The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Film)

The third and final part of the film adaptation of The Hobbit was out over Christmas and we managed to get to the last 3D showing in Ipswich before it went 2D only. Normally I’m a fan of watching films in 3D where possible (not that I see many films …) but in this case I think I might rather’ve seen it in 2D. There were several scenes (including some right near the beginning) where the action seemed to be moving too fast for the projection to keep up – particularly apparent when there were close-up shots panning across lots of people rushing around. And some of the subtitles felt out of focus. So that was a shame. I’m not sure if that was Ipswich Cineworld being crap or a fault of the film itself though.

I’m not going to put a spoiler cut – I think it’s been out for long enough by the time I’m writing, and I suspect by the time this post goes live it won’t even be on at the cinema any more. So this is your warning not to read on if you want to avoid spoilers. The rest of this post is not so much a review but a collection of thoughts about the film.

I continue to think they’ve done a pretty good job with these adaptations. I suspect I might not be quite so in favour if I’d read the book more recently, or more often when I was a kid, but to me it feels like they have the overall plot that I remember plus a flavour of the Lord of the Rings films and so it works for me even when they’ve made changes. The most obvious change that even I notice are that there are some speaking parts for female characters. It’s a shame that Tauriel was mostly there to be the love interest, but at least she also got to kick ass πŸ™‚ In fact there was a bit of a sub-theme of “never piss off an elfwoman” in this film, when you think about Tauriel & Galadriel’s scenes.

I really liked the way they portrayed Thorin’s slide into gold-sickness and madness, particularly the reusing of lines that Smaug had also used. And the way the other dwarves are so visibly caught between knowing he’s off his rocker, but still feeling loyalty and duty towards him as both King and friend. Also good were the few quieter moments where you felt like Bilbo might almost be able to talk him out of it – which means his epiphany about his behaviour later doesn’t come out of nowhere. All those scenes also showed how much Bilbo had changed – whilst he always had a moral compass, you can’t quite imagine the fussy, somewhat prissy hobbit we first met would put himself in danger like that for the sake of doing the right thing. I mean, he’d still’ve known what the right thing was but he’d’ve had some rationale for why someone else needed to do it.

I really liked the way they did the compare and contrast between the dwarves and the elves, I thought there was a real sense that despite their differences there are a lot of similarities between the two races. Like the two juxtaposed scenes of the leaders losing their mount and attacking the surrounding orcs, where there’s a lot of similarity except that Thranduil moves like he’s dancing and Dain headbutts his opponents. (I’d forgotten Billy Connolly was cast as Dain so that was an entertaining surprise.) The film also emphasises that their differences complement each other making them a good team if only either side would see it. Like when the orcs first attack and the dwarves form their shield wall and the elves come charging over to take the orcs by surprise.

I guess the elves/dwarves at loggerheads thing is part of a general theme running through all the films (and perhaps the books too, it’s been a while since I’ve read them): true evil works together towards the common goal (presumably because of coercion) but those who oppose it not. Free will means not everyone is going to choose to do the right thing, but it wouldn’t mean so much if it wasn’t something one had to choose? Not sure I’m articulating that well, but hopefully the idea comes across πŸ™‚

On that sort of note – I saw pointed out elsewhere that one of the threads running through this film is people standing up to their (respected) leaders when they were doing the wrong thing. In stories it’s easy to show people as heroic by making them face off against “the bad guy doing the bad things”, but several of the moments of heroism here are someone going to someone they like and respect and saying “no, this time I think you’ve got it wrong” instead of giving them a pass because they’re normally right.

For the ending – I knew Thorin died from my memory of the book, but I wonder how many people who hadn’t read the book (recently enough) got faked out by the bit where the orc is under the ice? I’d forgotten Fili & Kili died though, so that took me by surprise. I felt a bit sorry for Fili – the other two got a proper death scene with at least one person mourning, Fili just gets chucked off the tower & forgotten.

Kinda sad there’s not going to be any more films (or at least I’m assuming that’s extremely unlikely!). But then again, there’s going to be new Star Wars films soon, so that probably fills in my “one film a year” slot πŸ˜‰

Hamlet (BBC Production from 2009)

Anna lent us the DVD of the BBC’s 2009 production of Hamlet back when I’d just finished the MOOC I did on the play (post). We finally got round to watching it a few days ago! This is the production that has David Tennant as Hamlet, and Patrick Stewart as Claudius (and the ghost of dead King Hamlet). I think some of the others in the cast as names one would recognise if one knew about Shakespearean actors, but I don’t πŸ™‚ As with many of my film reviews this is a selection of things I liked or that caught my attention rather than a coherent review per se.

I’m not sure I can remember the last time I watched a Shakespeare play or film adaption of one – at school perhaps? Which would make it 25 years ago, or thereabouts, as I dropped English after GCSE. Even despite having read Hamlet a few times during the course I did I still found the language a bit difficult to follow at times – particularly in some of the soliloquies where the meaning had a tendency to vanish in the word salad. Which isn’t helped by some of it being supposed to be nonsensical! Still, even though there were bits of it that I felt we should’ve put subtitles on for (and possibly read the footnotes in my book of the plays) most of it was OK to follow and we got the gist of the rest of it.

