5 Reasons I’m Provisionally Enjoying Star-Crossed (and a few reasons I’m not)

A Review of Star-Crossed, created by Meredith Averill

The CW, 2014

Star-Crossed

by REBECCA, April 10, 2014

Star-Crossed, as the title suggests, is a science fiction Romeo and Juliet. Ten years ago, in 2014, an Atrian starship crash-landed in a small town in Louisiana. Six-year-old Roman (Romeo) takes shelter in the shed of Emory (Juliet) when the shooting starts, and they form a bond in the few minutes before soldiers rip them apart. After a bloody battle, the Atrians are interned in a camp called the Sector. Now it’s 2024 and, as the result of an integration program that has long been in the works, seven teenage Atrians are going to begin attending a human high school, to test whether Atrians and humans have the potential to integrate.

romeo-and-julietSo, I’ve mentioned before how much I generally loathe adaptations. There is NO reason why this needed to be an overt Romeo and Juliet—in fact, it really hampers what Star-Crossed can do by telegraphing what are going to be the major issues and stakes of the show. I will say it again. I just do not understand why people cut off narratives at the knees like this?! In the case of Star-Crossed, it seems likely that either the CW thinks sci-fi is low art and needed a little cultcha or that they worried that sci-fi would turn off their core teen female audience unless they very overtly announced that it would be a romance. Either way, it was a stupid move. Also, can we please agree that, in 2014 (and definitely in 2024), Romeo and Juliet is really not the only text that comes to mind when we think about people from different worlds whose social situation dictates that they not be together. In fact, it’s become something of a cliché at this point—a story that’s concretized into utter predictability. So, yeah. WHAT THE?

Tami-Julie-friday-night-lights-4533494-2560-1920More bad news. Emory, played by Aimee Teegarden, aka Julie Taylor from Friday Night Lights, has the unfortunate fate of being a really boring character. No idea why they’re writing her like this when most of the other characters are more interesting, but Emory is completely blah and has no real chemistry with Roman, or with Grayson—yeah, sorry, they’re going with that whole love triangle thing, at least for a little while. (Grayson is played by Grey Damon, also from Friday Night Lights, and another character, Zoe, is played by Dora Madison Burge, who played Becky on Friday Night Lights, so while you’re thinking how boring Emory is, what a bad actor Grey Damon is, and how much makeup they’ve slathered on poor Zoe, you can just close your eyes and think of how good Friday Night Lights was).

That bad news aside, Star-Crossed has, so far, been a pretty enjoyable watch, if you go into it eyes open. I mean, it’s a CW show, so. Here are a few reasons I’ve enjoyed the first eight episodes.

1. Civil Rights Conversations. The morning the Atrian 7 start school with the humans their bus pulls up to the school where there is a mass of protesters who harangue them and throw things at them. It’s a citation of the morning the Little Rock 9 enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Little Rock 9 star-crossed

As in any aliens-landed-on-earth tale, there are people who believe that the Atrians are a threat to earthlings, those who are fascinated by their culture, and those in between. Emory and her best friends, Julia (a delightful Malese Jow, who played Anna on The Vampire Diaries) and Lukas (Titus Makin Jr. who was one of the Warblers on Glee) are excited to befriend the Atrians, but there are many who antagonize them from the beginning. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but, to my mind, any show that is having explicit conversations about the ways that fear of the unknown leads to prejudice, which leads to violence, which leads to retaliation, which leads to war, is succeeding, at least in some small measure.

The Atrian 7 disagree about what integration means, too. There’s one scene where the Atrian 7 are lectured about how they have to be a model minority, which some embrace and some revile. Roman, at one point, thanks Julia and Lukas for helping him and Lukas replies “We minorities have to stick together,” and Roman says, “You guys are minorities?” (they’re non-white); Lukas replies, “Before you got here.” So, there are some useful conversations going on, and I hope things will get more complicated as the show goes on.

2. The Atrians! Once you get over the fact that the Atrians look exactly like humans except for their tattoo-like birthmarks and the fact that they are all OVERLY ATTRACTIVE, the Atrian 7—well, we only know four so far—are pretty delightful characters. Roman (our Romeo) is played by Matt Lanter, who I’ve never seen in anything (though he did play Edward Sullen in a satire of Twilightesque movies that apparently exists?) but who I find strangely compelling. No, not just because he used to be a model. There’s something natural and straightforward about the way he plays Roman, which turns a character that would otherwise be chokingly goody-two-shoes into one who seems mature and interesting.

