Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” [review]

Frodo in the mountains, brandishing StingI love J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “Lord of the Rings” books. I thought Peter Jackson cut out exactly what he should have to make the movies, although perhaps a bit too much of the Eowyn bits. If anything, I think he improved on the trilogy.

I didn’t read the Hobbit until after I had already read Lord of the Rings. It was a good kids book, and I would have loved it had I read it when I was a kid, but after LotR, it was fluff.

Not so for my husband, who read it first. When I listened to my husband read “The Hobbit” aloud to our child, I got a whole different perspective. The Hobbit is a stand alone book. A novel.

Of course, I had to see The Hobbit with my family over the holidays. Since 3D glasses never work well for those of us who wear corrective lenses (and I think astigmatism makes it worse) I was quite happy to go to a non-3D screening.

It was, sadly, disappointing.

There were bits that were fine. The actors were flawless. But it just went on too long. I couldn’t help noticing a great many gratuitous camera movements, which I think were there partly to emphasize the 3D thing, and partly to stretch it out. I can always tell a film has failed to hold my attention when my mind wanders and starts noticing technical aspects.

It had the feel of being padded. And added to. But when you consider that Tolkien’s “Hobbit” is much much shorter than Lord of the rings. The only way to stretch it out to fill three feature films is by adding and padding.

Mr. Jackson has certainly proven himself capable.  Still, it does call for an awful lot of additional material.

A great deal more background than I remembered from the book was laid out to lay a basis for dwarf and elf mistrust, as Jackson tells us the history of how Smaug the Dragon got the gold (and the mountain). Perhaps this came from appendices, or the Silmarillion, or maybe it was extrapolated purely to help stretch of the film. Either way, it didn’t engage me.

It was nice to see Frodo and Bilbo on the day of Bilbo’s party, but, old friends or not, there was just a bit too much of it.

When the actual story finally does begin with the meeting of Gandalf and young Bilbo, it’s rather a slow start. There’s so little to do or say, and they spend rather a lot of time smoking. I’ve not been to a cinema in quite some time, but it was a bit shocking to see such a lot of it, particularly in a children’s film.

It began to perk up with the introduction of dwarves into Bag End, with a delightful disruption to young Bilbo’s stodgy conservative life. For a while it was starting to look as though the film would be alright after all.

In the book, the Dwarvish Quest to reclaim their mountain was serious, but it was also light hearted. In the film version, the tone is much darker,

The gratuitous insertion of Galadriel apparently necessitated a scene with Gandalf and Saruman that really didn’t make any sense at all. That is to say, the sense of the scene was that Gandalf and Galadriel weren’t quite trusting Saruman. Which is odd, and totally fails to mesh with the story ahead. The only reason Saruman was able to capture and imprison Gandalf in LotR was because Gandalf trusted him.

And what’s up with Orcs that can travel by day? That breaks the rules already set, and makes Saruman’s hybrid day travelling orcs in Lord of the Rings utterly redundent.  (Ooops.)

Peter Jackson’s version of the film missed the boat on the single most important point: “The Hobbit” is a kids book, not “Lord of the Rings.”

I do love “Lord of the Rings,” it is hugely dark, grim and depressing as hell. The Hobbit book is not, and the movie certainly should not be.

Perhaps most important of all, the Hobbit book is fun. The movie version is not.

Peter Jacson in profile (circa Lord of the Rings)
“Hobbit” Filmmaker Peter Jackson

Granted, Peter Jackson is a hugely talented film maker. And he filmed things from the book in his “The Hobbit Part One” film. But the movie version is far darker than the book was ever meant to be.  While there are moments of clearly kid humour — like the “Thumper” harnessed to the bunny sled it is overall a movie for adults.  I would not recommend this film for children at all.

Instead of being a film of the book, Jackson’s “Hobbit” wasn’t a cinematic version of the standalone book, but rather a Lord of the Rings prequel.

Clearly this decision does not serve the story, although it will no doubt economically employ many people much longer, and make the Studios much more money than had if they had actually made a faithful version of the book.

Who knows, down the line, they will no doubt make a proper film version of the story. And make even more profit.

So the film is a win for them. but a loss for us. So sad.