I liked the way they dressed the cast. When I was doing the Hamlet course there were quite a lot of other people on the course who got all up in arms about how modern-dress productions were ruining Shakespeare. (A few of the purists also seemed to hate this particular production anyway coz it’s got Doctor Who and Captain Picard in it, and so the “wrong” people were watching it for the “wrong” reasons …) I disagree, because I think if they’d put them all in Elizabethan dress then we wouldn’t’ve had any of the visual cues that the clothing is meant to convey. Whereas it was immediately obvious when people were formally dressed v. informally dressed and who was dressed appropriately or inappropriately for the scene at hand. Which is exactly what the Elizabethan dress would’ve been conveying to the original audiences – we just don’t know how to read that any more.

I also liked the way it was shot, and the use of cameras within the production. The security cameras, and the way they were used to demonstrate the ghost’s ghostliness were particularly neat. And again when Hamlet yanks one off the wall to say “now I’m alone” before one soliloquy – and yet he’s still observed because we’re still watching … That also makes a neat juxtaposition with the play-within-a-play, which they flag up rather nicely with Hamlet filming the play within the play (and the audience) and finally talking direct to camera himself. So you have the cameras that are our way of seeing this production, and then you have the cameras within the world as well.

Thinking of juxtapositions – Hamlet telling the actors how to act came across very “hypocritically teaching one’s grandma how to suck eggs” after the way Tennant-playing-Hamlet had been chewing up the scenery all the way through! Tho it does highlight one of the oddities of the play (for me) – the gap difference between Hamlet’s stated age (early 30s) and the way his behaviour comes across to me (teenage). I think I preferred the other actors’ performances – in particular the actress playing Gertrude. From reading the play I’m intrigued by Gertrude anyway – and her character does make it obvious how much this play is focussed on Hamlet junior. It’s unclear if Gertrude knew about the murder of Hamlet senior, it’s unclear if she marries Claudius out of love or self-protection (or self-promotion) or as part of the plan, it’s unclear if she knows at the end that the cup she drinks from is poisoned or not. Those are all things that each production and actress has to decide for themselves. And was Hamlet senior really such an all round nice guy and fantastic King and so on and so forth? We know Hamlet junior thinks so but no-one else seems to be all that bothered that he’s gone until he starts walking around as a ghost. You could construct a whole story where actually Hamlet senior was an abusive so-and-so who was also a bad King, and maybe it’s a good thing he’s gone – and Hamlet junior is too blinded by his idolisation of his father to see reality. And maybe you’d have to change how some of the lines of the play were delivered, but I’m not sure you’d have to alter the text.

One thing that struck both J and I is that the pacing feels very different to a modern film (perhaps not to a modern play, I wouldn’t know I haven’t seen one!). The choices Shakespeare made for what to include and what not to include sometimes seem strange. The Fortinbras sub-plot, for instance, feels superfluous to me – it’s set up almost as the A-plot with the as-you-know-Bob speech between Horatio and the guards in Act 1 scene 1, and the prominent mention of it in Act 1 scene 2. And then it just kinda vanishes – in this production there’s really just that one bit nearer the end with the army in the snow and then nothing. And in the rush to the climax there are some odd jumps: Ophelia’s death is off-stage and Laertes goes from pointing a gun at Claudius to plotting & scheming with him off-stage too.

It was fun to watch, tho. Maybe I’ll see if the library has some of the other recent BBC Shakespeare productions – tho I’d want to space them out a bit I think.

Vikings Live

Last Thursday we went out to the cinema to see a live broadcast from the current British Museum exhibition about the Vikings (which I’ve already written about here). Cineworld Ipswich sadly managed not to switch the screen on in time for the start of the broadcast, but we only missed the first few minutes. The format of the live part of the show was Bettany Hughes and Michael Wood looking at various of the items on display in the exhibition and talking to experts about them (including Gareth Williams, the curator of the exhibition). There were also a couple of segments of chat with the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, about the exhibition and the objects. These live sections were interspersed with pre-recorded stuff – presumably partly to allow presenters and camera crews time to reorganise themselves for the next bit!

It was an interesting counterpoint to the exhibition itself. I felt the exhibition emphasised the non-raiding, non-marauding parts of the Viking story, and was trying to position them more as traders and colonisers. Whereas the broadcast wholeheartedly embraced the raiding and warlike side of the Vikings, while also pointing out their softer, more civilised side (sometimes). It also had more of a sense of fun to it than the exhibition itself – perhaps just because it’s easier to convey that enthusiasm in person than in a museum label.

Each segment of the broadcast was introduced with a dramatic declamation of (translated) Viking poetry, by a man dressed up as a Viking, followed by a burst of fire revealing the title (like “War” or “Raiding” or “Women”). Obviously these were part of the pre-recorded stuff, I thought they were rather well done. We also got to see the exhibition curator dressed up as a Viking warrior – apparently he does re-enactment as well as museum curation! He was particularly enthusiastic at showing Michael Wood how you could use a long knife from below a shield wall to gut your enemies … And the show piece at the end of the broadcast was some footage of a (re-enacted) Viking ship burial, which I think for me suffered from the amount they’d been hyping that in advance – sadly not quite as spectacular a I was expecting.

As well as all that sort of thing we also got treated to a much closer look at some of the artifacts than was possible in the exhibition itself. In the case of many of the smaller pieces (like the little ship brooch that opens the exhibition) this meant we got to see them at many many times life size and so could really see the detail. One thing that struck me in all the explanations of the objects was that a lot of them have been relatively recently discovered. The ship burial that they had from Scotland, for instance, hadn’t been completely conserved yet (making it incredibly fragile and difficult to display). And there was a tiny silver figurine of a female warrior(? valkyrie?) with a sword that had only been dug up last year!

