Indiana in the snow…

indy1“Well the weather outside is frightful…”

You know how that song goes? Well, this past weekend the blizzards and cold that have shook the UK gave me the welcome opportunity to stop in and warm myself with red wine and the Indiana Jones Blu-ray box set that I was bought for Christmas. Watched the four films over the weekend with two on Saturday and the other two Sunday. What marvellous fun. Better than braving the snow anyway.

And fun is the operative word here, because that’s what they are all about- harmless fun and adventure, and watching them one after the other really swept me away in the escapist adventures.  Everyone knows what a classic film  Raiders is, but I actually relented and finally enjoyed Temple of Doom, my most ill-liked episode in the series before now. Partly because this time it actually immediately followed Raiders in a double-bill, it was also no doubt assisted by the HD treatment, because on Blu-ray, Temple truly shines, with bold comic-book  imagery with intense sweltering colours and deep shadowy blacks. It really amazed me how gorgeous it looked.

Watching the films so close together was doubly interesting because I could see them in context and notice their close themes. Raiders is the clear adventure film, the sincerest homage to those old cliffhanger movie serials the films were inspired by. Structurally I still feel it isn’t perfect, as for an action adventure filled with all sorts of wild stunts and chases, it ends with a strange denouement, in which the hero simply closes his eyes and passively waits for the Ark to ‘do its thing’. All through the film Indy was the instrument of his own salvation, defeating ever-bigger foes and escaping ever-devious traps, but in the finale he is such a frustrating, strangely passive figure.  It smacked too much even at the time of its release like the ‘eye candy’ fx finale of Spielberg’s earlier Close Encounters, as if the spectacle itself was somehow the finale, ditching any possible dramatic action by the main protagonist. Still, time heals.

Temple of Doom is the dark child of the bunch, a particularly nasty piece and oddly misogynistic. At the time it didn’t really feel like a proper Indiana Jones film but in the context of the others it now holds its own. It still feels oddly uncomfortable though with the weak hapless Indians having to be rescued by the white man who falls from the sky like an avenging angel. Some of the imagery and action is still rather shocking though, what with stabbings, whippings, burnings, hearts ripped out and monkey’s brains for dessert. There were a few times during the film I wondered what Lucas and Spielberg were thinking, and what on Earth younger children make of it even today.

Crusade is the clear comedy of the bunch. Ultimately saved by the oddly effective chemistry between Ford and Connery (the latter who, despite the praise heaped upon him,  doesn’t in the slightest attempt anything like an American accent), the films suffers a few pitfalls from too much excess that hints at what was to come with the Crystal Skull (the burning plane passing them in the tunnel is one such WTF moment).

Ah, and here we come to the Crystal Skull,  the bastard child no-one really loves. For myself though I really quite like it. It’s weakened by crucial choices though. Chiefly, Shia LaBeouf is a maddeningly mediocre actor who is totally miscast as Indy’s ‘lost’ son Mutt-it’s funny how some films get damaged by being stuck with what was the then-current ‘hot’ star. Irritating as the character is, it’d be fair less painful with a better-cast actor in the part. I think Skull gets some unfair flack simply by it being handicapped by strange decisions like this. But in light of the other films, it’s not the disaster many would have it, many of whom rate the earlier films with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. I’m a sucker for just seeing Ford as Indy again, a character and body of work across the films that only Ford could manage so with such apparently effortless charm and charisma (I hope Disney don’t try to relaunch the series by casting a ‘new’ Indy; Harrison Ford is really the only true Indiana Jones and anything else would be heresey). And I love the whole Space Gods thing and all it’s pulp 50’s b-movie connotations. And having seen all four films over two days, I love the symmetry of the wedding, bringing Indy and Marion full circle at last. It works.

