Archive for the ‘Random wifflings’ 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

Moving back to Yorkshire

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Random wifflings

I’ve been away for a few days in the land of my fathers (well, the ones that weren’t German or Lancastrian or southerners), where I’ll soon be decamping to permanently. That’s why no posts. There are many long periods when I do not post, but usually it’s down to work. This time it’s owing to ARGH! no! Stressssss. House move. Normal erratic service will resume sometime in May, I expect.

We’re moving back to Yorkshire from Somerset, to my home town, to be exact. More on that later, but the pertinent fact here is that my wife has gone to start her new job leaving me literally holding the baby. As I was on my own last night, and will be for some weeks, I thought I’d catch up on the last year or so’s SF, beginning with a film my wife wouldn’t want to watch. I rented Pacific Rim off Amazon streaming (I rarely get to the cinema). Oh my. She wouldn’t want to, and I wish I hadn’t. Here are some bullet points.

  • Obviously when combatting a transdimensional alien foe that is virtually impervious to all the tricks of 21st century weapons technology − from high energy lasers to bombs that can penetrate hundreds of feet of solid rock no less − the best thing to do is to build fragile, easily over-balanced giant robots so you can punch the monsters in the face. PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE! Win.
  • As around 50% of all combat with these giant sea monsters takes place in the sea, best not make the robots at all hydrodynamic. Far better to wade laboriously through water while the baddies swim rings around you.
  • Don’t use a nuclear weapon, even though these are shown to be completely effective.
  • Who needs remote piloting tech, when you can put your one-in-a-million pilots into an easily wrenchable head, rather than say, at the back in the middle behind forty feet of armour, or in a bunker a thousand miles away.
  • When piloting said robot, it makes perfect sense to go for mechanical pugilism, saving your most effective weapon, a giant sword, for when it is most dramatically appropriate rather than when it might actually save your life.
  • If the aliens start to win, the best strategic option is to abandon the one project that was working in favour of one that patently won’t.
  • Someone, surely, would have worked out the simple key to the aliens’ dimensional vortex years ago.
  • Equally, aliens bright enough to construct such a vortex might notice when a) the creature coming back through is dead, and b) it is accompanied by a six-hundred-foot-tall walking bomb.
  • As my brother Aidan says, “Any film that has to rely on a voiceover is already in trouble.”
  • The abuse of dinosaur science for a weak plot point. (Not the two brains, the other one).

Do I sound like an old fart? Probably. I know a lot of my geek chums loved this diabolical travesty of storytelling. I’m sticking to my guns. I love giant robots, I love big monsters. I like watching them beat each other up. I like Idris Elba, with his soulful big eyes, enormous charisma, and ability to simultaneously project deep intelligence and the potential for explosive violence. But I also like say, character, suspense, logic and some goddamn respect from my movies. The whole thing is carried along by a bread-and-circuses attitude of “they’ll dig the monsters and robots, so it doesn’t have to have all those other things that traditionally go into constructing an effective narrative.” The pulp nonsenses I enjoyed in the early 1990s had more integrity. We’ve seen this done before, far better, in anime. Even suitmation Godzilla films make more sense, and I’m no fan of those. There are two false starts, a completely soulless romance, cliches, and… and… GRAH!

I mean, I thought Transformers plumbed new robo-depths. But then, I’m not twelve any more.

And another thing…

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Random wifflings

The main thrust of my internettery today has all been about Goodreads. Anyone might think that the publicist from one of my publishers sent me an email or something. Anyway, the reviews I’ve been posting here will now go on Goodreads first instead,  which will then publish them here. I have no idea why I am telling you this, as frankly, it’s not very interesting. But I need to share.

Clickety click

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Random wifflings

This morning I have mostly been mucking around with HTML. I have never, ever done this before. My interaction with it has been much along the lines of a small child playing tentatively with Duplo bricks for the very first time.

I’ve been adding more functionality to this here blog, including Goodreads buttons for my books, a Facebook “Like” for my author page (if you do “like” it, you can still get free copies of Reality 36, by the way) and other such clicky things. You’ll also notice that I have removed my links to other pages. This is not because I don’t care or have fallen out with all the folks listed there, rather my sidebar was getting very crowded, and a lot of the links were out of date. As I don’t have the hours available to update them all, it seemed an easy thing to drop. A big “soz” to all those whose links were still functioning, I am sure you can live for the time being without the torrent of clickthroughs this site was providing. (NB, this is sarcasm, they all probably got one or two).

That is all. I need to do some writing of fiction and that.