It’s cool that the British Museum are doing this sort of thing. I think as a broadcast it would work whether or not you had a chance to see the exhibition in person. I’m glad we went to see it, and I think it’s a shame we somehow didn’t go to the Pompeii Live one last year – I’ll definitely keep an eye out for these sorts of tie-in broadcasts in future.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Just before Christmas J and I went to see the new Hobbit film. The rest of this post is pretty spoilery (and doesn’t include a plot summary so may not make much sense if you haven’t seen the film yet). The unspoilery version is “it was good! you should probably go see it! (providing you like such films)” πŸ™‚

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on post page:

I’ll start briefly with the techy side of it – this time we saw the high frame rate 3D version, rather than the IMAX one. When we saw the first Hobbit film (post) it was a little spoilt by us being seated right under one of the rear speaker stacks, so that was part of why we avoided the IMAX showing. The other reason was that during some of the faster moving sequences in the last one like the goblin sequence we thought it was a bit blurry. That wasn’t an issue with any of the bits in this film, so I think the HFR version was worth going for. Although it did look a touch unreal – I’d forgotten that was a common thing said about HFR films, so it was niggling at me during the film, but J said he got used to it pretty quick (given he was expecting it). It still niggles at me a bit coz it doesn’t make sense that it should look unreal but there you go.

Moving on to the film – the dragon Smaug was awesome πŸ˜€ I particularly loved the scene where Bilbo is in the hoard and first figures out just how big Smaug is. Some of the chase segments afterwards did feel a bit contrived, but I think I buy into the idea that the dragon was playing with his food – he did seem to have that sort of personality, particularly after the “you can’t fool me” conversation with Bilbo in the hoard. I did wonder what the dwarves were thinking, trying to kill a fire breathing dragon with molten gold – surely neither heat nor gold should cause him a problem. Maybe they hoped he’d drown? Maybe they were just clutching at straws …

I guess one of the tough things about adapting the Hobbit for a modern audience is that Tolkein didn’t bother to write any female characters into the story, and Peter Jackson et al have clearly decided not to gender flip any of the existing characters. So for the last film Galadriel gets a speaking part so there’s at least one woman, and in this one we have Tauriel the wood elf. In some ways it’s a shame she gets tacked on as “the love interest”, but I don’t think it’s entirely as shallow as it seems on the surface. She’s the only elf we see that sees past her people’s prejudice against dwarves to treat any of them as people, and I think blindness/seeing is one of the things this part of the story is about. She also isn’t a damsel in distress needing rescuing – she’s the one who goes out to shoot the orcs threatening the dwarves, and not just in her own lands but chasing them across the route the dwarves travel. She saves Kili’s life, rather than him rescuing her.

I think Gandalf (again) gets one of the lines that states a theme of the film – “We have been blind, and that has let the Enemy come back” (possibly not the exact words, I’m writing this a week after seeing the film). He says this just after he and Radagast realise that the Necromancer is more than just a rumour, and just before he goes into the orc stronghold that’s under a spell to cloud one’s sight. But it fits into a wider context than that – he also says it after he’s not followed up on Bilbo being awfully … odd about something he found earlier. We know it’s the Ring, and Peter Jackson et al have the advantage here in adapting the Hobbit as a true prequel to the Lord of the Rings rather than retro-fitting it into the story like Tolkein did. We know what that ring is, and we know where this is going – and in not following it up, going instead to do “more important things” is Gandalf being blind again, and allowing the Enemy another step on the way to victory. And to narrow the context again – even in this film alone we see Gandalf setting things in motion (setting Thorin off on this path, leaving the dwarves & hobbit to their own devices) that ultimately end in Smaug waking up and flying off to burn Laketown. Bilbo, of course, gets the final word on that – “what have we done!”.

I think Thorin gets fewer framed hero shots than before, and his flaws are highlighted more than I remember them being in the first film. He still believes (mistakenly) that he’s the hero of this story, and we see where that gets him – he’s too proud to bargain with the wood elves, he’s willing to dangle promises in front of people to do what he wants even when it’s not in their interests. He sends others in to do his dirty work, or sends them away if they’re not useful any more, without caring about them as other than tools. If it wasn’t for Bilbo he wouldn’t’ve got anywhere, let alone as far as he’s got – but when Bilbo’s running from Smaug all Thorin cares about is whether he’s got the Arkenstone. (We don’t see if he did or not, so I’m assuming he did – he never tells Thorin he doesn’t have it, he just doesn’t tell him he does).

It’s been a long time since I last read the book, so I can’t really remember what’s been changed – though I’m told that it’s rather a lot. Other than Tauriel I did notice that Bard gets more (any?) of a role at this point of the story, rather than appearing after Smaug has been set free. And the sequence with Beorn wasn’t quite what I remembered either. Still I’m not so attached to the book that I mind it being retold in a different way πŸ™‚

As I said at the start of this post – it was good! πŸ™‚

Star Trek Into Darkness

We went to see Star Trek Into Darkness on Monday, in a surprisingly empty cinema – I know the weather was good for a change but I’d still have expected more people around on a bank holiday afternoon. But at least it being fairly empty meant we got sensible seats instead of under the speaker stack like we had for The Hobbit. Overall I enjoyed the film, it was a fun action film with a lot of neat set piece sequences. I’m not convinced it always made sense, though.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

The bit we picked over most when we got out of the cinema was why Khan had gone to the Klingon homeworld anyway – in the end we decided he wasn’t expecting Kirk (plus bonus Admiral Marcus) to follow and his actual plan would’ve involved some other next step. I’m … not sure what his plan was though. Was he going to negotiate to get his crew back after killing a bunch of people as “proof of concept” for ability to commit terrorism? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to steal the torpedoes, put them on the super secret special ship that only needs one man to fly, then fly away somewhere? Given he seems to be free to do what he wants to do right up until the point where he blows shit up (and even after that even tho he’s made it harder for himself to go anywhere on Earth he’s still pretty free).