Thematic parallels- the bad guys always get undone by the very thing they crave for. In Raiders, Belloq and the Nazi’s are destroyed when they achieve their goal of capturing and opening the Ark. In Temple, Mola-Ram is betrayed by the stones that burn in his hands and send him plummeting to his death. In Crusade Walter Donovan achieves his goal of obtaining the Grail (or what he thinks is the Grail) and is destroyed by it when  he drinks from the wrong cup- Elsa meanwhile is unable to let the Grail go and falls to her death. In Skull double-dealing Mac is undone by his greed for gold, swept up in the vortex, whilst Irina Spalko  is undone in the very moment of attaining her total knowledge/power.

Likewise in all four films, Indy survives by being able to let go of the very object he craves. In Raiders he gets the girl by losing the Ark to the Government (and by closing his eyes as the Ark is opened he forgoes the forbidden knowledge he might otherwise gain). In Temple he gets the girl and gives the Sankara stone and its powers back to the villagers. In Crusade he regains a father by giving up the Grail and its promise of immortality. In Skull he gets the girl again (and this time a son, too) by forgoing the Alien powers/knowledge of the Crystal Skull.

Good films. Maybe not great films (other than Raiders, anyway), but yeah, good films. And great when watched close together like that.

Life of Pi

lifeofpiI’ve been sitting here debating quite what to say about this extraordinary film. I mean, some things are a given- believe the hype about it looking spectacular, it is indeed astonishingly, breathtakingly beautiful, certainly, but beyond that…

Well, I even hesitate to say what I think it is really about. Is it a life-affirming story, a feel-good survival tale? Is it a grim tragedy, about the impermanence of Life, the finality of Death? Does it prove the existence of God, or does it rather disprove it in materialistic, cold and logical manner? Is it all of these things? Or is it, oddly, something else- is it all in the eyes of the beholder,  not really about the story or the events that unfold but rather about us, what we put ‘into’ the film, what we take away from it? Do you see a soul in the eyes of the Bengal tiger, or just the reflection of your own humanity? Do you see anything at all?

Rarely do I watch a film that lingers in my head afterwards, my mind considering and reconsidering what I have seen, what I have felt, and why. Life of Pi lingers. It gnaws at you, it refuses to let go. I can only imagine how many debates this film has ignited. It reminds me a little of The Tree of Life. In a way, they don’t function like ‘traditional’ films, they are films of ideas.  I need to see this film again. And then again. What in the world would Stanley Kubrick make of a film like this, I wonder?

So anyway,  the story- Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was said to have been an unfilmable book. I have not read the book, so have no way of knowing how faithful the film is, but certainly when you watch the film you get the sense of a profound book that pictures things that could only exist in the reader’s head (well, until CGI technology got to where it is now).

It tells the story of Pi Patel, a Canadian immigrant who tells a fantastic story to a struggling author. He tells him about his childhood back in India, and his family. His parents oversee a zoo in French-Indian Pondicherry,and as Pi grows up under his materialistic father and his more spiritual mother, he becomes fascinated by the different forms of God, of the views and teachings of Islam, Hinduism, and Catholicism. When the family is forced to close the zoo and relocate to Canada, their Japanese freighter is caught in a terrifying storm and sinks. Only Pi survives, stranded in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger that Pi had already been fascinated by at the zoo, which bizarrely has the name Richard Parker. The brutal savagery of life and death is soon evident, and before long it’s just Richard and Pi lost in the vastness of the ocean, struggling against thirst and starvation and the weather, and indeed each other. This is not exactly a buddy movie- I had expected the tiger to become anthropomorphised, a comrade for Pi (indeed I thought the film posters made it look almost like a Disney movie) but he isn’t- he’s a tiger, a savage and terrifying predator, throughout. And the film certainly pulls no punches regards Pi’s ordeal.

I hesitate to go any further regards the story. Hopefully I have only related what is evident in the film’s own trailer. I feel the film is a journey of discovery and interpretation. I do not wish to ‘spoil’ any of it.


