Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Last year, I wrote that the Hobbit trilogy ought to be judged as movies, not on how pure it is relation to the book.  In fact, we should look at these films a bit more like we look at fan fiction.  There will be creative embellishments, for sure, and our evaluation shouldn’t be “oh the book didn’t have it like that!” but rather “these changes and additions kept to the spirit of the original work.”

That said, here are my thoughts.

Bilbo and the Ring

Obviously, the One Ring is a major plot device in the Lord of the Rings.  We know its evil corrupting power, and why it must be destroyed.  This is a major theme in Lord of the Rings.  That’s Lord of the Rings, not The Hobbit.

The ring was insidious because of how perfectly innocuous it appeared in the Hobbit.  In the Hobbit, the ring is nothing more than a lucky find that turns Biblo invisible, which is a subtle nod to the kind of life that Hobbits want.  However, in this adaptation Biblo doesn’t use the ring we would really expect  him to:  Such as keeping it on when he’s fighting the spiders.  Or keeping it on when he’s having a chat with Smaug.  There were too many scenes where Biblo was supposed to hide but didn’t in this film.  I am actually afraid that he’s going to suit up to join the battle of the five armies.

Speaking of Smaug, in the film Smaug senses the ring’s presence when Bilbo is around.  He mentions that knows Bilbo has it, but of course he can’t quite tell what it is.  Now think carefully about this: what would a treasure obsessed maniac think if he knew that one other person had the one unique piece of treasure that he doesn’t have?  Smaug’s mention of the ring not only overly foreshadows it, but actually betrays his character when he doesn’t try to possess it.

Action Adventure on the Barrels

The barrel scene, in the book, is a subtly comical.  The overly proud dwarves are obviously hapless.  They’d have been eaten by spiders, trolls, and worse were it not for the burgler they hired.  In the movie, the barrel escape scene served the same purpose as the Goblin King scene in the first movie.  That is, an fun little advert for the upcoming video game.

Now I hated the goblin escape scene in the first movie, but enjoyed the barrel ride in this movie.  Why?  For two simple reasons: a dwarf -Kili iirc- was severally wounded and there was unexpected closed gate on their way out.  These simple little additions turned an annoying, lucasesque, CGI fest into a fun to watch scene where I cared about the outcome of what was happening.  The orcs too were a nice addition here.  Their conflict with the wood elves foreshadowed a threat that we expect to come in the Lord of the Rings, without compromising the spirit of the book.

Additionally, I also enjoyed the negotiation preceding the barrel run.  At one point, the king of the wood elves offers Thorin a deal.  Thorin throws the deal back in his face because he can’t trust elves.  He can’t trust elves, because he still remembers their broken promise.  This is a beautiful character flaw that made me like Thorin more.

Pre-revolutionary Lake Town

After the the romp through the barrels, Biblo and company arrive at the Lake Town. There, they meet Jean Valjean, Monsieur Defrange, Robertspierre… wait what?

When it comes to themes of Tolkien’s work, we have to remember that we’re reading pre-modern fantasy literature.  It was, after all, meant to be on par with the epic tales of Beowulf and similar ballads and legends.  So why do we encounter a lake town like this?  Why are dealing with thematic questions of economic oppression and talk of elections?  It is not that these themes aren’t themes worth exploring, but its that these themes belong to a different era.  This embellishment was so thematically jarring that it became hard for me to take this seriously.  It got worse when they added a “everyone is being watched” feel to lake town.  What, so we’re adding a theme that usually only found in sci-fi and dystopias?

Lake town is not supposed to be Paris, France circa 1785.  Yet, that is what this entire subplot, complete with a despot revealing in his own vain opulence, made me think of.  They even threw in a few shots of “sort of like slaves, but totally not” Africans in for further sympathy.  Everything about Lake Town was wrong.  Themes about elections, economic oppression, and leaders spying on you do not work in Tolkein’s literary world, because these themes and questions belong in other genres.