Speaking of not making sense … Kirk in the meeting is saying “why the archive? That’s not a good target, there must be a bigger plan.” And oh look, there’s Khan to shoot them all. Except it wasn’t an archive, it was a secret weapons base that Khan had reason to want to destroy so Kirk’s logic was based on a faulty premise … and why didn’t Khan wait to come and pick them off more sensibly for a super-soldier who’s better at everything. (Each ship has a crew of hundreds, could he not find a Harewood for each ship – off they all fly to find Khan and there are a series of earth-shattering kabooms. Plus an extra one for Admiral Marcus’s office building.)

Well, “because Plot” is the reason, and perhaps I should let them have their collection of implausibilities to string together the set pieces because I did like the set pieces.

I think my biggest overall issue with the reboot Star Trek universe is the age of the crew – there’s a genre of fanfic that’s “alternate universe where they’re all in high school” and that’s what this reboot feels like. It’s been a long time since I watched any of the original Star Trek series, but I remember Kirk & the rest of the main crew as more mature. That Kirk was captain because he’d started as a lower officer and been promoted. Ditto the rest of the crew. They’d earnt their positions on the ship. And here we have a bunch of mostly new graduates dumped on a ship all together with no experience and no senior officers. And their interpersonal relationships are all pretty high school too. Lots of bickering and gossip, and “I thought you were my friend” stuff.

Right, enough complaining, what did I like (other than explosions and spaceship chases etc, because that goes without saying πŸ˜‰ ).

I’d seen some references to Uhura just being “the girlfriend” in this film, but I’d disagree. She gets to come to the rescue rather than play damsel in distress. Like when she’s trying to talk their way out of trouble on the Klingon homeworld – clearly terrified but once she gets out of the ship she’s got her game face on. She fails, but you’re left with the impression she fails because anyone would not because she messed it up. She’s also the one who plays a pivotal role in subduing Khan at the end.

I guess the overall theme was that violence isn’t the right answer, even when provoked. That’s the flaws that both the antagonists have – Khan reacts to being used by Starfleet by lashing out, Admiral Marcus sees the possibility of war with the Klingons and reacts by trying to start it early. And Kirk is a hero because he has that initial reaction and then calms down (and listens to Spock) and tries the non-violent alternative. Most obviously in his reaction to Pike’s death where he’s consumed with the need for vengeance, but then decides to try to take “Harrison” into custody instead. The Kirk & Spock juxtaposition was well used, too – Spock demonstrates that suppressing all emotional reaction just leaves you inhuman & inhumane. And when Kirk just reacts and lets his emotions run the show he gets into trouble. It’s the combination of both emotion & reason that wins.

Interesting that we are told Khan & his crew would kill anyone they deemed inferior & that’s why they’re dangerous, but we never actually see this. All the violence that Khan does in the film is provoked – not justified, see above, but Khan feels it’s a reaction to what’s been done to him. I guess it makes the mirroring of Kirk more obvious – this is what happens when you let your anger cloud your reason.

I read somewhere elseweb, I forget where, that “it wouldn’t be a J. J. Abrams film if it didn’t have Daddy issues”. I haven’t watched enough stuff by Abrams to know this from experience, but it certainly feels true for this one. Most obviously Kirk – not only is his real father dead but first he disappoints his surrogate father then his surrogate father dies in front of his eyes (pretty much). And then Admiral Marcus tries to step in as the next obvious father figure, only to betray Kirk. There’s also Carol Marcus – disowning her father for cover at first, then disowning him for real once she realises (well, has confirmed) that he’s given in to megalomania. And I guess you can fit Spock into that too – he’s trying to be Vulcan enough for the (paternal) Vulcan side of his heritage.

But most of what I enjoyed about the film was that it was fun and full of explosions & chase sequences Candy-floss for the brain, and there’s nothing wrong with that every now & then πŸ™‚

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

As has become our tradition for Valentine’s Day J and I had a takeaway curry for dinner and watched a film I’ve not seen before but probably should’ve. This year it was the third of the Indiana Jones films. What can I say, I just don’t do films much πŸ™‚

It’s been a bit weird watching the first three of these films over the last few years, partly because I saw the fourth film first (and twice) before I saw any of the others, partly because I know some of the references through osmosis of pop culture and only now have I seen where they come from. The thing that struck me that way from this particular film was the “you have chosen wisely” bit near the end. And the Grail diary reminded me of Drake’s journal in the Uncharted games. Obviously for everyone else that’s the other way round πŸ˜‰

At first I felt the film was going to be just too cartoony for my tastes – the opening bit with Indy as a boy in particular. Tho I did like the fake-out where they try & set you up to think the leader of the team that find the cross in the first bit is Indy rather than the boy. And the origin story for the fear of snakes was entertaining too, even if it was the first of many bits during the film where I averted my eyes coz of all the wriggling or scuttling creatures.