Teri & Drake

Teri & Drake

Sofia (Brina Palencia) is the wide-eyed, human-loving optimist who wants to make human friends because she doesn’t fit in that well with the Atrians. Teri (Chelsea Gilligan) is her opposite. She’s a fierce, badass fighter who doesn’t take any shit. Her mother is the leader of an Atrian splinter group that is willing to use violence to overthrow humanity. Last is Drake (Greg Finley), a bruiser who wants to be tough, but isn’t quite sure where his loyalties lie.

3. Plants. The Atrians’ main sources of power, as well as their main weapons, are plant-based, and one tribe of Atrians is particularly skilled in that regard. Cyper, for example, is a plant that can both heal and kill, and if humans found out about its properties when mixed with Atrian blood, they’d kill for it. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I’ve decided that this was inspired by the centrality of herbs in Romeo and Juliet. Even if it’s not true, it’s an interesting choice.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 10.40.18 PM4. Pansexuality! In a show that is based on Romeo and Juliet and, therefore, pretty much tells us who the main romantic drama will concern, we learn that Atrians are pansexual, which at least opens up some possibilities for the plot going forward. I mean, we were all pretending that Roman and Drake were together anyway, right?

5. Star-Crossed. Come on. That’s actually a really excellent name for a show that is about Romeo and Juliet and aliens who came from SPACE! (I can’t think of a fifth thing that’s actively good.)

SO, have you all been watching Star-Crossed? What do you think? Do the good things make up for the dopey CW-elements, or will these violent delights have violent ends?

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Movie Review: How I Live Now

A Review of How I Live Now, directed by Kevin Macdonald, based on the novel by Meg Rosoff

How I Live Now

by REBECCA

Meg Rosoff’s 2004 novel How I Live Now has been made into a movie and I totally didn’t know about it until five seconds ago. Yay!

If last week’s Ender’s Game adaptation made one big mistake that ended up gutting the whole story, How I Live Now makes small, smart decisions every step of the way. Within the first three minutes, I was completely and utterly sold on the world, the aesthetic, and the characters.

How I Live Now Meg RosoffHow I Live Now is the story of Daisy (Saoirse Ronin), who lives in New York City and has come to England for the summer to stay with her cousins, whom she’s never met, because her father is having a new baby. Her cousins live in a ramshackle old rural house with lots of woods, hills, creeks, and animals, and Daisy quickly falls in love with it, and one of them—her cousin Edmund. Soon, though, war breaks out and the cousins are separated, always trying to escape and come back home, to be together.

Our introduction to Daisy was pitch-perfect and effortless, managing to capture the attitude of Rosoff’s narrative voice, even without using heavy voice over (take a note, Ender’s Game). Saoirse Ronin, bless her, is a magnificent Daisy, never afraid to be nasty and moody, but always with a core of vulnerability. Basically, I would watch her eat cornflakes or, like, do something else that’s super boring, because that’s how compelling she is, as always. Also, she is an accent genius.

how i live nowThe contrast between the hardness of Daisy’s fresh-from-NYC aesthetic and control-freak attitude and the soft, wildness of her cousins’ run-down home, their trips swimming and running through woods and fields is beautifully done. The film captures the beauty and peace of their home in just the right way, so that when the war comes, the audience is as sad to lose it as Daisy is.

How I Live Now doesn’t shrink from showing the grisly moments of the war, either, which elevates it above any concerns I may have had that it would be yet another slick capitalization on YA dystopia-fever. Just like the book, this is truly a movie that thinks about the effects of war, on both the ravaged countryside and the psyches of Daisy and her cousins as they traverse it.

how i live nowIn addition to the beauty of the film, I was struck by its masterful balance of sound and quiet. The credits are very in your face and loud, bopping to the tune of Daisy’s music, and Daisy’s own inner-voices drown out any other silence. The scenes in the country house, on the other hand, are quiet at base, but punctuated by very specific noises—the call of Edmund’s hawk, the gush of a waterfall—that are just as loud as Daisy’s music, but peaceful enough that she doesn’t need the din of those inner voices. There are long stretches of the cousins’ journey back to one another without dialogue, too, and scenes of carnage that speak for themselves.

