There and Back Again

(Spoilers. Obviously. Probably a lot of them.)

So it’s over. Or at least it’s almost over. I am nowhere near done processing yet, but there will never be a new one of these, and, well, that’s the story. I have a lot of feelings, mostly tending towards the good, though there are still a few things I am sorting out.

One thing I don’t have to sort out, though? My favourite moment. For a movie that was basically a gigantic battle sequence, I am a little surprised that it’s a quiet moment (previously, my favourite moments have always been The Charge, but this movie didn’t really have a one), but it is, without question, the moment when Thorin talked himself out of gold sickness. Let me say that again: Thorin talked himself out of gold sickness. He did it by remembering things that people had said, of course, but he still decided not to be his grandfather, and that was AMAZING. I wasn’t a huge fan of how it was shot (I mean, Richard Armitage is a stage actor. He does not need that much slow motion and voice distortion to get his point across), and it made Kili’s big character moment hilariously redundant, but THORIN TALKED HIMSELF OUT OF GOLD SICKNESS, and it’ll probably be a while before I am over that.

The runner up is the part where Kili was basically fridged for Tauriel’s emotional development. Because that almost never happens, and if you’re going to kill him away from everyone else anyway (more on that in a moment), you might as well get real mileage out of it. Not only Tauriel, though, but Thranduil (in that Tauriel finally understands him a bit better) and Legolas as well (all grown up!). I was very impressed (and sad. Like, she saves him FOUR TIMES, but he is doooooooomed, and my feelings).

Also, I won a bet re: when Smaug would bite it, so that was nice. That scene was great, except I desperately wish that Bard’s family had got to do more stuff as Bard’s family, instead of just Bard and Bain all the time. And there was about 100% too much Asshole Lackey Dude (which, in addition to the awful cross-dressing gag and the general uncomfortableness of all his scenes, he single-handedly prevented this movie from passing the Bechtel test. TYPICAL DUDE BRO. UGH).

I can’t even be RATIONAL about the Dol Guldur scenes. In a movie with a bunch of great fight scenes, it’s pretty fantastic that the youngest person in the best one was Hugo Weaving. But really: Galadriel. HOLY GOD. That was amazing and I am very happy about it and RING BEARERS FOR THE WIN.

Tauriel, my heart, was amazing. I loved how she was fucking terrified of everything, and let none of that stop her. I loved that she worked her way up to standing up to Thranduil. I loved her peace with Legolas and the resolution of her affection for Kili. And I also really loved her final conversation with Thranduil, where she finally gets what he was trying to prevent her from experiencing, even though they are fucking elves, so it’s always going to be an issue.

Legolas had both the best and dumbest stunts, as per usual, but I really love watching him fight so I totally don’t care. I loved where his story ended up (even though Aragorn is a whopping 10 years old at this point, though the movie timeline has always been a little screwy, so WHO KNOWS?).

I liked Dain a lot more than I expected to, given that he just kind of showed up (ON A WAR PIG), and mouthed off a lot. He didn’t get a pile of development, but I could easily imagine him as the King who will go toe to toe with a FUCKING NAZGUL in a few decades, and then die at the ripe old age of SUPER OLD, defending his kingdom one last time.

And…the dwarves. Whom I have saved for last because…well, it’s complicated.

I almost want to withhold judgement until I see the full extended version. Because there is one really odd moment when Dwalin disappears, and I am pretty sure that’s where Balin comes with the ice sledge thingy (you can see it behind them when they charge, and it’s in the trailer). It was weird because none of the dwarves saw Thorin die. I expected a loud, sad, blatantly manipulative scene…and then I realized what I was expecting was basically something we’d already seen (ie. Théoden, Éomer and Éowyn on the Pelennor), so I was kind of glad that Jackson chose to go another direction with it.

Let’s start with Fili. Lord, I may never recover. When Gandalf was all “He’s taking his best warriors with him!” I was all “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and then they split the fuck up, and I was all “NO THAT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA.”, and then Fili, Just. I can’t. It was awful. As it SHOULD be.

