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1.31.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 2: “Queer Lodgings”)

1.31.14  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 2)

The Carrock (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line, 2013)

The Carrock (from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, New Line, 2013)

Good Morning, Everyone!

Onward with some thoughts about the latest installment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Bilbo & Dwarves at Beorn's Table

Bilbo & Dwarves at Beorn’s Table

As a lifelong fan of Tolkien, except for a couple of quibbles, I’m enormously pleased with the film trilogy thus far; however, acknowledging that some purists have expressed criticism about Jackson’s approach, I think that the films are well-thought out enough to bear a chapter-by-chapter comparison. (Plus, the approach has the merit of critically assessing Jackson’s adaptation while following the narrative line of Tolkien’s book.)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line Cinema/Warner Bros., 13 Dec 2013)

J.R.R. Tolkien, "Beorn's Hall"

J.R.R. Tolkien, “Beorn’s Hall”

Book:   Chapter VII, “Queer Lodgings”
Bilbo, Gandalf & the dwarves awaken in the eagles’ aerie, are conveyed to the Carrock, and the wizard prepares the company for meeting Beorn (a changeling who lives at the edge of Mirkwood Forest).  Bilbo & Gandalf go to Beorn’s house and – in a scene reminiscent of the dwarves’ initial arrival at Biblo’s hobbit-hole – wizard and hobbit one-by-one and two-by-two introduce the company  to Beorn while he’s in his human form.  Singing and dining in Beorn’s house, and then, upon lent ponies the dwarves travel with Gandalf to the edge of Mirkwood, at which point Gandalf departs them to deal with some “trouble.”

Film:

Gandalf & Thorin at Prancing Pony

Gandalf & Thorin at Prancing Pony

Departure 1:  Opens with Gandalf and Thorin meeting in the tavern of The Prancing Pony, where by meeting’s end, the wizard has convinced Thorin to reclaim his heritage (the Arkenstone and possibly the dwarf kingdom lost to Smaug) by making a quest to the Lonely Mountain (and recruiting a “burglar” along the way).
Departure 2 Shift of scene to the Carrock, where wargs and Azog’s orcs are still pursuing the Company after events of An Unexpected Adventure.  Flight to Beorn’s cottage.
Departure 3:  Azog returns to Dol Goldur to receive new orders from the Necromancer (a returning Sauron); the White Orc sends his son, Bolg, to continue pursuit of Thorin & Co.

Dol Guldur

Dol Guldur

Now, while the essentials remain the same in both book and film versions (the Carrock, Beorn’s House, & Gandalf’s departure at edge of Mirkwood), there are dramatically new dynamics at play here in Jackson’s adaptation:  the elevation of Azog the White Orc from a one-line mention to a full-blown villain, the rise of the Necromancer at Dol Goldur, & all of the other elements that are playing into the deepening backstory to Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films (i.e., how did Sauron return after getting the One Ring cut off his finger on the fields of Dagorlad during the Last Alliance of Elves and Men)?

Sauron's Master, Melkor (Morgoth), and Ungoliant (from "The Silmarillion)

Sauron’s Master, Melkor (Morgoth), and Ungoliant (from “The Silmarillion)

Critics who seem to want to see a chapter-by-chapter adaptation of Tolkien’s book are perhaps so well-versed in “matters Middle Earth” that they might be forgetting that your typical audience member isn’t going to know all the back-stories at play in massive mythology Tolkien was building when he wrote The Hobbit back in the 1930s.  You’d have to read works such as The Silmarillion, or The Book of Lost Tales, or appendices in The Return of the King, etc. to get a sense of the millennia that Tolkien’s story covers.  For screenwriters Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, & Guillermo del Toro to have distilled much of that history of Middle Earth into two trilogies of films is quite remarkable and very appreciated.

Next Time:  Things I loved about Chapter VII, Queer Lodgings!

1.30.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments, 1)

1.30.14  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments, 1)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line Cinema, 2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line Cinema, 2013)

Hi, Everybody!

If last year’s installment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit brought us through Chapters 1-6 of the tale, then last month’s release made for a very exciting interpretation of Chapters 7-12 (“Queer Lodgings” through “Inside Information”). 

