Archives: Peter Jackson

Aftermath

I had a party at my house last night, a triple celebration: my fiftieth birthday, the tenth anniversary of my marriage to MBW, and MBW’s U.S. citizenship. The house echoed at times with the play of what seemed a hundred children, but couldn’t have been more than a half dozen. At the end of the night we discovered that a glutinous jar of pink slime, some sort of kid’s plaything, had been ground into the HA’s carpet. While a few remaining adults got down to cleaning that up (it turns out ice cubes are useful in that regard — helpful tip for you) I went back downstairs to pack up leftovers and load the dishwasher. The aftermath of the party.

Naturally, that got me thinking about war. Specifically the aftermath, the cleanup. And more specifically, how fantasy novels tend to deal with (or not deal with) the aftermath of the epic battles that fill their pages.

Top Ten Fantasy Films

These things are subjective. They have to be. By what metric does one objectively quantify entertainment value? I believe I’ve said before I don’t really have favorites. I can and do enjoy things equally, without rankings. So what I’m listing herein is merely a current snapshot of what I consider the elite group of fantasy films, appearing without any particular order (perhaps descending, though I won’t be held to it.

What am I considering as a fantasy film? I must necessarily limit this, as the category would otherwise be overbroad. For the purposes of this exercise, fantasy means swords and magic.  I’m excluding animated films. Live action only.

Let’s step right through the wardrobe, shall we?

Film Review, "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."

Oh, where to begin? Let’s try…”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the story of an elf-maiden and her forbidden love for a dwarf. No, that’s not quite right. ”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the story of a pudgy elf prince and his utter disdain for gravity. Or, ”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” tells the comic misadventures of Alfrid, a cross-dresser struggling to stay alive and make a buck in a savage, violent world.

What ”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” apparently is not is the story of a hobbit.

I suppose I ought to start with something positive, extol the good points of the film. Shouldn’t take long.

Unsurprisingly in a film called, before the colon,  “The Hobbit” the best scenes are those in which hobbits appear. Those are sadly few. Martin Freeman is terrific as Bilbo. There, I wrote something righteous and positive for once. Let’s see, what else? The sets and scenery were well done, very nice to look at. There was brief bit with a dwarven army forming a shield wall that I found pretty cool. The opening scene was spectacular, Smaug ashes Lake Town with beautifully realized fiery passes. And…that’s about it.

Leaving two hours or so of fail.

Before going any further, I will state that I realize this isn’t a faithful adaptation. Certainly after the first two films I have no illusions about that. It qualifies as an adaptation at all in only the barest technical sense. And that’s fine. Peter Jackson and Co. are telling the story they want to tell. I do my best to take that story on its own terms and merits. It can be hard though, wanting to see a favorite scene from the book brought to cinematic life, only to be disappointed by its non-appearance, glossing over, transformation into something utterly different, or poor execution. So it isn’t possible for me to be completely objective. But given that, I think even taken as a discrete story, removed from the expectations and strictures of Tolkien’s tale, ”The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” falls short as a film.

Some of my objections might be alleviated by the extended edition. Armored sheep appearing without any foreshadowing or explanation. Beorn’s arrival and contribution to the battle being given absurdly short shrift. I can imagine the extended version mitigating these inadequacies.

Other problems are too deeply baked in to be reparable. The White Council scene at Dol Guldur is an embarrassment. PJ and Co. thought fleshing out the suggestion in the appendices of the White Council flushing the Necromancer from his stronghold would be cool. And, yeah, that could be pretty cool. But having committed themselves to the notion, they seem at a loss as to what to do. Instead of the might of Rivendell and Lorien coming to siege Dol Guldur, we get the White Council as a superhero team battling ghosts. Did we really need another dose of Saruman’s staff wizard-fu? A cool idea in the end added nothing to the story. A wasted opportunity.

The love triangle: Is it truly inconceivable that people would be willing to watch a film that doesn’t include a love story? Again, this is PJ and Co.’s version, so we don’t need to delve into the Silmarillion and explain why dwarves and elves don’t get it on. But this film didn’t need a love story any more than the book did. The romance never came across as believable or real and it sank scenes that had a chance of actual drama with its bathos.

