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32.-33. Christoper Lee twofer

I've just got five remaining 2017 film reviews to write now. I'm going to try to knock out one or two an evening this week, so that I can get on to the four films I've seen by now in 2018 by the weekend.

32. Dracula (1958), dir. Terence Fisher

I watched this on the weekend just before Halloween 2017, when my sister and her family came to stay. After the children were in bed on the Saturday night, I suggested an M.R. James adaptation, which is what we had watched on the same occasion the year before, but my sister said she'd like to see a Hammer horror film, and after some discussion we decided on this one. Obviously, I've seen it a few time before (previous reviews are indexed on my Christopher Lee list: LJ / DW), but this viewing offered me the opportunity of seeing it through the eyes of people who haven't flagrantly over-watched it. Charlotte (my sister) broadly knows the story of Dracula and reckoned she had probably seen this version once before during our childhood, but so long ago that she couldn't remember anything specific about it, while Nicolas (her husband) was coming to it pretty much cold. So I told them to share with me any thoughts or reactions they were having as they watched, and also periodically asked them questions to see what they were making of it.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome of this was their reading of the first encounter between Jonathan Harker and the vampire woman (who I just call Valerie Gaunt, because it's such a perfect name for a vampire) in Dracula's castle. Watching this, Charlotte announced her suspicion that Valerie must be a vampire straight away, and when I asked her why, she said she thought Harker had reacted with surprise because she was cold when he touched her – not something that's ever stated in the dialogue, but actually perfectly plausible within the terms of the story, since Tanya does notice that vampire!Lucy's hand is cold later on. Nicolas, meanwhile, wasn't at all convinced, arguing that she wouldn't be asking him to help her escape from Dracula's castle if she was a vampire. In other words, Charlotte read the scene correctly because she paid attention to the body-language, whereas Nicolas did not because he allowed himself to be taken in by the dialogue. I cannot help but observe that that's a very gendered split, although possibly Charlotte did have an advantage in the form of her slightly better knowledge of Dracula stories generally, which gave her a stronger expectation that there would be vampire women in Dracula's castle.

Other than that they followed the story much as you would expect, and seemed to enjoy it. With a bit of luck I'll be able to lure them further onwards into the series on future visits!

33. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), dir. Peter Jackson

And this one was my last Lovefilm rental before their tragic closure. Perhaps not the best note to end that relationship on, actually, because this is how I had come to feel by about an hour and a half in:
In fairness, I should probably have anticipated that a film called 'The Battle of the Five Armies' might involve a fair amount of fighting. And it was pretty alongside the battles – the lake-town, the city near the mountain, the mountain façade, the icy mountain-tops. Plus it had Christopher Lee in it, at least for a little while, in one of his last few screen appearances.

Probably most interesting for me, though, was the strong inter-text between Luke Evans' portrayal of Bard the Bowman and his role as Vlad Dracula in Dracula Untold (LJ / DW). That is, both involve him leading a ragged band of desperate early-modern humans against a seemingly-unbeatable foe, shouting things like "Any man who wants to give their last, follow me!" and showing a tender concern for his family, set against a similar aesthetic of fortified cities, battles on plains surrounded by mountains and war-bats. The two roles overlap weirdly for him: judging from Wikipedia he'd already recorded all his scenes as Bard in both The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies before he began work on Dracula Untold, although Battle was released last (it's all rather complicated, primarily because of the way the Hobbit series was extended from two to three films part-way through). So that means he would have been playing Dracula in the knowledge of his completed performance as Bard, and I think the one probably did inform the other. And meanwhile, even before Battle's release it's not a stretch to imagine that Dracula Untold's production team was hoping to capture something of the feel of the Lord of the Rings / Hobbit films generally, and perhaps even specifically bits of Battle through general insider industry knowledge. It's always nice to put those sorts of jigsaw pieces together.

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