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Before continuing, though, please remember two significant words, “adaptation” and “interpretation.”  In the past month, I’ve seen way too many dismayed reactions on the part of die-hard The-Hobbit-as-Book fans to the release of The-Hobbit-as-Film Part 2’s The Desolation of Smaug. I believe that an essential part of that outrage and/or disappointment is expressed because the reviewers forget the one truism of any film that derives its material from a book, especially when Hollywood gets involved:  you’re going to get some essentials of the source material, but never a word-for-word explication of the written text.  

Tolkien, Hobbiton-across-the-Water

Tolkien, Hobbiton-across-the-Water

Hobbiton (set from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure, 2012)

Hobbiton (set from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure, 2012)

Who’d want that, anyway?  If I want to read a book and follow the author’s intent, I go read the book and remain within the bounds of the tacit agreement I have with the creator that his or her use of language is going to fire-up my imagination (and even that agreement fails sometimes…sit in an English Lit class sometime and listen to debates that occur about authorial intent within just a written work)!  Once a book makes the jump to a completely different medium, all bets are off because completely different demands and expectations come into play.  It’s one thing for me to read Adriana or Seth chapters of The Hobbit at bedtime each night, because by following a chapter-by-chapter narrative of Bilbo’s adventures “there and back again” we are in the same pacing and moments that Tolkien hoped and expected when he wrote the book back in the 1930s.  Should we expect that same kind of pacing and textual interaction to translate to the big screen?  Maybe, but that’s a question of personal taste.  Given some of the irritation that certain reviewers are feeling with the film versions of The Hobbit, I wonder if the Jackson’s films are being judged on their own merits, or against (my belief) some idealistic yearning for a chapter-by-chapter, line-by-line adaptation of the 1937 children’s story.  

See links below for some of the accusatory fingers shakily leveled at Jackson & Co. for having dared to depart so greatly from Tolkien’s source material, but you won’t find this viewer among them.  If I want to see a “faithful” line-by-line adaptation of The Hobbit, I can always turn to the fantastic 1977 Rankin-Bass animated version! (Still holds up after all of this time…). 

The Hobbit (Rankin-Bass, 1977)

The Hobbit (Rankin-Bass, 1977)

For the family and me, we’ve been very excited by (& grateful for) Jackson’s version of Middle Earth as it appeared on 13 Dec 2013 because his approach to The Hobbit is simply that: an approach.  Allowing for the 1977 animated adaptation, by 2012’s appearance of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure, 75 years had passed since the 1937 publication of The Hobbit (and, let’s say we use the 1960 mass-market paperback version as a marker, that’s still 54 years!), with no one able to make a film version worthy of the attempt. 

Ian McKellen, Gandalf

Ian McKellen, Gandalf

Think about that for a second, and then combine that fact with the reality that, for whatever quibbles one might have with Jackson’s attempt (in a couple of blogs from now, I’ll express some things that didn’t quite work for me…), at least we’re finally getting a healthy dose of Middle Earth in a series that does many, many things right! I still defy anyone to point-out anything wrong with the rendition of Chapter 1’s “An Unexpected Party” from last year’s effort, or, similarly, how well-realized was The Desolation of Smaug’s depiction of Lake-town in the adaptation of Chapter 10’s “A Warm Welcome.” 

The Hobbit: DoS (Stephen Colbert cameo, Lake Town)

The Hobbit: DoS (Stephen Colbert cameo, Lake Town)

(And, hey, did you all catch the cameos of Tolkien-fan, Stephen Colbert, and his family in the Lake Town scenes? They were among the informants that reported Bard’s moves to the Master. See:  http://www.pajiba.com/miscellaneous/)

What do you think?  Thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Peter Jackson’s latest effort?

Next time:  More thoughts on the The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Link to IMDB’s full cast & creditshttp://www.imdb.com/Hobbit_Desolation of Smaug

Positive Reviews:
Peter Bradshaw, theguardian.com http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/dec/08/
Clifford “Quickbeam” Broadway, theonering.net : http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2013/12/07/
Justin Chang, Variety.comhttp://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/
James Hoare, SciFiNow.com:  http://www.scifinow.co.uk/blog/
Nick de Semiyen, empireonlinehttp://www.empireonline.com/reviews/
Ben Kendrick, screenrant.com : http://screenrant.com/hobbit-2-desolation-
Jim, Vejvoda, ign.comhttp://www.ign.com/articles/2013/12/07/
Josh Wigler, CBR (Comic Book Resources).com: http://spinoff.comicbookresources.com/2013/12/12/