In Rosoff’s novel, the story is told retrospectively, and though we don’t have much of a frame, the film manages, in addition to dramatic immediacy, to capture precisely the tone of wisdom and dreaminess that would accompany a tale told from a point looking backward. How I Live Now might be my favorite YA film adaptation to date. 

Movie Review: Like the Enemy’s Gate, Ender’s Game is DOWN

A Review of Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game

by REBECCA, November 6, 2013

WARNING: this review contains spoilers for Ender’s Game but does not give away the end.

Ever since I heard Ender’s Game was getting the Hollywood treatment, I’ve vacillated between thinking “no way can such an interior novel make a good movie” and thinking, “it’s a pretty straightforward book to adapt.” Turns out I was right on both counts. Ender’s Game has its compelling moments: the battle scenes are cool, as is the tech, and Asa Butterfield has a face well-suited to expressing Ender’s constant calculation. But, as a whole, it fell very, very flat. 

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardThe biggest problem I had with it is that I fundamentally disagree with what writer/director Gavin Hood’s version sees as the heart of the story. For me, Ender’s time at Battle School is where all the most interesting character development and world revelation occur. The time period when Ender’s in Battle School takes up just under 2/3 of Card’s novel, and it encompasses Ender’s four-year journey all the way from being a launchie and learning the battle room, through several different armies, to leading his own army and competing against the whole school. In short, it’s where we learn that Ender is anything special.

In Hood’s version, though, Ender’s time at Battle School is an abbreviated stop along the way to Command School. This means several things:

1. Ender and the rest of the kids stay the same age throughout, because the timeline is scrunched, so we get no sense that Ender is growing up in this new world or learning anything.

2. Ender is the greatest military mind the world has ever known. Or so Harrison Ford keeps telling me. But, because we don’t see his growth, or that there is any difference between Ender’s strategy and those of the other kids in Battle School, we have to take his word for it. The most difficult element to communicate in any adaptation from novel to film is the interiority of characters, and this is doubly true in the case of Ender’s Game because Hood takes away all of Ender’s decisions and strategizing in Battle School that would have communicated that interiority to us.

3. Since we never see that Ender starts as a launchie with no skills and goes on to win battle after impossible battle with never before seen modes of fighting, we aren’t rooting for him. When he finally gets to Command School, I don’t even feel like I know him well enough to care about his success. Which meant I was caring about the success of his strategy in his final exam . . . which is one of many ways (the POSTER being another) in which I think the film both gives away and undercuts the drama of its own ending.

Ender's Shadow mike careyNote: when you leave the film yearning for more Battle School, check out the two graphic novels that treat the Battle School years, Ender’s Game Volume 1: Battle School, which is from Ender’s POV, and Ender’s Shadow: Battle School, which is from Bean’s POV (following Card’s primary and shadow series).

I am always willing to see a film adaptation as its own piece, which is usually all that allows me to avoid a knee-jerk (and unflattering) comparison to the book. In the case of Ender’s Game, however, the fact that I adore the book is the only thing that gave the movie any life for me at all, as my poor brain was automatically scribbling in bits from the book to round the movie out.

The bottom line, however, is that as a standalone film, Ender’s Game has nothing to differentiate it from any of the other kids + war games films out there. The extraordinary psychological character-building that Card’s novel achieves is completely flattened into a film with a main character whose only distinctions seem to be emotional maturity and good hand-eye coordination. Asa Butterfield isn’t miscast as Ender, certainly, but the way the role is written leaves him nothing to do but sweat and cry with blue-eyed conviction.

What frustrates me so much about Hood’s excision of much of Ender’s character development through the write-out of most of Battle School is that there was plenty of room for it. Ender’s Game already clocked in under two hours and contained at least twenty minutes of fat that could’ve been trimmed. That leaves (by my taste for 2 1/2 hour movies) nearly an hour that could’ve been added back into the film. It’s rare that my complaints about an adaptation are so easily traced back to what I see to be a simple flaw in structure, but for me, you cut most of Battle School, you lose the heart of the whole story, which means the end also falls flat.

Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books; usually, if a film adaptation of a book I love flops, then I’m pissed because its images sneak into my vision of the story. I’m happy to say that this won’t be a problem with Ender’s Game—there was so little to it that I don’t think it’ll stick at all. Now all that’s left is to donate $8.25 to my favorite pro-equality charity in order to offset any pennies sneaking into producer Card’s pockets, and forget the whole thing ever happened. Which won’t be hard. Yup, there, it’s gone.