Thorin Confronts Smaug

If there is one thing that Jackson did that maybe Tolkien never showed us it was: well what does Thorin think about Smaug?  Well let’s see it.

There were two especially poignant scenes here.  The first, was when Thorin and the Dwarves first enter their home through the secret entrance.  It was clear as Thorin and company walked, and lovingly touched the walls, that this quest is about a lot more than gold for them.  Yes, the dwarves are greedy, but their also deeply wounded.  Furthermore, when they fled the dragon they found a cave full of the charred bodies of the last dwarves who tried to escape.  Here, we’re allowed to experience a little bit more of Thorin’s world, and how terrible Smaug really is.

Sadly, I felt that these scenes were eclipsed by the action adventure aspect of the film.  Thorin too quickly returns to stoic, composed leader (which we’ve already seen), so that we can have a romp around the ruins, climaxing in an elaborate trap that the dungeon master set up.  Why did we not see a greater emotional reaction from Thorin here?  Honestly, after leaving a room full of charred bodies, I would’ve expected Thorin to either become raging mad or have some other serious emotional breakdown.  It’s strange when that scene affects the audience more than the characters in the film.  I might be the only one who feels that way.

The transition to the final scene turned into a somewhat interesting, overtly symbolic, testing of Smaug’s invincibility.  Yeah, whatever.

Did it all work

Was this a bad movie?  No it was not a bad movie.  However, I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this film.  The embellishments kept yanking me out of Tolkien’s world and into something Peter Jackson probably thought would be good mass appeal.

So, by all means, go watch this movie.  But you know what else you should do?  Watch the 1970s animated version on Netflix too.  After that, get yourself a nice leather bound copy of the original work, curl up by a fire, and read it out loud to your kids.

With much thanks to sister’s boyfriend, I am now fully exposed to the strange world of commercial screen writing.  What is the first step to writing a script?  Write a log line.  Basically, the log line tells people what the movie is in about thirty seconds.  Apparently, you write this line before you write anything else about the story.

A good log line must have several ingredients.  It must have Irony.  It must tell the target audience.  It must inspire a mental image.  It must give an idea to the cost.  Script writers use this to sell their work.  Ever wondered why many Hollywood movies feel formulaic (Black Cop meets white cop movies, anyone?) yet somehow still sell millions?  Now you know why.  Here are some examples Log Lines that could become scripts someday.  Read through them and then add your own silly, but perhaps still profitable, Log Lines.

“After losing his job, agnostic Mark Guyer is forced to follow his peers to an Evangelical Christian college.” -Wise as a Serpent

“A Marine officer is sucked into a magical quest to rescued a mystical unicorn and a POW” -Operation Sparkle Hoof

“Former meth dealer escapes the FBI with identity among the old order Amish.” -Churning Crystal

“An ambitious journalist goes undercover into the world of Montata Militia Surivivalists” -Pressing Liberty

“After witnessing her roommates murder, a college sophomore escapes witness protection and joins a biker gang for revenge.” -The Pink Rider

“Daughter of vanquished vampire lord trash talks the vampire slayer on social networks for revenge.” -Tweet of the Damned

“An army ranger, a PETA activist, and a conspiracy theorist crash land in the wilderness and must survive.” -Shut up or Shiver

A good log line is ironic.  It communicates the target audience.  It gives a compelling mental picture.  It lets a producer know how much it will cost.

So why not try it?  What’s your Log Line?  Add some comments below.

Prepare for nerd rage?

That is how many people feel about Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit: nerd rage.  Personally, I felt the movie was generally enjoyable.  It was not a train wreck or a disaster.  But then again, I might have gone into it with different expectations.  Without further introduction, here’s my take on the film.

What did you expect?

Before going further, let’s remember a fundamental premise: books are always better than movies.  This seems intuitive, but it is especially true with Tolkien’s work.  JRRT did not just write fantasy.  JRRT created the platonic archetype of fantasy.  He is to fantasy literature what the the Beatles are to pop music.  So if there is any disappointment in the film adaptation, it is because we measure against a standard of perfection.  Any adaptation of JRRT is going to look a bit tarnished.

