The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review | Film | This Is Entertainment

The HobbitIt must be fun being short (or ‘vertically challenged’ if you want to go for the overly PC term). There’s no low ceilings or door frames to be contended with, hide and seek is a doddle and most exciting of all you are perfectly suited for an epic adventure.

At least that’s what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey would have us believe. On this latest foray into the Lord of the Rings universe, everyone’s second (or third…or more, delete as appropriate) hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is joined by a cohort of 13 dwarves and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), or rather he finds himself swept off on an adventure before you can say Gollum.

The story begins as something of an intro to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, setting up events before Bilbo’s long-expected 111th birthday party. Here the weight of the franchise falls heaviest, with a somewhat unnecessary cameo from Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, and the entire section seems to drag on too long, as much as you have to love Ian Holm as old Bilbo.

The fun really begins as Gandalf quizzes young Bilbo about the exact meaning of ‘Good day’, immediately cementing Freeman in the audience’s mind as the Bilbo from here on in.

Freeman, who was sought after to the point that Peter Jackson put a break in filming specifically so he could take the lead, shines as the reluctant hero, showing all the traits of the character we know and a whole lot more.

The dwarves are a rag tag bunch of personalities, too numerous to be able to pick out every one (or even remember specific names…), but the obvious stand out is Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage of Spooks and Captain America fame.

This film itself is driven by Thorin’s need to reclaim his grandfather’s realm from the great dragon Smaug, whose lust for gold drew him to take the fortress and leave it’s inhabitants running for their lives. Thorin’s tale is well told, and there is a real sense of pity for the character, while at the same time being intimidated by him, despite his stature, just as Bilbo is.

The other dwarves serve their purpose but only James Nesbitt as Bofur is really memorable, serving as effective comic relief. In fact you can spend much of the film working out who is playing each one and where you have seen them before.

Gandalf the Grey and Radagast the Brown in The HobbitThe tale takes us to familiar locations such as Rivendell and we meet characters such as Saruman, who we immediately do not trust, knowing of his later betrayal. There are also new faces such as Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), a fellow great, but rag tag, wizard who spends his time in the forest with animals, including rabbits which pull his slay, like a cross between Father Christmas and Worzel Gummidge.

Gollum’s return is a welcome one and Andy Serkis puts 10 years of advancement in technology to good use in making him look more scarily real than ever. The chemistry between Freeman and Serkis on screen makes for some tense moments, but you do worry whether this card has been played too early, with the real meat of the adventure still to come, and how can the film top the tales of Gollum in LOTR?

The epic camera sweeps across beautiful New Zealand return, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a mere retread of LOTR. The quest and the story are both much more personal, character-driven affairs, which make for a more intimate feature. Of course there are grand moments, such as a chase sequence when the gang try to escape a goblin stronghold, but there are more dialogue driven scenes.

Leaps of faith are necessary in some areas, particularly when Gandalf uses his old ‘summon the giant eagles’ trick, prompting much eye-rolling followed by “Why did they drop them off there rather than at the lonely mountain?” Luckily the story itself is interesting enough for you to want to see the journey just as much as the destination.

Music and cinematography are top quality, something you would expect from a team led by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson who filmed the previous films, but in order to hold audience’s attention for a further two films, he will need to give more. Many things which are forgiveable about this instalment of The Hobbit won’t be overlooked in part two: The Desolation of Smaug.

In all, the film is a solid effort which is a must for existing fans of the universe, but unlikely to sway those put off by the initial trilogy.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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The Game Pad explained: what, where, when, why and how? | Gaming | This Is Entertainment

The Game PadTroubled high street retailer Game is poised to make an unusual new assault on the gaming market in 2013 with the launch of ‘The Game Pad’, a rent-your-own gaming hideaway featuring the market’s shiniest new titles.

Bespoke services are nothing new in retail, but such an intimate, personal offering is immediately an intriguing step for such a mainstream store. Located in Staybridge Suites near London’s Westfield Stratford City Shopping centre, the Pad is a customised room kitted out with enough consoles, games, snacks, pizzas and beer to keep a group of gaming enthusiasts occupied for an entire evening in secluded luxury.

Costing a shade under £200, the set up may sound like a pricey night out, but a hotel in London is hardly peanuts by itself, and the suites are a far cry from your local Travelodge in terms of quality – not to mention you can cram in as many people as you like.

The suite comes with a king-sized bed and all three main games consoles: Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii U, plus the latest off-the-shelf titles – unfortunately no secret previews of Grand Theft Auto V to be found here. Unsurprising perhaps, but it would have been a great feature if you could get a couple of days head start on other gamers with 2013’s big-name releases.

Grab your friends, controllers and beer.The company boasts the Pad is “the ultimate gaming experience”, but for such a hefty price tag, you would expect a suitably top-of-the-line experience. At present there is no customisation available for the suite, meaning if you fancy an eight-way Halo 4 party then you are out of luck, plus the inability to take your save game with you when you leave (unless, possibly, you have a handy USB stick), could prove to be a turn off for some serious players.

