Wednesday, May 1, 2013
All right then, when I heard the History Channel was mounting a Viking series, I was really looking forward to it, and on the whole, I thought it was pretty good, although the series finale, which I just watched last night, was rather anticlimactic. The single coolest element is actually the opening credits, nifty music over shots of dead Vikings sinking to bottom with longships visible up above, speeding under oar. And for what it's worth, the representation of the Viking Age is the single most accurate depiction that I've ever seen. Certainly, the guys who it made seem to have been unusually serious about their historical responsibilities. The writers have read Ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas played him in The Thirteenth Warrior, a wacked-out we're-giving-you the-gritty-lowdown, wildly anachronistic version of Beowulf), and Saxo Grammaticus's account of pagan shenanigans at Uppsala. However...there's a lot of preposterousness too, some of which is is truly insisted upon. I can't imagine that most people would be as annoyed as I was, but they're not writing this blog, now are they?
First off. the show's about Ragnar Lothbrok (Hairy-Breeks), the same guy played by Ernest Borgnine in The Vikings. He might've been a real guy...according to legend, he raised a lot of hell in Northumbria before the Northumbrian king Aella caught him and threw him into a pit full of vipers, whereupon Ragnar's sons, Guthrum and Ivar the Boneless, descended on England and went about making a big nuisance of themselves with the aforementioned great Army (probably no more than five hundred guys or so), before Alfred took them down. Now. Ragnar and his boys were Danes...but because Denwark is kind boring dairy country, the producers of the show have them operating out of Norway, with Canadian Pacific Northwest locations standing in nicely for that. Can't say I'm too upset...Ragnar et all were depicted as Norwegians in The Vikings as well.
But what are we to make of the notion that they knew next to nothing about England, and were desperately afraid of sailing out of sight of land? This, of course, is pure twaddle...for one thing, Scandinavians could simply sail south along the coast and hang a right. Depending on where they hung this right, it sure wouldn't have taken them too long to get to Blightey. So there's that. But as I said, the shows also has Norsemen skeptical that there even is an England to be plundered, even though so many folks from Denmark had wound up there during the Anglo-Saxon conquest. The Anglo Saxons themselves are even referred to as wicings, Vikings, in Anglo-Saxon accounts. The Angles were from what is now Denmark, and the Jutes gave their name to the Peninsula, Jutland. The Anglo-Saxon national epic, Beowulf, takes place, of course, in Denmark and Sweden. In the show, Earl Haraldson is completely skeptical about Ragnar's plans, and a lot of conflict arises...in reality, none of this would've happened. In all likelihood, he would've put some money into the enterprise.
The show takes place at the dawn of the viking era proper, the late eighth century...it has Ragnar attacking the great monastery at Lindisfarne. Now while the assault on Lindisfarne was the very first eruption of the Vikings into recorded history, Ragnar had nothing to do with it...if he existed, he was from a much later period...that's if he ran afoul of Aella. I don't suppose anyone cares...we're talking maybe fifty years here. In Hollywood terms, it's not much...in The Thirteenth Warrior, for example, you have Ibin Fadlan rubbing shoulders with Beowulf, which is kinda like Billy the kid showing up in Braveheart.
But back to the show. Some of the names are just plain wrong. Ragnar's brother is named Rollo...he should be named Hrolf, Rollo being the Frankish form of the name, as in Rollo, the fellow who founded Normandy. Earl Haraldson is peculiar too...Earl Harald would've been a better idea. Later on, we run into a nobleman called Jarl so-and-so. Well, are these guys Earls or Jarls? Jarl is, of course, the Norse form of Earl. The writers should've stuck with the real title, or the translation.
There are scads of innaccuracies in the costuming, sets, etc. It's not like watching Xena, but a lot of the gear is hopelessly unreal. For one thing, Viking-period folks (the vast majority of Norse people weren't Vikings, by the way, the term being pretty much synonymous with pirate) didn't dress too sumptuously or flashily. Their garments were pretty basic, not at all exotic...most of their bling would've been jewelry, things like brooch pins, armlets, stuff like that. Also, the Norse didn't quaff their grog from horns or goblets...they drank from funnel-shaped glass beakers, which were set in separate bases. The Norse had all sorts of imported glassware, by the way...they did a lot of trading with the Franks. Most of their swords were made by Franks, for example.
The show's geography is frequently ridiculous...among other things, our protagonists go on foot on a pilgrimage to the pagan center at Uppsala, which is depicted as being right across the mountains from Norway or pseudo-Deenamrk, or wherever they're supposed to be...but Uppsala was located all the way in the east part of Sweden, near the Baltic...that would've been some hike. The show's goings-on at the temple have some basis in fact..the priest used to kill nine of each kind of animal, including human beings, during this one festival every nine years. But I believe the humans were slaves and criminals...the show has one of our guys just deciding he wants to be a sacrifice for no particular reason. It's very odd. Many of the details of the priesthood are purely invented, by the way...the priests are freaky pale wierdos with shaved heads, facial tattoos, and black lipstick.
Actually, the entire characterization of the Norsemen themselves is kinda off. They're all very solemn and grim. In actuality, if one can judge by the sagas, they were always cracking jokes and engaging in admittedly very violent hijinks. To give you an example...when the Jomsvikings all got drunk, decided on a whim to attack the Norwegians, and got trounced at the battle of Hjorungafjord, the Norwegians were going down the line beheading the prisoners...but one of the Jomsvikings had a last request. he was very vain about his hair, you see, and didn't want to get it all hacked and messy, so he requested that someone hold his hair out over his head as the axe fell. Well, this was considered reasonable, and someone poor schmuck held the guy's hair out...whereupon the Jomsviking jerked his head back at the last moment, and the axe cut off the Norwegian's hands.
