Published on 1 Apr 2014
In a last-ditch effort to save their family, a group of cowboys drive a dangerous herd to Hollywood.
April 1, 2014
March 30, 2014
Mark Steyn’s Saturday movie column is about the great Sir Alec Guinness:
In London one hundred years ago this week — April 2nd 1914 — Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE entered the world as Alec Guinness de Cuffe. His mother was Agnes Cuff, and the Frenchification of her maiden name seems to have been an attempt to compensate for the blank space on the birth certificate where “Name of Father” should appear. “Alec Guinness” were his two Christian names, leading to periodic suggestions that his pa was a member of the Guinness family. Sir Alec himself took the view that he had been sired by a Scottish banker who turned up at the flat once in a while purporting to be an “uncle” and who paid for his young “nephew” to be educated privately. He was, at least in public, not much interested in his parents, neither the absent nor the present one. From this appropriately vague lineage emerged one of the most versatile British actors of the 20th century, and (via Star Wars) one of the wealthiest.
His other great military tour de force is as the carrot-topped carouser Major Jock Sinclair opposite John Mills’ by-the-book colonel in Ronald Neame’s Tunes Of Glory. An Ottawa reader who’d “sat through one mess dinner too many” wrote to me a few years ago to say that his all-time favorite Guinness movie line was Major Jock insisting, “Whisky for the gentlemen that like it, and for the gentlemen that don’t like it – whisky!” There’s a lot of Scottish dancing in the picture, and the film itself seems to reel, with Guinness’ blazing orange hair and heeland-flung accent poised brilliantly on a knife-edge of menacing heartiness.
That was unusual for him. I think it was Eileen Atkins who said that Guinness was the only actor who could do absolutely nothing in a close-up and yet you knew what he was thinking. It’s probably closer to the truth to say you knew he was thinking something, and you thought you knew pretty much what it was, but there was always the possibility that something more might be going on. A character like Colonel Nicholson has to be complex, or he simply doesn’t exist, and Guinness was a master at hinting at complexity, even when playing a piece of cardboard such as Obi-Wan. In an age of soul-barers, when Daniel Day-Lewis does Hamlet to work through his feelings about his father, Guinness remained a kind of Gypsy Rose Lee of great actors: he exposed very little, and thereby suggested that what lay underneath must be a real knockout. By the time he got to John le Carré’s George Smiley, he had mastered a unique skill: scene-stealing blankness, nicely caught on one of the early episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway? when Jonathan Pryce, out of the blue, goes into a sly Guinness take-off — all glances off and an enigmatic smile.
He made his screen debut eight decades ago, in Evensong (1933). No one noticed. So he tried again with David Lean, as Herbert Pocke in Great Expectations (1946) and Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), two superb performances. Then came his finest group of pictures — the Ealing years, beginning with Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in which he played eight different members of the d’Ascoyne family bumped off, in succession, by Dennis Price. Poor old Price actually gives the best performance, but no one cares: Kind Hearts is a novelty turn for Guinness, yet the film has a harder edge than his other Ealing films. To contemporary moviegoers, Ealing is a far more remote world than any in Star Wars — for a long time, the films were hard to get hold of and rarely aired on TV — but they show off brilliantly a youngish actor of unpromising looks but boundless inventiveness.
He had, by all accounts, a lower regard for his art than the other theatrical knights, but it served him well. And, unlike Olivier or Gielgud, Alec Guinness pulled off a unique double: he remains the only man in the galaxy to be knighted both by Her Majesty The Queen and the Jedi.
March 27, 2014
Nick Gillespie uses the current film Divergent as a springboard to discuss why Rand Paul’s “politically divergent” message is so unwelcome to the mainstream media who cheer for team red or team blue:
It turns out that Divergent isn’t just the top movie in America. It’s also playing out in the run-up to the 2016 presidential race, with Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, in the starring role.
Based on the first volume of a wildly popular young-adult trilogy, Divergent is set in America of the near-future, when all people are irrevocably slotted into one of five “factions” based on temperament and personality type. Those who refuse to go along with the program are marked as divergent — and marked for death! “What Makes You Different, Makes You Dangerous,” reads one of the story’s taglines.