In fact I think I enjoyed all the set pieces throughout the film, just ended up feeling like the whole wasn’t quite as good as the sum of its parts. The plot was very by-the-numbers just moving us from set piece to set piece and ultimately very predictable. Like the man who says “trust no-one” … is a bad guy. Like the fabled Grail … isn’t made of gold & jewels. So I ended up talking back to the screen more than once. Hopefully not too much to J’s irritation πŸ˜‰ It’s hard to tell, tho, how much of that predictability is because I saw it 24 years after it came out – did it drive the clichΓ©-isation of the plot? Or was it that clichΓ©d in 1989?

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Here be spoilers! Read at own risk πŸ˜‰ It also probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t seen the film yet, as I’m not doing a plot synopsis.

J & I went to see The Hobbit on Tuesday evening & it was rather good πŸ™‚

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on post page:

I’ll get the negative things I want to say out of the way first, as they’re not about the story. We went to the Imax screen in Cineworld which has assigned seats and ended up with seats nearish the back at the side (row P in screen 6 if you’re local to Ipswich and want to avoid this) – which put us right underneath one of the rear speaker stacks and as a result the sound was appalling. I was wondering during the trailers/ads if I needed ear plugs and whether I was going to come out of the film with ringing ears. Thankfully it was less over-loud during the film itself (or maybe there were just more quiet bits to recover during), but it was still loud enough to be distorted at times and the “background” noise drowned out the voices at more than one point. Another time we’ll go to a different showing if those are the only seats left.

I liked the use of 3D – most of the time just adding depth in a fairly subtle way, with the occasional thing popping out to good effect (the butterfly that flew away towards the back of the cinema, and some flaming pine cones that made me duck are the things that have particularly stuck in my mind). But I did think it looked blurry when panning across a scene – I’d wonder if it was artistic choice if it was just the fight scenes (the chaos of war or something) but it was even when panning around scenery with no or few moving things. We were watching the 24fps 3D version, and I do wonder if the 48fps version would look better for those bits – I should’ve looked that up before we bought tickets I guess, I just didn’t think it’d make that much difference. (Screen 8 in Cineworld Ipswich is doing 48fps apparently, if you were going to go see it.)

OK, now I’ve got my grumpy old woman bit out of the way what about the film itself? πŸ™‚

I enjoyed it πŸ™‚ I think they did a good job of weaving in the things that were in the book and the things they got from the rest of Tolkien’s world. And presumably some things were additions of their own, but nothing stuck out like a sore thumb. I had read that they’d given Galadriel a role in the story to have a female character with a speaking part in the film – in some ways making some of the dwarves female might’ve been the better answer (and is probably what would be the case if this was written these days), but that would require changing things too much for most people’s tastes (I can imagine the explosions about how they’d “ruined Tolkien’s story”). When I’d read about it I’d worried it might feel tacked on or shoehorned in to tick some boxes, but I thought they did a very good job. The scene itself didn’t just work in the context of the film, but also in setting up Saruman’s turning to evil in the Lord of the Rings films.

I don’t think Saruman is supposed to’ve already gone over to Sauron at this point, but I think you can see he’s starting to slide down the slippery slope. The petty dismissal & belittling of Radagast because he doesn’t meet some arbitrary standard of acceptable behaviour & appearance. The lack of empathy towards the exiled dwarves. The way he seems more concerned that things should be done the “proper way” rather than with considering what is the right thing to be doing. And I particularly liked the way the film makes it explicit that everyone else is just tuning out his ranting by fading back the sound and having Galadriel & Gandalf have a mental conversation while Saruman drones on.

I also liked the way that while they do state a couple of the themes of the film in the dialogue they don’t belabour it. So Gandalf says the bit about “true courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.” but when it comes to the point where that matters we aren’t beaten around the head with why Bilbo shows mercy or that this is a Significant Moment, we’re trusted to realise that for ourselves.

And the other is when Gandalf is talking to Galadriel about Saruman and says “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.” (Quotes taken from IMDB btw, they do look about right but the wording might be a little off as I think they’re user submitted.) And really that’s spread through everything that happens in the film. One of J’s colleagues pointed out there’s a lot of shots of Thorin as “The Hero”, backlit and/or in slow-mo. As Anna points out this is mostly when he’s being talked about by the other characters, when they’re telling stories about him and his deeds, it’s about how the other dwarves see Thorin. But I think it’s also that he’s the character who should be The Hero, he’s the one who is the last of the line of Durin going to take back his home from the dragon, the prince of the blood, the trained warrior, the man with the blood feud with Azog. By all rights this should be his story. But it’s not, it’s the story of our homesick fussy little hobbit who unexpectedly & out-of-characterly went on an adventure. And over the course of the film he looks at one terrible & scary situation after another and summons up all his courage and does what needs to be done even tho he’d rather be back home & comfortable, warm & dry. Like when they meet the Trolls, there’s Bilbo – first trying to sneak in to get the horses back, then trying to talk their way out of being eaten. And most obviously when Thorin does his Hero thing and runs down the tree to fight his sworn enemy, but fails – it’s Bilbo who saves his life by rushing in, not fearlessly but because it is the right thing to do. And then after that the rest of the dwarves come, and Gandalf’s summoned rescuing eagles arrive. But if Bilbo hadn’t done what needed to be done, then the story would be over.