Technically the film is a marvel. I know I’m not averse to moaning about CGI but here it creates something akin to true art. Images that might grace a gallery. I’m oddly reluctant to watch the docs on the Blu-ray as I don’t really feel the need to know the secrets behind the ‘magic’. Its a far cry from the days of my youth when I used to avidly watch the ‘making-of’ docs on tv for the Star Wars films. I don’t need to know any more.

But the real revelation is that the film has ideas to match the visuals- for once here is a film with captivating questions, suggestions, ideas. What are we? Are we lost adrift in a mindless universe of chance, of chaos, or are we instead in the presence of the Divine? And in the face of the films final moments, which story do we believe, and what does that say about us?

Maybe it will leave you cold. I suppose no film works for everyone. But I feel I have seen something rather special, clearly one of the films of the year.

Returning to The Hobbit

hobbitWell, it really does look pretty. Especially in HD.

Against, perhaps, my proper judgement considering how I felt about watching the film at the cinema back in January, I have bought The Hobbit on Blu-ray and watched it again last night. I suppose I could/should have waited for the extended/extras-packed edition coming towards the end of the year, but I figured my rather jaded view of the film negated any ‘need’ for any such edition anyway. To be clear on one thing- The Hobbit is long enough as it is, perhaps too long, and this is one case where I feel fairly sure that ‘more’ does not equal ‘better’. Just as it proved with the extended edition of Peter Jackson’s earlier King Kong remake. As far as extras are concerned, nice as they are to have, I find I rarely have time to experience them- case in point the LOTR films with their three (four? I can’t exactly remember) commentary tracks.

The case of The Hobbit is especially interesting in regards to the current perceived ‘value’ of Extended versions and Directors Cuts and Final Cuts. The Hobbit is not a bad film- its just one that needed proper use of the editors role. As much as I hate tightly-edited, sub-90 minute movies, there is much to be said for the idea that many directors nowadays just don’t know when to stop. Perhaps the pace and time-frame that seasons of HBO shows have (i.e. the ten hours that is spent on a single book of Game of Thrones, or the multi-season story arcs of shows like the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica),  has infected the mindsets of movie directors. It’s bad enough as it is with episodic television filtering into the motion picture arena with the penchant for Trilogies and Sagas that have DVD/Blu-ray box-sets in mind over the annual/bi-annual release dates of theatrical distribution. Isn’t the complete Harry Potter box-set just a glorified mega-budget miniseries? I know there have always been sequels and franchises in Hollywood, but years ago they were a minority; most motion pictures had a beginning, a middle, and an end, usually in the space of two hours. Nowadays they are usually just a tease for future instalments, i.e. The Rise of The Planet of the Apes, The Amazing Spider Man.  They are hardly standalone anymore, they just lead to further extensions of the story, wider arcs. The Silver Screen is becoming HBO on a bigger scale. Movies turning into box-sets.

So is Peter Jackson looking with oddly envious eyes at the running-time of a series of Game of Thrones and trying to create a similar ‘epic’ length with The Hobbit?  I won’t return to the argument about the original book being a simple, rather short children’s adventure easily encompassed by a three-hour movie.  The Hobbit isn’t really The Hobbit at all; its really The Hobbit and Other Stories. I know Jackson has his eyes on the Appendices, on turning the story into a huge saga, on turning even the original three-film Lord of The Rings trilogy into a six-movie Tolkien epic.   Indeed, he may not have even finished with those LOTR films- who is to say he hasn’t in mind adding to them further scenes over and above those of the Extended LOTR editions?  Is there an Ultra Edition box-set of all three extended Hobbit and all three further extended LOTR films due before 2018?

What I’m asking is, well, is it really such a good thing? Are all these movie box-sets turning the film experience into something akin to episodic television? Should we just sit back, refuse to watch any Hobbit film at the cinema,  even refuse to buy the Blu-rays, and instead just exercise (impossible!) self-restraint and patience and just wait for the box-set in 2015?  At least then we could see the entire story.