Image Credits
A Hobbit by lothlaurien.ca released under a Creative Commons
Attribution 2.5 Canada (CC BY 2.5 CA)
license

Director Peter Jackson by Henry Burrows released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

Review: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was young, I was largely turned off by all the books I read by writers who thought fantasy meant you didn’t have to stick to any rules, so I’m not a big fantasy fan. I would always choose hard science fiction before fantasy, but have drifted away from both genres in favour of mystery/thrillers for the most part over the years.

My favourite fantasy book of all time was Lord of The Rings, which I’ve read several times. I mean really, after that, where do you go? A few years back I read “Lord of the Rings” aloud to my son.

You heard me, aloud.

That may be part of why he is a huge fantasy fan today, or why he’s taking Medieval Studies in University. He’d been reading borrowed copies of the “Game of Thrones” series in his last semester of high school, and he was really getting into it, so we bought him the whole set for graduation. He kind of insisted that I read them, so I started the first one (admittedly a bit grudgingly…) It’s written by George R. R. Martin, yet another good science fiction writer who’s defected to the dark side… er, fantasy. I remember liking Martin’s work back in the day. “Sandkings”, “Dying of the Light”, “Nightflyers”.

And I have to tell you, I am in awe.

I never knew where you could go after Lord of the Rings, but clearly, that would be Winterfell.

Well, I am *loving* this.  I won’t drop any spoilers, but this first novel in the series has some really great characters. Although I really don’t have the time to read, I’m a bit more than half way.

So far I’ve had to hold my breath more than once, laugh out loud several times, and it’s even made me cry. I can feel George masterfully drawing the threads of the plot and character together, and I’m getting pretty worried about what’s going to happen to these people (and dire wolves) who’ve come alive on these pages for me. The worst of it is, there are only five books written, and the series is supposed to run to seven. So I’m anxious… what happens when I’m ready for book seven if it’s not done yet? *gulp*

Even though I’m not done, this one gets a thumbs up.

Winter is coming.

[post script: I wrote that a few months ago for Goodreads, but only now figured out how to “publish to blog.” I’m now nearly finished the fourth volume in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, and they don’t disappoint. The boy can write.]

Say “hi” on Goodreads

Exercising A Middle Aged Brain

[This blog post is dedicated to Mr. Collins, my Grade 10 EDSS English Teacher, with thanks.]

High School

It was routine for me to be juggling six books at any given time when I was in high school.   Several would be sandwiched between my school books, so if I had a few minutes between classes I could open any of them and know exactly where I was in the narrative.   This was the reading equivalent of cat naps, cat reading allowed me to read a lot.   Even better — I retained what I read.

digression

Mr. Collins reprinted from the yearbookIn the tenth grade I had a terrible English teacher who also happened to be a great guy.

Maybe Mr. Collins wasn’t really a terrible teacher, maybe it’s just that Grade 10 English was exceptionally awful for me since it was an entire year of grammar. (It sure seemed that way!)

Naturally I loved the Grade 9 teacher who only gave us three days of grammar.   But then, Grade 10 English might not have been so bad if I’d had the grade 9 foundation of grammar necessary to handle the tenth grade curriculum.   Even worse, I had absolutely no motivation to learn the rules of grammar.   What was the point?   Because I was a reader I was capable of intuitively following the rules of English grammar in much the same way people drive cars without having a clue how internal combustion engines work.  

I thought grammar was a terrible waste of English class time… we might have been reading all the great classics — but instead we were learning about dangling participles.   To this day I don’t know what a dangling participle is, and what’s more I don’t care. But the curriculum said we had to learn it.

Hmmm…. maybe Mr. Collins was actually a very good English teacher.   Mr. Collins helped me to not fail tenth grade English. (It was really close.)   Somehow Mr. Collins convinced me to try.

Part of the curriculum was having to memorize poetry.   I simply did not want to waste the time and brain cells memorizing poetry I didn’t like.   This is another example of where Mr. Collins proved to be a great guy; instead of forcing me to clutter up my head with poetry I did not like, he allowed me to memorize poetry I DID like.   I will be forever grateful for that… particularly since it is still stored safely in my memory to this day….

Close up of Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn from Lord of the Rings movie poster
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in Peter Jackson's movie trilogy Lord of the Rings

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not touched by the frost.
 
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the darkness shall spring
Renewed shall be the blade
                                         that was broken
The crownless again shall be king”

–J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord of the Rings

I have NOT checked the text so a word or two may have drifted or otherwise altered in my memory since I first memorized Lord of the Rings poetry for English classes more than 30 years ago, but just typing it out now I still get shivers.  

