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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Good Story-telling

When you read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, did you think, “yeah this is a great story and all, but my favorite things are the character and place names! Everything else could be changed,”?  If so, then Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the movie for you!

I suppose that summation may be a little overly harsh.  But for the last two weeks I’ve been feeling guilty about deciding I wasn’t going to be able to do a whole spectacular costume and line party like I did last year for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and as I sat in the theater last night I kept thinking wow, I’m glad I didn’t go all out for this one, because it would have been an embarrassing waste of time and energy and made the film an even more bitter disappointment.  After the first Hobbit film came out I said I would reserve judgment on splitting the 300-page book into three extra-long films until I’d seen them all, but that’s no longer necessary.  I can definitively state that it was a bad decision, and no matter how glorious the final installment may end up being, this middle movie, in which no substantial plot progress is made and there are no character arcs, should never have been made.

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Biblo is terrified the movie will end before he gets substantial character development.

By the way, this post includes spoilers without warning because my enthusiasm for this movie has deflated like a balloon punctured by a black arrow and I no longer care about preserving its mystique or hype.

The first film cut off pretty much at the end of chapter 6, and chapter 7 starts with the dwarves meeting their temporary host Beorn in groups of two or three at a time, so I thought, great, they’ll have a natural way to re-introduce us to all the dwarves and their names.  Instead, the movie starts with a flashback to Gandalf meeting Thorin in the Prancing Pony, (oh hai Peter Jackson reprising your cameo of carrot-munching Bree resident in the rain), and we never get the introductions at Beorn’s.  Hope you remember your dwarf names from the first film!  If not, it doesn’t really matter since they won’t be defined as individuals for the most part, (but if you do want a refresher watch this clever video starting at 3 minutes).

Everything in Mirkwood was rushed or omitted; no partying elves luring them off the path, spiders quickly and easily dispatched, elvish imprisonment barely lasting a day instead of dragging out for months.  I realize movies need to condense time that books can fit between a few words, but the skipping of canonical drama just to add all the ridiculous, unnecessary, tedious scenes we got later is not okay.

I could have done with a lot more Thranduil.

I could have done with a lot more Thranduil.

I desperately wanted to like Tauriel, totally on board with the reasoning that the onscreen representation women of would be severley lacking without introducing this non-canonial character.  But this film still does not come close to passing the Bechdel test, (unless Bard’s daughters have a conversation I don’t remember?) and they don’t let her live up to her advertised bad-assery, reducing her motivations from a big-picture, save-the-world mission to risk-all-to-save-the-cute-taller-than-average-dwarf-i-have-a-crush-on.  NOTE TO STORYTELLERS: “hey this story needs more female characters” does NOT equate to “hey this story needs romantic entanglements!”

Like, why does Legolas need to be infatuated with unrequited desire for her? Why can’t their relationship just be warrior buddies?  And why does she swoon so quickly for Kili, just because ooh look at him all broody in his cell and my but he’s tall for a dwarf??  Ooh let’s touch fingers when I hand you back your talisman stone from your mom?? Oh hey I’ll single-handedly hunt down a pack of orcs to save you, and then I’ll use kingsfoil to heal your poisoned wound and you’ll see me in an aura of white light just like Frodo saw Arwen in Fellowship of the Rings, because didn’t you love that part? This is freaking fan-fiction!  What is it doing in the theatrical version of an official adaptation?! I wouldn’t even need to see this in an extended edition!  (I realize that a possible explanation is that either kingsfoil makes you hallucinate people in white light auras, or the aura is part of the elvish healing magic manifesting, but still, it’s COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY!  As is splitting the dwarves up so that some of them stay behind in Laketown, what the EFF?!!!!!)

Yes, Tauriel shoots and fights like a badass, but .

Tauriel shoots and fights like the badass warrior captain she’s been for hundreds of years, but isn’t allowed to care about anything more than boys because lady parts.

