The nominations: Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Visual Effects
The film: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) always lives a happy and quiet life in his cozy hobbit hole at Bag End. He never bothered anybody and no on ever bothered him until one day the crazy old wizard famous for his spectacular fireworks Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) sought him out to participate in an adventure. Enter a merry company of dwarves: Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Nori, Ori, and their leader Thorin Oakenshield, Prince of Erebor. A long time ago the dragon Smaug destroyed and claimed for his own the dwarf kingdom under the Lonely Mountain and now the dwarves are determined to take it back. Though Bilbo doubts himself greatly, he agrees to join the company. Along the way they encounter many curious obstacles. Before they prepare to pass over the Misty Mountains, Bilbo and his companions are kidnapped by trolls only to by saved by Gandalf and a timely sunrise. After being chased by a band of orcs the company takes refuge at the elvish city Rivendell where they seek help on their quest from Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) who helps read the map that will lead them to the secret passage into Erebor as to surprise Smaug. While there Gandalf confers with Lord Elrond, Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and fellow wizard Saruman the White about the darkness that is creeping over the land – Gandalf fears that the Dark Lord Sauron is poised to make a return to Middle Earth. Bilbo and the dwarves leave Rivendell in secret, afraid that the elves will stop what they believe is a foolhardy journey. While attempting to cross the Misty Mountains, the dwarves are captured by goblins though Bilbo makes a clever escape. While trying to find a way to help the company Bilbo gets lost in the mountain caves where he finds a curious gold ring and a slinky creature named Gollum who has a enchant for talking to himself. Bilbo challenges Gollum to a game of riddles making Gollum promise to show him the way out of the caves if he wins. When he does, Gollum gets very angry and is exacerbated when he realizes his precious ring is missing. Bilbo uses the ring, which allows him to become invisible, to make good his escape and meet up with the dwarves who, with Gandalf’s help, have also found their way out. As soon as the company plans to resume their journey, they are attacked by a band of orcs and their leader Azog the Defiler, a great foe of Thorin. With company surrounded and backed against the edge of a cliff, its unclear whether or not they will make it away.
The odds: With Peter Jackson being such a huge supporter of modern movie technology, most discussions about the critical reception of this movie depend a lot on people getting caught up in the various flavors that the movie came in: IMAX 3D, regular 3D, 48-frames per sec 3D, and average-joe 2D. Jackson hasn’t failed to impress an audience with his visual scope and epicness since 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; the IMAX version was the very definition of an experience and it falls into the number two spot among the great 3D films of 2012 right behind Life of Pi. But then there’s the forty-eight frames per second… For those who don’t know, regular films have a frame rate of twenty-four per second, that is there are twenty-four pictures shown every second. The idea with the doubled frame rate is to heighten the realism of the film as the human eye processes ninety-six frames per second. It’s a shame if you missed an opportunity to see the movie at 48 fps if only to be a part of the first major motion picture to do it. Among critics the love was pretty split, half admiring the intensity it lends to the story the other half loathing the rollercoaster-like quality prone to nauseating any audience member with the slightest inner ear problem. In the end voters deciding the Visual Effects winner are sure to opt for Pi as 48 fps won’t factor in to the F/X, but its important to keep note of it as a technical achievement that will be remembered. If there were anything about this movie that could win it that award, it would be the diamond of CGI wizardry that won the LotR movies all of the Visual Effects Oscars – Gollum. The movie is a spectacle to be sure, but when Andy Serkis’s Gollum slinks on screen there should be nothing but a feeling of guilt at forgetting how loathsome and gross he is and simultaneously a beautiful work of art, the advancements in CGI making the hideous creature the greatest and most real he’s ever looked. The hair and makeup are great as always as are the incredible sets, but the heavy-handed companion piece to the LotR trilogy lacks something. If only it were fun and fresh like the novel, though the comic genius Martin Freeman does his damndest to carry the movie with the bobbling hilarities of the dwarf company. When Desolation of Smaug comes along, let’s just hope that Orlando Bloom’s reprising of badass elf Legolas will fill that huge hole that will inevitably be left by Serkis’s Gollum – now, that would be an award to give this movie. All in favor of giving Serkis an honorary Oscar, say “AYE!”