When the battle finally began, I  – fool that I am – said to myself, ‘All right, he can’t screw this up.” Yeah, it seems I will buy that bridge you’re selling. After setting up the battle, and providing more unnecessary comedy relief in the form of Billy Connolly’s Dain, we get to it. And PJ immediately decides to dispense with the whole alliance of Men, Dwarves, and Elves, y’know the whole point of the chapter in the book, sending the Laketown army off to fight in the ruins of Dale. Fine, his story. He can do what he wants. But then he seems to tire of the battle, his entire interest in it seeming to be coming up with a bestiary of baddies to aid the orcs. (Look, its the sandworms from Dune. And some sort of giant trolls. And a warpig. Lovely.) Instead the writers seem to think they can’t concentrate on the individual stories they want to tell – gold-sick Thorin’s vendetta against Bolg, and the star-struck Fili and Tauriel – with this battle going on. So they just sort of forget it, let it run on autoplay, and send Thorin, Fili, Kili, and – I think – Oin the off on conveniently appearing warsheep (yes, warsheep) to an absurdly undefended orc command post.

And so the bulk of the titular “Battle of Five Armies” occurs off-screen.

This film really didn’t work for me. It’s full of nonsensical behavior – continually trusting Alfrid with positions of importance, a two against one hundred battle (that’s never actually shown, come to think of it.) And a head-scratcher I just can’t get over: Thorin and Company spend days in armor, full head-to-foot panoply, waiting for an attack on the Lonely Mountain. Then when the time actually comes to kick down their wall and engage the orc army, they’ve changed back into their travelling clothes. In what universe does this make any sort of sense?

The good news: in some countries (I’m looking at you, Canada) J.R.R. Tolkien’s copyrights will expire in 2023. “The Hobbit” will fall into public domain. Someone could take another try at an adaptation. Would be hard to do worse than this three-film folly.

The Hobbit part II – what was that?

I’m going to grouse about “The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug.” Sorry, but I have to vent a bit after dropping twenty-four bucks for a couple of tickets to see this bloated zeppelin-wreck of a film.

Before I begin kvetching, praise where praise is due. The sets are gorgeous. In small doses the fight scenes are well staged and fun to watch. And Benedict Cumberbatch voices a truly menacing Smaug.

Book to Film Adaptations: or Oh, Peter Jackson, No!*

So ‘they’ are making a movie out of one of your favorite books/series. The excitement! The anticipation! The trepidation. What if ‘they’ screw if up/

Face it: ‘they’ are going to screw it up. There is no way on this Crom-forsaken earth that what ends up on the screen beneath the proscenium arch is going to match what appeared on the screen in the theater of your mind. Ain’t gonna happen. Some of it ‘they’ might pull off acceptably, even spectacularly. Funny thing is, that bit you thought looked exactly as you imagined it is a bit another viewer thought was an abomination that would have the author on a turbo-charged rotisserie in his grave (or put him in the grave early if he’s still an air-breather.) Everyone has an opinion. (I mean, seriously, have you seen the internet? Think of an opinion, the most outlandish possible position anyone could conceivably hold on a topic. Got one? OK, now make it just a little bit worse. Somewhere on a message board forum someone has expressed that exact opinion.)

The trick is managing expectations. I certainly experience disappointment, disbelief at liberties taken, scenes invented, characters changed. I’m not holding myself up as the acme of placid objectivity. Far from it. But it helps me enjoy the film as discrete work if I sit down knowing that at some point a gratuitous fight scene, created out of whole-cloth, will occur (or Frodo, tricked by Gollum on the border of Mordor, will order Sam to go home) because the writer/director felt the narrative required dramatic tension at that point.

My advice? Roll with it. Eat some popcorn. Appreciate the cinematography. You can read the book again later.

How do writers feel about the film versions of their work? I imagine there are as many different reactions as there are writers. I’ve had some (very minor) practical experience with adaptation of my own work. A short story of mine, “Trustworthy,” was produced as a student film. You can check it out HERE.  I’d have to say that overall I was pleased with it. I could understand certain changes necessary to convey on film what is provided in text by exposition. I might have made different choices here or there but I’ve no complaints.

What about you? What is your favorite/least favorite film adaptation. Have you had something you’ve written adapted into a different medium?

* Hat tip to John Ringo.