ENDER'S GAME

Why Frankenstein Is Important to YA Lit

Happy National Frankenstein Day! & Some YA Takes on Frankenstein

Mary Shelley

by REBECCA, August 30, 2013

National Frankenstein Day is celebrated on Mary Shelley‘s birthday (August 30th, 1797), and honors her most famous (and arguably the most famous) literary monster. And I love literary monsters.

But what a lot of people forget is that Frankenstein has a lot of the elements that make YA lit great. After all, Mary Shelley did write the original story when she was just nineteen.

Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyIt tells the story of how a kid becomes obsessed with something and turns it into his life. Victor Frankenstein’s backstory is one of my favorite elements of the novel. His early relationships with his adopted sister and his two younger brothers are the backdrop for Victor’s growing obsession with science. It’s when he sees lightning strike a tree outside his family’s home in Geneva that Victor first gets the idea of lightning as an energy force, which he’ll later use to animate his creature. His interest in natural science is as singleminded as any teen’s obsession with a band or a comic book. And, though he’s captivated by Elizabeth when he’s older, it’s still his childhood friend, Henry Clerval, that is his strongest relationship throughout the book.

But the thing that always struck me as most YA-similar is the way that Victor’s monomaniacal pursuit of his obsession ends up producing something totally out of his control.

So, it’s no wonder that a number of young adult authors have taken Frankenstein as the jumping off point for YA novels of their own! Here are a few.

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series by Kenneth Oppel

This delightful series by Kenneth Oppel tells the story of Victor and his twin brother and their mutual love of Elizabeth. When his twin falls ill, Victor must go on a quest to find the ingredients for the elixir of life. Loved it! My review of This Dark Endeavor is HERE.

Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters by Suzanne Weyn

Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn

This retelling features Victor Frankenstein’s twin daughters who inherit their father’s castle—one of them wants to throw lavish parties, but the other . . . the other wants to pick up where daddy left off.

Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

In this adaptation, a young street urchin befriends the creature and accompanies him on his search for Victor Frankenstein.

iFrankenstein by Bekka Black

iFrankenstein by Bekka Black

This is a Frankenstein told through texts, tweets, emails, etc. Victor is homeschooled and has set his sights on winning a prestigious science prize and going to a tech university. He creates a bot, which he codes with a self-extending version of his personality and puts it on the internet. Soon, though, it seems like this e-doppelgänger has developed a personality (and a plan) of its own—one that may threaten not only Victor, but all humanity.

Broken by A.E. Rought Tainted by A.E. Rought

Broken series by A.E. Rought

Emma Gentry’s boyfriend died tragically last year and she’s barely holding it together. But when she meets Adam Franks, the son of a renowned surgeon, she’s intrigued—especially when it seems like Adam knows things about her that only her dead boyfriend knew . . . And when Emma stumbles on Adam’s father’s experiments, she knows that something is very, very wrong with Adam—or is he Adam? My complete review of this ridiculous disappointment is HERE.

Adam Franks by Peter Adam Salomon

Henry Franks by Peter Adam Salomon

Henry Franks had a terrible accident and his father put him back together again. He thinks. But he can’t be totally sure because he can’t remember anything. His nightmares and a serial killer on the loose make him a little hesitant to trust that everything his father says about his recovery is true. Creepy!

Do you have a favorite Frankenstein-related book or movie? Tell me in the comments. Happy National Frankenstein Day!

Upcoming Film Adaptations of Young Adult Books

A List of My Top 10 Most Anticipated YA Book To Film Adaptations!

Ender's Game

by REBECCA, July 16, 2013

This weekend, I was at my dear friend E—’s wedding with some of my all-time favorite people with whom to discuss books, movies, and YA. That reminded me of how excited I am to see what messes/successes come from the upcoming SLEW of YA books that are being adapted for the big screen. So, here is a list of the top 10 adaptations I’m most looking forward to!

