Commentary, geek life, musings

Rediscovering Tolkien: Confessions of a Middle Earth Hipster

image source: lotr.wikia.com
image source: lotr.wikia.com

So here’s a confession: I suspect I might be a Middle Earth hipster.

Now hear me out! Before you go rolling your eyes and ignoring the rest of this post, let me explain a bit.
I read Lord of the Rings before it was a movie.

This is true of a lot of people. A whole lot of people! People in fandoms and online RPGs and book clubs and Led Zeppelin and Stephen Colbert and the list goes on and on and on. I know this because the internet kind of happened around the same time I was first geeking out over Frodo and Lothlorien and trying to learn Elvish and all of those other things geeky kids do. There were fan sites! Other people passionate about Lord of the Rings! Who, like me, had an Annual Reading (Christmas break, every year beginning in sixth grade).

People who remember the last line of The Two Towers (“Frodo was alive, but taken by the Enemy.”) and who probably flung the book across the room like I did and scrambled for Return of the King.

image source: lotr.wikia.com
image source: lotr.wikia.com

I remember the thrill of first finding a small website, LordoftheRings.net, with just a handful of images and a couple of maps… and the news that they were filming a movie. A MOVIE. Middle Earth was coming to the big screen! I was in high school then, and being the dorky kid I was, I printed out all of the teaser posters and handful of pirated images of sets and covered my notebooks in them. (I wish I could find that first image, of a single Nazgûl looking down over Bag End.)

To be clear, there were a lot of other fans out there.

But no-one I knew.

My mom had read the books years before, and it was her copy I first borrowed, but otherwise I knew no-one who’d read the books. And then, in 2001, that all changed.

The Fellowship of the Ring came out December 19th of that year, when I was a Freshman in college. I saw it no less than 8 times in theaters, and even though I had some terrible NerdRage over the changes made to the story, mostly I was enchanted.

And there were tie-in products! For the first time in my memory, I could buy Lord of the Rings merchandise! Keychains! Book marks! A replica of the One Ring! It was like a dream came true!

And then….

Suddenly it was everywhere.

Everyone had seen the movie (and saw the other two installments). A lot more people read the book. I was excited to have other people share in the magic, but at the same time… shared magic seemed to make the whole thing a little less magical for me.

Maybe it was because I went so long with nothing but my own imaginings of the characters. Maybe it was simple over-saturation (much like with Frozen these days). Maybe it was something else. But suddenly this wasn’t my thing anymore.

And I found I couldn’t read the books anymore, either.

The movies’ images got too ingrained in my mind, and I found that I was mixing up details from a book I’d read more than a dozen times. (to see the difference, this some of the only Middle Earth art I’d ever seen, and it largely colored my imagination.) It was frustrating and just not… fun. So I put the books away.

image source: lotr.wikia.com
image source: lotr.wikia.com

Over the last twelve years, I’ve tried a few times to re-read Tolkien, but without success. Several years ago I just plain gave up on it. I donated many of my duplicate book sets (though not the fancy anniversary editions, nor the 70s era paperbacks just like the first set I ever read, complete with yellow pages and Tolkien’s own illustrations.). It made me sad, but maybe that was part of becoming an adult. When The Hobbit‘s movies came out, I saw the first two. The third came out in December and is now on Blu-ray, and I still haven’t seen it. It bothers me a little that it doesn’t bother me.

And then something kind of amazing happened.

Last week, I was fishing through my To Read pile of books for a new something to begin, and I found that really all I wanted was to read The Hobbit. I picked it up, expecting to read a few lines and then to get restless and put it down again.

I didn’t.

I read half of it in one sitting.

Bilbo in the book is quite different than Bilbo in the movies. This isn’t bad* at all. Instead it was refreshing. This was the story I remembered! The magic was all still there. The trouble was just with me and my reading of it.

image source: lotr.wikia.com
image source: lotr.wikia.com

Suddenly I care about these books again, and I’m slowly making my way through the whole series. I might even dust off my copy of Silmarillion, just for fun.

What a wonderful surprise.

………………………….

*Incidentally, the Lord of the Rings movies were the ones that taught me to separate the books from the films. People will claim the “books are always better” and in many cases this might be true, but I prefer to look at them as entirely separate things. Changes happen because words on the page don’t always translate well onto screen. They have to be adapted. Sometimes this even works to improve the story; I like the Hunger Games movies a LOT better than the books.