The Norwegians thought this was so funny that they let the Jomsviking go...
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
I surf the web from time to time to see what people are saying about my books, and the one that gets the most attention is The Dead...even before Permuted Press brought their edition out, a lot of folks had expressed themselves, and after PP did their thing, there was a big increase in chatter...the book got more reviews (most of them really positive) than all of my other books combined, and there was a bunch of discussion on zombie sites. But even though, by and large, it's been good egoboo, it frequently makes for peculiar reading.
First off, some people are perplexed by the very idea of a Christian horror novel. The Dead has been called been called "A wierd mix of Christian and Horror themes" as though the two things are kinda antithetical. Apparently there are folks who've never heard of devils, damnation, fire and brimstone, satanism. They couldn't have any familiarity with the Book of Revelation, and they sure as hell must never have read Dante's Inferno, which is horror stuff from beginning to end, really sadistic, rivers of blood, people head down in blazing tombs, dismemberments by demons, all sorts of good stuff like that. Medieval Catholicism was awash in horror imagery...take a look at some of the tomb-effigies from the period...the old memento mori was never far from anybody's minds. As a matter of fact, The Dead was directly inspired by Brueghel's painting The Triumph of Death, (post-medieval, admittedly, although you wouldn't know to look at it) which features armies of mummies out to the horizon, hunting everybody down and killing us all quite horribly, peasants, merchants, kings, popes...absolutely batshit terrifying. And of course, when it comes to modern horror, you've got Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Exorcist, The Stand...even in H.P.Lovecraft, Christianity is sometimes efficacious, particularly in the more theological Cthulhu Mythos stuff, before he decided to try and recast that in a science-fictional mode. As for movies, well...the Hammer vampire films were straight out Roman Catholic propaganda...the film adaptation of The Exorcist is one of the most famous horror movies ever...you get the picture.
On to zombies.
There's this melody that keeps cropping up in one horror movie after another...it was used as the theme in The Shining, for example...it's the tune for Thomas of Celano's Dies Irae, the Mass For the Dead...it's about the scariest piece of music ever, and it's all about the dead rising from their tombs on the last day. I bring this up because there's this notion that Christianity and zombie horror are particularly and peculiarly antithetical. A number of people respond to the very premise of The Dead, and ask, how can this possibly be? You don't have any zombies in the Bible, etc.Well, I might reference Ezekiel and the Dry Bones (I utilize that biblical bit in my book, actually) and also point out that dead people rise from their graves when Jesus dies...then, of course, there's the fact that the primary archetype for a zombie apocalypse is the Resurrection of the Dead, which is one of the tenets of the Nicene Creed. Well, in my book, the Resurrection is the reason the zombies are up and around. The good people have been Raptured off to Heaven; some mediocre folks are stuck here on earth (wrote this way before Left Behind, by the way), and they're coping with the bad resurrected dead people....earth has become Hell. Now, all sorts of zombie movies have brought up the Resurrection and the actual Apocalypse, but then they don't really go anywhere with it. It evinces a lack of ambition, to say the least.
But even when some of The Dead's admirers have no problem with the mix of theology and horror, they're frequently rather ill-informed. I keep hearing that my zombies are byproducts of the Last Judgement or the Rapture. Nope, they're the direct products of...the Resurrection. Also, it's peculiar how many people zero in on the whole Rapture aspect of the book...it's a doctrine that doesn't even make it into the Nicene Creed, and while it has some scriptural basis, it was never a big part of the tradition---Roman Catholicism---that I was raised in. Oh, there are Catholic Pentecostals who are quite taken with the idea, and I thought it had some horror potential---it's really pretty creepy, and it's a handy prop. But first and foremost, this is a Resurrection book here. The Rapture is disposed of right at the beginning, and then...it's one damn brush with zombies after another. As a matter of fact, the whole end times schema that a lot of people are so attached to gets pretty short shrift...not so much because I'm making fun of it, but because the Antichrist and Second Coming etc., are not the focus of the book, which is living dead horror. The Antichrist is mentioned in passing...it turns out he's an Undersecretary of the Department of Education...I'm not making fun of Evangelicals...I'm making fun of the D of E.
The matter of my Catholicism comes up with some regularity too. Some people seem sure that I'm Protestant, then pronounce themselves puzzled, because all of my lead characters are Catholics. Well, I'm a Catholic of a rather traditional sort, and by and large, the book reflects that. Admittedly, the clergy in the book are presented in a pretty negative light, and I've been accused of outright Catholic bashing...but the worldview that the book depicts is Catholic. Catholicism turns out to be true, even if certain priests suck...they've erred horribly in wandering away from it. There's a positive review out there that assures people that the book isn't a justification of Catholicism. I don't know what book that person read. I mean, I'm glad they like it, but...The Dead is about as in-your-face theologically as anything you're likely to pick up. It's primary purpose is to terrify, but that fits in perfectly well with the theological agenda. I'm a Roman Catholic fear monger. Jonathan Edwards, the guy who wrote Sinners in The Hands of An Angry God, might've been a Puritan, but I regard him as a kindred spirit. The fact is, if you really want to disturb someone, you have to get to them on some level where they think there's something authentic about the horror. Most people are religious; a lot of them believe in damnation, and while they might not believe in zombies, they believe in Devils.
Nobody but nobody believes in Cthulhu.