The thing is, Tauriel does express that she’s concerned about the orcs getting more aggressive and that it isn’t enough for the Mirkwood elves to defend their own borders without regard for where the orcs will go terrorize next, so I don’t know why that wasn’t a good enough motivation for her character to have for all of her actions.  I HATE that her primary goal becomes Kili.  And I can only assume that her fate being wrapped up with his means she too will die in the next film, probably in a failed attempt to save/avenge him from his own fatal end.

Perhaps the worst thing about the story as presented in this film is that it doesn’t even follow it’s own rules; the Master of Laketown supposedly has such tight-fisted control over the comings and goings of the city that the dwarves have to be smuggled in beneath fish, but then a whole passel of orcs gets in and is crawling all over rooftops with nobody noticing?  I mean geez at least show them killing a guard or two if that’s how you want it to play out, but how the heck would no-one notice?  I can kind of believe the elves sneaking in more easily since they’re quick and quiet-footed and all but even so, Laketown guards should know to watch for elves considering they’re neighbors.  Also, why in the world would nobody in the town be willing to help poisoned and injured Kili when the dwarves were literally the toast of the town the night before?!  Why would they need to come banging desperately on Bard’s door? That whole scene reeks of we-shot-this-one-way-but-then-we-added-stuff-since-we-got-an-extra-film-to-fill-so-it-doesn’t-totally-flow. 

The whole “only a rare black arrow shot from a special launcher can kill a dragon!” addition would be fine, except why take the one arrow out of its hiding place just to stash it in a canoe?  And why wouldn’t the kid know about its existence anyway?  Whatever, by this point I just can’t even with this movie.  

Azog the Defiler’s role is way over-inflated.  And now they’re introducing even more named orc generals/captains/whatevers for me to not care about, in this Bolg guy.  Why do we have more named orcs than female characters, seriously.

Then we get (half of the) dwarves running the frick around Erebor with a secret plan as if dramatic tension can only be achieved by keeping the audience blind to the goals of the protagonists.  Sorry your elven-magic-coma storyline got cut, Bombur, but hey, you got to be yanked around on a bellows chain at a giant forge, which is almost the same thing as character development, right?  Hey Bilbo, why don’t you follow Thorin’s shouted instructions to keep running to lead Smaug to these random places like “the forge!” or “the Hall of Kings!” even though I don’t know how you’re supposed to know where they are being that this is literally your first time inside the underground maze of halls.

There’s too much obvious GCI!  Legolas’ contacts look weird and flat!  Why is Gandlaf tripping out and seeing A Man within The Eye within The Eye within The Eye, and how am I supposed to be in suspense for him being locked in a cage surrounded by orcs when I not only know he’s going to survive to the end of Frodo’s quest, but I’ve also seen him pull the grab-a-moth-when-in-distress-to-summon-an-eagle-rescue move in two separate films by now so I assume it’s his next step.  I mean, I know what’s actually going to happen is Galadriel et al will come bring some elvish ring-bearer pain on the old fortress, but even if I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be worried about what was going to happen to Gandalf. 

Just like I’m not in suspense about what’s going to happen to Laketown or Smaug, though the movie ends with the dragon flying off in a rage and Bilbo saying “whatever’s going to happen next?!”  (Yes that’s seriously the last line before the screen blacks out and the credits song starts).  It’s not that it’s a true “cliff-hanger” ending of suspense, (if this is a cliff hanger for you READ THE FREAKING BOOK ALREADY, it is very short and if you’re really that lazy you can just read chapter 13-19, that’s all that’s left,) but is a suspension of completing a story arc.  Maybe there are elements in this movie that will add up to whole arcs when combined with the next film, but why should I sit through 2 hours and 41 minutes of non-story non-arcs?  

Seriously, what the hell happened here?  There is no reasonable argument for stretching this story into three films if this is the kind of stuff they’re filling time with, other than “we can make more money with an extra film.”  Well, I certainly don’t want to pay to see this again!  When I go to a movie I expect to be given a story, not just a collection of scenes.  When I watch a Peter Jackson adaptation of Tolkien, I expect epic, not trivial.   The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has shattered my trust in these movie makers and broken my fangirl heart.

My message to the filmmakers ^^

My message to the filmmakers ^^

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Only Six Months Until “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”!