Which pretty much sums up Rand Paul, whose libertarian-leaning politics are gaining adherents among the plurality of Americans fed up with bible-thumping, war-happy, budget-busting Republicans and promise-breaking, drone-dispatching, budget-busting Democrats. Professional cheerleaders for Team Red and Team Blue — also known as journalists — aren’t calling for Paul’s literal dispatching, but they are rushing to explain exactly why the opthalmologist has no future in politics.
A national politician who brings a Berkeley crowd to its feet by attacking NSA surveillance programs and wants to balance the budget yesterday? Who supports the Second Amendment and the Fourth Amendment (not to mention the First and the Tenth)? A Christian Republican who says that the GOP “in order to get bigger, will have to agree to disagree on social issues” and has signaled his willngness to get the federal government out of prohibiting gay marriage and marijuana?
Well, we can’t have that, can we? Forget that Paul is showing strongly in polls about the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. “He is not doing enough to build the political network necessary to mount a viable presidential campaign,” tut-tuts The New York Times, which seems to be breathing one long sigh of relief in its recent profile of Paul. “Rand Paul’s Plan to Save Ukraine is Completely Nuts,” avers amateur psychologist Jonathan Chait at New York.
March 19, 2014
Published on 18 Mar 2014
Dark Dungeons brings Jack Chick’s 1984 masterpiece to the silver screen. Visit http://darkdungeonsthemovie.com/ for exclusive updates!
Debbie and Marcie arrive at college unaware of the dangers of RPGing. They are soon indoctrinated into this dangerous lifestyle where they face the threat of learning real life magical powers, being invited to join a witches’ coven, and resisting the lure of Ms. Frost, a vile temptress of a GM. But what peril must the two friends face when they stumble across the Necronomicon and their fantasy game becomes a reality game? Find out in Dark Dungeons!
March 4, 2014
In the New York Post, Kyle Smith discusses the comedians of the 1970s and their modern day successors:
As Chevy Chase might have put it on Saturday Night Live, Harold Ramis is still dead. And with him has gone the finest era of comedy: The ’70s kind.
Ramis was as close to the king of comedy as it gets, as a writer, director and occasional sidekick for Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Back to School, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Groundhog Day.
Taking off with the movie M*A*S*H in 1970 — a huge hit that grossed $450 million in today’s dollars — and its spinoff sitcom, ’70s comedy ruled from an anti-throne of contempt for authority in all shapes. College deans, student body presidents, Army sergeants and officers, country-club swells, snooty professors and the EPA: Anyone who made it his life’s work to lord it over others got taken down with wit.
When the smoke bombs cleared and the anarchy died, comedy turned inward and became domesticated. It also became smaller.
The Cosby Show and Jerry Seinfeld didn’t seek to ridicule those in power. Instead they gave us comfy couch comedy — riffs on family and etiquette and people’s odd little habits.
Now, in the Judd Apatow era, comedy is increasingly marked by two worrying trends: One is a knee-jerk belief, held even by many of the most brilliant comedy writers, that coming up with the biggest, most outlandish gross-out gags is their highest calling.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
February 20, 2014
Anton Howes says that the recently released film is sheer individualistic and capitalistic propaganda:
The Lego Movie shows us a compelling dystopian world of conformity, regulation and authority where everyone “must follow the instructions” or be “put to sleep”. It is a tale of the battle between the chaotic, creative destruction of freedom, and the rigid, forceful regulation of bureaucracy.
The run-of-the-mill protagonist Emmet is blatantly shown to be brainwashed by repetitive and generic tv shows, corporatist celebration days like Taco Tuesdays, and a perpetually playing propaganda anthem called “Everything is Awesome” with clearly collectivist undertones: “everything is cool when you’re part of a team”. He works with other construction workers to tear down the “weird” and diverse buildings and replace them with generic ones.
But it gets so much better. The dystopian dictator’s position as both the CEO of the Octan Corporation and President of the World perfectly encapsulates the problems with corporatism and monopolies on force. Indeed, his evil plan is stultifying regulation taken to the extreme: he wants to use superglue to literally stick everything permanently into the “perfect” position, relying on a robotic army of “micro-managers” to make sure that everything is exactly how he wants it to be before being stuck into place. There could be no clearer metaphor for the perils of intruding technocrats.