Another time my friend Carole and I each took over a wall of blackboard and held an impromptu longest run-on-sentence competition.   Can’t remember who won, just that it was fun.   Not too many teachers would have been cool enough to let us go nuts all over his blackboards.

Thanks Mr. C.

College

My mind was abuzz with all the new ideas and attitudes I was being exposed to in the wider world, I was lucky to find the time to read six recreational books a year.   Thinking, feeling, experiencing, pushing the envelope.   Lots of exercise for a young brain.

Working Girl

When working as an assistant story editor in the Hot Shots story department my brain did the job that IMDB does now… I could rhyme off the plots and credits from pretty much every movie or TV show I’d ever seen.   I accepted this ability to be able to remember and retrieve the necessary information as needed as natural.   I even started memorizing frequently needed work phone numbers.

I thought there was no end to it.

Brain Full

Until the day I moved and simply could not remember my own new phone number.

Jello Brain

Suddenly it became clear that my memory storage capacity was not infinite.   My brain was full.

I would get annoyed when I couldn’t recall things that I thought I should be able to remember.   My husband would laugh when I’d come back from shopping without the specific item I’d gone to get. He said my memory had just become more like a normal person’s memory. (Well, his.)   His point was that I used to have a better than average memory. This did not make it any less frustrating however.

confessions of a middle aged brain

It’s taken time for me to come to come to accept my aging memory functions, my brain falls within the “middle age” parameters.

“The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture.   If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.”

Barbara Strauch, New York Times Article:
How to Train the Aging Brain

Barbara Strauch’s New York Times article is an interesting look at how older brains learn.   They don’t simply fall into disarray as was previously thought.   And although it can take longer, middle aged brains can in fact learn new tricks.

mental calisthenics

Several years back I bought some one inch ceramic letters on magnets to spell out our names.   It became a family game because whenever we’d have a chance we’d rearrange the letters into different words, so part of our fridge looked like a crossword puzzle or a scrabble board.

It was’t just fun, I could actually feel my brain working to come up with a better configuration of words or letters.   It got so that we all knew the possible words we could make, so it stopped being as much fun. The craft store I’d bought the letters from had closed down, so it was a while before I was able to increase our letter stash.

scrabble like arrangement of letters magnetized to refrigerator
The “HOUSE” theme on our fridge

Eventually I found another source of letters so we were able to expanded our alphabet so that we could create themed crosswords.   This enables the use of large words (like “diagnostician”) and we try to follow whatever theme emerges.   As the letters get used up eventually the idea simplifies, and the new objective is to use up all the letters.   I love this because it feels like calisthenics for the brain.

mock-up of cover art to promote public domain
Digital imaging to promote Project Gutenberg

A few years ago I plunged into the computer pool, learning to use Photoshop for digital photo restoration and then progressing into digital manipulation.   From a practical standpoint there is good and bad in that, since I am at the point where just about every photograph can be fixed.

The “bad part” being that just about every photograph can be fixed…. so I could spend the rest of my life fixing the photos I’ve already taken.

In some ways, digital imaging is similar to other creative work I’ve done in the past.   At the same time, there was an awful lot to learn that wasn’t.   Quite a bit of mental stretching necessary.   The new “middle age” brain research indicates that those of us with middle age brains can in fact learn new tricks, and in particular we do better by challenging our perceptions.

It seems I’ve been doing that inadvertently, learning how to code XHTML.   Without the awesome free HTML Dog online tutorials I doubt I’d have ever been able to get anywhere.   Although I bought Patrick Griffiths’ HTML Dog book for reference it was the online tutorials which actually helped me master this. Never in my wildest imaginings would I have thought I could manage the technical stuff of web page design. Still, it boggles my middle aged mind that I can read source code.

Then of course I’ve found myself drawn into the Usage Based Billing issue, which naturally led into the net neutrality issue, which in turn led to the copyright issue.

Copyright "c"The copyright issue was a particular challenge.   As a writer I wanted to participate in the Canadian government’s copyright consultation process.   Writing my copycon submission forced me to really think about it, sifting through the new ideas that turned the old way of thinking on its head.   Just as the article discusses, copyright challenged my established brain connections.