This week we got to see the first trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Sometimes I feel like I’m just a puppet of the people who work in movie marketing, because I was totally focused on looking forward to Man of Steel this week and then Catching Fire in the fall, but about five seconds into watching this trailer all I could think about was “December can’t come fast enough! I need to start working on my costume! I need to start thinking of themed snacks I can bring to have while we wait in line for the midnight showing!”  And then I listened to the soundtrack to the first film for the rest of the day and re-watched the trailer dozens of times.  I mean, I’m not complaining, it was a glorious day, I just feel like I’m too easily manipulated into excitement over these things.  But I don’t care!  I love it!

GAH, so exciting, so lovely, so perfect!

Look, there’s Beorn in bear-form!  If you recall, I predicted that the visit to his cabin would be a good place to pick up the storyline for part 2 since it’s a natural refresher for the audience of the names of all the dwarves as they come in two at a time and Gandalf introduces them all to their host.

The barrel ride escape from Mirkwood is definitely being done differently from the book, because they’re not shut inside with lids closed for a silent ride, but honesty it’s going to be a lot more fun to watch this way.  I”m not totally sure why CGI-elves with bows drawn are chasing them, but I’m sure it’s for dramatic effect as I don’t recall Beorn attacking the dwarves in bear-form ever in the book, either.  I am a little more concerned about the elves chasing the barrels only because it’s going to make them look like poor shots when they miss them all, and I like to imagine all my elves with the ridiculously accurate aim that Legolas epitomized in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I love what we’ve seen so far of the new character of warrior elf Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lily.   (I’ll be posting a preliminary analysis of her braid hairstyle later).  I can’t believe I’m even hearing rumors that some fans are objecting to her inclusion;people saying that do realize that there wouldn’t be a female character other than Galadriel in the whole trilogy if she’s not in it, right?   These movies, like all adaptations are not “the book” but their own version of the story, so just accept it and enjoy it.  Or if you’re going to say Tauriel is non-canonical and shouldn’t be included then you’d better complain about every single other element that’s been changed or added, too.

The peek at the dragon at the end reminds me of Gollum at the end of the first trailer for the first movie.  It’s the exact same format, a sinister scene right after the title.  But it’s a formula that works, and I love it.  I wish we could see more of Smaug’s body, because I need to start figuring out how it might be possible to make a dragon costume to wear to the midnight premiere, but I have a feeling they may want to save the full reveal for the movie.  At least I know what colors to use now, and the full shape of the head which is a lot more to go on than the eyeball shot we got at the end of An Unexpected Journey.

The best thing about this new trailer, though, is that director Peter Jackson shared a youtube video of some fangirls watching it for the first time, and then he posted a video of Evangeline Lily, Orlando Bloom, and Lee Pace in their Mirkwood elves costumes, watching the fangirls reaction and fangirling over the fangirls.  It might be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.

I honestly think I may have watched the above video more times than I’ve watched the actual trailer so far. I get a vicarious thrill for the fangirls, (sisters who have a webseries called Happy Hobbit), being able to see that the actors truly appreciate their enthusiasm.  (The sisters later posted a reaction-t0-the-reaction, which has been dubbed “Hobbitception“)  The part where they thank Peter Jackson and the actors for watching their video and say “If we can give back an ounce of the joy that you give us through all of your hard work then we’re more than happy to play the part of the fool and have you laugh at us,” reminds me of the sentiment I tried to express when I posted about spending weeks crocheting dwarf beards for last year’s Unexpected Journey, and the part where they squeal “she knows we like her!” in regards to Evangeline Lily/Tauriel is delightful, and when one sister tries to calm the other’s freakout over the fact that Orlando Bloom comments on their attentive faces with “well, we’ve seen his face”, it’s all just pure fangirl gold.

I mean, this might be the only time we see Thanduril smiling, and he’s not only smiling he’s flapping his arms just like I and millions of other fans did when we watched the trailer.

And look at adorable Legolas imitating Smaug!