February 2, 2014
Jonah Goldberg‘s 2005 column on the movie Groundhog Day, which just keeps repeating:
When I set out to write this article, I thought it’d be fun to do a quirky homage to an offbeat flick, one I think is brilliant as both comedy and moral philosophy. But while doing what I intended to be cursory research — how much reporting do you need for a review of a twelve-year-old movie that plays constantly on cable? — I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my interest. In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film’s clown makeup. On National Review Online’s group blog, The Corner, I asked readers to send in their views on the film. Over 200 e-mails later I had learned that countless professors use it to teach ethics and a host of philosophical approaches. Several pastors sent me excerpts from sermons in which Groundhog Day was the central metaphor. And dozens of committed Christians of all denominations related that it was one of their most cherished movies.
When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on “The Hidden God: Film and Faith” two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day. The rest of the films were drawn from the ranks of turgid and bleak intellectual cinema, including standards from Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. According to the New York Times, curators of the series were stunned to discover that so many of the 35 leading literary and religious scholars who had been polled to pick the series entries had chosen Groundhog Day that a spat had broken out among the scholars over who would get to write about the film for the catalogue. In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is “a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim’s Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos.” Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, “It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world.”
I know what you’re thinking: We’re talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, “Don’t drive angry,” right? Yep, that’s the one. You might like to know that the rodent in question is actually Jesus — at least that’s what film historian Michael Bronski told the Times. “The groundhog is clearly the resurrected Christ, the ever-hopeful renewal of life at springtime, at a time of pagan-Christian holidays. And when I say that the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect.”
That may be going overboard, but something important is going on here. What is it about this ostensibly farcical film about a wisecracking weatherman that speaks to so many on such a deep spiritual level?
And on the subject of the groundhog whose day it is, here’s an old post with a local-ish connection: A tribute (of sorts) to Wiarton Willie.
January 29, 2014
I’d never heard of Gabriel Over the White House, so Jonah Goldberg‘s summary was quite interesting:
The legendary media tycoon William Randolph Hearst believed America needed a strongman and that Franklin D. Roosevelt would fit the bill. He ordered his newspapers to support FDR and the New Deal. At his direction, Hearst’s political allies rallied around Roosevelt at the Democratic convention, which some believe sealed the deal for Roosevelt’s nomination.
But all that wasn’t enough. Hearst also believed the voters had to be made to see what could be gained from a president with a free hand. So he financed the film Gabriel Over the White House, starring Walter Huston. The film depicts an FDR look-alike president who, after a coma-inducing car accident, is transformed from a passive Warren Harding type into a hands-on dictator. The reborn commander-in-chief suspends the Constitution, violently wipes out corruption, and revives the economy through a national socialist agenda. When Congress tries to impeach him, he dissolves Congress.
The Library of Congress summarizes the film nicely. “The good news: He reduces unemployment, lifts the country out of the Depression, battles gangsters and Congress, and brings about world peace. The bad news: He’s Mussolini.”
Hearst wanted to make sure the script got it right, so he sent it to what today might be called a script doctor, namely Roosevelt. FDR loved it, but he did have some changes, which Hearst eagerly accepted. A month into his first term, FDR sent Hearst a thank-you note. “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House,” Roosevelt wrote. “I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.”
You can probably get the overall tone of the movie from this clip:
Even the editors at Wikipedia — hardly a hotbed of proto-fascists — describe it as “an example of totalitarian propaganda”:
Controversial since the time of its release, Gabriel Over the White House is widely acknowledged to be an example of totalitarian propaganda. Tweed, the author of the original novel, was a “liberal champion of government activism” and trusted adviser to David Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister who brought Bismarck’s welfare state to the United Kingdom. The decision to buy the story was made by producer Walter Wanger, variously described as “a liberal Democrat” or a “liberal Hollywood mogul.” After two weeks of script preparation, Wanger secured the financial backing of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s staunchest supporters, who had helped him get the Democratic presidential nomination and who enlisted his entire media empire to campaign for him. Hearst intended the film to be a tribute to FDR and an attack on previous Republican administrations.
