Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Spoiler-free... mostly)

I know, I know, I just blogged about being tired of reviewing things. Yeah, yeah, blah, blah. Well... this is my blog, so I get to do whatever the crap I feel like, so I'm going to tell you a little bit about why you should go see the first of three Hobbit films Peter Jackson and co have so greedily made for us. I think it's disgustingly brazen of them to have adapted a slim little book into three films, but we all know everyone will see them. At least most everyone, and I can already count myself numbered in this crowd. I saw it at a packed 10:30 showing with a friend and my little brother, and I loved it. So will you if you give it a chance.

That isn't to say it is a perfect film. In fact, there are plenty of things to complain about. For one, its running time. And this is coming from a HUGE fan of the Lord of the Rings films. I bought all the extended versions when they came out on dvd. An Unexpected Journey, however, was definitely too long. By at least half an hour. My butt and legs suffered the most. And my neck, since we sat on the second row from the front. I felt that the theatrical release was what the dvd extended should have been.  I don't mind watching more of a film I like, as long as I have my own couch to laze on while doing it. Also, Jackson has taken upon himself to add to the source material. Know up front that this isn't a pure adaptation of the book. If you know this going in you can appreciate it for its own sake. I knew he would be doing this--he'd said so in interviews many times. He wanted to make The Hobbit a true prequel to his LotR films, and so connected them in ways the books never did. To do this he mined some of the appendices from the Lord of the Rings, but it seemed too that he pulled some stuff out of his you know what to make the film more "acceptable." (By this I mean he made it more acceptable by filmmakers, not audiences.) I won't give anything away, but there was an entire plot line this movie and subsequent sequels did not need. Not even a little bit. It added nothing to the story in my opinion.

The other thing that was a dumb move on Jackson's part was all the CGI effects. I don't mind CGI landscapes, or monsters that need to look better than robotic puppets, but it was used way too much this time around. In the earlier movies the orcs were just extras with masks. Now all of them are animated. Makes them look like cartoons. Why couldn't they have just done it the same way?

Okay, griping is over. Everything else I have to say is complimentary. Let the heaps of praise begin.

Two words: Martin. Freeman. Do I need to say more? Perhaps. If you've never heard of him or seen anything he's in--which is easy to do unless you're into British movies and television--you're in for a treat. Freeman is a superb actor. And as Bilbo Baggins he is perfectly charming. His performance steals the show... which is good, since he's the hobbit The Hobbit is about. Jackson and co really nailed the casting job for their title role.

The actors for the dwarves were all great, too. I don't know any of their names, and most of their characters had little development besides fighting scenes and gags, but they are much more distinguishable from each other than in the book, which pretty much treats all of them like the same person--with the exception of Thorin. Thorin was given an arc for this first movie that deals with the plot line I didn't like, but I did like the way his character played out. The actor did a fine job at portraying a king who has lost his kingdom. Another casting success with the dwarves. Ian Mckellan reprises his Gandalf role and he is as wonderful as ever. Never doubted he'd muck things up.

The music was perfect. The score felt like it had its own identity, but there were familiar bits from the Rings trilogy that felt familiar natural. I will certainly be getting the soundtrack to add to my "writing music" collection.

The one other thing I wanted to point out were the epic backdrops of the New Zealand countryside. What a beautiful country! Jackson has such an eye for scenery that it makes me wonder if he paints landscapes on the side. The filming is done with a truly artistic eye--even the parts with CGI backdrops. (CGI works great when its used for landscapes or buildings. Not so much when used for living things that move.) Watching the film was like shoving mint truffles into my eyes--a visual treat unparalleled by anything I can remember recently seeing. Your eyes and brain deserve to take in this film and savor it. (No I didn't see the 3D version. Probably never will. I hate 3D.)

So that's it. If you can make it through the nearly 3 hour running time you'll be glad you did. The Hobbit is a fun, mostly light-hearted story everyone should partake of. And who doesn't want to spend an evening returning to the wilds of Middle Earth? I enjoyed immersing myself in its myths and scenery once again. So will you. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mini Reviews

I've been absent from the blog for a couple of weeks. Mostly because I just haven't had the time. Work, family life, and writing (and Halo 4, let's be honest here) don't leave much time left over for blogging. Also, though, I got tired of the majority of my posts being book reviews. I'm not a book reviewer. I'm actually sick of going in-depth on book reviews, because I've had to be more of a critical reader than I want to be. Critical reading is great... sometimes. Most of the time, however, I just want to enjoy a book. Anyway, I will continue to post reviews but not as often, and I'm now (as the title of the post implies) going to be doing it a different way. From now on a book review post will include several books, and only have a paragraph about each. This will give me the chance to point out books I think you should read or avoid, but also let me do it in a less involved way. I don't want to dissect books anymore. I just want to enjoy them, damnit. And now the reviews...

Red Country, by Joe Abercrombie. This is Joe's latest standalone in his "First Law" world. It picks up several years after the end of his trilogy and continues the story of several characters readers have either come to hate or hate to love. Red Country is heavily influenced by western themes and story devices. I found it to be a bit too heavy handed most of the way through the book. I love westerns, and I love Joe Abercrombie, but the two should be a bit more distinct than they were in this book. Some parts of the story just felt like lazy add-ins because, hey, that's the kind of stuff you'd find in a western. The ending seemed less dreary than Abercrombie's usual fair, but the language and gore seemed pumped up from previous novels. Some parts were difficult to get through. Red Country gets 3 out of 5 stars.

Next up is Fevre Dream, by George R.R. Martin. This is the first of Martin's solo books I've read besides his massive epic, A Song of Ice and Fire. Also, it was my first true vampire novel. There was a lot about this book that I really loved. It takes place in the late 1850's, mostly aboard a steamboat called, you guessed it, Fevre Dream. The story takes us up and down the Missouri and Mississippi, through pre-civil war America. The characters were great, and the vampires weren't sparkly and pretty. They are monsters, as all proper vampires ought to be. The only problem I had with this book was its pacing. The ending dragged on and on. My mind wandered a bit in the slow parts and that is never a good sign. On a better note, those who have attempted to read A Game of Thrones and put it down for content, Fevre dream is much more a PG-13 book than an R. There aren't any sex scenes or F bombs. It is a horror novel, though, and so don't expect angsty teenagers looking for romance. People die. 4 out of 5 stars.

The last mini review for today is The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is a book that is a bit harder to review because I've read it so many times. Usually the books I review are ones I've just finished for the first time, and so have a stronger sense of what I liked and disliked about them. In my head, The Hobbit is amazing. After listening to it again for maybe the fifth or sixth time, I notice lots of things that are somewhat annoying. Mostly it's the writer in me that finds problems with it, and that's only because the styles writers use today are quite a bit different than how Tolkien wrote. However, if you can look past the dated prose, and the endless songs and such that interfere with the story (very annoying on audio, despite the narrator trying his best to give each a tune of its own), then I think this book can be enjoyed by all readers of all ages. The story itself is timeless, and it holds a fond place in my memories. Read it if you haven't, and re-read it if its been a long time. you'll be happy you did. (And for those of you like me who listen rather than read, Audible recently released this and the Lord of the Rings trilogy unabridged for the first time. Good times.) The Hobbit takes the cake with 5 out of 5 stars.