Commentary, geek life, TV commentary

The Five Stages of Grief…for the 11th Doctor

Capaldi Doctor Who Listen

Listen, here we are, four episodes into a new season of Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi is here to stay, and I have to say, I’m thrilled.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Matt Smith’s Doctor, but I like the grumpiness and the alien-like qualities of the Doctor, and how much it hearkens back to the older shows. The beauty of a show like Doctor Who is that it has such a rich history and so many things to draw from to include in the stories, and yet can always bring something new.

The staple, of course, is that every so often the Doctor changes. Everything about him changes, from his face to his personality to his teeth, and all that’s left is his memory. This is traumatic for his companions, and it can be for the audience, too. Especially if you’re (to use the BBC’s phrase) fairly new to Who, it can be jolting to go from the actor and persona you fell in love with, established a relationship with over (especially in Tennant and Smith’s era) some emotional story arcs, to suddenly be handed Capaldi’s Doctor with a “Here you go, good luck now!”

But this is by no means new to fans of the show. Even those who have been around the TARDIS a time or two can go through difficulty accepting a new Doctor, not unlike the classic 5 Stages of Grief. So let’s work our way through this new rendition of the Doctor together, shall we?

Stage One: Denial
This stage is when you don’t want to believe the Thing That’s Happening is true. You find out that there’s going to be a new Doctor.
“Matt Smith is leaving? Don’t be ridiculous! I refuse to accept this! It’s just another rumor, or another instance of Moffat trolling* everyone. That’s it. It’s just Moffat again.”

Moffat Trolling

Stage Two: Anger
At this point, you suddenly find yourself irrationally angry that you’re getting a new** Doctor. The anger might be directed at Steven Moffat.
“NO. You CANNOT take away Eleven. You have RUINED this show! NO ONE ELSE WILL EVER BE THE DOCTOR AGAIN.”
Or you might be angry with Matt Smith.
“How DARE you leave us and go pursue your CAREER?”
Or you might be angry at other fans. I don’t know how your mind works. But you’re probably going to be angry.

Matt Smith Doctor shrugs

Stage Three: Bargaining
At this point, you’re trying to change the inevitable outcome. You want to make things go back to the way they were, or at least to some facsimile of how you perceived them to be. Bargaining may be with the person leaving.
“But Matt, if you stay we’ll be even more rabid fans of yours! We’ll cosplay with things other than your fez!”
Or the bargaining might take other forms. Sometimes it can involve roping other people into the equation in the hopes the person will listen to them.
“Jenna, can’t you make him stay? Just talk to him!”

Jenna Coleman Clara Doctor Who

Stage Four: Depression
By now, the loss of Your Doctor is making you feel very down in the dumps. You’re convinced the show just won’t be the same*** without Your Doctor, and that you’ll never love another Doctor as much as you did this one. Your Doctor was the Best Doctor There Ever Was and no one could replace him.

David Tennant Doctor Who crying

Stage Five: Acceptance
When you finally come to terms with the fact that there’s a new**** Doctor, you’ve reached acceptance. This usually happens some time in the first several episodes. For some, it happened when he dueled Robin Hood using only a spoon in “Robot of Sherwood.” For many of the fans, it seemed to happen with the most recent episode, “Listen.” (Some people got behind Capaldi much earlier, of course. We’ll come back to them.) Maybe some are still waiting for their “Oh, this IS the Doctor!” moment. But it’s coming.

Not every fan likes every regeneration of the Doctor the same. People have their affinities, and for many it’s the first Doctor they ever watched that is “Their” Doctor. For me, I might just be falling hard for Capaldi. I’ve been excited about the change since they announced who the next actor would be. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Matt Smith and his silliness and affinity for children, but I like that with Capaldi we can go a little darker, a little more serious, and a little more alien. He seems a lot more like some of the classic regenerations (a lot of people reference Pertwee’s Doctor, but I see a lot of Baker in him, too) and it’s a very nice change of pace.

Matt Smith everything ends sometime

The main thing to take away from this is that this cycle happens every single time there’s a “new” Doctor. The first time it happened the show runners weren’t sure it would work, but for some reason it did. And it continues to work. That’s the essence of the show, and what keeps it on the air. Change brings a fresh start, and brings new fans and new stories and new monsters and the whole deal. It’s not bad. It’s the lifeblood of the show, and what keeps it from getting stale all these years later.