 

I’m serious, this is my new favorite thing, like, at all.  Of all books and movies and shows and songs that I love, this is my favorite.  Actors fangirling fans fangirling them.  In a Peter Jackson adaptation of Tolkien.  It’s a delight.

 

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Musical

A couple of months ago, some friends of mine (withVintage Faith Students in Manhattan, KS) demonstrated their immense creativity by writing and performing an original re-telling of the first third or so of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, as a musical.  It was amazing.  They modeled the aesthetic on Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and used the beards that I had made for their dwarf costumes, and commissioned* a Gandalf beard and Bilbo wig so they would all match.  They stayed a little closer to the book than Jackson’s film, and they went a little further into the book than the movie left off.  No word yet on whether they plan to follow up next year with another installment, but even if they don’t, the videos I’m posting below of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Musical Journey might be my favorite adapted-from-literature performance ever.

My signed script

My signed script

*By “commissioned” I mean “asked me to do for free as a favor,” since this was a production by volunteer college students for their non-paying friends.  For my troubles I received a copy of the script signed by one of the masterminds behind the project, who plays Thorin, a CD of their practice songs, and the immense pride of knowing that I contributed to this awesome play.

Bag End

Part 1: the dwarves arrive at Bag End where an unsuspecting Bilbo is about to be swept up into an adventure.  The first song is verbatim from The Hobbit, and the second is from The Sound of Music with some lyrics changed to make it more Bilbo-y.  (For each of these videos, if you click to watch them on youtube you can find all the lyrics in the video descriptions).  How much do you love super-tall Gandalf?! He’s wearing stilts.  Also, check out Thorin’s elaborate armor–it’s part spray-painted catcher’s leg gear, part woven placemats spray-painted silver so they look like chain mail.  So creative!

Names and Faces

This was one of my favorite parts–this song kills me!  It’s so funny, and so perfect!  It’s to the tune of “Doe Re Mi” from The Sound of Music, but with all the lyrics changed so that it’s about teaching Bilbo the names and attributes of all 13 dwarves.  It’s pure amazingness, and totally catchy.  Song starts at 3 min.   (Again, the lyrics are all in the video description on youtube).

Home is Behind

This scene picks up right after Bilbo rescues the dwarves from the trolls, (which happened off-stage in this production to avoid having to come up with a way to portray giant trolls that turn into stone).  Bilbo misses a few lines in the song, but it’s based on “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, except instead of “cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles” he’s singing about “bacon with eggs and toast buttered like crazy, Snapdragons, lilies, laburnums and daisies.”  (Song starts at 2:35).

At the end, there’s a new interruption–a tra-la-la-ing elf!

Rivendell Revelations

In a meeting with Elrond and Gandalf at Rivendell, Thorin finds out about the true fate of his father.  Gandalf has to convince him not to try to avenge his father’s death, and to seek to reclaim his birthright at the Misty Mountain instead.  The dwarves set off on their renewed quest to the tune of “Be a Man” from Mulan, but of course in this version it’s “Be a Dwarf.”  This is easily my second-favorite song, after the “Names and Faces” one, and it was my favorite part of the script because of this hilarious note on the choreography:

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I also loved how they told so much of the story through this song, (which starts at 3:50), like Bilbo getting the ring from Gollum, fighting the goblins, and escaping the wolves.  You can see an eagle flying in to rescue them at the very end right before the lights go down.

(To be a dwarf)
You must be strong as an iron anvil!
(Be a dwarf)
Defending family with every bone!
(Be a dwarf)
And grow a beard of unrivaled thickness
Enduring the storms like polished granite stone!

Mirkwood Melodrama

This is where Jackson’s movie cuts off, but An Unexpected Musical continues, with the dwarves entering Mirkwood forest sans Gandalf, who warns them not to leave the path.  Bombur falls under an enchantment, and everyone gets hungry and homesick, which they sing about to the tune of “Red/Black” from Les Miserables.  Maybe I was lying earlier when I said “Be a Dwarf” was my second-favorite, because I really love this one too!  The re-working of lyrics so perfectly fits the characters and their backstories as told in the book.