On the other hand, there are those who are so bewildered by the juxtaposition of God and zombies that they don't even classify the book as a zombie book at all. Some of them like it, but they call it an "apocalyptic thriller" or a "thought experiment." Now, some of this has to do with the characterization of the zombies...even though I use the term, my zombies are not much like the original variety, which were semi-sentient agricultural slaves. But Romero's zombies are also very different from the originals...Haitian zombies didn't eat you, for example...Romero's zombies seem to have somewhat more in common with Richard Matheson's vampires in I Am Legend. Well, my zombies differed from Haitian zombies too, in different ways. Mine are smart, fast, and vicious, embodiments of furious damnation, jealous of the living, and not interested at all in eating you...they want to kill you so you'll come back as one of them and share their misery. Moreover, they simply can't be killed, only crippled temporarily. Some people don't like this conception...oh well. My zombies are scarier than Romero's. I might also point out that John Russo, the co-author or the Night of the Living Dead screenplay, opted for fast mean zombies in Return of the Living Dead when he decided to take another hack at the subject matter...we arrived at the idea independently. In short, when you get folks that insist that The Dead isn't even a zombie book at all, it's rather laughable, in my opinion.
Finally, there are all the people who hate the book, hate it, hate it, hate it. I'd say about one in five readers get really mad. Generally it seems to be purely philosophical, because their analysis is so rabid and ill-observed. Now frankly, I can see how the book might piss some people off...but when they start claiming that the book is slow, well, that's nuts. They really tend to go overboard on the number of typos, even in the Permuted Press version, which was actually properly copyedited. They complain that the characters, some of whom are clergymen, have conversations about theology and the end of the world in a story in which the Last Judgement, the Resurrection, and the End of the World actually happen. They unload on the dialogue, because everyone sounds so literate, and "no one talks that way," even though three of the major characters are academics, and two of them are priests. Fact is, a lot of my closest friends are academics, my wife is a Doctor of Philosophy, and a lot of the lines in the book are drawn from things I've heard actual people say...some of the liberal theology is drawn practically verbatim from utterances by priests from the Theology Department at Notre Dame. I've been in a number of exchanges that were pure set-pieces, almost exactly like Max's controversies with Uncle Buddy, and all of them unfolded exactly the same way.
Buddy's disquisition on Big Head Louis Armstrong figures, by the way, is based on a real conversation too, which took place a long while ago in a bar called The Flagship, in Seaford DE.
Just goes to show you.
Friday, January 4, 2013
Anyway, everything I was hearing about Django, even from people who liked it, who were the clear majority, made it sound like typical latter-day Tarantino, chock full of the characteristics that had begun to irritate me. To top it off, you had all that stupid racist crap about how great it is to kill white people from Jamie Foxx. Still, I decided to go see the flick...principally because I have an abiding interest in Italian Westerns, and I could see from the trailers that Lone Pine California, where I'd spent some time, was used as a backdrop. I wanted to viddy the Alabama Hills, all that granite again.
But I'm happy to report that I got more than nicely-lensed boulders out of the experience. Django is absolutely my favorite post Pulp Fiction Tarantino. I wasn't bored at all, which I was during large stretches of Basterds...perhaps it has to do with the fact that the 19th-cventury setting doesn't allow Tarantino to vapor about movies. Oh, he can crib a bunch of Ennio Morricone tracks (they're "western" music after all), but he can't have characters running off at the mouth about The White Hell of Pitz Palu, etc. Moreover, the film frequently demonstrates actual narrative drive...it doesn't have the stop-and-start quality that you had in Basterds. Even though there are some narrative hangfires (the movie goes on too long), you're still pretty satisfied at the end.
Now bear in mind that, whatever Tarantino thinks, the movie isn't much like a spaghetti western. Just feels like a completely different sort of beast, vastly sleazier and more violent, and set mostly in the American south. However, Italian westerns were basically rather deranged fantasies, so Django does have that in common with them. Even though it works pretty hard to convince you that it has something on its mind, the complete lack of interest in certain kinds of verisimilitude makes it difficult to take the thing too seriously...it turns out that vastly separated areas of the US are strangely contiguous. Take that aforementioned Lone Pine biz. Supposedly, we're looking at Texas, whereas actually we're looking at the Sierras, which Texas is noticeably lacking in. At one point, as I recall, Lone Pine seems to be doubling as Tennessee. Then there's all this achingly Californian California stuff...gimme a break. It just makes the movie look cheap. Maybe it's a joke, but I dunno. And even if it is a joke, it's distracting and undermines the other material.
The movie's full of anachronisms and social arrangements that never existed, the most flagrant of which is the whole Mandingo thing, Mandingo fighting having been invented by a novelist named Kyle Onstott. In reality, you had slave prize fighters, such as Tom Molyneaux, but you never had all this gladiatorial fight to the death carnage...I'm not sure that Tarantino knows that, since he seems not to realize the difference between films and actual history. In his 1858-59 deep south theme park, he serves up dynamite, Henry Rifles, all sorts of cartridge guns, ridiculous costumes, and that famous bust of Nefertiti, which hadn't been discovered (or forged?) yet. Nonetheless, I don't expect movie makers to get details right anymore. And Django frequently dispensed enough garish engaging nuttiness to drown out that nattering voice in the back of my head. I just found myself going with it most of the time.
Story has Django getting liberated from a couple of slave-traders by Dr. King Schultz (Cristoph Waltz), a German expat who abandoned his trade of dentistry a while ago, and has taken up bounty hunting, even though he still travels about in a wagon with a big tooth on a spring on the roof...there's some initial shooting that caught my attention immediately. Whatever his flaws, Tarantino really knows how to direct slaughter, and has the good sense to work with the KNB-EFX guys, the prosthetics experts who wanted to make that movie of The Dead... anyway, I found myself thinking that I would like the movie, if only it featured a whole lot more butchery of that caliber, and it sure did. Among other things, the movie realy clicks as an ultraviolent exercise.