And y’know what? I’d bet that I can pinpoint the moment when the last main holdout decided this guy was all right. Here you go.

Doctor Who Capaldi once upon a time dad skillsDoctor Who Capaldi the end dad skillsDoctor Who Clara looks upDoctor Who Capaldi dad skills

—————————————————

*Steven Moffat is notorious for teasing hints as well as outright lies about the shows he runs, to the general frustration of the fan bases.
**To be clear, it’s always the same Doctor. He is the Doctor, just with a new face. Same guy. So Capaldi isn’t really the “Twelfth” Doctor, he’s just THE Doctor.
***It won’t be the same, but that’s the beauty of the thing, and rather the point, after all.
****Do we really have to go over this again? SAME DOCTOR. Just a new actor playing the SAME GUY. You don’t have to pick just one, they’re all the SAME TIME LORD.

Commentary, musings

In Defense of Christmas decorations on November 1

I can already hear the oh-so-festive sounds of groans and moans, the snide comments and the weeping for our future.

The Christmas decorations are already in stores.

Truth be told, I saw Christmas trees in Macy’s back in September (which was just weird), but now that it’s November, I’m a lot less bothered. I know a lot of people gripe about this, and will make comments about “forgetting Thanksgiving” (come on, no one really forgets Thanksgiving), but I’m about to offer you a reasonable defense for (seemingly too) early Christmas displays.

First, the so-called “forgotten” Thanksgiving. No one forgets Thanksgiving. The “problem” with Thanksgiving is that it doesn’t have much in the way of marketing, and the origin story most of us learned in school is entirely too simplistic. That’s okay, though, Thanksgiving has turned into a national time to give thanks for what we have, for our blessings and abundance, and to spend time with family. And that’s great! But you know what’s missing?

Kids.

For Thanksgiving, kids will mostly be relegated to the “Kids’ Table” while the adults swap family stories or watch football or the like. This is really and truly an adult holiday, and therein lies the marketing gap. There aren’t Thanksgiving “treats” to buy, costumes to wear, and decorations are limited to generic autumn things or cornucopias. Plus Thanksgiving is a strictly North American holiday (even though harvest festivals have ancient roots), and in November the only one in the US. There isn’t the appeal of a wide range of cultural backgrounds the way there is with Christmas or even Halloween (which is increasingly celebrated in other countries). It’s a great holiday and an American tradition, but it isn’t a BIG holiday. It’s more on-par with July 4th in the US: celebrated nationally with traditions of its own (including a specific type of meal, be it a cookout or turkey dinner) but really with little buildup and done by the next day.

So setting aside Thanksgiving, isn’t it entirely too much to have Christmas displays nearly two months before the actual holiday?

Not at all.

While I agree that most of it before about November 1 is pushing it (with the exception of craft stores, which I’ll get back to momentarily), by the time we get to November, we’re careening toward one of the largest holidays in the world. Think I’m exaggerating? As of 2011, an estimated 2 billion people are culturally (if not religiously) Christian. That’s 2 billion people celebrating Christmas. Factor into that the size and scope of the marketing in our own country, and you have a behemoth of a religious holiday.

On a smaller scale, besides an important religious holiday, Christmas has become (in our country, and many other western countries), focused on coming together with people and exchanging gifts. This costs a lot of money, be it in travel expenses, purchasing (or making), and possibly shipping. There are a lot of things we “need” for this holiday, and this huge chunk of expenses is easier to take if spread out over two months instead of one. Plane tickets are easier to find (and more affordable) with more lead-time, gift purchasing can be done in small spurts, etc. It makes sense to get people thinking about it early, and it makes sense to have things ready to go for people who need to shop early.

And speaking of shopping early, crafters are a huge category here. One of the growing trends (which makes me very happy, as it’s moving us away from the wholly commercial aspect of this whole business) is handmade gifts and decor. The thing about this is that, in order to make any kind of quantity, a person needs enough time to gather supplies and actually produce the items in question. Even making cards (which I did until a couple of years ago) took time and patience, and I often started looking for my supplies in August or September so I’d have time to find everything I needed and make them all.

Finally on a personal note, there is a tiny minority of us who have loved ones overseas for the holidays, and we all have to make sure their holiday packages arrive in plenty of time. The US Post Office has already said that for military, standard post service deadline is November 12.* That’s next week.