BILBO
What would my parents think if they could see me now?
Mr Baggins was such a predictable man
But my mother the Took lived her life on the edge
And their tension continues inside of my heart
The colors that they loved, now pulling me apart

Red – the sunsets in the Shire
Black – the Burglar’s road to walk
Red – my nice chair by the fire
Black – I can’t even pick a lock!

(The song starts at the 3 minute mark, and the full lyrics are available in the video description on youtube.)  In the end, the dwarves are temped to leave the path to try to crash the enchanted elvish party they think they can see in the woods, with disastrous results.

Greater Adventure

Everyone has been captured by giant spiders except Bilbo, who finds himself alone with a dazed wood-elf.  The elf scampers off muttering about unwanted party guests, and it’s up to Bilbo to face his fears and rescue his friends from the spiders, which he does after reprising bits of “Be a Dwarf” and “I have Confidence”.  (I so love the fishing-pole-spiders, and the leotard boss-spider!)  A rescued Thorin is grateful for Bilbo’s help, and gives a rousing speech about looking forward to adventures yet to come as they continue their quest.  The whole group joins in a word-for-word singing of the finale from Les Miserable, asking:

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barren waste
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes!

So amazing.  I’ve watched it dozens of times now and I still can’t believe how much work they put into this just for the fun of it, and how well it turned out.  I love it, and I hope you did, too!

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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” Reaction

Now that I have seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey twice, I feel able to post a reaction.  I never like to offer an official opinion based solely on a midnight showing, because sleep deprivation or distraction from noticing all the book-to-film changes can cast an unjustified negativity over the whole experience that disappears on a second, well-rested viewing.   (Although with this film, I didn’t really have any criticisms from the first viewing except that it did feel more like watching an extended edition than theatrical; I didn’t mind, but I can see how some critics, especially if they’re not Middle Earth nerds, might argue that it’s too long.)  My second viewing was in IMAX 3D with the high frame rate–I wasn’t wearing one of my home-made beards that time, but it was still an epic experience.

TheHobbit_1024x768_desktop-wallpaper

Although the 48 frames-per-second medium has been getting mixed reviews, I personally thought it was fantastic.  Some critics reported that it looked “too real” or that sets looked fake in the sharp, very clear picture.  I just don’t understand this perspective.  One reviewer said,

“Constructed interiors look much like they do in any of The Hobbit production diaries – like sets. Bilbo’s home has gone from a comfortable and homely Hobbit hole to something quite plasticky, and Rivendell suffers the same fate. In a quest to make his world more real, Jackson has inadvertently drawn our attention to its artifice.”

and

“When The Hobbit looks bad, it looks really bad, chiefly during action sequences where CG creatures are featured against non-CG backdrops. One scene stands out in particular, where a group of CG wargs (giant wolf-like creatures) chase our group of non-CG heroes across a grassy plain. The wargs look like CG wargs, while the dwarves look like Richard Armitage et al running around a….well, a grassy plain.”

I wonder if those criticisms aren’t really more of an audience problem than a flaw in the film itself.  For one thing, I completely disagree about the sets looking fake or “plasticky”, and I’d be very curious to see what this person’s reaction would be if they got the chance to visit the actual Bag End set, because I know they really built an actual Hobbit hole residence that Peter Jackson loved enough to keep and turn into a guest house.  So I’m not sure how, in this case, seeing the incredible detail and craftsmanship that went into that construction, as clearly as if you were there, makes the experience…worse?  I mean if the makeup or costumes or backgrounds were actually sloppy or of inferior quality then yes, seeing the clearer picture in a high frame rate might be a disadvantage, but that’s simply not the case here.  I think it’s wonderful that you can really see and appreciate a lot of those tiny details of painstaking work that you otherwise might not notice.  And as for the comment that you can tell the wargs are CGI, and the dwarves look like actors running around grass, I think that is an indication that this critic is incapable of suspending their disbelief, and maybe doesn’t exercise their imagination very much.  Of course you can tell that the wargs are CGI!  I can tell that Shelob is also CGI in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but that doesn’t stop her from scaring the crap out of me every time I watch it.  CGI is getting better all the time; it can be crap in some films, but I don’t think that’s the case here.  The trolls, goblins, and Gollum are all excellent.  Maybe the wargs look a bit less realistic, but not enough to distract me from the story.  And I can’t comprehend what this statement that they look like they’re running around “…well, a grassy plain” is supposed to mean.  How is that not totally perfect?  Have these critics never walked around with their iPod playing the Lord of the Rings soundtrack and imagining they’re running across Middle Earth on some epic quest?  Have they never looked at a patch of grass or a group of trees and pictured themselves in the movies’ setting?  What exactly is not good enough for them about these shots where there’s no highway in the background, no train whistles or neighbor’s dogs, no buildings, all of which my imagination is able to block out or transform when I’m walking down the street, if I want to temporarily be an elf?  Basically, I don’t get the people who don’t get 48 fps.  It’s like they expect the movie to do everything for them, and at the same time they don’t want it to do too much.