The Pad does have high speed internet and a really chilled-out feel though, so it might be an attractive prospect for a geeky bachelor party or a music game marathon – with no parents to tell you to keep the noise down or neighbours to complain, the fun could easily carry on through the night, just in time to be perked up by the complimentary breakfast.

Whether the package is for you or not is down to personal choice, and for those who are fanatical enough to be excited about something like this, a lot of the games on show will be featuring on people’s Christmas lists anyway.

If you do want to make a social occasion of it and you have a diverse group of friends though, there’s more than enough room to have all three of the consoles on at the same time – all it needs is an iPod friendly music system to tap into and you’re set for an evening of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale while listening to soundtracks of your favourite 90s classics.

The current so-so popularity of HMV‘s Gamerbase and a past failed wandering into the realm of specialist gamer-pampering in the form of Virgin’s Gamestore, not to mention dwindling boxed-game sales, are hardly an encouraging starting point, but something bold like this may prove to be a game-changer (ahem…) if pushed in the right way.

What could be even more successful is if Game made it possible for you to have any combination of consoles you wanted from the past 15 years or so, meaning you could follow your Super Mario Kart Grand Prix on the SNES with a winner-stays-on run of Goldeneye, rounding things off with some classic Tomb Raider. Surely something as individual as that would, undoubtedly, be a gamer’s paradise?

James Michael Parry

If you want to check it out, take a look at their official site.

Windows 8 Review: Is it really worth upgrading? | Technology | This Is Entertainment

Look how colourful and right-angle-y it is...Fans of sweeping curves and a sleek, minimalist, colour scheme might think twice about Windows 8 – but that’s the point.

Apple has dominated the ‘cool’ factor in the computer industry for years, and Microsoft is well aware it can’t compete directly, so what it has done with 8 (and the Xbox 360 dashboard and Windows phones, lest we forget), is make a visual statement of its own.

Right angles are nothing new – think back to Windows 95 and remember the blockiness of edges – but to follow a design concept all the way through has taken courage on Microsoft’s part. The result is ‘Metro’, or what was referred to as ‘Metro’ until they decided to do away with a name altogether, a regimented yet customisable layout in bold colours.

Of course, appearances are always just the tip of the iceberg, and since consumers willing to give 8 a closer look are not likely to be convinced by style over substance, the OS needs to have the talk to accompany its fancy new trousers.

The functionality of how the system works changes from the outset, with an immediate link to your Windows Live ID or Hotmail login (though local logins are still available, if you can find them). From here the first thing desktop fans will notice is the missing start menu.

The multi-coloured and multi-tiled start screen stands proudly in its place, luckily still connected to that Windows key on your keyboard which you may be fond of. The first few hours spent with Windows 8 will most likely be spent getting to grips with where the start menu items you know and love have run off too.

At first the logic is frustrating, but soon you find yourself being able to combine the functionality of multiple programs with ease and the benefits of 8 start to shine. Menus are hidden on virtually on every side of the screen, with the most useful being the ‘Charms’ menu on the right, which gives you instant access to Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings, most of which adapt and change depending on what you can see on the main window.

Fancy pictures I know...A handy example of the functionality is that you can set a picture as your lock screen and in the same breath share it with your admirers online. Depending on how connected you are with your online world makes a massive difference to how helpful you will find many features of 8.

What 8 really gives you is a strong starting point. At present, the App Store is limited – particularly for third party sites and software, Facebook and Google are conspicuous by their near-absence. Also Microsoft’s own services are still struggling to pull together, in the long run the ‘live’ brand will cease to be and the consistency of the own-brand offerings will mean they all tie together seamlessly.

Admittedly, the first party apps on show so far, whose instant updates make up many of the almost uncomfortably transfixing ‘Live Tiles’, are impressive, and the system itself is quick and responsive.

That said, it’s clear that the interface was designed for touch input. Navigating around with the mouse can be clunky, occasionally needing pinpoint accuracy to make something appear and then not immediately sink into the background once more.

After the initial setting up, customising, and getting used to not having the one-stop-shop of a start menu, you quickly find things begin to make sense. The programs which you would have used on the desktop before are still there, but the Windows 8 interface mops up all the other bits and pieces which can take time like checking email, messaging, or stalking people on Facebook (now you can do Facebook, Twitter and others all from one screen).

At the current upgrade price of £25 from Microsoft it’s difficult to say no. Make full use of the compatibility program on offer, which automatically determined if programs will need to be re-installed, to minimise fuss, and perform a full back up – just in case.

The infrastructure which Microsoft has put in place is one which strives on its simplicity, and provides a platform to build on with more of a lean towards user-friendly operation than ever before. Once more big names get on board with apps of their own it will undoubtedly be a far more flexible experience, but right now is the perfect time to give it a try and get used to it before you have too many complicated new toys to play about with.

James Michael Parry

And now for a nonsensical trailer…