I liked Radagast – at first I thought he was a bit over-done with the eccentricities but he’s clearly not just a foolish old man talking to the animals. He’s got power, and he’s got courage – going to the fortress tracking the spiders, for instance – and he’s paying more attention to the world about him than Saruman is. I guess that’s one of the other themes of the film – don’t go on superficial appearances. Like Saruman’s distaste for Radagast, like Thorin’s dismissal of Bilbo.

The dwarves were cool – I thought the film handled the mix of slapstick and seriousness well. And actually getting some of the songs was neat (and didn’t feel musical-ish with the songs part of the production rather than the world inside the story, it felt like these actual characters would burst into song in that way). Although of course I’ve had “Time passes. Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold.” running through my head ever since. I can’t remember who I was talking to about it recently, but we concluded there’s a generation of us who will immediately remember the game that came from πŸ™‚

I did think there was a bit much of the “run through the goblin caves killing goblins” scenes. But then it culminated in the line that made me laugh the most so I’ll forgive it πŸ˜‰ That being the bit where the goblin king says “So now what are you going to do?” and Gandalf slices him open, so the goblin king looks down and says “That’ll do it.” and dies. Made me giggle, the timing was perfect.

I’m sure there was other stuff I thought I wanted to comment on, but I think that’s enough for one post πŸ™‚


J’s doing well for trips to see films this year – I think this is the third one he’s persuaded me to go to the cinema for. Still don’t like cinemas πŸ˜‰ The film was pretty good, though πŸ™‚ I’d managed to completely avoid spoilers, so only knew it was the new Bond film & I think that’s a good way to come to the story. As always this isn’t so much a review as a collection of thoughts, and there are major spoilers ahead in the rest of this post.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

I thought they did a good job of putting in references to old Bond film things for the 50th anniversary while still making it a modern film – Miss Moneypenny, exploding pens (albeit in absentia), modified classic cars, martinis, Bond girls, meglomaniac mad & deformed villain with a complicated plot. All the things were there. And while the Bourne films might’ve given the Bond franchise a bit of a shot in the arm, making these recent Bond films more gritty & real, they’re still quintessentially British (in a fairly old-fashioned way). I mean, from what we see in this film Bond’s origin story (rich, childhood trauma involving death of parents, fights to protect others against evil) is pretty much Batman’s origin story. But Batman the American becomes a disguised vigilante & Bond the British gentleman joins MI6 and works for the government as a spy.

And rather nicely I felt the whole plot requires Bond to be who he is for it to work out. Not just how he happens to have the deserted, remote country house complete with secret passages, faithful old retainer & Daddy’s old hunting rifle for the final showdown to take place in. But also things like when presented with a gambling chip for his only clue, he puts his tux on & goes to cash it in and see what happens – a gamble – rather than going back to base and following other more conventional leads. And in the scenes at Skyfall at the end, we get shown how even when Bond is not at the top of his game, he’s still sharper, quicker, better than the other two.

I liked what they did with Mallory, how for the first part of the film you see him through M & Bond’s eyes – some interfering bureaucrat who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Then you get his back story from Moneypenny, as the first crack in that impression, followed by the inquiry scene where he’s fairly clearly not only on the same side as M & MI6 in general, but also reacts well when the violence kicks off. After that I thought you could look back at the way he acts before and see it differently. In particular the scene where Bond is returning to active duty and Mallory is asking why he bothered to come back, why not pretend to be dead. That’s not the cowardly suggestion it looked like – that’s Mallory testing Bond, poking at him to see how he reacts & thinking about things like has Bond lost his nerve after his near death.

On one level I liked the Moneypenny reveal, it gives the Miss Moneypenny of the old films a modern revamp. On another level, I felt that doing that in the same film as M’s death was problematic. There were really only 3 major female roles in the film – M, Moneypenny and SΓ©vΓ©rine. And two of them died & the other one retired from field duty. Which doesn’t sit well with me – it’d’ve been nice if Moneypenny had gone back into the field at the end. I know why they did it, the Miss Moneypenny scene is neat, but that also feeds into the disquiet because the baggage we as viewers bring to it is that Miss Moneypenny is a secretary – so a definite step down from active field agent. My personal handwave is that she’s got her eye on working her way up to the top desk job – M. It’d’ve been nice to have something more solidly textual to support that though.

But having said that there are some indications in the film that it’s not supposed to be a step down so much as a step sideways to play to her strengths. I did think it was emphasised that Bond would not want M’s job, not just because he wants the adrenaline rush of the active duty, but also because he doesn’t want to be the person who has to make the judgement calls about when it’s right to sacrifice one person for the good of the rest. You see how he both respects M for her ability to make that call, and hates that she can. And you can see that Moneypenny is not retiring from the field because she was broken by believing she’d shot Bond – she did both what she was ordered and what she felt was the right call. I also don’t think the film set her up as a bad field agent – she definitely came across as not as skilled or experienced as Bond, but part of the point is that he’s the creme de la creme. She did come across as competent & capable to normal mortal levels, and the shot she flubbed was only a surprise because “movie gun rules” meant we all expected her to magically hit the right guy. Looking at her view through the sights, it was exactly what she told M – impossible to get a clean shot. And yes, she was pleased she hadn’t killed him, but like M there was no impression that she’d spent the intervening time sobbing in the corner. Still, I wish we hadn’t had both the strong women from this film (SΓ©vΓ©rine doesn’t count here) finish the story no longer in the role they were previously shown as competent at.