So when you’re out this week and you see Christmas displays and hear Jingle Bells, just take a minute before you make a snide remark, take a minute and get a little perspective. There might be someone shopping for another Christmas spent apart.

—-

*Standard post is the equivalent of “parcel post” and means going by ship somewhere. If you do priority (or air) mail, you have almost another month. But check the chart anyway.

Commentary, geek life

Theories and Queries: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Two weeks ago, the Wizarding World of the Harry Potter Fandom was set abuzz by the news that JK Rowling is penning a new screenplay based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The book itself was published in 2001, written by Rowling to benefit the Comic Relief Charity. It is “written” by Newt Scamander, and the copyright page says it’s in its 52nd printing. The margins are full of commentary from Harry, Ron, and Hermione, which makes it all the more entertaining, especially for such a short read. Now Newt Scamander’s story is going to be the subject of the film, or series of films, and I am not alone in wondering what new things we will get to discover. Here are just a few of my rambling thoughts on it.

The first Harry Potter book takes place in 1991, so if this new story is “seventy years before” that, it would fall right around 1921. It also takes place in the US, which opens up all sorts of possibilities to find out about differences in wizarding culture “across the pond,” if you will. The 1920s were interesting times in US history: prohibition was fueling gang culture and bootleg alcohol, the rich were ridiculously so, and yet we were careening toward the Great Depression at the end of the decade. Our cultural memory of it, as Americans, is largely flappers and speakeasies and Gatsby-like parties, though there was a lot more happening, too. Airplanes and cars were becoming much more common, industry was shifting, and people were optimistic about the future. The US was also solidly on the international stage then, having just helped win the Great War, and people were thinking more globally.

The interesting thing about all of this is that it largely involves technology and, to an extent, government, two things in which the wizarding community (at least in the UK) doesn’t much participate. They have magic, so why do they need electronics? It makes me think that perhaps this was when the biggest shift away from mainstream culture began. Up until then, no one really had electronic technology so the wizards weren’t necessarily that far out of date with their muggle neighbors. It’s also possible that the wizard community is simply SO “old fashioned” that they were already outdated by this time.

Since this story is told from Newt Scamander’s perspective, though, and is about finding Fantastic Beasts, then it makes sense that perhaps much of the story takes place in the wild. Despite that, I’m fascinated by the idea of circus side shows, which were still going strong in that era. What better way for a wizard or witch to make money than to tour the country performing “impossible” stunts, or showing “monsters” to muggles? They would be hiding in plain sight that way. It could very well be that Scamander begins his quest to learn more about these beasts after discovering (and possibly setting free) some of the Beasts from traveling circus shows.

I’m also curious about Scamander’s entries on Beasts from other countries. If the story takes place (at least primarily) in the US, then how does he learn about Beasts from other parts of the world? It could be that he goes on a long journey to find them. It could also be that he begins a field collection, much like the one at the Field Museum in Chicago, where they preserve specimens from all over the world for study, or that there already was a collection of sorts and he was the one who went into the wild to study all of the natural behaviors of these animals.

One of the questions I’ve seen arise in fan theories is whether there will be a major villain in this story. I’m just not sure about that. While the timing would fit for the beginning of the Grindelwald story, that seems to take place in Europe (and is tied much more to World War II, so at least the 30s). I think it more likely that Scamander will encounter poachers and the like who are out to steal his research, or the Beasts themselves, in order to profit from what he discovers.

All in all, I’d like to see Scamander portrayed as a naturalist, someone who does the research and takes good field notes. I’d also like cameos by characters we know (or their parents) if they are old enough to be in these stories. Remember that witches and wizards live a very long time.

So those are my thoughts. What are yours?

Commentary, geek life, TV commentary

Thoughts on the Twelfth Doctor

I kept the title basic enough, but you should know this post has SPOILERS, sweetie.

So. Peter Capaldi is going to be the new Doctor.

I think most of the world collectively said, “Who??” when they made the announcement, but he looked really familiar and it didn’t take me long to find out why. Peter Capaldi has been all over our TV and movie screens for years, it’s just that he’s usually a character actor. We see him all the time.

The reason I recognized him was from his role in The Hour, which is a BBC drama I love. He came on for the second series (it’s a mini series with six episodes per run) and was fantastic, fit right in with the rest of the cast. He’s known for other things, too, but I think the most entertaining is one of his most recent billings: as “W.H.O. Doctor” in World War Z.