Although an internal MGM synopsis had labeled the script “wildly reactionary and radical to the nth degree,” studio boss Louis B. Mayer “learned only when he attended the Glendale, California preview that Hammond gradually turns America into a dictatorship,” writes film historian Leonard J. Leff. “Mayer was furious, telling his lieutenant, ‘Put that picture back in its can, take it back to the studio, and lock it up!’”
Released only a few weeks after Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, the film was labeled by The New Republic “a half-hearted plea for Fascism.” Its purpose, agreed The Nation, was “to convert innocent American movie audiences to a policy of fascist dictatorship in this country.” Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter concurred in 2007 that the movie was meant to “prepare the public for a dictatorship,” as well as to be an instructional guide for FDR, who read the script during the campaign. He liked it so much that he took time during the hectic first weeks of his presidency to suggest several script rewrites that were incorporated into the ﬁlm. “An aroma of fascism clung to the heavily edited release print,” according to Leff. Roosevelt saw an advance screening, writing, “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House. I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.” Roosevelt saw the movie several times and enjoyed it. After a private screening, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that “if a million unemployed marched on Washington … I’d do what the President does in the picture!”
In the Guardian, Alison Flood rounds up some fascinating comments that Alan Moore made in what might be his final interview:
Comics god Alan Moore has issued a comprehensive sign-off from public life after shooting down accusations that his stories feature racist characters and an excessive amount of sexual violence towards women.
The Watchmen author also used a lengthy recent interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid at Slovobooks entitled “Last Alan Moore interview?” — to expand upon his belief that today’s adults’ interest in superheroes is potentially “culturally catastrophic”, a view originally aired in the Guardian last year.
“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”
The award-winning Moore used the interview to address criticism over his inclusion of the Galley-Wag character — based on Florence Upton’s 1895 Golliwogg creation — in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, saying that “it was our belief that the character could be handled in such a way as to return to him the sterling qualities of Upton’s creation, while stripping him of the racial connotations that had been grafted onto the Golliwog figure by those who had misappropriated and wilfully misinterpreted her work”.
And he rebutted the suggestion that it was “not the place of two white men to try to ‘reclaim’ a character like the golliwogg”, telling Ó Méalóid that this idea “would appear to be predicated upon an assumption that no author or artist should presume to use characters who are of a different race to themselves”.
“Since I can think of no obvious reason why this principle should only relate to the issue of race — and specifically to black people and white people — then I assume it must be extended to characters of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, political persuasions and, possibly most uncomfortably of all for many people considering these issues, social classes … If this restriction were universally adopted, we would have had no authors from middle-class backgrounds who were able to write about the situation of the lower classes, which would have effectively ruled out almost all authors since William Shakespeare.”
H/T to Ghost of a flea for the link.
January 22, 2014
Published on 20 Dec 2012
……and snappeth the spear in sunder.
Short film detailing how this great film was made.
With contributions from Lady Ellen Baker, James Booth, Glynn Edwards and others.
Update: Zulu was primarily the story of the defence of Rorke’s Drift by B Company of the 24th Regiment under temporary command of Royal Engineer Lieutenant John Chard (who was senior to Lieutenant Bromhead of the 24th). Less well-known is the larger battle of Isandlwana which happened earlier the same day, where Zulu forces defeated a much larger British force. This show investigates the site of the battle, discussing some of the reasons why the battle was quickly forgotten, as one of the worst British defeats of the Victorian era:
Published on 8 Sep 2013
We are all familiar with the famous story of a handful of British redcoats fending off thousands of Zulu warriors, made famous by the film starring Michael Caine, but this did well to mask another battle just a few miles away where 1,300 British were slaughtered by the natives in just two and a half hours. This fascinating programme looks at what went wrong for the British Empire builders on that fateful day.
January 16, 2014
This should be entertaining: not the film, the reactions to the announcement of a romantic remake of 1984:
The literary world is agog, reeling, aghast, at the news that Kristen Stewart is going to star in a romantic remake of 1984. You read that right. Romantic. Remake. 1984.
Anyway, the news has sent literary types into a flat spin. “THIS IS MY ROOM 101,” bellowed Chocolat author Joanne Harris on Twitter. “This is more chilling than ANYTHING actually in 1984,” said publisher Gollancz, adding: “Ministry of Truth announces ‘romantic adaptation’ of 1984. Then announces its own closure as there is nothing left for it to do.” And “just to finish my terrible mood off, I read this about one of my favourite books. *head implodes*,” tweeted author Sarah Pinborough.
