Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

I watched The Hobbit 2 again last night, along with Mrs Haley. I enjoyed it a lot more this time. The first half of the film is better than the second, but when we get to the shenanigans in Lake Town there is more padding than in a super plush Bombur soft toy and things go downhill.

I noticed a few things this time round. Here they are.

i) The archaic phrase “but for” as in “nobody gets out but for the leave of the king” crops up three times.

ii) In a possible leftover from an earlier draft of the screenplay, Smaug talks of the men of Lake Town and “their long bows and black arrows” – in the book, the black arrow is simply that. There’s no such thing as a “Dwarvish Wind Lance”.

iii) Orcs are getting bigger. In Tolkien’s books, Orcs are generally small, some as small as Hobbits, with “Man-sized” being an adjective for a particularly large specimen. Only the great Uruks and certain earlier breeds of Orc employed by Morgoth in the War of the Jewels are as big as or bigger than men. In the Hobbit films, the smallest are only slightly shorter than men. Bolg and Azog are much bigger, which is fair enough seeing as they are chiefs, but the Orcs of Dol Guldur are enormous.

As Emma says “That all got very silly. I give it a six out of ten.”

I grabbed the chance to watch The Desolation of Smaug on Monday night. This is something my demi-Swede would like to see also, but I figured I’d happily watch it again with her. After driving back from Yorkshire I was in need of some telly time, and had been very much looking forward to the movie.

Damn shame to say, I was disappointed. I’ve read several reviews that rate this the better of the two Hobbit films thus far, but I reckon not. There are plenty of story choices I could pick apart here (Thirty orcs invade a city that becomes conveniently deserted for the sake of a fight! Smaug immediately guesses the provenance of Bilbo’s ring! Middle-earth is as easily travelled as it needs to be! The story suddenly shifts to a quest for the Arkenstone! Smaug the Golden has to be actually coated in gold! Repetition of the virtues of Athelas because we need fan-service winks! etc). I don’t want to write up a long screed that sings out “But it was different from the book! That makes it rubbish!” It does not. Cinema is different to literature. And my objections are personal, therefore their legitimacy is at the mercy of your judgment. After all, my dislike stems from one thing: The film Jackson made is not the kind of film I expected The Hobbit to become.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was, on the whole, a meticulous and considered adaptation of the source material for the screen. Tolkien’s message, though much obscured, is still present. There’s an air of painstaking art about the books, and an air of painstaking art about their adaptations. The Hobbit adaptation feels altogether sloppier. Jackson appears to want two things: Firstly, to make an action movie, secondly, to provide a prequel to his Rings films. But The Hobbit, though blessed with action, would better suit an adventure movie not an action movie format, while the presaging of events of The Lord of The Rings − which I agree with in principle − proves clumsy.

As in Jackson’s King Kong remake, there is much to admire − in this case Smaug, the elves and Thranduil in particular were effective − but like the ape epic there’s altogether too much going on, too many ideas fighting for time, too many “wouldn’t it be so frickin’ cool!” sequences. There’s plenty in the book to make two good films, not three. Sadly, even in making three, Jackson eschews the opportunity the extra running time allows for character beats, filling up his minutes with bonus orc chases and people falling off things (like, come on! What is it with you man?). There is a fair bit of material in the second section of the book that didn’t make onto the screen at all, Bilbo’s role in particular is bizarrely sidelined. Odd, given that changes to the material in the first film appropriately gave his actions greater emphasis.

The biggest addition, Tauriel, I expected. Her almost-romance with Legolas I expected. And I was glad to see that actually, she worked rather well as a character. What I didn’t expect was the weirdly reciprocated infatuation Fili had with her, coming to fruition in his surprise sojourn in Laketown (what was that all about other than a way to give key dwarfs more to do?).

It’s a movie crammed with unlikely acts of superheroic acrobatics and clownish pratfalls, whose design − while awe-inspiring in parts − takes Middle-earth nearer to the whimsy of Hogwarts than the majesty of Arda. If I were to hazard a reason for all this filmic flimflammery, it’d be this: The Lord of The Rings series had effects that were groundbreaking. Their mere execution was enough to wow, leaving Jackon’s not inconsiderable talents free to work on other aspects of storytelling. Now such magic is commonplace, Jackson as a showman seeks to bedazzle us with added… Well, added things falling off other things, mainly. Or maybe he simply has the opportunity to do MORE COOL SHIT. Either way, all good ringmasters know three elephants are better than one. A perhaps apt analogy, because, let’s put it like this, this film is Legolas surfing the Mumak over and over again.

It probably needs a second viewing, this initial opinion may mellow, but I’m not so sure that I do want to watch The Desolation of Smaug again. (Sorry Emma).

As a last minor irritation, The Desolation of Smaug really quite unexpectedly

Book two of the Heart of the World series. From SFX #212, published in 2011.