Anyway, that’s enough of the summary, you can get more of that elsewhere. Here are my two cents about it.

I like the casting choice. The Doctor has been getting younger looking lately, and I think it’s about time we had an older actor in the role. It’ll be interesting to see him not as the “heartthrob” any more, but as the over 1000 year old guy he is. And I’m really hoping that with a new Doctor that the writers will maybe fix Clara’s character up a bit, too. It’s been known to happen, where the characters get a bit, well, edited between seasons. It even happened with the Seventh Doctor (and I liked him a LOT in his second season).

All of that being said, I know there are people very upset about Matt Smith’s departure from the show. My friends’ six year old daughter bawled her eyes out about it, channeling fan-girls everywhere, I suspect. The thing is, the actors who play the Doctor always change. That’s the point, if you will. And I’m interested to see where the show is going next.

I also can’t help but remember the heartbreak over David Tennant’s departure, and how people said they just couldn’t see Matt Smith as the Doctor because he wasn’t David Tennant. Well, we (almost) all grew to love Matt Smith’s Doctor, and I’m sure we’ll love the new one, too. The Whovians are all in this together, and I think it’s going to be exciting.

Commentary, movie reviews

Wizardly Commentary: Thoughts on Oz, the Great and Powerful

((SPOILER WARNING))

Tonight we saw Oz, the Great and Powerful, the new movie from Disney that is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Strange, perhaps, to release a prequel 74 years after the original movie, but maybe we needed this long for Oz to permeate our pop culture, and for us to be ready for another trip there.

Personally, I’ve never especially liked the original movie. I know, I know, it’s a Classic Film, but there are a handful that either I saw at the exact wrong time as a child or that have never held my interest. E.T. is one I’ve never liked because I had nightmares about the titular character jumping out of the very-familiar-pile-of-toys on my bed. He terrified me, and to this day I will not watch that movie. I suspect the Wizard of Oz falls into the latter category; it’s never been very interesting to me. I’ve always liked the first bit, with the tornado and landing in Oz and all, but somewhere around the poppy field I always get bored or distracted and never seem to finish.

All of that being said, I was actually looking forward to Oz, the Great and Powerful. It looked and sounded promising, and if nothing else it would be a relatively entertaining Disney jaunt. It was much better than that.

Things I liked about the movie included the conflict between the witches. I liked that Glenda wasn’t dumb, and that Theodora is a surprise of sorts. I knew since neither of those first two witches was named “Glenda” that we should be careful of them, but they didn’t seem all that bad really. Not until they needed to be properly wicked. I also liked the scenes when they flew through Oz itself, with the land (sometimes literally) unfolding beneath and around them. It was also, as J observed, a very good movie in which no one died.

The best parts were the nods to the original work, not just to the 1939 movie, but to the Oz books themselves. The circus at the beginning is “Baum’s Circus” and the girl-left-behind goes off to marry a John Gale, and I can only assume they are Dorothy’s parents. There is a lion called cowardly, and useful scarecrows, and other such things, but there are also Quadlings and Tinkers and people of Oz! I enjoyed that a lot.

Things I didn’t like included the parts that were obviously included for 3D. We saw it in 2D and it was bright and colorful and gorgeous, but there were certain parts (water fairies, I’m looking at you) that were only there for the sake of the 3D, and we had to wait patiently for those bits to be done as they tended to be slow (so as people watching in 3D could appreciate them, I suppose). I also didn’t like how quickly Theodora became a wicked witch. I thought she’d fight it a little more, that she would be more complicated and that she wouldn’t turn to complete wickedness just over a man. I wanted more depth from that character. Another note on her: Mila Kunis really got the Margaret Hamilton, Wicked Witch laugh down. It’s hard to fill those black, pointy shoes, but she did a pretty good job.

The most interesting part of watching the movie itself I’m not sure was even intentional. Maybe it was, but I’d have to see it again to be sure. At any rate, the movie opens in old-school, small frame black and white, and then opens into color when we arrive in Oz, just like the original. The interesting thing to me was that the movie was almost annoyingly quiet in the black and white portion. I was extremely aware that I was in a (very full) theater; people whispered, candy wrappers rustled, popcorn crunched… and then as we got to Oz and the picture expanded and the color turned on, the sound became encompassing and there we were. The more I think about it, the more I think this had to be on purpose. How else would a shift to color (and very saturated color at that) be such a big moment in the movie, unless the filmmakers could recreate the wonder of that Technicolor moment with a modern audience? So you aren’t fully immersed until you enter Oz. It’s very clever.