But it's also funny and well written for the most part, and has quite a bit of excellent characterization and acting. Waltz (the SD honcho from Basterds) is absolutely mesmerizing as Schultz, and it's amusing to see a movie where the only decent white guy in the midst of all these evil crackers is an urbane, civilized German. He's more interesting than Django, but that's okay, since he serves as a mentor for him, and Django develops steadily under his tutelage. The two strike up an arrangement...Django will help Schultz hunt down the vile Brittle Brothers and then accompany him for a while as an apprentice/assistant bounty hunter, after which they'll go free Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). It turns out that she's been purchased by the horrendous Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) who maintains a stable of Mandingo fighting slaves at his plantation, Candieland. In what I believe is his first villain role (I might be mistaken) Di Caprio is extremely satanic, and you truly hate his guts, although he's partially overshadowed by his house-slave major domo Stephen, (Samuel L. Jackson). Stephen's real comfortable with the situation at Candieland, is smarter than his master, and gets real suspicious when Django and Schultz come around pretending to be in the market for some Mandingo talent. A bunch of cat-and-mouse ensues...there are some powerful scenes, most notably the reunion (overseen by Schultz) between Django and Broomhilda, and an increasingly nerve-wracking Candieland dinner. Ultimately, after much screwing-up of tension, there's an explosion of primo slaughter...
It's kind of a shame the film didn't end with that, though, and I feel the need to do some bitching. Spoilers follow of necessity...don't read any further if you don't want to know how things come down.
Di Caprio's death isn't sufficiently horrible. Oh, you have a nifty little tribute to Jack Palance's demise at the end of Il Mercenario, a "Zapata Western" helmed by Sergo Corbucci, the guy who did the original Django. But this rather pointless homage just isn't as spectacular as it needs to be, given the fact that Di Caprio is the head bad guy...his death almost reminds one of David Carradine's lackluster can-kick in Kill Bill, although this is partially mitigated by the fact that various Candieland minions go out in much more splattery fashion.
The film just keeps stumbling on after this point. Not only has the main heavy been killed, Schultz gets it almost immediately afterwards, and he's our favorite character...my interest in the succeeding goings-on was drastically reduced. Also, following the huge shoot-out, Django gets captured, and is about to be castrated right the hell to death, when Stephen intrudes and stops the proceedings, saying it would be a more terrible punishment if Django gets sent to work at a mine. Gimme a break. Basically, this is a really feeble maneuver to keep our hero from being neutered/killed. No effing way....our disbelief is reinforced, in addition, by the fact that Django quickly escapes from his new captors (improbable Australians, one of whom is played by porky Quentin in a vest). This sets up a second killfest which isn't as cool as the last one, although we're glad that Broomhilda is saved, and the final confrontation between Django and Stephen is good. You get a couple of excellent explosions too, utililizing that anachronistic dynamite, then some very sharp dressage from Django before the fadeout.
All in all, I had a good time, and as I said, I wasn't expecting to. The Oscars this year are going to be really interesting. I expect Django's going to be a major contender...but I also liked Lincoln too, and Argo...I'm also expecting to enjoy Zero Dark Thirty, though I haven't seen it yet. Don't think I care about Les Mis, but what the hell...
Friday, December 14, 2012
All, right, just got back from a midnight show of The Hobbit. If you follow this blog, you probably read my piece on what was worrying me about the movie ahead of time...I was hearing and seeing a lot of things that seemed really screwed up, although I was expecting some stuff to be cool. Well, in my opinion the cool bits were few and far between, and the awful stuff predominated to a fairly astonishing degree. I liked it less than I liked Peter Jackson's King Kong, and I really hated that. I think Jackson has turned into a megalomaniacal self-indulgent nincompoop who thinks that every idea he comes up with is fantastic. The first installment of his coked-out new trilogy reminded me, by turns, of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the Star Wars prequels, and Michael Bay and Stephen Sommers shit. It's just jaw droppingly awful for long stretches, and whenever I started to get into it, something moronic would come along to take me right back out again. After a while I just got bored, because I knew I was never going to warm up to it.
Of course, aside from the huge doses of preposterous bombast, the biggest problem is the padding. As I made clear in that other piece, I was extremely skeptical when I heard they were making three movies, and it turns out I had every reason to be. The original material simply doesn't justify this sort of treatment. The movie clocks in at two hours forty-five and only covers about a hundred and twenty pages of the book; moreover, Jackson sticks in all sorts of stuff that he and his collaborators simply invented out of whole cloth, or pulled ill-advisedly from Tolkien's LOTR appendices. It's almost like one of those horrendous Dr. Seuss adaptations. I keep reading reviews that bitch about the film being ludicrously faithful to the novel. Well, don't you believe it. A huge proportion of this dinosaur is frog DNA, just as I predicted. There's just scene after scene which has very little to do with the book, and even when you get a something that's actually from the novel, it's distorted and stretched and lengthened until a Tolkien purist like myself wants to scream. The other movies just weren't like this.
Of course, there are all sorts of things that suck besides the adaptation. For one thing, the special effects simply stink in a number of scenes...just as in Two Towers, the wargs this time are dreadful, but they're much worse than the ones in TT, badly designed and incredibly fake-looking. There's a chase sequence involving Radagast in which the wargs and Radagast's CG rabbit-drawn sleigh are sliding around in the landscape as though they don't have any contact with the ground whatsoever. Almost all the orcs are CG, and that's a real bad idea...the ones in LOTR were guys in really good Richard Taylor makeup, and they were just fantastic. Here they look like video game rejects, with Azog and the Great Goblin being especially cartoony. The trolls are lousy designs too...in fact, the only good creature effects are the stone giants, the eagles at the end, and Gollum, who's better than he was in the first trilogy.