Still, I will just say I enjoyed The Hobbit more on second viewing than I did at the cinema. It is still too long, has telling pacing issues. As a story-telling experience it lacks a proper conclusion, frustratingly opens story threads no doubt only pursued in later films. As  such it is not a genuine movie, instead its part one of three. Fans seem okay with that. I realise its the nature of the beast but I find it disconcertingly familiar of late.

But yes, it is darned pretty. Jaw-droppingly so at times. If only it told The Hobbit story, had the beginning, middle and end that movies used to have, that the book has, without wildly leaping off into Tolkien-esque tangents every thirty minutes. Oh well. That’s just the way of the movies these days it seems.

From Beyond (1986)

I have only seen From Beyond once before- back in the ‘eighties on VHS rental. At that time, I didn’t care for it at all- back then I was in the midst of devouring pretty much of all of Lovecraft’s tales, having brought them in paperback omnibus form, and the 1920 tale From Beyond was instantly one of my favourites. It’s a very short tale, hardly eight pages, but I’ll never forget putting it down after finishing it and looking around me with fresh, cautious eyes. I remember back then I used to sit down after midnight when everyone else in the house and gone to bed, I have an hour reading whatever book I was reading at the time, which, at that time, would likely be a Robert E Howard story or H P Lovecraft story.  The lonely silence in which I turned the pages of those magnificent stories is something I recall fondly, and the very nature and subject of From Beyond lent its finale a haunting quality as I sat alone in the silence, looking at the room around me differently. I’ll never forget that.

There is something quite unique and rather disturbing about much of Lovecraft’s best work, but there was something about transferring the period tales to the  modern-day to serve the demands of cinema audiences (for both Re-Animator and From Beyond and pretty much every other film adaptation since) that really struck me as just plain wrong. I think this was mostly because, at that time,  I was still reading them all, was still stuck in that 1920s/1930s world of horror  (and indeed to this day I think that the only ‘proper’ way to make a definitive and honest Lovecraft film is to keep it in the period of the original stories), but I have mellowed regards the budget and marketing difficulties inherent in such an approach. I quite enjoyed Dagon, for example, and would cite that as one of the best film adaptations of Lovecraft, even though like so many others it takes some particular liberties transferring the tales to the modern world. But anyway, what I’m saying is that, if I had watched Dagon back when I first saw Re-Animator and The Beyond, I’d have hated that too.

The fact is, Lovecraft’s work, the whole  science-fiction/gothic horror hybrid only really works when its set in the time and world in which the stories were created. It’s a black and white, film-noir world, one without mobile phones or the  internet. Its a nightmare world quite alien to what we live in now. Characters behave in a different way to how contemporary characters would; they believe in different things, society is different, and the world in which they inhabit is a world is still unknown and strange. They have not seen the Earth from space, its furthest corners and nooks mapped and photographed. Lost alien mountain cities could still be buried under Antarctic ice or hidden beneath the waves.

So a film set in modern times has to be rather loosely based on a Lovecraft tale as opposed to being utterly faithful. In that respect it has to be considered a largely pointless endeavour.  Anyway, that said, I guess there is no way a modern-day big-budget A’list director will ever be able to make a period-set faithful horror film based on a HPL story. So we are where we are.

FrombeyondFrom Beyond has just been re-released in uncut form on Blu-ray, and watching it again I have to say I rather enjoyed it. I must be mellowing in my middle age, or setting my expectations lower than I used to. But it was actually quite fun.  There isn’t much of the original story here (it generally tells the Lovecraft story in a pre-credit sequence) as in order to stretch the 8-page tale into an eighty-minute movie demands liberties regards going off on its own journey. But there is plenty going for it, mostly in how much the film reflects its own period of ‘manufacture’; you know, the whole ‘eighties horror thing with physical effects and gore and everything. Its as much a child of its time as the HPL tale was of the early 20th Century. It harks back to the gruesome charms of Carpenter’s The Thing, and of b-movie actors and video-nasties. It isn’t at all scary, but it is strangely fun, and every frame screams ‘Cult’ at you- Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton are magnificent b-movie actors in b-movie sets, with Richard Band’s synth score evoking the age just as much as the hokey matt shots. How many adolescent males got their minds fevered by the shots of Barbara Crampton suffering sexual degradation at the gooey fingers of it’s twisted deviant monster?

