Tag Archives: J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of Some Rings – or, how I learned to love “The Sword of Shannara”

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Yes, “The Sword of Shannara” by Terry Brooks has awesome/awful/epic cover art, doesn’t it?

As I get older, I find myself less and less bothered by what people think about the things that I enjoy – hence, I’ve chosen to return to Brooks’ first novel, after abandoning it previously in a fit of peevishness over the debt owed by the novelist to some obscure fantasy novels written by a British academic, back in the day.  My reason?  It’s not original, it’s not clever, but it is fun – if you allow yourself to just enjoy it as fantasy novel candy, rather than genre-busting, transformational literature which alters the landscape of the form forever after.

In many ways, it doesn’t surprise me that Brooks would eventually go on to pen the tie-in novelisation for “Star Wars – Episode One: The Phantom Menace” as his work has a fair bit in common with George Lucas’ ultimately divisive sci-fantasy blockbuster.  Both writers lean heavily on breathless plotting, well-established archetypes/tropes and a sensibility so at odds with the critical establishment that it could well be deliberate.

Neither can be said to produce what might be referred to as high art and both are doing very well, thank you kindly, out of their nerdy, un-hip, Saturday morning serial brand of adventure yarn.  And, on the evidence of “Sword of Shannara”, the 1977-vintage Brooks and Lucas were slightly confused by girls and, not knowing how to write such mysterious creatures, didn’t bother to.

This is knowingly nerdy stuff, folks, with all the plucky Dwarves, ethereal Elven warriors and mysterious Rogue leaders that you could yearn for/fear of in fantasy fiction.  Your tolerance for it may directly correlate to how much you can handle post-Tolkien fantasy and whether or not your brand of escapism cleaves more to the grimy, neo-realistic worlds of George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Richard Morgan.  I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with either, but I do find myself drawn more to a more optimistic take on extraordinary events – which, for an often cynical soul like me, is quite a turnabout.

As ever, the idea of ploughing through many years worth of trilogies and series by an author fills me with some trepidation but I’ll report back if “…Shannara” continues to entertain me as it has been doing for the last week or so.

 

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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” film review

Make mine Bag End...

Some pertinent business to deal with before I start my review proper:

1) The much-ballyhooed 48 frames per second process, which makes its debut with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is more or less unnoticeable.  Advanced reports of the film looking like a TV soap opera, or as though it was shot on digital video, are utter piffle.

2) If you can see “The Hobbit” in traditional 2D, feel free to do so.  I saw it in a 3D ‘LieMax’ screening and felt that the 3D frequently detracted from the experience – several action sequences were rendered impossible to watch comfortably, thanks to our old friend, Mr Irritating Motion Blur.  Mrs Rolling Eyeballs, who saw the film with me, currently rates the film as a 5 out of 10 as she saw roughly half of it – IMAX 3D and people with glasses apparently don’t mix too well.  A 2D viewing may be required for our actual full enjoyment of the film.

3) That 9 minute “Star Trek Into Darkness” prologue?  The “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim” trailers?  Conspicuous by their wholesale absence.  Thanks, Cineworld, for screwing your UK consumers and having the nerve to charge a premium for an experience which is decidedly lacking.

Minor, nerd-entitlement caveats aside, did I actually enjoy the film?

Well, yes.  Yes.  Yes, yes, YES!  It’s Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and a prodigiously talented ensemble in front of the camera and behind it delivering epic fantasy on the kind of scale that fans always dreamed of seeing but rarely experienced before Jackson’s initial “Lord of the Rings” trilogy expanded the possibility of cinematic adventure in the early part of the 2000’s.

Getting over the fact that these movies are inherently episodic and tell their story in a serial fashion – don’t count on getting much in the way of closure until the summer of 2014 – going back to Jackson’s Middle Earth is like visiting a much-loved holiday get away destination and finding everything much as you left it.

Breathtaking New Zealand vistas, Hobbit holes, craggy old wizards and Howard Shore‘s delightfully evocative musical score are very much present and correct – thankfully Mr Jackson has resisted the urge to cast Justin Bieber, pump up the dubstep and ‘fix’ that which isn’t broken.  As I mentioned before, the major add-ons this time around – 3D and 48 FPS – are either a waste of time (3D) or imperceptible (48 FPS), so it does feel very much like business as usual.

The changes to the plot don’t really offer up anything particularly problematic – we get a fantastic prologue which deftly underlines lead dwarven warrior-in-exile Thorin Oakenshield‘s motivations and show us more of Middle Earth than we saw in the “LOTR” trilogy, and the climax imagines the events of ‘Out of the Frying Pan Into The Fire’ quite a bit differently, and really shows how Jackson and his team have rendered three films from a fairly slender piece of source material.