Overall it was a very enjoyable movie, and I recommend it to anyone, whether they need a kick of nostalgia or if they just want to see Oz in a new way.

Commentary, geek life, movie reviews

There and Back Again: a Hobbit Commentary

WARNING: Spoilers, Sweetie.

My thoughts on the first installment of the new Hobbit trilogy, after having seen it twice.

First, I’m not sure that the 3D added to my enjoyment of the movie, except that the scenery was more immersive. I enjoyed all of the New Zealand vistas, and getting to see both familiar and new locations. Some places looked familiar that probably weren’t quite the same, but that’s what you get filming in a single (gorgeous) country.

Second, the casting is really good. I was hesitant when I saw Thorin at first, since he doesn’t look quite dwarf-y enough to me, but I really like it given the rest of the plot.

And now to that plot… The added orcs, the added characters (Radagast), etc, are heavily drawn from (or inspired by) the descriptions of concurrent events and histories in the Appendices of Lord of the Rings and from the other writings of JRR Tolkien. I know some people (purists, I’d guess) have complained, but really I thought it was well done and took what would have been an episodic children’s story and turned it into something cinematic. 

Radagast was one of my favorite additions. He’s always been fascinating to me as a background character in LotR, and to see him actually realized (and so well done!) is really fun. He might be my favorite part. And who wouldn’t want a rabbit sled?

Finally, the main complaint I’ve seen is that the movie is entirely too similar to Fellowship of the Ring. And if you haven’t read the books, or if you don’t know why Tolkien wrote Fellowship, then it’s understandable. The thing is, The Hobbit was surprisingly successful. The publisher wanted a sequel, and so Tolkien tried to give them the text of what would become Silmarillion, his mythology that he’d been writing for Great Britain. The publisher didn’t want to deal with all of that, they wanted another episodic children’s book, so Tolkien tried again. He wrote about Bilbo having another adventure, then he wrote about Bilbo’s son (who no longer exists) and eventually it morphed into Bilbo’s cousin, Frodo. The story kept expanding, and became a blend of Hobbit-like plot with Silmarillion-like depth, and Lord of the Rings was the result. But if you keep in mind that each hobbit’s journey began with a trip toward Rivendell, and given that Fellowship began as a sequel, it’s no surprise that the two seem alike. The journeys are similar because they are moving from west to east, they encounter elves and goblins, and they must use their wits to survive in a scary world that’s in conflict.

At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and can’t wait to see the next installment.

Commentary, geek life

The Hobbit: Reactions to the new trailer

If you haven’t heard yet, the NEW HOBBIT TRAILER has just been released. Haven’t seen it yet? Go.

Watch it here.

I’ll wait.

…….

Done? Good.

Okay, my initial reaction was just plain excitement.

Now please bear with me while I give you some background. It’s been ten years since Fellowship of the Ring was released and it was a huge deal to me back then. Lord of the Rings has always been one of my favorite series of books, I think in large part because it was my first set of “grown-up” books. In fact, I remember being in fifth grade and reading The Hobbit and my mother telling me I wasn’t quite old enough for the trilogy, so (sorry, mom…) I snuck them out of her room and read them anyway. When I got to the end of The Two Towers I quite literally threw the book across the room (it was my oddly shaped green room in Florida) and ran into my parents’ room to get The Return of the King. And when that was finished, I picked up Fellowship and read them all over again. All told, I think I read them about four times in a row (within a couple of weeks over Christmas break that year). I carried them everywhere– to school, to church, on vacation… And for years I didn’t know anyone else who loved the books like I did. I was thrilled in high school to discover they were actually somewhat popular (little did I know just how popular…) and as snippets about the movies began to leak, I got more and more excited.

The thing that frustrated me most about the Lord of the Rings movies at the time they were released were the liberal changes made to the story. I saw Fellowship no less than eight times in theaters (not exaggerating) and was always annoyed by the addition of Arwen, the skipping of Bombadil, and the other changes made to adapt the story for film. My excitement for seeing the world I loved so much on a big screen overwhelmed that annoyance, though (the ticket stubs should prove that), and it helped teach me that the movie does not have to be the same as the book. This is an important lesson to learn. Movies are movies and books are books and they can be similar, but if the spirit of the book is captured, that should be enough to enjoy the movie for what it is. Of course a movie can’t capture the amazing things in my imagination!

