather than members of International Rescue as they do in the TV show. Also, in the series, Alan is an adult – an astronaut who is also famous as a race car driver (which was almost a hobby for him). And Alan’s a competent member of International Rescue, and the pilot of Thunderbird 3 – who splits space monitor duty with John, aboard Thunderbird 5.  Jeff leads his boys from the ground as base commander. And Lady Penelope doesn’t wear so much pink. Though I must admit her wardrobe in the film, is fantastic.

Still, even with the shift of focus to Alan, Fermat (a new character for the film), and Tin Tin, the film is fun. It’s an excellent family film. And I always enjoy it every time I watch it.

Recommendation:  See It! Especially appropriate for families and pre-teens.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbirds Are Go

The Three Musketeers

  • Title:  The Three Musketeers
  • Director:  Stephen Herek
  • Date:  1993
  • Studio:  Walt Disney Pictures
  • Genre:  Adventure
  • Cast:  Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, Rebecca De Mornay, Gabrielle Anwar, Paul McGann
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, Region 1

“You go back, and you tell the Cardinal, we will continue to perform our sworn duty, which is to protect the King, and we will use every means in our power to fight him.” – Athos

“A remarkable woman – the most beautiful I’ve ever known, and the deadliest, which would explain my attraction.” – Cardinal Richelieu

“D’Artagnan, would you be so kind as to redistribute this wealth? [D’Artagnan looks confused] Throw the coins, man, people are hungry.” – Aramis

“This world is an uncertain realm filled with danger, honor undermined by the pursuit of power, freedom sacrificed when the weak are oppressed by the strong, but there are those who oppose these powerful forces, who dedicate their lives to truth, honor, and freedom. Those men are known as Musketeers.” – the King

Disney’s The Three Musketeers is a fun, adventurous, romp. Although there are lines here and there referring to the sorry state of the people of France, and the assassination of the previous King of France (the new King’s father), it’s not dwelt upon – at all. The result is this is a fun, light, frothy adventure film.

With the death of the previous King, and a very young new King on the throne of France, the evil Cardinal Richelieu is posed to take over France, and even aims to become King himself. Richelieu is played with considerable relish, and some chewing of scenery by Tim Curry, so you know it’s going to be fun. Richelieu’s opening move is to dismantle the Musketeers the King’s personal and private guard. Told of the disbanding of the Musketeers, the men ceremonially burn their blue tunics and turn in their swords.

Three Musketeers refuse to give in, however, and become outlaws.

Meanwhile, Chris O’Donnell plays an arrogant young man who is on his way to Paris to join the Musketeers like his father. He gets into a duel with Girard, who believes he wronged his sister. The duel is, however, swiftly broken up and the young man, D’Artagnan, heads to Paris. Upon arriving he find a man in the destroyed former HQ of the Musketeers. Assuming the HQ has merely been moved, he asks for the new location. D’Artagnan learns that the Musketeers have been disbanded. He manages to get Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, upset with him and ends up with appointments for duels with each of them – at 12:00, 1:00, and 2:00, respectively.

When he arrives, late, for his duel with Athos, he meets the other Musketeers as well. The three are surprised to learn D’Artagnan has arranged duels with them all. And D’Artagnan is shocked to learn the three men he’s agreed to fight are Musketeers. He finds no joy in killing a Musketeer. But there will be no killing – the Cardinal’s guards attack and the four men fight back. The Three Musketeers are surprised by the young D’Artagnan’s skill. They defeat the first group of the Cardinal’s guards, then another group attacks. Athos urges D’Artagnan to leave and go home.

D’Artagnan, doesn’t leave, gets separated from the group and is captured. But he frees himself from the dungeons and hears the Cardinal meet Mi Lady D’Winter – and hears their entire plan. Richelieu plans to betray France to England by signing a treaty with Lord Buckingham – his payment for this will be the throne of France. Mi Lady D’Winter will carry his terms, and the treaty to Calais. Somehow, though he hears the entire plan, D’Artagnan doesn’t see Mi Lady D’Winter, or forgets who she is when he meets her later.