Kili’s death was a little different, as I started to get into above, because it was for Tauriel, not Thorin. Again, a totally unexpected choice, but one that I think worked in a lot of ways because 1. Dudes don’t often die for Ladies to Grow As People, and 2. if you’re going to bypass the whole “defending him with shield and body” thing for ONE of the brothers, it only makes sense to do it for the other one as well.

(I think what was the hardest about Fili and Kili’s death scenes was that in any other movie, there would have been a Dramatic Rescue, and we, as consumers, have been more or less trained to expect that. So it was WEIRD and AWFUL and REALLY GOOD, but also a little more brain than heart, which I was only barely capable of by that point in the film.)

And then there was Thorin. His fight sequence with Azog was really well choreographed and planned, but having it take place with zero witnesses was the strangest choice in the entire film. I totally get why (and it was supported in the movie dialogue which I appreciate a lot), but it also made it REALLY HARD for me to connect to it. Again, I think the movie was its own worst enemy here, because we have seen this happen a lot (most memorably, for me, is when Legolas sees Aragorn go down under the troll and pushes his way through the crowd to get to him, but it happens to Éomer and Éowyn too). I wish there had been some reaction, though, from a dwarf. I assume in that in the cut scenes, will see Balin and Dwalin (at the least) being unable to get to him. I’m going to have to watch it more times, I think, but I expected a lot of screaming and very loud mourning, and not getting it IN THE SLIGHTEST is leaving me kind of…cold about the whole sequence.

(I’m allowing it because that’s EXACTLY how it plays out in the book in terms of emotional fallout. Bilbo is knocked unconscious, and then when Thorin dies he has a quiet cry, but we also hear about how Beorn showed up and killed Bolg, and prevented Thorin’s head from being cut off, just at the last minute. Not seeing that, really, not seeing Beorn really do anything AT ALL was the only part of the movie in which I was truly disappointed.)

Here’s to a longer movie with MORE DWARF FEELINGS, because at this point, that’s what I feel was truly missing from this. I loved the feelings we DID get, but I was hoping for more. I didn’t cry, I didn’t even come CLOSE, and that really tells you all you need to know, because if there was ever a person who was going to lose her shit at this movie, it’s me.

ANYWAY: I am ending up with Bilbo, because: Hobbits.

I am not a huge Martin Freeman fan, but I cannot deny that he was excellent in this. I loved seeing Bilbo at every extreme in this movie. All of his scenes were great (OH GOD, THE ARKENSTONE!), and even though the part where Thorin threatened to kill him didn’t quite live up to my hopes for it, I was still very impressed by the entire “thief in the night” sequence (except the part where Thranduil ordered his archers to shoot anything that moved and then they DIDN’T SEE BILBO even though he wasn’t wearing the Ring). I liked the bit with the acorn and having the contract during the auction and the conversation with Gandalf and then, of course, the bookend with Ian Holm.

So overall, I enjoyed it a lot. The pacing was great (which was my biggest worry going in), and it remains visually striking and beautifully made (I can’t wait to see the HFR, because I know it will be so much better that way). I somehow managed to get almost exactly what I wanted from a movie that was nothing at all like what I was expecting, and I think that is pretty neat. It’s over, but it is over well.

I can’t wait to watch it again.

Looking Out The Window

Since I am about to plunge into my own revisions and face down decisions about what to do with things like cellphones and laptop computers, I thought it might be a good time to talk about credibility in fiction when it comes to methods of communication. Or, you know, it’s entirely possible that I’ve been thinking a lot about Middle Earth and this just seems like as good a post as any to hang this on. You pick. 🙂

Anyhoodle, one of the things I always had an easy time wrapping my head around as a kid was how BIG Middle Earth was. I know a lot of people complain about the plodding pace of the Hobbit and The Fellowship, in particular, but it’s a LONG way anywhere in Middle Earth. The movies more or less completely fail to capture this, despite the lingering shots of New Zealand. They try. I mean, Gimli has a line about how it’s been three days without sight of their quarry, but I have my doubts that the days and days in Mirkwood (without food, no less!) will make it into the movie.