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card Ender's Game

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Probably the most anticipated science fiction film adaptation of the year, there’s been a lot of controversy over this one. Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books of all time, but Orson Scott Card is an ultraconservative outspoken homophobe, so many sci fi fans want to boycott the movie to avoid lining Card’s pockets. This is definitely one to check out before the movie drops, November 1st.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth

I liked the first in the Divergent series, but the prose was weak and I thought the world-building was a bit spotty, so I wonder if the movie won’t actually be able to smooth over those things. The film is coming out March 21, 2014.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

3. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, both of whom will star in Divergent, will also star in The Fault In Our Stars. Check out Tessa’s review of John Green’s wonderful novel HERE. The film is coming in 2014.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan The Forest of Hands and Teeth

4. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I really enjoyed this creepy zombie plague story and cannot wait to see it on the big screen. It’s a slow-moving story, but super atmospheric, so I think it has the potential to be awesome.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

5. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner follows a group of boys who wake up in a maze with no memory of how they got there or how to get out. I just watched MTV’s Teen Wolf (which was actually much better than I anticipated), and The Maze Runner movie stars Dylan O’Brien, the best character in Teen Wolf. The movie comes out February 14, 2014.

City of Bones The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare The Mortal Instruments

6. City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare

This one’s coming really soon—August 22; get ready! Oh, City of Bones, you turned crazy after a while, but I’m still so excited to see you, especially in the company of Lily Collins’ perfect eyebrows. And with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the villain, how could things go wrong . . . ?

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

7. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Omigod, you guys, this is only in development, but IT IS HAPPENING! In the meantime, though, you can check out my dream for an amusement park ride based on Uglies HERE.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I loved Gayle Forman’s beautiful story of a girl fighting her way back from a coma after the accident that killed her family. I’m curious to see how they’ll do it as a movie, since so much of it is in the character’s head. Chloe Moretz is slated to star—let’s hope she pulls it off. She is also going to play Carrie in the upcoming remake of Carrie.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

9. The Graveyard Book and The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman, but The Graveyard Book wasn’t one of my favorites of his. I think a movie of it could be wonderful, though. Everything that made it kind of a slow, diffuse read could make for a dynamite movie. Ron Howard is directing, so it might be ok, or it might be sentimental tripe. The Ocean At the End of the Lane, however, is an absolutely stunning book that I worry will make a crap movie.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

10. Maggie Stiefvater’s EVERYTHING!

I could not possibly be more excited! Both The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys have been optioned and are in production. Gah! Shiver was in production but, according to Maggie Stiefvater’s website, she and the filmmakers had creative differences, so it’s not going forward right now, but maybe in the future. People: murderous water horses. IN A MOVIE!

Anyhoo, there are a staggering number of YAdaptations in the works! Which ones are you looking forward to? Tell me in the comments!

There But Not Back Again . . . Yet: Movie Review of The Hobbit

A Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, directed by Peter Jackson (2012)

The Hobbit Peter Jackson

by REBECCA, January 7, 2012

My dad first read me Lord of the Rings when I was in kindergarten because I was constantly begging to be read to and he figured he might as well kill two birds with one stone: read me something really long so I’d stop asking for new books, and get to revisit a series he wanted to re-read. My theory: he kind of thought I’d think it was boring and let him off the hook. Either way, I loved it, and he loved re-reading it. And, later, of course, I read The Hobbit. I didn’t love it as much as Lord of the Rings—it didn’t have the same depth, the same epic quality that had so captivated me. Instead, it was a small story, a story about one person taking a chance and exceeding his expectations, about a gang with one seemingly modest goal: take back what was once stolen from them. Still, if Aragorn was my first literary crush, Thorin Oakenshield was my second (imagine my confusion when I saw the animated version in the late 1980s and they had animated Thorin to look like my grandfather; awkward).

The Silmarillion J.R.R. TolkienWhen I learned that Peter Jackson and the team were back in NZ on the Lord of the Rings’ old stamping ground to film The Hobbit I had mixed feelings. On one hand, why mess with a world that you’ve executed so beautifully ten years before? On the other, I’m a sucker for seeing geekdom come to life, so I took the path less traveled: excitement. But then I learned that Jackson was making another trilogy instead of one film and my heart sunk again. Why would you set a film version of a small story to the same scale as the film versions of an epic trilogy? (I wouldn’t.) But then I began to read articles explaining that Jackson was including material from The Silmarillion and some of Lord of the Rings’ Appendices and I got excited again—how great for some of that oft-lost stuff to see the light of a studio set! That’s all to say that when the lights dimmed the other day and I finally got to see The Hobbit, I was conflicted, and more than ready to know one way or the other.

