Age of the Hobbits (2012)

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agehobbits - Age of the Hobbits (2012)Starring Christopher Judge, Bai Ling, Sum Korng, Srogn, Khom Lyly

Directed by Joseph Lawson

The word “Hobbits” is never uttered even once in this film despite its title. The race of little people the title refers to are instead referred to in the film as “tree people” (because they live in huts in the trees) , or “half-men”, as their average-sized counterparts derisively call them. Those normal-sized humans in return are called “giants” and, because of the god they worship, “sky people”. Evil, ugly, average-sized men with mouths full of fangs are called “rock people”, I guess because they live in a mountain. The tree people are vegans that worship “Earth Mother”, the “giants” are hunter-gatherers that worship “Sky Father”, and the rock people are cave-dwelling cannibals that perform human sacrifices to their serpent god.

You might be wondering to yourself right now what exactly does any of this mockbuster have to do with Hobbits or, for that matter, how The Asylum is able to legally get away with using the word in the title. You see, Hobbits weren’t just a figment of Tolkien’s imagination; they’re also the name of an actual pygmy tribe that lived in Indonesia thousands of years ago. Age of the Hobbits is set in Indonesia 12,000 years ago, as an on-screen graphic reveals at the outset. Lest you think this is going to be an historical epic with shades of Apocalypto, apparently 12,000 years ago in Indonesia spiders the size of elephants and flying Komodo dragons also existed.

Nobody will ever confuse this film with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but what’s most unexpected about The Asylum’s Age of the Hobbits is how well made it is. Nazis at the Center of the Earth director Joseph Lawson and Mega Piranha screenwriter Eric Forsberg have joined forces to craft what is quite possibly The Asylum’s most respectable motion picture since Stuart Gordon’s King of the Ants nearly a decade ago. Though still very solidly in b-movie territory and with its fair share of shortcomings, this is a much classier production than what we’re used to.

The wilds of Cambodia substitute for Indonesia. Those scenic Cambodian locales automatically afford the production a lavish look missing from so many b-movie fantasy epics filmed in the Southern California woods or the Canadian woods or the Bulgarian woods. Shooting in Cambodia with a cast that is 90% locals must have also saved the production money better spent on the special effects. The visuals of the flying Komodo dragons the rock people ride upon, the giant spiders and enormous wooly rhino encountered along the trek are a vast improvement over the CGI typically seen in these films.

The plot is pretty straightforward. Rock people have raided the tree people’s village and taken many of them captive for food and human sacrifice. Cambodian Peter Dinklage Tak Tek, his wannabe warrior son Goben, and his young medicine woman daughter Omi head off on a desperate journey to rescue mom and the others abducted. Getting to the rock people’s mountainous lair requires safe passage through the land of the “giants,” where their courage will earn the respect of an ally in the form of Anthar, Master of the Hunt.

“Stargate SG-1” alien Christopher Judge plays Anthar with nothing short of Shakespearean conviction. How could he not with that voice of such deep-throated gravitas? Judge gives one of the best performances you’ll ever see in an Asylum movie. Heck, if The Asylum ever decides to do an Anthar, Master of the Hunt spin-off movie, I’m totally down with that.

The determined family of half-men and their new full-sized friends will soon acquire another fearsome companion in the form of Bai Ling as the cavewoman bikini-wearing Amazon warrior Laylan. Did I write Amazon? More like Asianzon.

You’re probably used to seeing Bai Ling playing psycho bitches, such as her memorable turn as a crazed hooker in Crank 2. Even though she’s running around in a bikini, stabbing rock men in the face with spears and making declarative statements about seeking vengeance for their murdering her parents, this still might be the most subdued and empathetic I’ve ever seen her.

It’s kind of easy for Judge and Long’s performances to look good considering they’re just about the only performers whose voices aren’t dubbed into English. We’re talking dubbing straight out of a 1970’s Filipino action movie. We’re talking 1960’s Gamera movie dubbing. Omi’s voice clearly sounds like a grown woman imitating a little girl voice. The Cambodian actors physically perform their roles believably enough, but their voices are anything but. The cheesy dub job will be an immediate turn-off for some and a well-deserved source of mockery for others. I, however, found that it grew on me in the best/worst way possible. Maybe because I grew up watching poorly dubbed genre movies, and something about Age of the Hobbits most definitely stirred up fond memories of so many barbarian and sword & sorcery flicks of the early Eighties.

One thing about the sufficiently and simplistically declarative dialogue that I found quite peculiar was the strange habit of one character saying something followed immediately by another character repeating a slight variation of the same exact piece of dialogue. The first time it happened, it was odd. By the fourth time it happened, it was really odd.

Those that go into Asylum movies expecting to laugh at their special brand of gonzo, anything goes, pulling-the-plot-out-of-their-ass-as-they-go lunacy will either be pleasantly surprised or greatly disappointed that Age of the Hobbits is more of an old fashioned fantasy adventure flick with heart. Dubbing aside, my biggest gripe would have to be the perfunctory nature of the action scenes. They do a good enough job making the heroes sympathetic underdogs only for the monsters and villains to go down without much of a fight.

Okay, you want some classic Asylum madness? The rock people’s demented high priestess, I swear to Sky Father, between her physical appearance and her screeching English dubbing, it was like I was watching a Hyborian version of the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers”’ original nemesis Rita Repulsa. I kept waiting for her to bemoan “I’ve got such a headache” during the final confrontation.

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3 1/2 out of 5

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