The Three Musketeers rescue D’Artagnan from the chopping block – literally, and they escape in the Cardinal’s own coach. The four drink the Cardinal’s wine, eat his food, and give his coin to the poor as they leave Paris. D’Artagnan tells the Musketeers of Richelieu’s plot – and the Musketeers realize that if they can stop the spy and get the treaty, they will be able to prove Richelieu’s a traitor, as well as saving France. Unfortunately, the Cardinal knows that D’Artagnan knows about his plot – he orders a 1000 gold coin bounty on the heads of him and the Musketeers. This makes getting to Calais difficult.

To make their travel less obvious, and to double the chances of finding the spy – the four split into two groups. Athos and D’Artagnan are attacked by bounty hunters. D’Artagnan offers to stay with Athos (until the bitter end, because they are outnumbered by men with guns, or at least, muskets), but Athos orders him to go on to Calais, knowing that finding the spy, stopping Richelieu and rescuing the King are more important than a single Musketeer’s life.

D’Artagnan takes the surviving horse and heads off but eventually falls asleep and falls off his horse. He’s picked up by a woman in a carriage – a woman he doesn’t recognize. She’s Mi Lady D’Winter. They go to the ship for her meeting with Buckingham. But Porthos and Aramis have reached the ship first, and have knocked out or killed the crew. The Musketeers end-up with the treaty, and D’Artagnan is again, rescued. Mi Lady D’Winter turns out to be Sabine – Athos wife, whom he kicked out and thought dead. Athos had regretted his decision to kick out his wife (he thought her an enemy of France and a murderer, she professed her innocence, he exiled her anyway.)

The next morning she’s to be executed. Athos had tried to get her to tell him the rest of Richelieu’s plan, but she refuses. At the execution, Athos stops the ax-man. Sabine reveals that Richelieu plans to have the King assassinated at his birthday celebration, that Friday. She forgives Athos for not believing in her all those years ago, then kills herself by jumping off a cliff.

The Musketeers and D’Artagnan rush to Paris, leaving “All for one and One for All” markers everywhere in their wake. At the birthday celebration, the four try, desperately, to find the assassin. He gets a shot off, misses, and the plaza fills with Cardinal’s guards and Musketeers. D’Artagnan, meanwhile fights the assassin on a nearby rooftop. The battle moves inside as Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan, try to find and rescue the King and Queen from the Cardinal. They succeed, the Cardinal is captured, and the King admits D’Artgnan into the Musketeers.

Again, this is fun, light, adventure film. There’s no serious violence. No one gets killed. The good guys win and the bad guys lose. In the middle there’s lots, and lots, of sword-fighting to enjoy – as well as chases. The film’s score is excellent, and the cast is good – if a bit young. The filming is gorgeous – and especially the greens just pop off the screen. The whole film has a very storybook quality to it. It’s highly enjoyable, and not too deep. I recommend this, especially for families.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  Four Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbirds

The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice

  • Title:  The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  TNT (TV movie)
  • Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Stana Katic
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1

“Maybe some women are OK with the wild and unpredictable lifestyle of dating a librarian, but I’m not.”  — Katie, when she dumps Flynn

“Charlene, How big is the library?”  – Flynn
“As big as we need it to be.” – Charlene

“You cannot escape your destiny, Flynn.” – Simone
“I was trying to take a little vacation from it but it didn’t seem to work out.” – Flynn
“No, if you fight your destiny you will be miserable.  You must embrace it and revel in every moment.” – Simone

The third film starts with Flynn, wearing a black tuxedo, and attending a high priced auction.  But rather than having the sophistication of James Bond, this is still our Flynn – the free champagne causes him to sneeze, though he also points out it’s not technically champagne but an Italian sparkling wine.  During the auction, not only does Charlene call to remind him of The Library’s budget, but his girlfriend, Katie calls to break up with him. Between the two conversations on his cell phone, and the auction itself, Flynn is distracted and accidentally raises the bid much too high several times.  Finally, it total frustration, he bids L1 million Pounds Sterling.  He wins the vase, and back at The Library, Charlene nearly faints. After the auction, Flynn picks up his vase, intentionally drops it, and shatters it into a million pieces, he finds and takes a small cloth bag, and hides it in his jacket pocket.  The other bidder arrives, and when he sees what’s happened, tries to take the item from Flynn. It turns out it’s the Philosopher’s Stone which can turn anything it touches into gold. Flynn and his rival fight, with anything at hand, including a throw pillow that Flynn’s quickly turned to gold. The fight merges into a stolen sword, sword-fight. Flynn, after some difficulty, escapes with the Stone.