And mostly that’s fine. There are nuances that simply do not translate well to modern movies, even though it does have the unfortunate side effect of making Thranduil look like a jerk because he could have solved 90% of Middle Earth’s problems, had he LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW on occasion.

(You can’t just blame the elves for this, by the way. Pretty much all of the various races of Middle Earth are equally bad at it. No, seriously. When Balin and Ori and Oin went to Moria, they sent regular updates for a while. And then they just stopped. And for TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, the Erebor dwarves were all “You know, maybe we should…” but didn’t. I mean, it’s not like Balin had set off for a hugely dangerous, much contested territory, where one time Dain MADE EYE CONTACT WITH THE DEVIL*.)

But that’s the thing about epic fantasy: there is no easy way to communicate. Hobbiton to the Lonely Mountain is like walking to Florida (as the crow flies, and over flat ground, neither of which are possible at the time of the Hobbit). Even when communication is aided by magical means**, there is usually some kind of price for it.

There’s a price for communication in contemporary settings too***. Technology moves very quickly now, so that even a book I wrote a year ago has somethings in it that are already dated.

The classic example, of course, is the movie YOU’VE GOT MAIL, which came out in 1998. Think of all the ways we couldn’t talk to each other fifteen years ago. I had an email address, because we all got one when we were in Australia, but I almost never used it once I got home because I had no one to email. I’m pretty sure we were still using Windows 95, and I don’t think we had the internet at home yet. And that was normal. We phoned Australia on special occasions, but it was expensive.

In the time since then, I’ve lived in 4 different countries, and the only time I had limited communication was in Jordan, when I had to walk down two flights of stairs to access the wireless. Even the workmen on site, who live in tin sheds next to the wadi, had cellphones.

So. The problem in writing stories becomes keeping technology reasonably current, without making it immediately dated. There are still a lot of ways to cheat. Your protagonist can have “old fashioned” parents, who limit them to clunky cellphone with no data plan. Your protagonist can be forced to pay for his or her own technology, thereby limiting access to whatever is available on the current minimum wage or babysitting rate. Your protagonist can have a teacher who insists on handwritten essays because he is concerned about the lack of penmanship in his current generation of students.

That’s enough for a start. But you still have to make decisions like “is there going to be a Facebook-equivalent?” and “How smart are their smart phones?” and “Why didn’t I write a book where they all live in the woods and use candles for reading lights?”

The most important thing is to be consistent. If Thranduil never looks out the window and notices that Sauron has moved in across the street, he has to keep not looking out the window. If your character has an iPhone in chapter one, she needs a good excuse to write an essay on paper in chapter seven. Ask kids, ask their teachers, and ask their parents. Someone will tell you what makes the most sense.

Failing that, keep good notes and do your best not to freak out when your editor notices a small plot discrepancy and then asks you what your take on the technological development of the world you half-invented is. Which is certainly not what I spent last week stewing over****. Keep a grip on the world you’ve built, and nine times out of ten, it’ll have an answer for you when you need it.

**Or magical moths. Or Brain Skyping with Galadriel.
***And Sci-fi too, I hasten to add, though usually in sci-fi you can just break whatever it is your characters use .
****Kind of is.

Stories Without Reason

Don’t get me wrong. You should always have a reason to tell a story. It certainly helps while writing them, and it makes reading them a lot easier. That’s not exactly what I meant. Maybe it’s “stories without explanation”.

There’s this film. You may have heard of it. It’s called “The Expendables”. It did so well they made a sequel. The basic premise is this: every action star, ever. And then they fight.

Except it’s not every action star ever. There are a few notable absences. I bet you can guess who they are.