Pinborough managed to find a bright spot, however — “I’m quite entertained by the thought of a million Twilight fans rushing out to buy 1984 after it”. Let’s hope she’s right — and literary Twitter has been cheering itself up by imaging how, exactly, this Orwellian romance will play out. Will Big Brother be overthrown? Will Winston and Julia’s love conquer all? And what about the rats — what place do they have in a love story of epic, epic, epic proportion?
H/T to Terry Teachout:
"Nineteen Eighty-Four," the romcom: http://t.co/z7njQe7rLH
— Terry Teachout (@terryteachout) January 15, 2014
Those aghast at the news might also not have considered how well Kirsten Stewart can play an expressionless automaton.
Jokes aside, there is perhaps a legitimate silver lining to Hollywood interpreting the greatest anti-totalitarian novel of the 20th century as a romance.
The struggle against fascism and totalitarianism consumed most the 20th century. It was the defining conflict of Orwell’s life, and he dedicated most of his short time here to fighting it, both on the page and in the trenches as a militiaman in the Spanish Civil War.
By contrast, the youngest generation in the West, and even in former Eastern Bloc countries, has grown up in a post-Soviet world that has never faced a truly existential threat. They weren’t even born when the fearsome year of 1984 rolled around. (This probably explains the title change, because what tween Twilight fan wants to go see another ‘80s movie?)
January 3, 2014
No, I don’t mean get rid of strong characters … but lets move on from the patronizingly token “strong” female character who is just physically strong:
… Hollywood has taken our love of strong female characters and converted it into something dully literal. Strong female characters have become Strong Female Characters, a mutant sub-genus that has less to do with actual women than T-Rexes: physically intimidating, but mentally nonthreatening. But muscle strength isn’t all that interesting on its own — otherwise, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme would be where George Clooney and Brad Pitt are on the Hollywood A-list. As Sophia McDougall argued this summer in the pop culture feminist critique of the year, strength is too often a substitute for personality where female characters are concerned.
The Mary Sue points out in yet an interview with Neil Gaiman about — you guessed it, “Strong Female Characters,” because he and Joss Whedon are apparently the world’s only authorities on writing interesting women — that “strong female characters don’t necessarily have to have Hulk strength, they need to be strongly written.” Well, sure, we all want female characters to be strongly written, but the problem is no one knows exactly what that means anymore.
Like the Bechdel test, the “female characters with agency” solution is an imperfect one. But we humans really enjoy our one-stop solutions and easy fixes, and plot-driving female characters is the one we need right now. Because the problem with the representation of women on screen isn’t just that there are almost five times as many male characters as there are female ones, but also that the relatively few women characters who do appear are constantly reduced to roles of passivity and, thus, inconsequentiality.
Female characters don’t always have to win, but we’d like to at least see them try. The time has passed when we are satisfied with a woman character holding a gun or kicking butt as a cheap, insincere nod toward equality. We’re done with strength. Now we want to see the struggles.
H/T to @Elisabeth for the link.
January 2, 2014
At Techdirt, Mike Masnick mourns the creative works that should have entered the public domain yesterday, but thanks to Congress will remain locked up for much, much longer:
As they do every year, unfortunately, the good folks at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke have put together a depressing list of what should have entered the public domain yesterday. As you hopefully know, until 1978, the maximum amount of time that work in the US could be covered by copyright was 56 years (you initially received a 28 year copyright term, which could be renewed for another 28 years). That means, back in 1957, everyone who created the works in that list knew absolutely, and without a doubt that their works would be given back to the public to share, to perform, to build on and more… on January 1, 2014 at the very latest. And they all still created their works, making clear that the incentive of a 56 year monopoly was absolutely more than enough incentive to create.
And yet, for reasons that still no one has made clear, Congress unilaterally changed the terms of the deal, took these works away from the public, without any compensation at all, and will keep them locked up for at least another 40 years. At least.
And it’s not just arts and entertainment. The post points out plenty of science and technology is still locked up thanks to all of this.