Going back to things I whole-heartedly appreciated – I liked the running themes of betrayal, duty, the importance of doing what needs to be done and, of course, “sometimes the old ways are the best”. Kind of a hymn of praise to the myth of the perfect English gentleman – which is what Bond is. And in this film it’s also what M is, even her eventual death is done with no fanfare or fuss, that whole sequence is the epitome of the stiff upper lip.

Betrayal is in there because it’s not really about betrayal it’s about whether you can see beyond yourself to the wider picture – Bond & Silva are both betrayed to their deaths by M, Bond understands why but it breaks Silva & he spends the rest of his life plotting the perfect revengeful murder-suicide. Of course, Silva’s near death is a lot less clean than Bond’s and so you’d expect him to be more twisted-up by it, which does spoil the symmetry rather. Another neat touch for that theme is that Silva dies by being knifed in the back – betrayal metaphor acted out. And it’s also a metaphor for cowardliness (not facing your death). And of course, it was “the old ways”.

And as well as all those thinky things, it had lots of explosions and gunfights and chase scenes. Which is always awesome πŸ˜€ We went to the new “Imax” screen at the cinema near us – a bigger screen, better sound system. And it was pretty good, tho not awesome enough for the price hike you get by going to that screen πŸ˜‰


We went to see Prometheus at the cinema ages ago, but I’m reminded of it again because the blu-ray J bought has just arrived & J spent a large chunk of the weekend watching the extras & commentaries (as well as re-watching the film). I’ve seen quite a few people in various places online saying how crap the film was, but to be honest I completely disagree with that. I suppose I should point out that I see very few films, so perhaps I’m just not as jaded as the general cinema-going population. Also I haven’t actually seen the Aliens films (although I’m aware of the plots of them and have seen clips/bits over J’s shoulder, and have read some of the spin-off & tie-in novels). Even above & beyond my general dislike of narrative entertainment in visual form I’m particularly not keen on seeing gruesome things so sci-fi horror isn’t really my thing. But that does mean I didn’t go into watching Prometheus expecting it to be another instalment in a franchise that was dear to me (like I think a lot of people did) – so I didn’t have to reset my expectations to the reality of the film. Although that did also mean I spent more of it watching from behind my hands than I’d expected, coz J had said in advance he didn’t think it’d be that gory πŸ˜‰ But equally I think the real reason I liked it better than other people I’ve seen comment on it is likely to boil down to it being my sort of story & not theirs, and that’s perfectly reasonable.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover over text to read, or read on entry page:

This isn’t a review, it’s more a collection of thoughts & impressions. And the main thing that’s stuck with me about the film is the ideas & the characters, rather than the action plot. I mean, you need the action plot, it’s what you’re watching and it wouldn’t work without it. But it’s the underpinnings that I found interesting & that J & I talked about afterwards (and again now that he’s got the blu-ray). I also like that you don’t actually get answers, you get hints & questions & possibilities and I think that makes it stronger. To take some recent examples (of things I haven’t seen but have read about) – the modern Battlestar Galactica & Lost both had a series long mystery plot of sorts, and then when people found out what was actually in the creator’s head it was disappointing. The questions had been more interesting than actually being given the answers. So I think the fact that the film doesn’t tell us much about the origins of human and Alien life in this universe is actually a good thing.

I didn’t think the whole thing was the most perfectest film ever, though – I do have criticisms and one part of the premise that I have to handwave my way right past. One major criticism is that I don’t think the film did a particularly good job of establishing Elizabeth Shaw as the character they intended and that weakened the first half of the film for me when I saw it in the cinema. Afterwards I read some stuff & watched a viral trailer snippet that made it clear that she had several doctorates and was trained in more than one field. That meant that the fact that she’s equally at home in an archaeological dig & a biology lab is actually because she is supposed to be a genius and polymath. And not sloppy writing on the part of writers who are making her do “all that science stuff” in the services of plot with no regards to how plausible it would be. I think it would’ve strengthened the film if there’d been some reference to her genius, something like a throwaway line about her multiple doctorates in the bit where she’s introduced to the crew of the ship.

The opening sequence is the bit that I need to resolutely put my own interpretation on and ignore textual hints that something else is intended πŸ˜‰ In my personal version the Engineer is seeding the whole of life on Earth – I refuse to see the lichen or other greenery visible on those rocks. This is because as a biologist I’m far too aware that we’re very closely related to the other life on the planet to be a creation that’s seperate to the rest of the biology of earth. So that Engineer is seeding the original DNA molecules that become the whole of the planetary ecosystem, not just intelligent life. I also file under “movie science, no relation to real science” the bit where they compare the DNA of the Engineer head to human DNA and it comes up as a complete match, if you actually stop and think about it that’s ludicrous. My DNA is different from your DNA is different from any other given human’s DNA so a total match only happens with identical twins. So why would a big blue guy who isn’t and doesn’t even look human 100% match whatever their human DNA sample was? So I just accept the point they’re trying to make here (the Engineers are related to us in some fashion) and skip past the inconsistencies both with any sensible reality & with the way I’ve had to handwave the opening premise. It’s got an emotionally right point, even if it’s not actually right (truthy rather than true) and sometimes that’s just the way you need to tell the story.