“The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. ”

Barbara Strauch, New York Times Article
How to Train the Aging Brain

One of the reasons that Barbara Strauch’s article resonates with me personally is that it has helped me to understand what in many ways had seemed like magic more than logic.   It’s good to know that my copyright theories aren’t in fact the product of some magical alchemy.

My middle aged brain was able to assimilate many ideas proposed by others, assess policies and practices relating to copyright I’ve seen in my lifetime and combine this all with my own personal life experience to arrive at some startling conclusions.   Certainly I would never have come to any of these radical conclusions in my youth back in the day.   The world has changed and my middle aged brain has allowed me to step back and look at the big picture with startling clarity.

The science discussed in the article indicates that the divergences I’ve taken away from “normal” are probably why my brain feels much more agile than it has in years.   It is because I have been pushing my middle aged brain to learn and do such different things that allows it to continue its life long job of learning so that I can continue to learn and do such different things.

Who’d have thought.

[note: I read the New York Times article thanks to a sandynunn re-tweet. Thanks Sandy.]

Kindle: Not Available in Canada, eh?

[This began as a comment on the Globe & Mail story Canada snubbed as Kindle goes global but it got a little out of hand…]

the foundation trilogy Cover Art

The very first time I encountered the e-book concept was in the 1970’s… within the pages of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

My son’s high school library (where I first discovered Foundation) doesn’t stock the book any longer.   And sadly our local public library doesn’t provide shelf space for any of Asimov’s fiction.

Fortunately for me I am happy to say that quite a few of those old fashioned rectangular things with Asimov’s name emblazoned on the cover reside in my own home library, which in itself is made up of those old fashioned rectangular things we call books.

Because of this, I was able to lend my kid Foundation, which he wanted to read for a comparative lit assignment.

If I had Foundation on a Kindle, would I be legally able to lend it to my kid? Or would that constitute a copyright infringement?

If I was allowed to lend it to him, and he put it in his backpack and took it to school, how easily it might be damaged. Or lost. Or even stolen.

LOTR trade paperback

When I was in high school myself I borrowed my brother’s single volume trade paperback version of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Awesome book.

The paper was as thin as bible paper but denser. I couldn’t put it down. So I dragged it around with me at school, to be prepared if an opportunity to read it presented itself.

I was only a little way into The Two Towers on the day I accidentally forgot it in the cafeteria. Naturally it was gone when I came back for it.

It was a pretty devastating loss since I had to save enough money to replace my brother’s copy, and then save enough money to get my own since he wouldn’t lend it a second time. Those were the days when the cost of an ordinary paperback was measured in “cents” not dollars. But this copy of Lord of the Rings was priced at well over twenty dollars.

So, the new economical Kindle reader only costs $259.00. That’s a pretty good investment right there. So if its lost or stolen or broken… certainly it would be a hit. But then lets look at one of the selling points: you can store your whole library on the reader. At $10.00 a book, with a 1500 book capacity, the replacement value is now up to $15,259.00.

A fully provisioned Kindle = 1/2 year at U of W
fully provisioned Kindle = half year at U of W

This is a substantial replacement cost for a high school student to shoulder. We’re looking at a sum of money roughly equivalent what it costs to attend the University of Waterloo for maybe a half year.   Perhaps a full year if you’re careful.

In these days of “climate change”, the weather we have is increasingly unpredictable. Twice this year I’ve been caught in a torrential downpour with my digital camera.

The first and worst time it was so beautiful when we headed out for a walk that I didn’t take my camera bag. I was soaked and my camera was drenched in gallons of water before I could deploy the plastic bag I had for the dog.

I was sure the camera was destroyed forever.

the first truly portable literature

Fortunately it wasn’t… but it took weeks to dry out. And there’s still a few things that don’t work quite right. But I’m lucky that the hundreds of dollars invested in my camera weren’t lost.

But what if it had been a Kindle?

Getting drenched in a downpour could wipe out a much larger investment in the blink of an eye. From where I sit, that makes the Kindle a lot less portable.

Oh sure, Gutenberg’s contribution to the world was important, no question, but the REAL revolution was the introduction of the “dime novel” Portability was key. Certainly the price made books affordable to common people for the first time, and that is also why people would carry them around in their pockets.

Because they only cost a dime you wouldn’t end up in the poor house if you lost one. And when prices rose, as prices do, dime novels became more commonly known as pocket books.

reading in a tree

And how many parents would allow their kids to take something so expensive outside to read in a tree? A great deal of my childhood was spent reading out of doors. By the creek, on a beach, in a tent or up a tree.