Mixed Reviews:
Brendon Connelly, bleedingcool.com : http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/12/14/
Mohammad Kamran Jawaid, Dawn.com  :  http://www.dawn.com/news/1077526/
Mark Kermode, theguardian.comhttp://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/dec/15/
“Mithril,” onering.net :  http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2013/12/
John Ostrander, comicmix.com: http://www.comicmix.com/reviews/2014/01/26/
Jazz Shaw, hotair.comhttp://hotair.com/archives/2013/12/28/
Peter Travers, rollingstone.comhttp://www.rollingstone.com/movies/

Negative Reviews:
Aidan Moher   http://aidanmoher.com/blog/2013/12/
Robbie Collin, telegraph.co.uk : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
Timothy R. Furnish, theonering.net : http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2014/01/11/
Thomas Monteath, theonering.net :  http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2014/01/30/
Emir Pasonovic, bleedingcool.com : http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/12/22/

1.7.14 An Author’s Journey: 5.5, Sci-Fi Influences (Pt 5: Of Blade Runner, Sand Worms, Tesseracts, Dragons, & Steampunk)

Anne McCaffrey, Dragonquest (Michael Wheelan)

Anne McCaffrey, Dragonquest (Michael Wheelan)

1.7.14 An Author’s Journey: 5.5, Sci-Fi Influences (Pt 5: Of Blade Runner, Sand Worms, Tesseracts, Dragons, & Steampunk)

Good Morning, Everybody:

Here are the last of my recommendations for some great Sci-Fi reading, along with major take-aways that you’ll find here and there in my Artifacts of Destiny series!

Best,
A.J.

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982)

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982)

Phillip K. Dick
http://wikipedia.Dick
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Read this book in 1982 after seeing Blade Runner, and both the novel and movie were very influential in conceptualizing darker visions of the future that will have importance in AoD’s later books…

Frank Herbert (1920-1986)

Frank Herbert (1920-1986)

Frank Herbert, Dune Series
http://wikipedia.Herbert
Dune / Dune Messiah / Children of Dune / God Emperor of Dune / Heretics of Dune / Chapterhouse: Dune

Frank Herbert's Dune Series

Frank Herbert’s Dune Series

I’ve not yet read what Frank Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert (along with Kevin J. Anderson), does with the Dune universe, but when I first read Dune my junior year in high school, the rest of the mid-1980s were spent in catching up on the series, and then waiting for the (then-final) book, Chapterhouse: Dune.  Actually, I enjoyed both the 1984 David Lynch film version (starring Kyle MacLachlan, Sting, Patrick Stewart, Sean Young, and Kenneth McMillan), and the 2000 John Harrison Sci-Fi Channel mini-series, Frank Herbert’s Dune (with William Hurt & Alec Newman).

Herbert's Arrakis, the Desert Planet

Herbert’s Arrakis, the Desert Planet

A.J.’s takeaway:  Where to begin with all the concepts that Herbert introduced?  As with Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse and Eternal Champion, Frank Herbert created a new universe to which one can return with each re-reading and — given the success of Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson’s continuations – that universe is offering plenty of opportunities to expand and entertain with further stories! For me, though, the exotic sounds of the Arabic & Islamic-influenced names, the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, the depiction of Arrakis the Desert Planet, the great families of Atreides and Harkonnen, and the Fremen all captivated me in a very inspirational way.  It’s no accident that my series begins in a desert-like setting!

Madeline L'Engle (1918-2007)

Madeline L’Engle (1918-2007)

Madeline L’Engle
http://wikipedia.L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
Many Waters
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
An Acceptable Time

A truly gratifying feeling for a parent is when your child reaches an a place (of interest and intelligence) when they can read the same books you did at their age; in my son Seth’s case, he just completed a book report last term on Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the first of a quintet of books that L’Engle wrote from 1962-1989.  It was great fun to read the first novel again, and I’m hopeful that Seth will want to read the other books in the series involving the O’Keefe and Murry families.

Madeline L'Engle, Kairos Books

Madeline L’Engle, Kairos Books

A.J.’s takeaway: Fans of Doctor Who might associate the term “tesseract” with the T.A.R.D.I.S., but the term actually came into sci-fi parlance thanks to L’Engle, who used physics to explain how Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which could take the Murry and O’Keefe children between planets via a tesseract, or “wrinkle in time.”  (Very influential in my ideas about rune-gates (runeporten) in the AoD series.)