Something I’ve been paying attention to recently when I’m reading or watching fiction is mirroring. The most obvious example here is David and his relation to his creators which is juxtaposed the whole way through with the humans and their relationship with & desire to know their creators. He has what the humans are looking for – he knows his creators, he knows why he was created and how banal those reasons really are (because we could, because we wanted a better servant, because Weyland didn’t have a son). And all those humans (except Shaw) treat him as something beneath them, to be ordered around, practically as furniture. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that on a couple of occasions he’s addressed as “Boy” by the crew when they’re giving him orders, I think that’s supposed to set up mental resonances with slavery in the US. Only in this case it’s “OK” because he’s only a robot after all. And yet Weyland has put together this trip to try and meet his creators, expecting welcome and to be treated as an equal. Shaw & Holloway’s motivations are a lot less mercenary, and Shaw’s attitude towards David is a lot less callous, but they are still expecting more from their own creators than their species gives to its own creations.

David and Vickers provide another set of contrasting mirrors. Weyland in his pre-recorded welcome speech manages in a single sentence to twist the knife in both of them – neither will ever be good enough in ways they cannot change. “David is the closest thing I have to a son”. Except David is not a real boy, he’s always a robot first and foremost. And Vickers is his daughter, and that’s even worse than a robot when it comes to Weyland’s dynastic ambitions. And you can see how that’s eaten away at both of them – Vickers in the scene where she ends up telling Weyland that all Kings die, that’s the natural order of things. It’s even more obvious in the longer version of that scene in the deleted scenes & extras part of the blu-ray, she still loves him and wants his approval whilst knowing it will never happen and wanting him dead. And David with his line near the end about “Doesn’t everyone want their parents dead?”. When I saw the film at the cinema I spent a lot of it wondering if Vickers would turn out to be a robot, but it’s actually that her facade and David’s facade come partly from the same place. The line that David repeats from Lawrence of Arabia is telling: “Certainly it hurts. […] The trick […] is not minding that it hurts.” I think if she’d turned out to be a robot that would actually have undermined that whole strand of the film, and detracted from the question of is he a person or not. Shaw clearly thinks so, she treats him as another person – I think she’s the only one we see thanking David for the things he does, and he clearly appreciates that from the way he interacts with her.

As an aside – writing this it’s interesting that I fall into the same way of singling out David as the people in the story. I’m using surnames for the human characters, but referring to David by his first name. By necessity, as he doesn’t seem to have a surname. But I suspect that’s deliberate, and it means that even writing about the film you end up singling out David as lower status than the rest of the named characters.

Shaw and Weyland are interestingly juxtaposed too. These are both very intelligent driven individuals in a class of their own, but you only have to look at that scene where they’re waking the Engineer and trying to ask him questions to see the differences between them. Weyland’s are all about himself – what can they do for him, can they make him young, can they stop him dying. Shaw’s are really on behalf of all humanity – why did you create us, why did you change your minds, what is the purpose of all this.

Shaw & Vickers too make a pair – until Weyland is woken up the two people in charge on that ship are those two women. The scene where Vickers exerts her authority early on is amusing because Holloway is there blustering away about “do you have some hidden agenda?”, but the real face-off is between Vickers and Shaw and they look pretty evenly matched. They’re also both determined and tough women who do what needs to be done – Vickers kills Holloway to prevent him getting back on the ship because of his infection and the risks to herself & the rest of the people, Shaw cuts an alien baby out of her stomach and then goes down to the planet to see the awakened Engineer because it’s what needs to be done. But Shaw again is more sympathetic & Vickers is driven by more selfish motivations. Oh, and they both run away the wrong way from the falling spaceship in their panic – Shaw is saved effectively by a miracle, she trips and manages to roll her way to a rock that breaks the fall of the ship just enough that she isn’t crushed. If she hadn’t fallen she’d probably still’ve been running along the long axis of its fall when it hit the ground.

And those questions of Shaw’s are referenced again at the end – David asks if it really matters why, and Shaw says that of course it does, and that’s part the fundamental difference between humans and robots like David. Ridley Scott says in his commentary that that’s an essential truth about David – he’s intensely curious but about how things work, what things are. And that drives a lot of what he does through the plot – the obvious example is that he infects Holloway to find out what will happen, and asks his permission first (and manipulates him into giving it unknowing). But he doesn’t much care about why. It is what it is, that’s all that’s interesting. And that’s actually a fairly alien mindset to us – I mean a fair amount of thought from humanity goes into big questions like “why are we here?”, “what’s the purpose of life?”. Shaw is admirable because she cares more about that than Weyland’s selfish questions. So David is pretty different from a human, despite being “made in our image” … and yet the characters in the film don’t really seem to expect that their own creators might be just as alien.

They also expect the aliens, the Engineers, to be a monolithic culture. But why? The group of them that goes off in this ship does so for all sorts of reasons – Weyland to get immortal life, Shaw & Holloway to find out where humanity came from, Vickers to make sure she knows what happens to dear old Dad (and make sure he’s dead), the geologist for a pay-cheque, the xenobiologist coz he’s a real geek about alien lifeforms and he’d love to see some in the flesh. They’re not a monolith, they’re people. And so are the Engineers – the one we see at the beginning sacrifices himself to bring life to the world, the one we see at the end destroys David & the humans he can reach without a second thought. This doesn’t necessarily show that the culture changed their minds (tho given the timescale it also could be that), it could just be that some factions go and seed life through the galaxy for a variety of personal reasons but some factions regard this as an abomination for an equal variety of personal reasons.

I feel like I’ve been writing for ages but still only scratched at the surface of the things I want to say. But I think if I carry on it’ll turn into a rambling mess (or more so), so I shall stop here πŸ™‚ It’s a film that I thought had all sorts of interesting ideas just below the surface of the action-oriented plot.