Where Tolkien’s classic tale for children of all ages alludes to action occurring off-screen or dispenses with blood and thunder battles in a sentence or two, Jackson’s film goes to town by mounting elaborate, bravura sequences which pile on the Orcs, Goblins and Warg enemies for our band to face off against.  It’s probably a bit too intense for younger kids, I would guess – this iteration particularly amps up the ass-kicking whilst not exactly down-playing the whimsical nature of Tolkien’s book but emphasizing the heroics in an appropriately cinematic fashion.

On the performance side, Martin Freeman is superb as Bilbo the Younger.  He’s not doing an Ian Holm impersonation, but instead gives a turn which is funny, touching, quietly decent and layered – I’m going to enjoy following him on his burglary mission and I predict that you will too.  He’s perhaps at his best during the “Riddles in the Dark” sequence, which brings back Gollum for a spell and reminds you how utterly brilliant Andy Serkis is.  New addition Richard Armitage makes a commanding appearance as Thorin, quietly dominating scenes and neatly filling the noticeable, Viggo Mortensen-shaped hole for a heroic, smouldering lead.

I really enjoyed this movie – tech qualms be damned.  And I look forward to seeing more of Smaug, how Jackson stages the battle of the Five Armies and how the extended lore of Tolkien’s epic fantasy cycle is added to what is at heart a fairly simple and linear tale.

A qualified thumbs up for “The Hobbit” part the first it is, then.  Try and find time in your Christmas celebration to see it and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

Related Arcana:

 

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A Plucky Dwarf writes…

I’m The Tallest Dwarf In Middle Earth!

In a stunning development matched nowhere else in recorded history, Warner Brothers have really begun to push the Gollum piloted boat out for their December Tolkien release, “The Hobbit“.

Hence the screen grab above – a neat little game which allows you to blatantly rig answers and cheat your way to your favourite Middle Earth character answer fun quiz questions and arrive at a nifty downloadable/Tweetable/BookFace-type digital thing to share with your fellow nerds.

You can book your tickets for Peter Jackson’s latest slice of Hobbit based awesome now, which is nice.  And if you’re sufficiently tech-obsessed and live near a big IMAX screen, you can check out whether they’ll be showing “The Hobbitin super-48FPS-3D-space-vision.

Oh yes, waiting until December 14th is going to be so easy…

 

 

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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – new trailer unspools the awesome

I want to go to there…

Happy Wednesday, fellow nerds, geeks and devotees of pop cultural badassery – there’s a new “Hobbit” trailer online.  Fire up the download accelerator of your choice and get stuck in.

“Quick – look enigmatic, the camera’s on…”

I’m not sure that it will quell the grumpy dismissal of hardcore Tolkien scholars, but for those of us who just want to get lost in Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth for a few more hours, this two minutes and 31 second trailer will fill your face with fantasy eye candy quite agreeably.

So, when do I get to on holiday to Rivendell, then?

Action, comedy, spectacle, short people, trolls, orc-type dudes, Andy Serkis‘ famous alter-ego and New Zealand will enthrall your eyes and make you count the days until the middle of December, when this first salvo in the new trilogy opens (and hopefully answers some questions about which sofa they’ve found the rest of the story down the back of…).

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Power Metal Artwork of the Day – Blind Guardian

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And to finish out the week, an arguable classic slice of European Power Metal – with sleeve art almost precision designed to irk the irksome, traumatise tiresome hipsters and cause kvlt elitists to kvetch.

Germany’s Blind Guardian are perhaps best described as occupying a space somewhere between Iron Maiden, Helloween and – I guess – Dream Theater.  We’re talking songs directly inspired by double-bass drums played at a hundred miles an hour, proggy time signatures and lyrics directly referencing fantasy literature, as amply demonstrated by an album which many fans would claim as their favourite – the J.R.R. Tolkien/”Silmarillion“-inspired Nightfall in Middle-Earth.

To the artwork – it’s a painting of Luthien dancing in front of Morgoth, painted by Andreas Marshall.  I confess to having something a blind spot for Tolkien’s novels, something which I propose to address in the near future via the medium of a series on the blog – is it ambitious to read “The Hobbit” and the whole “Lord of the Rings” cycle before part one of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” opens at the end of the year?  I like to think not, but I’m ever one for taking on challenges which ask more than I can reasonably cope with.  It’s an epic fantasy thing, people – realise…

What the cover doesn’t capture is just how delightfully cheesy the spoken word portions of the album are – for viewers used to the earnest storytelling of the Jackson cinematic trilogy, this album’s (let’s be honest) amateur dramatic performance of the Tolkien material is a splendid thing.

 And it’s a killer record – if you like your heavy metal to be bold, powerful, driving and unabashedly unfashionable, Blind Guardian do this kind of stuff better than anybody else.  If your new D&D campaign needs a stirring musical accompaniment to really get those 20-sided die flying, you need this record on your iPod/stereo pronto…

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