And, predictably I suppose, it was a pretty mixed bag. I saw The Hobbit with my parents and my sister and their consensus was that the movie was definitely “entertaining” and “enjoyable.” I agree. But I mostly agree as someone thinking of The Hobbit as merely one more piece of what I’m increasingly beginning to think of as “The Jackson-Tolkien Complex”; that is, Tolkien’s novels and paratextual materials, the art of people like Alan Lee and John Howe, whose visions thrilled me as a kid and went on to greatly inform Jackson’s films, the Lord of the Rings movies, and, now, The Hobbit films.

That is to say: while entertaining and enjoyable,  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not a great film in its own right; removed from the Jackson-Tolkien Complex it doesn’t really stand on its own for what I think are pretty predictable reasons.

The Hobbit is a quest story, which means that it doesn’t break down into any kind of neat tripartite system that would lend itself to a trilogy. As my dad said, “I didn’t expect it to end where it did. I kind of forgot it was being made in three movies, so when it ended, I was still waiting to see what was going to happen with the dragon.” Without major restructuring of the plot, there would be no way to really signal what the three phases of the story are. Jackson ends the first film with the lyrical image of the thrush knocking a snail on the rock of the lonely mountain to forecast what will happen later, but there was no dramatic structure to the film.

Thorin Oakenshield The HobbitNow, don’t get me wrong—I have no problem with a movie that takes its time: I will watch Braveheart, Gladiator, or Last of the Mohicans any day of the week. But The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ended . . . well, unexpectedly. And, while Jackson has, indeed, added bits and bobs from The Silmarillion to flesh out the backstory, The Hobbit speeds through some scenes while lingering overlong on others. While the dinner scene that introduces the dwarves functions just like the scene in the book—to exaggerate the dwarves’ bufoonishness and Bilbo’s contrasting prudish domesticity—it is unnecessarily long and rather cartoonish. It does, however, create a nice contrast for the entrance of Thorin Oakenshield in all his long-maned glory (a perfectly proud Richard Armitage).

Jackson has shot The Hobbit using high-frame-rate projection (48 frames per second rather than the typical 24, for the first time ever). While this looks beautiful in many of the middle-ground and closeup scenes, for the sweeping and swooping extreme long-shots of Middle Earth that take up the first 20 minutes or so of The Hobbit, it results in the vertiginous effect of the foreground looking distractingly blurry (I didn’t see the film in 3-D because it makes me sick, so I can’t comment on what effect the higher speed had on that technology). The other problem, which I’m not sure whether to ascribe to projection speed or CGI effects, is that the new settings Jackson et al have developed for the film, while beautiful, take on the appearance of mere backdrops because we see so little of them. When the dwarves are captured by goblins, we see their home, a huge tent city in the hollow of a mountain, lined with tiers of lean-tos. While this setting is detailed and full of action, because we spend so little time there and see so little of it close up, it has the feeling of a video game background populated with a slew of CGIed goblins rather than, say, the fully brought-to-life Shire.

Bilbo Baggins the HobbitThe acting was typical of Peter Jackson’s casting in Middle Earth, I think. When played straight, everyone is pretty good; when going for laughs, they aren’t nearly as subtle as they should be, as if Jackson wants people to know that just because he’s making epic movies about battles of good and evil it doesn’t mean he’s lost his sense of humor (even if that humor is of the banal the-fat-dwarf-breaks-his-chair-hardy-har-har variety). Andy Serkis’ Gollum is even better than it was in Lord of the Rings, its briefness merely highlighting his marvelous range. And while he’s playing essentially the same role as Dr. Watson on Sherlock, Martin Freeman is absolutely pitch perfect as Bilbo and every time one of the dwarves made a stupid joke or there was yet another cut to the “pale orc” standing and looking evil I wished we could just go back to watching Bilbo be delightful. The award for the best (and most unexpected) character appearance goes to Sylvester McCoy’s wizard, Radagast the Brown, who speaks to animals, knows hedgehogs by name, and has a line of bird shit running down the side of his face from the birds he keeps in a hair-nest under his hat (huzzah!).

So, all in all, a mixed bag. A treat, I think, for those of us who know The Hobbit well and simply enjoy watching a beloved world come to life; but perhaps a miss for the uninitiated, the impatient, or the narratively-conscious. Final result: made me want to go back and watch all the special features from the Lord of the Rings dvds. See you in twenty-six hours!

The Hobbit

What about you? What are your thoughts about The Hobbit or the Jackson-Tolkien Complex?

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