I'd also been worried about the whole approach to the dwarves...when I first saw advance stuff featuring all those beards and hairstyles, I thought they were extremely goofy-looking, and boy they turned out to be. Actually, most everything connected to the dwarves was bad. I disliked Jackson's manhandling of Gimli...well, for the most part, the dwarves in The Hobbit are about as lousy, although in different ways. They butt heads, have burping contests, and talk about things getting shoved up jackses...but the main thing is that most of them don't have any real personality. Gimli was a masterpiece of characterization by comparison. Now, my chief fear going in was that we were going to get a lot of character-arc stuff and wheel-spinning about the dwarves...well, the film does spin its wheels like crazy, but only a couple of the dwarves come through even remotely, most notably Thorin, who's turned into a hunky heroic type quite at variance with Tolkien's version...I didn't think it worked.
Unsurprisingly, Ian McKellen's Gandalf is good, and Martin Freeman's Bilbo is too...it was nice to see Hugo Weaving again as Elrond. Of course, Elrond has a genuine part to play in the story. But we also get senseless cameos from Cate Blanchett and Chris Lee, and while I really love Chris Lee, there wasn't any reason for him to be in the film. Nor did we need the simply stupefying Radagast, who drives around in the aforementioned bunny-sleigh, has a bird-nest in his hat, and a giant streak of birdshit down the side of his face. Jackson really lingers on the birdshit, by the way. He also seems to think troll-snot is fabulous...after sneezing a big splash of it onto Bilbo, a troll mistakes him for one of its boogers, and Bilbo spends the rest of the scene glistening.
I'm not making this up.
Let's see. I was pretty sure Howard Shore's music would be nifty, but he overscores a lot of the scenes, most of the music is a retread of his LOTR soundtrack, and the only effective original theme is the Misty Mountains song. The scenery is frequently gorgeous, although a lot of the production design is wacky...the goblin-city is particularly ridiculous. One of the things I loved about Jackson's LOTR was the way certain settings looked like you were just hallucinating the settings in the book...none of that here, except for Bag End, which, of course, was in in the first trilogy. Tolkien himself never described much of Rivendell, so Jackson always had a certain license with that...but it looks even more gingerbready and silly this time around.
It was fun, however, seeing Bret from Flight of the Concords in a bigger role than he had in LOTR.
As for the action sequences, I'd thought there was a good chance they'd be great, and there are some snippets that remind you of the best action in the other movies. But mostly they just get unbelievably over-the-top and stupid. Again and again we have our protagonists falling prodigious distances and not getting hurt. At one point, the gigunda Great Goblin lands on them from a tremendous height, and they're fine. There are all sorts of slapsticky things that I can't even describe...the climactic orc-fight (involving our guys climbing up pine-trees which knock each other over and hang out over the side of a cliff) goes on forever and is reminiscent of the awful tyrannosaurs-in-slings vine fight in Jackson's Kong.
I have to say, the only part of this thing that I thoroughly enjoyed was the Riddles in the Dark sequence...Andy Serkis is great, and the scene hewed very close to the book. But boy you have to wait forever to get there, and it doesn't last long when you do.
I didn't see the movie in the 3D 48 frames per second version...since 48 FPS apparently makes everything look videotaped, I'm pretty sure I'd loathe it...there are enough things for me to loathe about this movie as it is.
Oh yeah, that scene with the Great Goblin landing on the dwarves was in one of the trailers, and I mistook him for a troll in my previous piece. Mea culpa.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Seeing as how I've got a ton of Samurai Cat art just sitting in my computer, I thought I'd post some...much of it was in that Youtube SC slideshow, but you'll get a much better view of the pictures here. A lot of them were done just for this or that convention, and if you weren't there, you didn't see them. Anyway, hope you get a kick out of them. Click on any of them to go into full slideshow mode and see everything much bigger.
|On The Crag|
|Pool Of Sunlight|
|The Good, The Cat, And The Ugly|
|Shimura Comes Through|
|Sword of Samurai Cat Cover|
|Samurai Cat In The Real World Cover|
|Shiro, The Oz Boys, Ubersaurus Rex|
|Seven Samurai Cats|
|Kamikaze Curtis Kondo|
|Origami Ito And Sue|
|The Mouse Trap|
|Take My Hoard Please|
|The Invasion Of The Kitty Snatchers|
|The Kremlin Litter|
|Tomokato Versus His Evil Nephews|
|The Abominable Snowcat|
|A Fighting Cat Of Mars|
|Christmas Eve, Berlin, 1944|
|Tomokato God of War|
|Fun With A Browning Thirty|
|Katsucon Program Book Cover|
|The Adventures of Samurai Cat #1|
|Samurai Cat Portfolio 1 Cover|
|Have A Nice Day|
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Fact is, unlike Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is a kid's book.Tolkien wrote it for his children, snitching bits and pieces of his Silmarillion mythology, as well as material from the Elder Edda, etc; actually, the book wasn't really set in Middle-Earth exactly, but given the fact that it gave rise to LOTR, it served as a kind of alternate portal for the Silmarillion stuff, and it got more and more anchored in Middle Earth as Tolkien developed his Third Age ideas. But there were all sorts of things about The Hobbit that Tolkien was unhappy about...in its origins, it wasn't really of a piece with the other material, and he'd made some choices that really grated on him. He was very fastidious about linguistic invention, and regretted borrowing the Eddaic dwarf list when naming Thorin and Co...also the fact that he pilfered all manner of Anglo-Saxon names. There weren't any Germanic types in the Silmarillion, and the dwarves had Semitic-sounding names. Moreover, the tone and style of The Hobbit wasn't really congruent with LOTR. Most of what we know about Hobbits isn't derived from The Hobbit, but from LOTR, where he really went to town with them...there's very little Hobbitry in The Hobbit, speaking comparatively. There were also all sorts of stylistic things that pained him, bebotherings and confustications, things like that.