From Beyond is nasty. It’s messy. It’s The Thing mixed up with Videodrome, but not as intense as either. Deformed body parts twisting and contorting into horrible parodies of nature, buried in gore and slime. The main monster is bad enough, but when another starts eating victims brains -usually by sucking them out through the victims eye socket- well the film reaches for levels of grossness that is fairly hardcore. The price of all this OTT visual depravity is a lack of genuine horror or scares, something that is a betrayal, frankly, of the source material. But nonetheless it is a fascinating combination of horror and science fiction unique to Lovecraft and has to be commended for that. Certainly a better film than I had remembered it.

HPLHS’ The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

dart-cdw-CoverFresh from the wonderful H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society comes their latest Dark Adventure Radio Theatre offering, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. These Dark Adventure Radio Theatre works are made in the style of period radio shows,  mock radio dramatisations of Lovecraft stories that are more faithful and authentic than any film likely could be. Being an audio drama the huge scale afforded by the listener’s imagination presents something only a hugely budgeted film could manage- and obviously no big- budget movie would ever be so faithful to the source. So in many ways these are the nearest thing to the ‘real deal’. I only wish someone in REH fandom could work on such radio dramas of some of Howard’s classics, because these HPL dramas are really something special.

The HPLHS have created six radio dramas so far, this latest one being their most ambitious yet. The earlier stories adapted were At The Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, The Shadow Out of Time and The Call of Cthulhu. I believe Herbert West -Reanimator will be next, and I sincerely hope that others will follow beyond that. They are available as mp3 downloads or on CD for us older folks from the HPLHS website (although mp3 may be the smarter option, as my CD package got the attention of Customs which landed me with an extra bill to pay this time around). The advantage of going the CD route is that they have great artwork and superbly-crafted ‘props’ to accompany each story, usually letters or newspaper clippings.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is possibly my personal favourite Lovecraft tale so this offering is wonderful stuff- spread across two CDs it runs for nearly two and a half hours in order to properly tell what was, if I recall correctly, Lovecraft’s longest story. Strangely, Lovecraft didn’t rate the story at all and I don’t believe it was even ever published during his lifetime, but to me it is the definitive Lovecraft tale and would surely make a fantastic film if only someone could do it justice as a serious movie. Its a thrilling mystery with truly chilling moments of horror, in which Charles Dexter Ward, a character closely modelled on Lovecraft himself, becomes consumed by the dark horror hidden in his family history.  You can see a trailer for the drama here-

The Fury OST

The-Fury-HQJust received this new 2-disc edition from La La Land Records of John William’s fantastic score for Brian De Palma’s  rather lacklustre horror film The Fury. It’s another case of a great score serving a poor movie, and what a score it is. While it will never be considered one of Williams signature scores, nevertheless it dates back to, in my eyes (or to my ears?) at least, his finest period of work. Back when he did such breathtaking scores as Star Wars, CE3K, Superman: The Movie, Raiders of The Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back (my personal favourite score ever). You know, all those films/scores were released between 1977 and 1981, incredible as that now seems, and during this same period he also composed the scores for Dracula, 1941 (a little gem, that one) and The Fury. Williams was at the top of his creative form back then.