1957 was a noteworthy year for science: the USSR launched Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2, IBM released the first FORTRAN compiler, and the UK’s Medical Research Council published an early report linking smoking and lung cancer. There were groundbreaking publications in the fields of superconductivity and astrophysics such as “Theory of Superconductivity” by John Bardeen, L.N. Cooper, and J.R. Schrieffer and “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars… ” by Geofrey Burbidge, Margaret Burbidge, William Fowler, and Fred Hoyle.
They further make an important point that while the works listed above grab all the attention, because they were so successful, the real shame is in lots of other works that are simply not available at all any more. And this would likely include all sorts of works from 1985. After all, works created in 1985, if created under the old law, would have been given an initial 28 year copyright term, which would also be expiring, and if history is any guide, the vast majority of those would not have their copyrights renewed. Instead, they’re locked up… and quite frequently completely unavailable, with a very real risk of being lost to history.
The really crazy part about all of this is that it’s the exact opposite of the entire original purpose of copyright. Copyright law was put in place specifically to encourage the creation of works that would be put into the public domain to promote learning, knowledge and understanding. Yet, instead, it’s been distorted, twisted and misrepresented into a system that is used solely to lock stuff up, make it less accessible and less available, limiting the ability to promote knowledge and learning. What a shame.
December 28, 2013
Actually, Dr. J says a more faithful movie would stink (note that there are mild spoilers in the quoted section and bigger spoilers in the full post):
I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I read it for the first time when I was six years old and have returned to it many times over the years. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the cheesy cartoon version of the story that Rankin/Bass did when I was a kid. I’ve shoved the book into each of my children’s hands as soon as I thought his reading skills could handle it.
So I can understand it when writers I respect, such as Daniel Larison at the American Conservative, express a sense of horror at Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of the beloved book, particularly the second film, The Desolation of Smaug, which is now in theaters. The criticisms abound. Why did Jackson think he could turn a 200-page children’s book into three lengthy films? Why does he have Gandalf wandering around mountain tombs and an old, ruined fortress, settings that appear nowhere in the book? Why did he put Legolas in the film when the elf does not appear in the book? Why does Bard the bowman get a complicated back story that’s absent in the book? Why does Smaug chase the dwarves around the halls of Erebor when they never even confronted each other in the book? (Are you noticing a pattern here?)
What appears to be the common desire of these critics is for Jackson to have made a simpler Hobbit with the story told in one or (at most) two films and with a script that hews closely to the text of the original book. As something of a Tolkien purist myself, I completely understand this wish. However, although I disagree with some of Jackson’s decisions (particularly the elf/dwarf romance in the Desolation of Smaug), I have to come to his defense on his overall approach to these films. In fact, I’m certain that the “faithful film adaptation” of the 1937 Hobbit these critics seem to want would in fact turn out to be awful, or at least fall far short of Tolkien’s ultimate vision. Here are five reasons why:
December 27, 2013
At the Smithsonian blog, Rachel Nuwer talks to some Tolkien scholars about the latest installment of The Hobbit:
Die-hard J.R.R. Tolkien fans, however, likely side with that first review, as shown in some blog posts, Reddit threads and Tolkien forums. Jackson strayed from The Hobbit book in his first movie but those additions largely borrowed from Tolkien’s broader lore. In this film, however, the director has taken more liberties, beefing up the action and introducing invented characters such as Tauriel, the “she-elf,” but sacrificing some development of beloved characters in the process.
To stretch The Hobbit — originally a light-hearted 300-page children’s story — into what, in the end, will likely be a nearly nine-hour epic trilogy, Jackson again relied on three main sources: original material from The Hobbit book, including expanding on minor elements that were mentioned only in passing in that text; details that Tolkien revealed in The Lord of the Rings books and their Appendices; and things he just made up himself. The sly allusions to Tolkien’s broader world are still there, but they are even more obscure than before. In some ways, however, this makes picking out those hidden gems and Easter eggs all the more appealing for fans.
Last year, we consulted with two Tolkien experts, John Rateliff, an independent scholar, and Michael Drout, an English professor at Wheaton College, to help us sort through the cinematic noise and identify true Tolkien threads. We’ve returned to them this year to get their take on the new movie and help us navigate the sliding scale from unadulterated Tolkien to Jackson invention.