Having already revised the book pretty significantly to make the Riddles in the Dark biz consistent with LOTR, he decided to attempt a much more thorough overhaul, and actually completed two or three chapters, which you can find in Douglas A. Anderson's Annotated Hobbit. But even though the bebotherings are gone, and a lot of other kid-book touches too, you just kind of wind up missing the original. It's damaged somehow by this tampering...just isn't quite itself. Fact is, at some point, an artist has simply got to accept the fact that art is a human institution, you never get it completely right, and you just have to let it fly on its own...it's rather like having a child. Well, in any case, Tolkien put the revision aside.
We have Peter Jackson faced with the challenge of turning this kid's story into something that feels more like LOTR. Tolkien gave up on this, mind you, and as much as I liked Jackson's movies, I have to say that Tolkien does Tolkien better that Jackson does. In general, the LOTR movies worked best when they stuck close to the source, or depicted stuff that was implied by it, i.e. giving some expository screentime to Saruman, or showing Boromir's final battle. The least successful installment was Two Towers, and that was the one that did the most violence to the book, particularly with the Godawful characterization of Faramir. While Jackson got some characters deadon, such as Gollum, Gandalf, and Sam, others were middling, and some, like Faramir (in Two Towers, not Return of the King) and Gimli, simply stank. Gimli's constant
pratfalls were a particularly bad omen for The Hobbit, but more about that shortly.
Now, I understand that Jackson is planning three, count 'em three, Hobbit movies, in an adaptation of a book that's only about three hundred pages long. I could see maybe, just maybe, doing two movies...break 'em in half after the spider-fight and the dwarves getting captured by the forest elves. But three installments? Even if they're only two and not three hours long, that's still way too much bread and too little butter, and we've seen Jackson pull a similar stunt...his Kong remake. As I said in my aforementioned blog entry, the thing was twice as long as the original and half as fast. It was positively crammed with padding, useless buildup, complicated but lousy characterizations, and all-round aching stupidity. And he was dealing with source material that was already quite sufficient in length and admirably designed. For him to get three films out of The Hobbit, he's going to have to rely a whole whole lot on his own personal invention, and we have good reason to be nervous. Even though he's plundering material taken from the LOTR appendixes, he still won't have enough unless he fleshes out a great deal of it himself, and undoubtedly all that stuff is going to wander pretty far from Tolkien's conceptions...there's going to be a shitload of frog DNA in this dinosaur.
Might as well really get into the dwarves now. Aside from Thorin, Tolkien doesn't characterize his dwarves in The Hobbit...well, Bombur is a fat idiot, okay. But individualizing the dwarves wasn't really necessary for a kids' book. Still, you'd have to do something with them in a movie, particularly if you're planning to make it of a piece with the LOTR flicks...and this really opens the door to a world of cinematic hurt. I think some guys could do a good job with it...the dwarves in Snow White and the Huntsman were way better than Jackson's Gimli, for example. But I'm pretty sure we're going to get Gimli times thirteen. Rendering Jackson's temptation particularly acute will be the fact that the dwarves in The Hobbit really are comedy dwarves...they're not that funny in general, and they're not characterized, but they are comic...I think Jackson's going to add heaps of subpar Monty-Pythonish biz, complemented by ill-chosen concept choices. If you doubt me, consider the way the dwarves look in the trailers. The prosthetics, costumes, beards, hair, trappings, just seem, at first glance, plain goofy. Maybe they'll work when you finally see the movie...I'm skeptical. Then there's the fact that every one of these guys is going to be endowed, if that's the right word, with a backstory, a personal journey, a character arc. God, I'm so sick of that kind of doctrinaire bullshit...and if you listened to Jackson and his screenplay collaborators on the LOTR DVDs, it was plain that they're totally committed to that approach. But, by spinning his wheels with each and every individual dwarf, Jackson will be able to waste more of our time.
And there's other stuff in the trailers that's got me on edge. Did you see Radagast? He was in the second trailer briefly, in a chariot drawn by giant rabbits. What the fuck? You got to see a brief closeup of his face...he has birdshit down the side of it, because he has a nest under his hat. Good Lord. Then, of course, there's the bit where the dwarves have fallen into something, a canyon or suchlike, and a comic-looking troll drops on them, and one of them groans, "You've got to be joking!" Is this what's going to pass for writing in these flicks? Perhaps we can also have somebody saying that they're "Getting a bad feeling about this," or "Getting too old for this"...yikes.
Then there's the certainty that Jackson is going to have to come up with alternate versions of so many of the scenes. There's a whole lot of kid's book stuff in the first chapter that he will surely have to chuck, although I expect him to do a pretty good job on a visualization of Smaug's descent on the Lonely Mountain during Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold... we've already heard some of Howard Shore's music for that, and it's cool. However, it's hard to imagine that the sequence with the trolls will resemble Tolkien's version too much. He had three talking comedy trolls who decide to kill the dwarves with their great fat asses, and Gandalf tricking them into staying up for a very quick sunrise. In Jackson's trailers, we can see that there's some sort of fight, which ends with the dwarves falling into a canyon and the troll landing on them. There's either going to be an attempt to make the scene less kidstuffy, or make it funnier in some way, maybe both...I don't think I'm going to like it.