But the money invested in a Kindle would make the risk far too great. I’d be more inclined NOT to bring it with me.

I love books. I grew up in a reading environment. My family didn’t have a lot of money for books, but we had books anyway.

In those days, if a family wanted to provide a good educational environment for their children, the parents would buy an encyclopedia set.

It might take years to pay off, but many people considered it worth it. (Of course the sales pitch was 40% future success for your kids combined with 60% guilt at how much they’ll suffer if you didn’t buy them.) Of course the families who shelled out hundreds of dollars when the child was in kindergarten were left with a rather obsolete version by the time the children were actually old enough to make use of the things in high school or college.

Instead of buying a set of encyclopedias he couldn’t afford, my Dad taught us the value of reading, first by reading himself and then by reading to us. Probably why we grew up to be readers. Better still, he took us to the library. We learned to find what we needed in those public spaces. And in those days Ontario public schools could actually afford librarians, so students learned how to find what we needed or wanted.

2009 Elora Book Sale line up
2009 Elora Book Sale line up

Books are as important to me as food. I borrow books, and lend books. I’ve bought additional copies of good books to donate to schools or as gifts. One reason I can afford to buy new hardcover books (and help support the writers I read) is because I also buy lots of books at used book stores or book sales. Like most of these sales, The Elora Used Book Sale is a fundraiser, and they accept donations all year long. Because volunteers price the books, and what doesn’t sell this year will be back on sale next year, the pricing is erratic and entertaining, ranging from about five dollars for hardcover fiction to a paperback mystery I paid a dime for. Is that Irony or what?

Used book sales allow me to economically replace books I’ve loaned out and not gotten back. They help me fill the holes in my collection. Sometimes I’ll buy a “lending” copy of a favorite in paperback, so I don’t have to risk losing my hardcover copy of The Nature of the Beast or Shibumi. A lot of the books I love are long out of print and very hard to find. I’m getting close to having all the Nero Wolfe books, but most are only available in paperback.

Lining up in the drizzle;  more of the book sale line
Lining up in the drizzle; more of the book sale line

Thanks to the absurd length of American copyright term, most of these books written before I was born will only enter the public domain after I’m gone, so they aren’t likely to be reprinted or end up on a Kindle. Many of these are likely to be lost entirely to future generations. But not to my family. We’ll still have books.

Probably the most compelling reason to not trust all my books to an electronic device like a Kindle is the fact that I don’t trust Amazon to support the Kindle forever. The only way you can be sure that your electronic data won’t evaporate or decay is to back everything up. I’m pretty sure that the only way to back up a Kindle is to have two of them. Having heard horror stories about a legal challenge resulting in a released e-book being sucked off the e-book reader, well … if I was halfway through reading a book and they pulled it…. I can’t even THINK about that one.

I’m tired of having to buy the same things over and over again (Betamax… vhs… DVD… hddvd…   78… LP… 8 track… cassette… CD…  MS DOS and then too many versions of windows to count and living in fear of the day when my now unsupported XP won’t run and I have to switch to VISTA…)

So I am not willing to pay even a few hundred dollars to buy an electronic reader that may or may not work next year, or that may or may not remove the book I’m reading on it due to a legal challenge, and that may or may not result in the Canadian Copyright Police breaking down my door if I lend a book (and therefore the kindle) to my friend to read.

Pity

There are so many reasons why I would never get a Kindle… and yet.

Just because I don’t want one doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. Canadians deserve a choice. There has been a lot of speculation as to why Amazon is willing to market the Kindle in the Congo, but not in Canada.

A Kindle is nothing by itself, like a DVD player with no DVDs. The kindle must be able to access the Amazon collection in order to download content. Kindles need internet access. Since the carriers have a virtual monopoly (Bell/Telus/Rogers control the wire) and since our regulatory body is allowing the carriers to control the content, my best guess is that Big 3 want a piece of the action that Amazon believes is too high.

So the Canadians who want the Kindle can’t get it. This is just a small indication of what can happen when the carrier is allowed to control the content.

I don’t believe that Amazon has snubbed Canada, I think it is much more likely that Canada has snubbed Amazon.


P.S. The Kindle is now available in Canada. Complete with DRM. So sad.