So while it might be a decidedly average film and not therefore one of William’s most popular works, nonetheless its notable for sharing much of the stylistic and thematic approaches as the other scores of that period, a dark cousin if you like. For someone like me who loves all those scores, hearing this score (which I’m really unfamiliar with) is like hearing a lost masterpiece. There are delicious moments of the music that recall moments from Raiders or Superman, and it must be remembered that, being a horror film score, it remains quite a rare departure for the composer. It seems to share an approach that Jerry Goldsmith took with his Boys From Brazil score, in that he used a waltz motif to heighten the strange ‘horror’ aspect of the score.  On De Palm’s suggestion it also has a very Herrmann-esque feel to it (by way of an homage to the then-recently deceased film music genius Bernard Herrmann). But that’s really rather incidental;  its 1970s John Williams at the height of his game. What’s not to love? Disc one is the complete film score with source cues previously unreleased, while Disc two features the original soundtrack album, which was a re-recording by the London Symphony Orchestra a few days prior to the recording of the Superman:The Movie score. Some listeners have always preferred the re-recording to the actual filmscore and its not hard to understand why, its got that lovely 1970s London sound. Both recordings are remastered to great success.

Just released on La La Land Records, its limited to 3,500 copies so should last awhile, but then again, considering the quality of the score, don’t be surprised if its OOP by year’s end if not before. Highly recommended particularly if you are a fan of Williams’ scores of that period. But of course, if you are, well, you’re not going to wait are you?


The Hildebrandt Tolkien

BHCVRSMALLI think it must have been back in 1980 when I bought this artbook of the paintings of The Brothers Hildebrandt. I knew of them from the glorious Star Wars painting that they did a few years before- Luke and Leia may not have really looked in the movie anything like how they looked in that painting (I recall something about Carrie Fisher mocking it or being embarrassed about it at the time), but goodness it was a gorgeous painting. I had a print of it up on my bedroom wall, and years later when in sixth form,  when I was given an art project to do a self-portrait, I painted the Hildebrandt Star Wars poster with me in Luke Skywalker’s place. One day if ever I find that painting (its around here somewhere) I’ll take a photo of it to give you all something to laugh at. But yeah, I loved that poster of theirs, such an iconic work of art. It kind of captured my childhood image of Star Wars, something the films could never really live up to, but only art could (or the wonderful soundtrack score, which I had on cassette for my 12th birthday).  It’s very 1970s, very colourful, bright, very Disco. It’s gorgeous.  Its the definitive Star Wars image as seen through the lens of my Childs Eye of the time. I don’t know how true it is, but it was said that they painted that Star Wars poster in just 36 hours. Good grief.

If I remember UNI8100B.tifcorrectly, I bought the ‘Art of The Brothers Hildebrandt’ around the same time I bought one of the Ballantine artbooks that collected Frank Frazetta paintings. Such collections were quite popular at the time and were feasts for my eyes. The Hildebrandt book was really mouth-watering, as it featured a wide variety of their paintings but most importantly several of the paintings for their Tolkien calendars. I didn’t realise at the time, but it was their three Tolkien calendars that ‘put them on the map’ so to speak, made them hugely famous (and rich, possibly, but that I don’t really know), and led to that iconic Star Wars poster that I so loved.

The Brothers Hildebrandt – Greg and Tim Hildebrandt- were twins; it was said back then that their work was so alike that you could not tell where ones brush stokes ended and the others’ began. This was just publicity nonsense, as it turned out, but it was taken as fact for many years. The fact that the two bearded twins -they always looked like wild hippies to me in pictures-could create such remarkable artwork so seamlessly together was something that fascinated me. Usually artists styles were so very different -at school the drawings and paintings my mates and I did looked so very different to each others, it would be impossible for any of us to work together on a painting. I could not imagine how two people could work on a painting like the Brothers Hildebrandt did. They were twins, they were great artists, they worked together- it seemed the stuff of magic. I notice I write in the past tense; one of the brothers, Tim, died in 2006. Greg still paints, far as I know (he must be in his early or mid-seventies now) but the Brothers Hildebrandt are no more.

