Monday, 11 January 2010

Triangulation: Barbarians, Painbrushes, Hobbits, & Avatars

Another semi-busy week.

First off, I join in the Tolkien birthday celebrations, with my next "Barbarians of Middle-earth" article. I have to say, one of my favourite bits in Jackson's The Return of the King was that big tattooed Haradrim Mumak-driver, grunting and yawping like mad. He wasn't like any Haradrim I imagined, but he was fun, one of the few characters that I found engaging, for all the second he appears. I was very sad to see him killed in such ludicrous fashion: I was hoping for a big showdown with Theoden (like in the books) but apparently it was more important for Eomer to kill two Mumaks with one shot. Because as anyone knows, the best way to make the odds look insurmountable is to have the five-story monsters insultingly easy to kill.

I also have to love Jackson's wish to avoid racist stereotypes by, effectively, just switching the targets. Instead of possibly being insensitive to Muslims, let's just be insensitive to Pacific Islanders and Polynesians. Rather than, you know, emphasising the fact that the Haradrim are at best deceived, and at worst enslaved, by Sauron? In the half-hour epilogue bonanza, would it have killed them to have spend a few seconds to show the reconciliation between Gondor and the Haradrim, thus solidifying the idea that these guys were alright when they weren't ruled by the darkest, most insidious force on the planet? Argh. It just bugs me.

On Tuesday, I do a proper tribute to Dan "PainBrush" Goudey. A week later, and I still can't believe it.

Wednesday, and I have to comment on The Hobbit casting call. I really think the script is what lets down the Jackson Lord of the Rings films for me: simplistic dialogue smooshed together awkwardly with Tolkien's prose, mucking about with the story and characters, leaving out great scenes from the book and replacing them with half-baked fan fiction. I really hope TORN is right, and this doesn't reflect the film at large. I still demand Brian Blessed as Balin.

Saturday is Avatar time. I went into the film extremely skeptical. All the talk I heard about it being a masterpiece and a "game-changer" simply ellicited the contrary aspect of my personality ("five stars, eh? We'll see about that!") Still, I was pleasantly surprised. Stephen Lang was distilled, deep-fried, eighteen-months-matured, gold-plated awesome. The effects were remarkably convincing, and I'm the sort of guy who thinks the special effects in Jurassic Park were the apex of CGI (and still do, as a matter of fact). Pandora's world and creatures, while hardly anything I've never seen before, were beautifully realised.

Still, it ain't perfect. The plot is really, really straightforward, with absolutely zero suprises. Sigourney Weaver does a great job, but I hated her character, who came across as obnoxiously abrasive in the beginning, to the point that I didn't really care when she died. Jake Sully was a compete imbecile: what kind of idiot tries to bat away a seemingly magical thing immediately after he was already chastised for it? "Baby" indeed. All I can say is now that James Cameron films dominate the top two grossing blockbusters, he's going to be insufferable.

There was one dilemma not related to plot: who would I be backing, the robots or the "dinosaurs"? Since the giant mechanised suits weren't technically "robots," it was easy to back the dinosaurs. Damn, I'd love to see a proper Dinotopia done like this.

One thing bugs me though: the Na'vi use feathers on their arrows, yet I didn't see a single feathered lifeform on Pandora. The birds all had slick membranous wings. So where were the Na'vi getting their feathers?


  1. Tell me about those mumakil and that silly Legolas stunt. *shakes head*

    Or the Gondorian tinfoil armour. They got an armour specialist with John Howe, and the stuff looks pretty good (except for the nipple helmets) but then Faramir gets hit by two arrows right in the middle of the breastplate. Damn, could they not have stuck the arrows into weak spots of the armour (I bet Howe could have pointed those out), or dress Faramir in mail only, or give the Orc a Welsh longbow? Though the latter might have looked a bit funny, I admit.

    But I like the moment when Théoden spurs the Rohirrim on with that sword banging on spears ritual and calling, "Death!" If we can't get Éomer throwing his sword into the air and sing those 'Ride now' lines, that's at least a good replacement (and Éomer's role was sadly reduced in the movie anyway).

  2. The Gondorian tinfoil bothered me quite a bit too: what's the point if it offers practically no protection? I don't see what was wrong with sticking to plain old mail: it was good enough for Aragorn.