Flynn goes to the hotel bar to meet his girlfriend, but she’s left.  He returns to the Library, where Charlene and Judson show him the Large Collection Annex, which, among other things, includes Noah’s Ark.  However, Flynn, though impressed, is fed-up.  He mentions his relationships that haven’t worked out:  Nicole, Emily, now Katie.  And how he can’t even tell his mother the importance of his work.  In short, he has a meltdown and threatens to quit.  Judson and Charlene ask him to take a vacation instead.

So Flynn does, but he merely stays in his apartment, eating take-out.  Charlene drops by one night at drops off a bunch of travel brochures.  Flynn is polite to her, but doesn’t take her suggestion seriously.  That night he has a dream of a Siren calling him, then sees a statue of a rearing horse.  When he wakes, he looks at the brochures again and finds one with the same rearing horse.  He decides to head to New Orleans on vacation.

In New Orleans, Flynn seems determined to have a very boring vacation, at first.  But one night he wanders into a bar, and sees the woman from his dream singing on stage.  During her break, he sits at her table and tries to buy her a drink.  This seems to be going terribly, when some heavies show up and come after the girl.  She and Flynn escape.

Flynn and the girl, Simone, spend the night together.  The next day, she’s gone.  Flynn runs into Judson in a barbershop, and learns a bit about the plot.  It seems that the Judas Chalice, an artifact made by melting the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas Iscariot to betray Christ, is in play.  The Chalice has the power to re-animate dead vampires.  Meanwhile, the coffin of Dracule – aka, Vlad the Impaler, has disappeared.

Flynn and Simone, attempt to follow the clues to solve this new riddle.  Simone, guards a key that leads to the hiding place of the chalice.  Through a series of adventures they solve the puzzles.  However, Simone is a vampire – this isn’t too bad, she keeps blood in her fridge and has no desire to snack on Flynn.  Flynn also runs into a famous professor, whom he thinks is killed by the vampires chasing him.

The conclusion, is much more bittersweet than the previous Librarian films.  However, Flynn has once again, learned how important it is that he remain The Librarian.  He’s also learned that The Library is part of a larger struggle of Good vs. Evil.  And he’s picked up a little background on Judson.  Flynn, once at the verge of quitting, returns to The Library.

The third and final Librarian film, The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice, is a little weak in spots. The entire film, for the most part, is set in New Orleans, though it makes use of the location. I liked Flynn’s pal, the cabbie – who continuously shows-up to help Flynn and get him whatever he needs – a cemetery tour, a rental boat, etc.  Simone, a 300-year old vampire with a desire to take revenge on the one who made her, is a new twist on Flynn’s female companion du jour.  Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin round out the cast to make the film that much more fun.  Still, I missed the more global-trotting aspects of the previous films.  Though having the humor back was a bonus.  Overall, the film was enjoyable and fun.  Later this year, in December 2014, TNT will bring The Librarians to the small screen, starring Wyle, Newhart, Curtin, John Larroquette, and Christian Kane (of TNT’s Leverage). I’m actually looking forward to seeing it.

Recommendation:  See It – this film is especially appropriate for children
Rating:  3.8
Next Film:  Star Trek:  Into Darkness

The Librarian Return to King Solomon’s Mines

  • The Librarian Return to King Solomon’s Mines
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2006
  • Studio:  TNT (TV Movie)
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Gabrielle Anwar, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Olympia Dukakis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Flynn, I trust you, we send you on missions alone.  It’s just you have a lot to learn.”  – Judson

“Sometimes, you have to give up what you want for the greater good.  You see that’s the difference between a good librarian and a great one.” – Judson