So this raises another question, what about Jackson’s embellishments of the story?  I know that there is nerd ragers out there that anathematizes this outright.  I am not one of them.  Let’s go ahead just admit this: you can’t really get something as good as the hobbit “right” when you put it on film.  Therefore, I prefer to judge the embellishments by effectiveness in the film, not whether or not they are factually true to the book.

The Dwarves

Let’s start with a favorite of mine: the dwarves.  Thorin Oakenshield was ambitious, embittered, and peppered with a little bit of greediness.  In the prologue, we a saw a dwarf prince humbly black smithing away for human masters.  We got a feel for how he felt about the Elves and why.  They did not lift a finger when his people needed him most.  We got a chance to see the rage he felt when he saw his father killed by the white Orc.  You also got an impression of what kind of leader he was.  Someone who asked for loyalty while keeping his emotions close to his chest.

The opening scene with the unexpected party was very effective too.  The dwarves were rowdy, crude, and foolhardy brave.  Then, they shifted into a somber, baritone-ranged, song of their lost homeland.  It was dark music for dark businesses.  Furthermore, throughout the movie, I got the impression that the dwarves weren’t just foolhardy, gold-lusting adventurers.  They were also homeless and exiled.  Jackson did a good job in drawing this scene in Biblo’s conversation in the goblin caves.

One commenter complained that the dwarves were a bit too much warrior adventurers instead of the hapless, trouble prone, group that Tolkien originally portrayed.  While there is some truth to this (keep reading), I don’t feel like the added fight scenes ruined the books’ vision.  We still got to see the dwarves tied up and roasted by trolls.  We still saw them nearly pee their pants before the stone giants.  Were they a bit more “warrior” than in the book?  Yes they were.  Did it work effectively in the movie?  Mostly.

The Goblin King Boss fight

If I had to pick one thing that was very wrong, it is the entire sequence of the Goblin King’s caves.  It started off okay.  The poor dwarves all fall into a trap, and then are scurried away to certain enslavement or worse.  I was even convinced by the Goblin King’s sudden from overconfidence to sheer terror when he saw Goblin Cleaver.   Sadly, that’s about all that can be said about this scene.

At some point in this scene, every dwarf transformed from a fantasy character to a video game avatars.  They ran the gauntlet of the goblins minions, killing each with their special abilities.  Eventually, Gandalf faces off into a boss fight.  The troupe then falls to their apparent doom, before breaking into the next level.

This sequence had no sense of danger.  No feeling of mortal peril.  No tension at all.  In fact, the 1977’s animated version was scarier than Peter Jackson’s version and did it less time.  I hate to say it, but it looks like Jackson drank the George Lucas kool-aid on this one.  Brilliant CGI and special effects don’t make a scene exciting or tense.  The excess turns a movie sequence into some else’s video game.  Nothing is more dull than that.

The Infamous Albino Orc

The most notable embellishment was the infamous albino orc.  He did have an evil sounding name, but I’m just going to call him whitie.  Thorin cut off his forearm in that epic, Boris Vallejo, worthy battle ages ago.  Now, whitie has been out to get him ever since.  In this film, he played the role of a sub-plot antagonist.  He was Thorin’s shadow.  The white orc after the black bearded dwarf.  Not a bad concept.  He certainly was nowhere in the book, though.

In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with this additional character in itself.  The problem was with the execution.  Whitie the orc is a pitifully written character.  He throws henchmen off cliffs.  He snarls and barks.  The prologue ruined any surprise.  What we have is cliched, generic, nasty villain that actually reminds you that your seeing a movie, thus taking you out of the story.  How so?  The entire “slay the henchmen” thing is overdone.  It doesn’t really make the villain nastier.  It makes him less believable.  How long before a subordinate decides he’d rather fill your shoes?  Whitie the orc belonged in a comic book.