Then there's the Rivendell material. Tolkien gives you very little idea of what the place is like, although it's run by Elrond, and inhabited by elves that sing, "Tra-la-la lally, down in the valley." Well undoubtedly the movie's elves will be like the ones in Jackson's LOTR, which is to say, hit and miss. I liked Hugo Weaving's Elrond and Orlando Bloom's Legolas; Kate Blanchett's Galadriel was a member of the slow-talking club, though, and Haldir was just well...epicene, and showed up at Helm's Deep to boot. Bottom line, Jackson's elves might very well improve on Tolkien's originals in this flick; but I expect him to drag the Rivendell material out as a long as he can, to the story's detriment.
Of course, in my opinion, the book doesn't really hit its stride till we get to the Misty Mountains. If the trailer's any indication we're going to have the giants, which is swell, but evidently they're going to be chucking boulders at our guys, and I bet it's going to be a lot of Jacksonian bombast, although it might be worthwhile if it's not too coked out and ostensibly funny. Once we get underground, it should play to Jacksons's strengths...the Moria sequence was one of the best things in his LOTR after all. He should be able to do a good job on the Great Goblin; I expect there'll be a whole lot more fighting and running-around than there was in the book, but that's jake with me. Bilbo's brush with Gollum is likely to be fine...after all, Jackson's Gollum really clicked. I do wonder whether he'll restrain himself and just have Bilbo escaping and leaving Gollum well behind...given the fact that Jackson shoehorned Elrond, Arwen, and Galadriel into places in LOTR where they just didn't belong, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he has Gollum tagging along for a while, and that would be stinko.
Let's see...the rockslide should be scary and spectacular, but Jackson always tends to go overboard on things like that...ditto the escape from the wargs on the eagles .Regarding Beorn, the thing where Gandalf tricks him about the dwarves in the book is pure kiddy-lit biz, and I don't know how Jackson can get around that...once again, I think he'll try to make it genuinely funny, with bad results. Beorn himself is scary, and could be successful, though.
As for Mirkwood, the climax of that section could well be very impressive, but there sure is going to be a giant dollop of dwarf-comedy leading up to it, them lugging Bombur around, etc. Moreover, we've seen some shots of Mirkwood already, and Jackson's version is all wrong. It doesn't look like that. Tolkien's version is a nasty black evergreen climax forest with the floor covered with pine-needles, nothing much in the way of undergrowth, and practically no animals. Jackson's Mirkwood is kind of a cross between his Skull Island Jungle, and something out of Hansel and Gretel. The bit with the starving dwarves seeing the mobile elvish feast which winks out every time they step into the light should be a no-brainer, both scary and funny...but we've got to worry about practically everything with the dwarves. I'm expecting an exciting monster show with the spiders, but...I was expecting good monsters with King Kong, too. Just don't trust Jackson any more.
Now, of course, in the book, just before we get to Mirkwood, Gandalf leaves the company and heads south to deal with "the Necromancer," who we'll eventually learn is Sauron, reconstituted after his defeat at the hands of the Elvish-Human alliance...he's ensconced himself in southern Mirkwood at the fortress of Dol Goldur. Apparently, Jackson has decided to incorporate a lot of this Necromancer business into his movie, which I think is rather unfortunate, since it really wasn't part of The Hobbit. I mean, Bilbo's the protagonist, and the movie should pretty much revolve around him. There's only one major sequence which isn't from his point of view, and that's the attack on Esgaroth by Smaug. Now, there is non-Hobbit Bilbo-centric material that could be injected...Tolkien did write an account, in the style of LOTR, of Gandalf's meeting with Thorin and Co., before they got to Bag End., wherein he explains what he's up to with Bilbo. Bilbo isn't there, but he's the subject. Don't know if Jackson will use that...he might not have the rights. If he does use it, it'll be towards the beginning of the flick.
There might be other appendix-pilfering before that, Gandalf penetrating Dol Guldur and speaking to the Thorin's imprisoned father, Thrain, followed by Gandalf delivering dark tidings about Dol Guldur to the White Council...it's never really described, but it's implied. Mainly, non-Hobbit add-ons should come in following Gandalf's departure for points south...evidently we're going to get Sauron's eviction from Mirkwood, which might be incredibly great, but could also involve all the padding in the world, and seriously slow down the dwarf/Mirkwood strand, which really needs to be the main focus. We'll see. I bet there'll be a lot of nifty FX, but I think the storytelling will be unsound. I suppose the Dol Guldur business might be interwoven over a longer stretch of the film...I wouldn't mind it if the dwarves' imprisonment with the elves is interrupted in spots...otherwise, much more dwarf-comedy.
Which we will, of necessity, get barrels and barrels of when they escape onto the river hidden in big kegs. Once again, this will be a kids' book comedy minefield. I predict it will be chock full of groanworthy banter and non-gags...Bombur in a barrel will surely bring out the absolute worst in Jackson...perhaps we'll even get some luscious fart jokes.
However...once we get to Esgaroth, the story should be easier to adapt. Likely Jackson will portray Laketown much the same funky grimy way he portrayed Bree, but that would be much more appropriate here. The town-on-stilts will almost certainly be an impressive effect, and the politics, involving the dwarves' reception, the Lakemen's inflated expectations, and the Master's sliminess, are rendered in some detail by Tolkien...Jackson should have no difficulty following his lead, although he might want to introduce Bard at this point. Tolkien's Bard doesn't show up until Smaug attacks later on, and we really should've had something about him beforehand.