“Be safe.  Don’t get killed.  Save your receipts.” – Charlene

“You’d be surprised what you can learn at the Library.”  – Flynn

This film starts with Flynn Carson on a quest to retrieve the Crystal Skull of Atlantis.  He manages to grab it from some pot hunters, but before he can sneak away, he’s distracted by finding a Sioux arrow head, which would be unusual to find in Utah.  In attempting to retrieve it also, he catches the attention of the pot hunters.  They give chase to Flynn and his Native American companion.  The two run away, and eventually reach a high gorge.  Flynn and his partner jump their horses into the gorge and land in a rushing river.  Flynn’s companion is shocked he knew there would be a deep river at the base of the gorge.  Flynn gives him an explanation about average rainfall – only to have his companion tell him he had the month wrong.  Flynn’s blasé response is, “huh, we should have been flattened like pancakes.”

Back at The Library, Flynn’s expecting congratulations for finding the Crystal Skull.  And although Judson is happy about it, he still reins Flynn in for taking too many risks.

That night Flynn heads to his mother’s, only to walk in on his own surprise party.  His mother tries to set him up on a blind date with his third cousin.  Flynn is not amused.  The evening turns out to not be a total loss though when he runs into his “Uncle” Jerry, his father’s best friend, who works in “Import/Export”. Jerry gives Flynn his father’s amulet.  Flynn’s birthday is somewhat bittersweet, Flynn’s father died when he was thirty-two and Flynn was eight.  Now Flynn is thirty-two.  When Flynn gets home to his apartment he finds it’s been trashed.  He calls Judson, but is knocked out before he can tell him much of anything.

Judson sends him on a quest for the two-part Key of Solomon a map Legend to decode the Map of Solomon to King Solomon’s Mines, but warns Flynn that sometimes a Librarian must give up what he most wants – for the greater good.

In Casablanca, Flynn meets Emily Davenport (Anwar) an archeologist with twenty-five degrees who’s possibly smarter than he is.  Together they set out on the quest.

Flynn is attacked, but when he sees the Mason Symbol amulet Flynn wears that was his father’s, the man backs off, shows his own amulet, and explains he’s part of a Secret Society of Masons protecting King Solomon’s Secret and that the “secret must be passed”.  Flynn gets the first part of the Legend, and the guy tells Flynn the second part is in Kenya.

In Africa, Flynn and Emily find a man buried in the sand up to his neck.  They rescue him and Jomo becomes their guide.  Flynn tells Emily that his father was mugged coming home from work, and the “coward” shot him.  According to Flynn, they never caught the guy.  So, Flynn’s father was shot dead when Flynn was 8-years old, by a mugger.  Does that sound familiar?

The scenery in Africa is beautiful.  Because the second film really emphases Flynn’s background, especially his loss of his father, the story has more heart, and less comedy than the previous film.  Flynn is also experienced and professional, and no longer bumbling in his role as the Librarian.

Flynn and Emily find the second piece of the Map Legend, and run into Flynn’s Uncle Jerry who helps them. Jerry explains to Flynn that the reason he has his father’s amulet, is that his father got it from his father, who got it from his father before that.  Flynn responds, “The secret shall be passed.”

Flynn and Emily examine the map and the two pieces of the legend.  Flynn realizes the map is sheet music. He plays the music on one piece of the map legend, and the map becomes a 3-D map showing them how to get to the mines.  Flynn and Emily leave the train, and Uncle Jerry, who goes his own way. Once again, Flynn and Emily are off on an adventure, in search of  the Mines.

As they follow the map, Flynn realizes that the pictures he drew as a child, based on his father’s bedtime stories, are actually places they will find while searching for King Solomon’s Mines.  Flynn realizes with some astonishment, that his father was preparing him for this quest his entire life.

Eventually, they reach the ante-chamber to the Mines, Flynn and Emily have to cross a stone bridge over a river of  lava.  They do, and Flynn discovers his father’s amulet is literally a key to the treasure chamber. Inside, Flynn opens the web-covered book, which sits on a plinth in a shaft of light.  Emily distracts Flynn before the weird stuff the book is doing to Flynn completes.

The concluding scenes are quite good, and I don’t want to spoil them.