I reiterate that I don’t have a problem with this added character.  The problems was not the idea.  I think it was possible to give Thorin and the party an intermediate enemy.  Problem is, whoever wrote this character didn’t put much work into him.

Riddles in the Dark

There is one last scene that deserves some serious praise.  The famous scene of Gollum, Biblo, and the riddles could not have been better done.  Amazing props to the Martin Freeman.  His amateurish, panicked sword swinging had me completely convinced that there actually was Gollum there.  Props too, to Andy Serkis. Remember when Gollum cheerfully sang while bashing an orc to death?  Only Andy Serkis could’ve made that darkly comical.

Equally good, was the scene in which Biblo spares Gollum instead of killing him.  In fact, I’d say that riddles of the dark sequence really outweighs the bad parts of this movie.

So for those of who are on the fence between seeing the movie and clinging to that $10, I’d say this.  Grab a friend or two, and go see it.  This is not a perfect rendition of Tolkien’s vision, but it is a fun, enjoyable, and exciting movie.  For those of you nerd ragers who are upset, go grab a hardback copy of the Hobbit and re read it.  We all know that books are better than movies.  Even if you think Peter Jackson’s version fell short thematically, it is not as if there are not enough good scenes to make the movie still enjoyable.

Let’s begin with a story shall we?

I can remember exactly where I was in summer of 2005. I braved LA traffic to arrive at a westwood theater and watch Star Wars Episode III. The actual title escapes me. Why I did I go? To laugh mostly.  To enjoy the camaraderie with my fellow APU students, and at least two full generations of Star Wars fans. At this point, the Star Wars fan zeitgeist was like a jilted lover. However, we had already gone through the sadness of betrayal, the seething anger, and the foolish desire to return.

No, at this point we were like the ex raising our heads high. It is the kind of ex that chuckles at the failures of the significant other who dumped you. Maybe they finally got fat. Maybe they got pregnant. Maybe their dating profile is so sad and desperate that you’re a bit glad that they never appreciated you.

That’s right. We paid for Episode III to laugh at it. Even if that laughter was a bit masochistic.

What I illustrate here is that there actually is entertainment value in the prequels.  It all depends on how you frame it.

So how are we actually going to react to the news that Disney is taking over Star Wars.

There’s already been quite a bit buzz about this since Lucas’s announcement.  We’re all not sure how to react to new Star Wars movies.  The Memes have exploded.  Here though is my personal reaction.

The first thing to remember is this: can Disney make Star Wars any worse?  Yes, I am being a bit tongue and cheek here, but the point the is serious.  Everything about the prequels was such a train wreck of plot holes, poor characters, lack of plot, adhd special effects that it has provided nothing but fodder for people like red letter media and countless other satire sites.  Disney can’t make it worse right?  Think about that question.

Another think to consider is what Disney has done in the last ten years.  How have you felt about Pixar and the Avengers?  Pixar hasn’t really failed.  We can remember the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie too.  That movie was the first successful pirate movie in decades.  Yes, that particular franchise went down hill quickly, yet despite that it still had its bright spots.  For instance, who was the scarier villian?  Was it this guy:

…Or this guy?

So can Disney improve on the story?  Can it give the fans final three movies that the fans deserve?  The answer depends on what “creative consultant” means.  If creative consultant means that George Lucas can have a hand in Star Wars, but never the final say it could work.  We know he is no writer without a proper editor.  So what we can hope for is that anything he suggests is never the final word as it was in Episode I.  Let’s hope that someone like this will be there to either keep Lucas in check.  If “creative consultant” means that Lucas is going to be drafting scripts again, than we’re in for three more plot and character nightmares.  Considering that Lucas does not want to face fan ire again, I somehow think he’s going to have a serious hand in this.

Personally, I think when we compare Lucas’ track record to Disney, we probably have a little reason to be cautiously optimistic.  We should probably actually be happy that creative direction of Star Wars is out of Lucas’ exclusive control.  We should probably recognize that Disney -despites its shameless comercial nature- knows how to tell a good story.  That’s why I am sanguine about star wars.