So all of that being said, we arrive after much waiting at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

I love the way all of the dwarves look, first of all. Thorin Oakenshield is especially well cast and costumed. He doesn’t look at all the way I pictured him in my head but, and I must stress this, that is not a bad thing. When I first read the books and how old the dwarves were (they live a very long time), I imagined old men; Thorin in my head was round and had a long white beard and long white hair. This Thorin is much younger than that, and strong, and princely, just as he should be. We must buy that these dwarves are the adventurers. They are the young ones that have set out to reclaim their grandparents’ land. It is good.

Oh. When the dwarves started to sing was when I got the most excited.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo is perfect casting. He not only is a fantastic actor, and can carry Bilbo perfectly, he looks like a younger version of Sir Ian Holm. The casting was wonderful for this pair of Hobbit movies, really. My guess is that they didn’t need a well know lead (i.e. Elijah Wood) because they know now the movies will be successful.

Speaking of Elijah Wood, he and a couple of other actors are reprising their roles in this movie, even though they didn’t appear in the book. The reason this is okay is, as I said before, a movie is a movie and a book is a book, but also because of the way in which they are presented. The setup is somewhat like in Oedipus Rex or Episode One: you know more about what’s happening than the characters themselves because you know what happens next. And the elves that appear in the movie but weren’t in the book? Well, the places they live are in the book and the book can’t help that it was written before the Lord of the Rings trilogy; therefore it makes perfect sense that you’d at least see these other characters. It enriches a world that was not yet fully developed for the novel form when The Hobbit was written.

The thing to keep in mind is that The Hobbit was very much written as a children’s book, while The Lord of the Rings was not. This means that the story isn’t as deep, though there are references to many other, deeper things that J.R.R. Tolkien had in the back of his mind. After all, The Hobbit is set in Middle Earth and he was working on the mythology of Middle Earth the entire time. Glimpses we get in The Hobbit mean more if you know more of the story, and so we as the audience can appreciate more of the seemingly inconsequential things happening in peripheral to Bilbo.

So at the end of all this, what do I think?

It’s going to be an enjoyable and exciting movie. I can’t wait to go back to Middle Earth with technology that’s had ten years to do nothing but get better, and to experience the magic of it all over again.

I’m also looking forward to being the knowledgeable geek again, who can answer questions about “What does that mean?” again, too. ^_^

Commentary, movie reviews, musings

Revisiting Childhood: The Lion King

Tonight I went to see the Lion King in 3D and I have to admit that I got chills when the sun first popped into view and the music started. It’s a great piece of music for one, but also because it was fun to see something that I remember seeing in theaters. In fact, I remember liking the movie so much we went to see it a second time at the $1 theater six months after it first opened.

While a lot of the movie is exactly as I remember it (I have it on DVD, too, so it’s not like I haven’t seen it in years or anything, though it has been a while), there are several things I didn’t notice as a child. And the interesting thing about childhood memories is that they are sometimes so strong that they continue to be the main perception of something. For instance, even though I’ve seen this movie a dozen times at least (plus every week of summer camp at the zoo), and even though I’ve seen the Broadway production, for the first time I heard the dialog as an adult and not as a kid. I noticed the Reservoir Dogs joke (“They call me… Mr. PIG!”) and other such small things that meant nothing to me 17 years ago when the movie was made.

Another thing I noticed? For being out of food about about to starve, those lionesses are still kind of, well, rounded. If they looked like that in a zoo, they’d be put on a diet reduction. (Note to self: cartoonlionscartoonlionscartoonlionsCARTOONLIONS)

Also, how did Scar get his name? It’s got to be a nickname since everyone else has African-sounding names. Plus, if he was born with the scar then it’s not really a scar, now is it? It’s just a weird stripe on his face. As an adult I imagine that Mufasa and his brother fought as cubs and that Mufasa gave him the scar and therefore the new name. (I have found that my theory is correct. Hmm.)

Another difference from childhood? I’ve now studied Hamlet. Hello, plotline.

But really, it was fun to rediscover my favorite movie from childhood and to find that it’s still beautiful and that I can still enjoy it (even if I spent the entire opening sequence thinking “Hey, look, it’s a kudu!” and other such things). And I think I’d like the new remastered version on DVD to replace my old, well loved copy.