BHLOTRCVRRecently I came across this amazing  book, ‘The Tolkien Years of the Brothers Hildebrandt’  which as its title suggests collects all of the paintings from those three calendars with lots of preliminary artwork, sketches and photos the artists took for reference. It’s a wonderful book.  As I never had any of the actual Tolkien calendars, the only paintings from those calendars I had were in that original artbook published in 1979, so there are many paintings in this book that are new to me. It is especially interesting to see these paintings in light of the Peter Jackson films that came out several years ago (indeed, I believe this new edition of this book was issued to tie-in with the release of The Hobbit movie). The paintings by the Hildebrandt brothers show a very, well, 1970s vision of LOTR, a richly-coloured, fairy-tale vision quite at odds with the toned-down, rather realistic approach that the movies took. It would be erroneous of me to suggest that they are closer to the true ‘vision’ of Tolkien, but I do feel that they capture a magical, bold, colourful LOTR that the films failed to. These are more Classical, almost medieval images, more akin to the Golden Age of Disney Animation than the films that Peter Jackson made. There is much of the original Disney Snow White movie, and Pinnochio and the  Fantasia film, in these paintings. Much of this was intentional, as that was the style they were aiming for.  To be honest, when I looked at those paintings back in 1980, it was a time that the LOTR books were still unfilmable- the images could only possibly exist in painted form, as the technology simply was not there to make a ‘proper’ LOTR film. Even those wizards of ILM would be unable to bring it to life in any way like the Hildebrandt paintings did.


The painting above, of Eowyn fighting the Nazgul,  was always one of my favourites of the Tolkien paintings the Hildebrandt brothers did. Something about it was utterly arresting. Somehow it always seemed to capture the fantastic nature of the Tolkien books, the way the artists captured the play of the light, how it symbolised the goodness and purity of Eowyn against the depravity of the agent of Mordor. I used to look at that painting and imagine it coming to life, like a movie in my head. The actual movies wouldn’t come until a quarter-century later, and even then they could never quite capture the magic of the Hildebrandt paintings.

BHLOTR6 There is a wonderful timelessness and sense of Classical Reality to the best of the Hildebrandt Tolkien art. Larger than life, utterly fantastic. Golden shafts of light, Godlike- almost Bibilical indeed. The figures were realistic (the brothers worked from photos they took of family and friends posing to match preliminary sketches) but the magical play of light, and the rich golden colours, the deep, velvety blues, all worked to create a playful, almost hypnotic fairy-tale aspect to the paintings. A fantastic reality perhaps. Or Disney for grown-ups.  I don’t know; it just seemed that no-one could quite capture that golden, fantastic light like the Hildebrandts did. It was totally at odds with the grim, brutal art that Frank Frazetta had created for the REH covers.  Not better, necessarily – certainly I doubt for all their ability the twins could have matched Frazetta’s REH stuff but likewise I doubt that Frazetta could have pictured Tolkien as well as they. One was fantasy, the other Sword & Sorcery. bhlotr5I rather think that Peter Jackson’s movies made a deliberate decision to meld the two approaches, funnily enough. I would love to have seen LOTR movies that looked as fantastic and colourful as the Hildebrant paintings. Maybe they would have looked camp and silly and have been laughed at by Joe Public, but goodness what amazing movies they might have been.

The Tolkien Years of the Brothers Hildebrandt’ is a fantastic book. With commentary by Gregory Hildebrandt Jr, who was five back when the first paintings were created in 1975 and was the reference for the Hobbits featured in them, the book is full of nice anecdotes and wonderful sketches and photographs. The sketches in particular are so detailed and wonderfully drawn, some of them are better than the paintings. Its all a fine insight into the creative process of those works of art.  The book can be easily purchased on Amazon, and is worth every penny.  I do find it interesting, albeit likely totally coincidental, that the recent first film of The Hobbit trilogy seemed to have a bit of that certain fairy-tale, golden light in its cinematography, which reminded me of the Hildebrandt touch when I saw it at the cinema.