This chapter in The Librarian series isn’t as funny as the first – it’s definitely more adventure than comedy. However, the story, by emphasizing Flynn’s relationship with his father, and that history, has more heart. The conclusion is wrapped around the relationship between Flynn, his father, Jerry, and Flynn’s mother, so it works well.  Flynn is no longer the bumbling professional student.  He is now an experienced Librarian and adventurer.  Emily is impressive, an archaeologist with twenty-five degrees, she’s smarter than Flynn but knows nothing about The Library.  And, The Library is only seen at the beginning and very end of the film.  Once the quest is over, Flynn does go back to the Library, having learned about his own personal history, as well as having first-hand experience as to exactly what Judson meant by, “Sometimes, you have to give up what you want for the greater good,” and has progressed in his career as the Librarian.  Emily goes off on another dig, continuing her own personal quest to discover more about the Queen of Sheba.

The Librarian Return to King Solomon’s Mines is still a good, light adventure film.  Although it doesn’t have the strong comedy elements of  The Librarian Quest for the Spear, it makes up for it by having more heart, and delving deeper into the character of Flynn Carson, Librarian.  There are references to the Indiana Jones films, especially Last Crusade, but also references to Batman and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s quite the enjoyable film.

  • Recommendation:  See it!  This film is especially appropriate for children and pre-teens.
  • Rating:  3.5 of 5
  • Next Film:  The Librarian  Curse of the Judas Chalice

The Librarian Quest for the Spear

  • Title:  The Librarian Quest for the Spear
  • Director:  Peter Winther
  • Date:  2004 (5 December 2004)
  • Studio:  TNT (Television)
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure, Comedy
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Sonya Walger, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Kyle MacLachlan, Kelly Hu, Olympia Dukakis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You are about to begin a wondrous adventure from which you will never be the same.  Welcome to The Library.”  — Judson (Bob Newhart)

“You are now part of a very special community.  The secret of the library has been kept for thousands of years.”  — Judson

“I believe in you, Flynn, I think there’s a possibility you could be a great librarian.” — Judson

Flynn Carson is a bookish professional student, with twenty-two degrees, six alone in Egyptology (one wonders how he paid for them all?  But thinking of the Real World is not something you should do while watching this film).  His current professor gets fed up with him, and throws him out into the “Real World” to get a job midway through the semester, signing off on his degree.  Flynn is devestated – he has no idea how to get a job and doesn’t really want one.  He goes home, where his mother has set him up on a blind date with a girl about his own age – who’s a social worker.  Flynn gets even more depressed.

Flynn’s in his room, when he suddenly finds an envelope.  He opens it and words appear, inviting him to apply for the position of The Librarian.  Flynn goes to the interview.  At The Library, there’s a huge line of applicants.  Flynn hears the protests and even cries of the previous applicants.  He’s about to duck out of line when a voice orders him in.  Flynn passes the pre-test question easily, and more importantly passes the Real Question.  He meets Judson, who takes him into The Library, underneath the library.  The Library is a wondrous place, indeed, home to all of  human knowledge, and a number of  magical, mystical, and real human artifacts, such as Pandora’s Box, the Mona Lisa, the Ark of the Covenant and Excalibur.

Flynn is beginning to settle in to his new job, when there’s a break-in.  Judson is knocked out, but not seriously harmed.  It seems one part of the Spear of Destiny has been stolen.  The Spear was broken in to three pieces for safe keeping.  Flynn is sent on a quest to find the other two pieces of the Spear and stop the evil organization known as the Serpent Brotherhood from assembling the Spear and causing havoc.  Flynn is soon joined on his quest by Nicole, a bodyguard for the Library.

The film resembles classic adventure films like the Indiana Jones films and Romancing the Stone.  But it is not a parody.  It takes that style of film and introduces it’s own characters and it’s own plotline, but most of all it has fun. There is a lot of humor in this movie – it’s it’s not simply the obligatory quip and the occasional really good one-liner.  The film is simply fun to watch and the cast is terrific.  Noah Wyle is great as the wide-eyed, bumbling, professional student who has, among other things, memorized the Earth, but can’t quite master flirting with a girl, or have much in the way of practical knowledge of the Real World.  Nicole is very like Michael Douglas’s character in Romancing the Stone – we even see her hacking away at jungle growth with a machete, while the branches hit Flynn.  But the story opens up too – not only do the characters go to a jungle in South America, but also to mysterious Shargri-La in the Himalayas.  Nicole has a reason for her somewhat icy personality, but she’s dedicated to her job of protecting The Librarian.  And Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin, have small roles in terms of screen time – but they are vital to the plot.  And both make the film that much more fun.

