Tag Archives: The Hobbit

The Cumberbatch tapes, #1: the birth of Sherlock

8 May


It’s three years since I spent a very enjoyable hour and a half above a pub in Soho with an emerging actor called Benedict Cumberbatch, interviewing him for a cover feature in the Saturday Times. Since then he has become a household name as Sherlock, got talent-spotted by Steven Spielberg for War Horse, played both Frankenstein and his monster for Danny Boyle at the National, voiced Smaug in The Hobbit, and now his angular face stares at us from a broken and burning London on the posters for Star Trek Into Darkness (above, click here for review).

Since the world obviously can’t get enough of this brainbox (he’s even played Stephen Hawking), geek sex-symbol and otter-impersonator, I’ve dusted down my interview transcript. Reading back over it I’m impressed, just as I was at the time, at how articulate he is. So I’m going to reprint extracts of our conversation entirely in his own words. Starting with Sherlock:

On the modern setting: “The challenges in a world where observation through surveillance, where detection through science, where publications and communications through media can all be turned against him make it a far more dangerous world for Sherlock to be in, so he has to be faster and ten times more practical than his Victorian incarnation.

“The idea is that Sherlock Holmes is the origination of all modern detectives, so to try and see whether he still has a workplace in the 21st century is a worthwhile experiment. He was a forerunner in forensic fields, he started experimenting with footprint and fingerprint analysis and bloodstain analysis and cigarette ash which he wrote monographs about, and he’s now in a world where all of that has been brought fully up to speed and where you have any number of brilliant maverick detectives who are brilliant at their job who have all been inspired by him, whether it’s Cracker, Tennyson, Rebus, who knock about with a bottle or some kind of addiction or personal quirk that means they’re slightly outside of their social realm. Luther is very similar, House is very much a Sherlock Holmes personality.”

Benedict speaks as though Sherlock is a real person, I say. “He’s real to me, yeah of course, it has to be. He is an icon, so there’s an element of him where he is a logo, and that is two-dimensional, and to escape stereotype you have to get some kind of understanding of who he is. So you do associate something very personable to him, and you start to think about him in real terms. And there’s such a massive wealth of detective stories that Conan Doyle wrote, he feels quite substantial. Abbey National or whatever bank it is still get letters to 221b asking for help with a missing cat or dead relative.”

On Martin Freeman as Watson (who of course is now also with Cumberbatch in The Hobbit): “I just adore him, we get on very well. He’s such a fine actor, and by fine I mean it in that very carefully beautifully nuanced way, he is a very delicate screen actor, and though he can do comedy at the drop of a hat he is achingly real as well as Watson, this man who is slightly lost in the civilian world, traumatised by his experience of war but also slightly in thrall to it, and missing the adrenaline of it. Also he’s an audience figure, an Everyman through which people can meet [Sherlock] this rather strange, modern Victorian Gothic, slightly character of the night, this slightly odd creature, this sociopathic, slightly autistic, slightly anarchic, maverick, odd anti-hero.”

See what I mean about articulate? Part two: Benedict Cumberbatch on his life-changing experience with the Buddhist monks of Nepal… Click here to read it. Part three: How spirituality helps his acting, click here. Fourth and final part: Spielberg vs Madonna, click here.

Never mind the BAFTAs: here’s the DAFTAs

9 Jan

Skyfall, HAFTA Award winner


The BAFTA nominations were announced today. But it’s a long month till we find out the winners, so I’m taking it upon myself to hand out awards instead:

DAFTA Award: The daftest movie of the year is always a hotly contested category. The crowd-funded Iron Sky, in which Nazis return from a secret base installed in 1945 on the dark side of the moon, must have thought it had the DAFTA in the bag. Then along comes FDR: American Badass, which upped the ante with Nazi werewolves pitted against a President Roosevelt in a pimped-out wheelchair.   

GAFTA: The 2012 movie with the most gaffes is, officially, Avengers Assemble, with 22 bloopers spotted by www.moviemistakes.com. Or maybe there are just more trivia-obsessed geeks watching it than any other film.

HAFTA: For the movie that you just have to see. The Hobbit might have won if Peter Jackson hadn’t bloated the film to three parts. Instead the clear winner is Skyfall, which broke UK records to take over £100 million (and £1 billion worldwide).

LAFTA: Ted will be on many people’s lists for funniest film of 2012 (and, I know, on a lot of people’s least funny list). But I’d like to give it to Sightseers, as a serial-killing caravannist is mildly more out there than a beer-swilling teddy bear. And it’s British. So there.

NAFTA: Naffest film of 2012? Rock of Ages. No other contender comes close. It’s toe-curling to see major stars in such drek: Tom Cruise jumping the sofa on Oprah was less naff than his performance here. Mediocre songs, cliched storyline and witless dialogue are all delivered with toothpaste-ad enthusiasm that make it all the more tragic.  


Is 48 frames per second our prrrrrecious?

24 Dec

ImageIs 48 frames per second the future? The Hobbit is the first film to be shown at twice the normal frame rate, meant to reduce the subliminal ‘flicker’ experienced at the normal 24fps. The sequel to Avatar will also be made at either 48 or 60.

I saw The Hobbit at the Ritzy, which isn’t equipped to show it at the faster frame rate, so I can’t tell you whether it enhances the experience or, as some critics say, improves realism so much that it makes costumes and props look tacky. But the fuss does remind me of a trip to LA in the early ‘90s with PR supremo Mark Borkowski to see Showscan in action.

Showscan is a process invented by Douglas Trumbull, the SFX wizard behind Terminator and many more. He discovered, after hooking viewers up to monitors and showing them the same film at different frame rates, that emotional response dramatically increased. He patented the discovery: anything shown at over 60 frames per second would have to pay royalties.

Due to the expense at the time, Showscan was never used on a feature film, only on the motion-simulator rides I tested out in LA which were, indeed, astonishingly hyper-real. But now, with digital, the extra expense is minimal.

Cinema has long been under threat, and had to fight back in new and inventive ways. In the ‘50s the threat came from television, prompting developments such as the super-wide Cinemascope and the first 3D revolution, as well as the cult-film gimmicks of Smell-o-vision, Emergo, Percepto and Illusion-o. In the ‘80s the threat came from VHS and in the ‘90s from DVD, producing a wave of explosion-heavy action flicks ideally starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor simply too big to fit on most televisions. Now it’s from internet streaming, whether legally (Lovefilm, MUBI) or illegally, days or weeks after release.

The rise in 3D, championed by Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg, was originally popular with studios for preventing piracy, but audiences have embraced it as well. The technology has improved radically: I now find the experience completely immersive, so that I forget I’m watching 3D until someone hurls a boulder towards me; and film-makers thankfully no longer feel the need to shove it in your face. (The old 3D films were the worst for this, though I still have a soft spot for the hilariously bad taste Andy Warhol-produced Flesh for Frankenstein, where someone is run through with a spear, on the point of which an internal organ dangles, still beating, in front of your eyes.)

So will 48fps become the new standard? Or will it go the way of Smell-o-vision? Anyone who’s seen The Hobbit at the higher frame rate, or has an opinion on 3D, do please leave a Comment.