I presume we're going to have lots of buildup to Smaug as the dwarves head to the Lonely Mountain. The settings should be nifty...one of the things I really liked about the LOTR movies was the way Jackson paid very serious attention to Tolkien's descriptions of places like Edoras, Helm's Deep, Minas Tirith, etc. If Dale and Erebor get the same treatment, I'll be delighted. As for Bilbo's descents into Smaug's lair, I'm rather expecting them to be well-done too.
But a lot is going to depend on the handling of Smaug. They'd better nail the voice-casting, and it will be really terrible if the basic visual conception doesn't work. In the Rankin bass Hobbit, Richard Boone's voice and the overall direction clicked, although I disliked Smaug's hairy oriental-dragon head. Smaug should be real reptilian, and rather long, not like your basic batlike Dragonslayer dragon, the one that we've seen again and again for the last thirty years, most notably in that last harry Potter flick (best movie dragon ever by the way). The Dragonslayer template really is well-rationalized, but Smaug doesn't look like that. He's a wyrm, kind of a flying serpent with legs. Apparently the reason that Guillermo Del Toro dropped out as director was that he and Jackson couldn't agree over the conception of Smaug...Del Toro was wedded to the Dragonslayer design, I believe. So I assume Jackson will do something different, but that doesn't mean it'll be good.
The attack on Laketown should be dynamite...I do hope that it' a purely Laketown-men versus Smaug affair, although I strongly suspect Jackson is uncomfortable with the fact that Bilbo doesn't do any actual dragonslaying. It might sound daffy that I'm worried bout this, but remember...Jackson wanted to have Sauron himself show up outisde the Black Gate at the climax of LOTR. He even shot some of a fight between Sauron and Aragorn (it wound up as that dustup with the troll) but ultimately he backed off on his brainstorm, and he'll probably do the right thing with Smaug's demise.
Since Desolation of Smaug is the title of the second movie, I assume his death will be the climax of Part Two...which doesn't leave a hell of a lot for a third movie. I think the buildup to the Battle of the Five Armies and the battle itself will be good...Jackson generally knocked that epic stuff out of the park in LOTR. But all the post-Smaug material was thirty-forty pages in the book. In order to get anything like a feature-length film, Jackson will have to rely very much on appendix-cribbing and his own personal invention, and I've already registered my anxieties on that score.
Once again, I would very much prefer it if the movies were fabulous. If Jackson merely gets certain important sequences right, I think I'll be sufficiently happy. He needs to do a good job on the Misty Mountains/ Goblins biz, Mirkwood and the the spider fight, Smaug and his destruction, and the Battle of the Five Armies. I expect Gandalf to be good again, and probably Bilbo will be too. But...it's hard for me to imagine that the dwarves will be anything but awful. I'm looking forward to the movies, but if they're all wrong, I'm pretty confident that they'll go bad in precisely the ways I've outlined. I will, of course, return with a blow-by-blow review in which I will gladly admit I was wrong about whatever, if necessary.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Now I'll tell you what...it's been a long time since I've gotten into a movie as much as I got into Argo. First off, I remember the period vividly, and have some recollection of the incidents it's based on, although I was, of course, misled like everybody else, because most of the story was kept secret. In any case, the movie does an excellent job of setting up the history and depicting the overall milieu---among other things, there are a lot of bangup special effects portraying Tehran, since I can't imagine Affleck and co weren't allowed to shoot there...in some of the shots, Istanbul's used as a standin, I guess. A lot of actual footage of Iranian demonstrations is worked effectively into the movie, and the events immediately leading up to the takeover of the embassy are succintly but chillingly depicted.
In case you don't know, the story's about how the CIA snuck six US Embassy employees out of Iran after they fled to the Canadian Embassy and took shelter there...don't know exactly how much of it's true, but evidently all the salient stuff is based on the facts. Nothing struck me as especially filmi...the stratagem that the CIA winds up employing seems absolutely looney, but evidently worked, and truth is frequently stranger then fiction. While Langley and Foggy Bottom are flailing about for a plan, and tossing around a lot of very lousy ideas, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with one that seems, on the surface, to be the battiest of the bunch: invent a fake movie, say that location scouts want to take a look at Tehran, and pull the US personnel out with bogus Canadian identities, using the Hollywood cover story. Even though this is so preposterous, Affleck gets a preliminary okay and goes about setting up a phony production. The movie begins to get seriously funny at this point, as how could it not? He seeks out Planet of the Apes makeup man John Chambers (John Goodman), who puts him onto a movie producer (Alan Arkin, who's great), and they select a cheesy science-fiction script called Argo, which seems to have a vaguely Middle Eastern setting. They have a poster made, commission concept art, take out ads in Variety, and throw press parties attended by actors in ridiculous Flash Gordon-like costumes. Once they've laid this foundation, Affleck goes to Iran, gets permission to scout locations, and gets into the Canadian embassy, where he apprises the endangered Yanks of his plan, which they find pretty ludicrous at first, but eventually accede to, because they really don't have a choice...
Won't summarize the rest, but things are wound up in very extremely suspenseful, satisfying fashion. All the characters are well-drawn, and there isn't a bad performance. The screenplay, by Chris Terrio and Joshua Bearman, is tight, well-constructed and consistently funny...the dialogue is all good. Affleck's direction is very crisp and powerful, and he handles all sorts of material really well. While the movie features a lot of laugh out loud stuff---I was particularly amused by all the science-fiction references, such as Valley of Gwangi posters, and scenes from The Ultimate Warrior ---the paranoia gets pretty acute, and the payoff is a real nail-biter. I fully expect this thing to clean up at the Oscars, and while they're usually an idiotfest, sometimes good movies win. In any case, go right out and see it. I really want it to do well, and there weren't enough people in the audience tonight...it should get dynamite word of mouth, though.