Four stars

417 pages

Author: Col Buchanan

Publisher: Tor

Evil hedonists take on island democrats

Buchanan’s entertaining Heart of the World series continues with an invasion of Bar-Khos by the Empire of Mann. Meanwhile, super-ninja Ash tracks the wicked Matriarch, and Mannian assassin Ché begins to doubt his loyalties.

Stands a Shadow offers plenty –battles, genocide, shipwreck, intrigue, and compelling new characters. Buchanan’s writing is strong; even if he undermines the effect of his descriptive powers by being equally descriptive of plant pots as he is of sieges, he creates occasional moments of total immersion for the reader.

The shoddy geography and linguistics of his world irritate as much as the first time round, and a worrying promise of things to come threatens to undo the power of the first book’s brave finale.

But although one wishes the author would paper over the joins between the tale’s elements more skilfully, we’re discussing the finish. The underlying construction is sound, the story gripping. With steampunk, magical, and historical influences, this is one of the most refreshing new fantasies out there.

Did you know?

Farlander, book one of The Heart of the World, won the David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy in 2010. Well done there, Mr Buchanan.

In a fannish, book-loving way, of course. Although from his pictures he’s an imposing figure of a man even late in life, I have to admit.

I’ve had a quick, palate-cleansing break from my big pile of Black Library catch-up reading, and wolfed down Lion Time in Timbuctoo by Silverberg. Here’s a quick review of it I posted on Goodreads. (more…)

And this one is TOTALLY NEW! Yep, I didn’t just scrape this off a disk somewhere. It’s a book about Vikings, by Giles Kristian, published around 2007. Here are my thoughts.

I won’t bang on about the plot: Young man meets Vikings, is taken in, finds he is a natural killer and has bloody adventures in Southern England in the 8/9th century. That about sums it up.

I like Vikings, for a whole parcel of reasons. I studied them at university, and married a lady Viking. I’ve had this lying around for ages and fancied something Norse. Blood Eye adequately captures the spirit of the era and is overall entertaining, but there are some major issues with it.

Firstly, although the prose is very well written, the structure is poor, with not one but two pairs of near-identical incidents. In the first act of the book the Vikings are twice invited into mead halls, where friendly feasting turns violent. In the third act, our hero Raven is rescued at the last minute by the unexpected arrival of his Viking pals, again twice. Sure, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, but it’s slack storytelling that should have been ironed out.

Secondly, global amnesia is the hokiest plot device in the world (when we meet the protagonist he’s living in an English village and can’t remember anything from before a couple of years ago. Is he English? Is he Norse? Read the whole series to find out if he’s secretly the son of the king of Norway!) It takes a lot for me to forgive amnesia, and there’s not quite good enough in here for such forgiveness to be forthcoming.

Thirdly, there’s the odd historical inaccuracy (to my mind at least). Pines are mentioned a few times as growing in England, but there are only two conifer types native to Britain – the Scots pine and the Yew. (Yeah, yeah, picky, picky). Pines were never grown widely here until relatively recently. Also, and this is something that I always grumble about when reading Dark Age era fiction, is the level of mutual intelligibility between Norse and Old English. It’s debatable how much, but there was at least some, even the modern descendants of the languages have a lot of similarities, so Norsemen standing around talking loudly about killing Old English speakers in total safety wouldn’t be possible. As I see it, anyway – I may be wrong, I’m sure Kristian did his research.

Bernard Cornwell handles both the “torn identity” (admittedly, it’s a useful narrative in to the world) and language issue better in his Viking stories.

But, the main character is extremely engaging, and it’s well written. Perhaps I’ll check out the others in the series.

A review of Ghost Whisperer from Death Ray 16. Yes! You guessed right, my internal gear stick is out of the “can’t be arsed slot” and we’re into first gear, trundling through old Death Ray articles. Only a handful of big interviews and four issues to go, then done! Huzzah.


Directors: Various

Writers: Various

Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, David Conrad, Jamie Kennedy

The show about beautiful girl who can communicate with ghosts coasts on into another year. Rick Payne (Jay Mohr), ghost-whisperer Melinda Gordon’s professorial accomplice and series regular for two years, bows out in episode one, leaving a slot free for another male believer – step in Eli James. Like Payne, he’s an educated man, giving some backbone of learning to Melinda’s folksy wisdom and feminine intuition. Only this one is a modern-day medium too! Eli can only hear spooks, not see them, and lacks Melinda’s experience, but his training as a psychologist gives him both medical knowledge and insight into the minds of the dead. He’s a good mix of greenhorn and pro, the writers (and actor Kennedy) have done well to make the character well-rounded. It’s too often the case with supporting males these days that they are either hunks, troubled hunks, or nerds. A nice addition to the cast.

Other than friends new, it’s business as usual for the fragile beauty. Melinda is trying for a baby in between solving the woes of the departed. In episode two she has to confront her upsetting high-school past, and there are dark hints of a new, series-arching menace to her. In this case it is not a powerful ghost or dark whisperer, but the revelation that her abilities may bring with them a touch of death.

If soapy, heartwarming, forgettable drama is your thing, Ghost Whisperer continues to deliver.