“The Expendables” bills a whopping nine actors above the name of the movie on the poster. There are two female characters in the whole movie. One of them is Charisma Carpenter who, it could be argued, is kind of an action star? I mean, she had to do stunts on “Buffy” and “Angel”. But it’s a stretch. The other is Giselle Itié, who is not an action star at all.

“The Expendables 2” busts out ELEVEN actors billed above the title. None of them are female. Nan Yu is vaguely action-y, which is nice, but still.

Here’s my complaint. It’s not that I’m annoyed by the Token Girl (I am). It’s not that I think it’s ridiculous that not even JOSS FREAKING WHEDON could manage to have two female characters speak to each other in “The Avengers” (I do). It’s not even that I wish we’d get more female centric action movies (because, oh lordy, I WISH THAT)*.

It’s the explanation.

Imagine, if you will, a movie. It stars Helen Mirren, Judy Dench, Angelina Jolie, Mila Jovovich, Kate Beckinsale, Sarah Michelle Geller, Zoe Saldana, Maggie Q, Michelle Wu, Michelle Rodriguez and, because I have a weakness for her (and also it would BLOW MY MIND), Maggie Smith. Imagine it’s the exact same plot as “The Expendables 2”. I’ll even let you have Liam Hemsworth as the other gendered ingenue.

Why, I wonder, are these women kick-ass spies and fighters?

We don’t have to wonder that about guys. We just assume they are. We assume there is no one better for the job.

It’s not just movies. I tried watching Aaron Sorkin’s new show “The Newsroom”, and in addition to being bored out of my mind, I was very put off by the female characters. When that happens, I like to imagine flipping everyone’s genders without changing anyone’s character traits. I imagined Sally Field in the lead role, maybe with Sissy Spacek (or Carrie Fisher!) playing Sam Waterson’s part. That show? That show I probably would have watched.

It’s not realistic. I know this. I love “Flashpoint” to death, but one of its biggest weaknesses is the lack of female roles (um, female combat roles. There are plenty of victims). But I don’t exactly watch television for the realism. And when I tell you that I would watch (and adore) and entire show populated by Jules Callaghan, it is the emphatic truth. But, you could argue, it’s just TV.

I went to a conference about Forensics and Forensic Archaeology once. We talked about Iraq and the London Bombings. We talked about using x-rays to track abuse in South Africa. We talked about Rwanda and Ipswich (which at the time was hosting a serial killer…several of the speakers had to cancel at the last minute, actually), and then this tiny woman from the London Police stood up, and talked to us about CSI.

They laughed at her, at first, when she brought it up. I laughed too. Because being a forensic scientist in the age of CSI is…well, it’s annoying. But then this tiny person looked out at the room of students and foreign scholars and police officers and military types, and she said:

“I know that isn’t how it is. I know that. But that’s how it should be. What they show on that TV show, how fast they get results and how quickly the databases spring to action. The technology. That is what we should be trying to do.”

Nobody breathed, pretty much for the rest of her presentation.

Television and movies are important, because that’s how people choose to spend their time. I want my nephew to see amazing female characters doing amazing things on television so that he expects them in real life. For crying out loud, I want to see them. I want more than one or two women per show. I want Katniss Everdeen to the the rule, not the exception. I want Firefly every damn time**. It’s not asking too much. I want “Brave” to be “another great movie about a girl and her mother” and not one of the ONLY ONES in recent memory. I want Maggie Smith with a very large gun, leading the bad guys into a trap and then SHOOTING THE CRAP out of them.

And I want it to just happen. With no explanation.


Some Links:
Life Less Ordinary: In which CJ Cregg runs for President.
Another Reason Buffy is Awesome: In which it is proven, WITH SCIENCE, that watching Buffy (and other shows with great female characters) makes you a better person.



*Yup, still bitter about the whole “Ant Man” situation. And if Natasha doesn’t get a substantial part in “The Winter Soldier”, I’m going to be kind of annoyed.
**Firefly wasn’t perfect, but what makes it “the best” is that there were four female characters, and all of them were powerful in very different ways. And all of them were still very female.