This is simply an enjoyable film to watch.  It’s bright, funny, and very light weight.  And it’s a good start to the series’ universe. Yes, this is a TNT Original film, which spawned two sequels, and a  television series which starts in December 2014.

Recommendation:  See it

Rating:  4 Stars

Next Film:  The Librarian Return to King Soloman’s Mines

Original 2012 Reaction to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I saw The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey last night.  I bought my ticket about 1:00pm, then did other stuff, including dinner with Mom & Dad at a new restaurant near the movie theater, Kitchen 67 by Brann’s, in short, dinner was OK.  The showing was at 8:30pm last night in the largest individual theater in my local multiplex – and it was a sold out show.

In short, the film is awesome – Peter Jackson really does have another hit on his hands, and I’m already eagerly awaiting the next two films, since Jackson has somehow turned “The Hobbit” into a trilogy.

The three most developed characters were: Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield son of Thrain (Richard Armitage) and Gandalf (Ian McKellan).  All the actors are excellent in their parts.  Martin Freeman, whom I know from Sherlock (where he played Dr. John Watson), spends much of his time looking confused and bemused — something Martin Freeman is particularly good at.  However, though the Dwarves underestimate him, Bilbo has strange courage when pushed and he’s loyal despite being ignored, treated as baggage, and even scolded.

Thorin is played by Richard Armitage (whom I know from the BBC’s recent Robin Hood TV series – the one with Jonas Armstrong as Robin) and he’s fantastic!  For one thing, even under all the hair, make-up, and costuming — Armitage is gorgeous, and as he’s very much the hero in the film, he gets several “heroic poses” shots, which I must admit got my attention in the theater last night.  But Armitage brings a real strength and gravitas to the part.  He doesn’t “ham it up” — and with him in the role Thorin becomes more likable.  No longer is this simply a group of Dwarves out for gold — it’s a group of thirteen wanderers in search of a home.  The parellel with the Lost Tribes of Israel popped into my head in the theater and just wouldn’t go away.

Ian McKellan’s Gandalf returns, whom most viewers of the film will remember from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  Also returning for a scene in Rivendell are:  Cate Blanchet as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, and Christopher Lee as Saruman.  Somehow they managed to make Hugo Weaving look a little younger — and I love his “hunting uniform” as we first encounter him when he and a group of Elves hunt and kill Orcs and wargs, thus saving Thorin, Bilbo, and their troop.  Though at the time neither really realises what’s happened, and who’s saved who.  Christopher Lee seems threatening and dark here (as Saruman), though at this point in the overall story everyone trusts him, including Gandalf.  I actually liked Cate Blanchet better this time around, and her psychic conversations with Gandalf were actually effective storytelling. And they were cool!

New to the story (besides Thorin and his Dwarves) is the wonderful Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, one of the five Wizards entrusted with the care of Middle-Earth.  I loved it that when Bilbo asked about other Wizards, Gandalf said:  ”The head of our order is Saruman the White, then there’s two Blue Wizards but I can’t remember their names, and there’s Radagast the Brown, he’s ‘odd’ – prefers the company of animals over people.” (I’m probably paraphrasing a bit)  But I love that Gandalf says there’s these other two Wizards but he doesn’t know their names.  Tolkien actually never named the other two Wizards, though the fact that their were five of them originally is mentioned more than once in the canon of the books (both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings).  Sylvester is barely recognizable under his costume, and I now understand his comments at Chicago TARDIS about it — it is off-putting and even a bit gross (with the bird poo in his hair and the bird nest that he’s wearing almost as a hat).  But that aside, he still has that sense of strangeness and alien-ness that worked so well in Doctor Who.  The scene where he’s using magic to save a hedge-hog is wonderful.  In the books, Radagast is barely mentioned, here he doesn’t have a large part, but he’s important… breaking messages to Gandalf.