    Though I hated Theoden's characterisation, I felt Bernard Hill did a fine job with what he was given: the speech and that poem in "Towers" was quite nicely acted.

    Aye, poor old Eomer can't get a break. I also wish they had more parts with Aragorn & Eomer, like a short scene recognizing Eomer as King of Rohan. But no, we had to have Legolas Mumak-surfing...

  3. The acting was one of the redeeming factors of the movie (and I include Gollum here). Most visuals were stunning and I appreciate the effort they put into the details to create Middle Earth. I love the music, and there were some great scenes - it's still one of the few movies I ever bothered to buy the Extended Edition.

    But instead of Éomer offering his sword to Théoden - "Take this, my lord. It was ever at your service." we get Aragorn falling off the Cliff of Uncanonicity, that whole Arwen's fate is now tied to the ring-nonsense, Gimli as comic relief and Leggy stunts. And why in the name of Illúvatar is Gimli the one to present Aragorn with the crown? That would have been Faramir's task who after all IS the Steward of Gondor. But no, he has to stand around at the side of Éowyn so we can understand that they're in love - a detail people who didn't read the book would not have gotten in the first place. *sigh*

    Ok, rant over, lol. I'm just rereading the books for the umptieth time, so I have LOTR on my brain. ;)

    (I wish The Cimmerian blog had a comment feature so I could thank Miguel for taking the historical inaccuracies or the Rome series to task. Those irked me, too.)

  4. Hi Al and Gabriele, my own take on the LOTR films is a good deal more lenient than yours, but I do admit that they contain some flaws: some minor, and others that irk me heavily. I hated the green-ghost army that negated the bravery and sacrifice of the Rohirrim worst of all. Gimli was largely reduced to a comic device. I liked the early touches with Legolas (walking on the snow in the pass of caradhras was a nice touch, and subtle), but then Jackson felt the need to go way over the top. I could have done without the stair collapsing scene in Moria and Aragorn over the cliff.

    Still, I maintained up until 2001 that LOTR was unfilmable, and Jackson proved me wrong. I think overall these are great films (though the books will always be better). I agree with you Gabriele about the acting: Sean Bean, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill, Ian McKellen, and Merry and Pippin were great. Viggo Mortensen and Elijah Wood were fair, I just think that their characters were written too conflicted (and in Wood's case, weepy).

    By the way, thanks for making me throw up in my mouth a little with The Hobbit casting-call news, Al. I'm praying that it is an unfounded rumor.

    I also enjoyed your review of Avatar. I liked the film too, and the visuals were stunning. But I think it's going to be one of those movies that doesn't age well. I don't have the urge to rewatch it, which is generally my litmus test for whether a film will stand the test of time.

  5. AAAAARGH That bloody cliff! That and pretty much everything they did to Denethor is probably my biggest complaint. I'll be sure to pass along your appreciation to Miguel.

    For some reason, I was never a fan of Ian's Gandalf: for whatever reason he didn't seem wily or "peppery" enough, though he was best in the first film. Aside from that, I concur with your list (though I could take or leave Dom's Merry). I wanted to punch Elijah so many times, especially when he dropped the sword at Weathertop. BOOOOO!

    I'm dreadfully sorry about the Hobbit news. Wait, no I'm not: misery loves company! I think there's a good chance it's unfounded, though it gave me a good opportunity to rant.

    I don't plan on rewatching Avatar either, much as I squeal like a fangirl about Stephen Lang's preposterously testosterone (preposterone?)-fueled colonel. I really hope this is a big break for him, and he'll get meatier roles.

  6. Oh yeah, the character assassination of Denethor. Don't get me started on THAT. The scriptscrewers may love the book, but in some cases I wonder if they understood it. They surely failed to grasp the mentality, born from the old epics Tolkien loved, that a man fought until the bitter end and with no hope left. In the book Denethor never gives up on the war even though he thinks Frodo has been captured and the ring is lost, and he sends Faramir on a suicide mission because he does not want to abandon an outpost without a fight. In the movie he has pretty much given up and still sends Faramir off to Osgiliath which makes no sense.

    And those table manners, Gandalf whacking him with his staff, that torch thing ....