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin
http://wikipedia.Le_Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
The Dispossessed (1974)

My daughter, Adriana, is currently reading A Wizard of Earthsea, the first in Le Guin’s Earthsea series of high fantasy books, and I’ll discuss those in a later blog, but the three books listed here are superb, top-notch examples of science fiction.

Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

For me, The Left Hand of Darkness was a true mind- (and gender-) bender, working on so many levels of storytelling and interpretation that it bears many readings, and, like all great literature, each visit with Genly Ai to the planet Winter imparts something new to the attentive reader.  Le Guin remains one of my favorite authors, both because of her command of the English language, the Earthsea books, and these three sci-fi masterpieces.

A.J.’s takeaway:  World-building and challenging societal preconceptions are the main attributes of these works in that the characters we meet on Gethen (Winter), Annares, and Urras represent their respective androgynous, anarchist, and utopian societies, but also repeatedly give much insight into the human spirit common to us all.  Le Guin’s work here in these books is superb!

Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)

Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)

Anne McCaffrey, The Dragonriders of Pern
http://wikipedia.McCaffrey
Dragonflight
Dragonquest
The White Dragon
Dragonsong
Dragonsinger
Dragondrums

McCaffrey, Dragonflight

McCaffrey, Dragonflight

This series is one (like the Dune books) to which I need to devote a summer of catch-up reading!  Anne McCaffrey began the series in 1967, and I read the original and Harper Hall trilogies while in high school, but she continued the writing new adventures (some on her own, and some along with her son, Todd McCaffrey) until her death a couple of years ago. Still remember the fascination I had upon discovering the planet Pern, the telepath links between Lyssa and her dragon, and the terrible, uncaring threat of the Threads! 

Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock
http://wikipedia.Moorcock

A Nomad of the Time Streams:  The Warlord of the Air (1971) / The Land Leviathan (1974) / The Steel Tsar (1981)

The Dancers at the End of Time: An Alien Heat (1972) / The Hollow Lands (1974) / The End of All Songs (1976)

The History of the Runestaff: The Jewel in the Skull (1967) / The Mad God’s Amulet (1969) / The Sword of the Dawn (1969) / The Runestaff (1969) / Count Brass (1973) / The Champion of Garathorm (1973) / The Quest for Tanelorn (1975)

Moorcock, A Nomad of the Time Streams

Moorcock, A Nomad of the Time Streams

I’ve written previously about the influences of Michael Moorcock (both on a literary criticism level, and also as one of the major fantasists of our time), and the two series listed above could really be thrown into either the Sci-Fi or Fantasy genres because of the elasticity of Moorcock’s Multiverse.  Along with Mervyn Peake, Moorcock was one of the earliest contributors/creators of what we’ve come to call “steampunk” – a genre that conflates modern technology with usually Victorian or Edwardian settings — and in describing the adventures of British Army Captain Oswald Bastable in his “Nomad of the Time Streams” books, Moorcock achieved an homage to past sci-fi greats (Verne, Wells, et al) that still reads as vibrantly to this day.  In The Dancers at the End of Time books, the reader gets reintroduced to one aspect of the Eternal Champion (Jherek Carnelian = Jerry Cornelius), and also high concepts such as power rings, time travel, and the End of Time.

Moorcock, The Sword of the Dawn (Art by Vance Kovacs, TOR)

Moorcock, The Sword of the Dawn (Art by Vance Kovacs, TOR)

Lastly, the Runestaff books record the adventures of Dorian Hawkmoon, one of my favorite aspects of the Eternal Champion amidst the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Europe in a future that’s ruled by Dark Empire of Granbretan (Great Britain).  Too much here to encapsulate in even a top-line review, but all sci-fi& fantasy books by Michael Moorcock are highly recommended (and many new editions by TOR are featuring the incredible artwork of Vance Kovacs)!

A.J.’s take-away:  Greatly admire Moorcock’s entire oeuvre, and envy those who are introduced to the works for the first time; his care with the language and imaginative settings, unique characters, and high-concept fantasy & sci-fi worlds make for a guaranteed escape each time you pick up one of his books!  For my works, I learned from Moorcock to trust the reader…he or she will follow you anywhere, if the story’s compelling enough and the tale is well written!

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