The novel, The Hobbit:  There and Back Again, was a pre-quel to Lord of the Rings, and it came out first. The two stories are connected by the Ring, Bilbo, and some other re-occurring characters, as well as being in the same universe of Middle-Earth.  I’ve read Lord of the Rings countless times.  I first read in in seventh grade, when I found the books in my junior high school library, and I read it about every three years since.  When Jackson’s LotR Trilogy came out that switched to every year, as I wanted to see where the films diverged from the books.  The Hobbit I’ve only read two or three times, as I’ve always preferred LotR.  The Hobbit has always seemed to be more of a children’s book, as well as a straight-forward adventure tale (literally “There and Back Again” — Bilbo gets involved in a quest for treasure, he has a series of adventures, he comes home safe).  There are some memoriable scenes in the book, but really… LotR, which came out later, is much better, deeper, more complex, and transcends it’s “fantasy” label and genre.

I knew Ian Holm was going to be in the Hobbit film, but that Martin Freeman would play “young Bilbo”, so I was expecting some sort of “flashback” opening.  The film starts with Bilbo narrating a rather long narration of the history of Thrain (Thorin’s father), Thorin and the Dwarves.  I rather liked it because it gives the audience more background on Thorin and makes him more sympathetic and more of a hero.  Eventually, we see Bilbo addressing Frodo (Elijah Wood) as he starts writing in his journal.  Frodo arrives with the mail (post) and mentions they are replies to the party invitations.  Bilbo hands Frodo a sign to hang on his door, and as Frodo nails it up, we see it says “No Admittance Except on Party Business”, this neatly places this scene just before the opening in the Shire in Fellowship of the Ring (after that film’s prologue), the film then transitions 60 Years Ago to Bilbo’s adventure (and the sub-title comes up).  I loved the way the transition was done, technically, visually, and as an opening of the plot, so I won’t spoil it.

There is a lot of humor in The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, a bit more than I was expecting.  The acting was really, really good, too.  Visually, the film is stunning (Honestly, New Zealand is just stunning!). I also liked the switch in emphasis from the Dwarves looking for gold to the Dwarves wanting to return to their lost homeland.  ”The Song of the Lonely Mountain”, which was used in the previews, under-scores the film and it’s gorgeous!  The scene in Bag End, where the Dwarves sing their song, each standing one at a time and joining in, was almost like watching people singing their own National Anthem (and brings to mind a similar scene in Casablanca where everyone sings La Marseilles).  It also reminded me of something I had actually seen happen in a pub in Ireland, where someone started singing the Irish National Anthem (tho’ I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time) — the pub got deadly quiet, everyone stood, and everyone joined in. Anyway, it’s a wonderful scene in the film, and I think it’s part of what convinces Bilbo to join in on the adventure, though he initially says “no”.

The Hobbit the novel is the prequel book to The Lord of the Rings, and it was written and published first. However, Peter Jackson’s film was filmed and produced AFTER the very popular Oscar-winning (among other awards) Lord of the Rings Trilogy of films.  Movie-making logic suggests that sequels need to be bigger, more exciting, and more awesome than the original.  Yet, Tolkien’s book, having come first is smaller in scope.  I’ve already mentioned how it seems more like a children’s book and it has a straight-forward, there-and-back plot.  Initially, when news broke of a Peter Jackson film of the Hobbit, and the news broke as “two films” my first thought was “How?”  And, as we now know, Jackson is planning a trilogy.  Again, How?  The original story is much shorter, and doesn’t seem to have enough material for two films, let alone three.  My cynical thought was “Jackson overshot the movie”.  However, this is Peter Jackson, who, though he loves his action sequences (and The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey has plenty), also has a way of writing his characters, expanding their parts, and making the outline of the story better.  I do think it’s odd, The Hobbit, could have been one film, but Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, could have each been two films, if The Hobbit had been filmed first, as one would have expected.  That the stories are switched is going to have a interesting effect on the complete storyline.  I almost wonder if Jackson’s long-range plan is to re-do LotR as six films after The Hobbit Trilogy is complete in theaters.  (If you haven’t read LotR it is six books, split into three parts — each a separate book, plus an appendix).

Anyway, the film was awesome, I highly encourage everyone to see it!