One of the things I loved about this adaptation, that I hadn’t known I was missing, was the perspective that the dwarves are in a diaspora.  It certainly lends more purpose and heart to their quest, and it’s easier to root for them this way than if they were just going after gold.  And it’s not really an addition, it’s completely justifiable from the text, I just hadn’t ever thought of it that way before.  I absolutely loved the exchange between Bofur and Bilbo, when the hobbit is considering leaving the company because he doesn’t feel like he’s useful or one of them, and he says, “You’re used to this life…never settling in one place, not belonging anywhere.  I’m sorry…” and Bofur just sadly agrees, “No, you’re right.  We don’t belong anywhere,” and wishes him well.  (Also, Bofur’s hat is the same style as Radagast’s, which makes me think it’s not inherently dwarf-style, but Bofur just picked it up somewhere in his wanderings.)  Bilbo’s later declaration that he’s sticking with the dwarves because, “[Bag End]‘s where I belong.  That’s home.  You don’t have one.  It was taken from you.  And I will help you take it back if I can,” is a better explicit motivation than inner monologues of “something Tookish woke up inside him,” or “he suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce,” such as we see in the book.

blunt the knives end

I did love the “Blunt the Knives” song sequence, when the dwarves are tossing dishes around, much to Bilbo’s dismay.  In light of the dwarf diaspora perspective, this joyful pastime seems almost sad in a way, like it’s an improvised way to keep a part of their culture alive.  They once mined jewels and pounded silver and gold and mithril into extraordinary creations with rhythmic hammerings, but they don’t have mines anymore.  They don’t have any of that anymore.  They have dishes, forks and knives and feet.  So they stamp them and clash them together, they use whatever they have to keep that rhythmic group effort piece of their culture alive, to link themselves to their proud heritage and to maintain a collective identity even though they are scattered, and in the words of Balin, reduced to “Merchants, miners, tinkers, toymakers.  Hardly the stuff of legend.”  Thorin’s response was one of my favorite lines in the film:

“I would take each and every one of these dwarves over an army from the Iron Hills.  For when I called upon them they answered.  Loyalty, honor, a willing heart–I can ask no more than that.”

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins was PERFECT.  In every scene.  There’s no other word for that performance; it was perfect.

Am I the only one who automatically, silently quoted The Lord of the Rings movies during the scene when the dwarves narrowly escape the wargs in the secret passage to Rivendell?  When Gandalf shouted, “This way, you fools!” I couldn’t help but think, “Fly, you fools!”  (And by the way, I’m pretty sure that Gandalf shouted for everybody to “RUN!” at least three separate times in this movie.  Oh, Gandalf, you awesome wizard, you sure love bossing people/dwarves/hobbits around!)  And then when the dwarves are in a heap at the bottom of the tunnel they dove into, and the wargs are just outside, and they hear a horn, I can’t help but channel my inner Helm’s Deep Legolas and think, “That is no orc horn!”  Every time.

I read that Peter Jackson cameos as a dwarf running away from Smaug at Erebor, but I’m not sure I caught a glimpse of which one was supposed to be him.

I covet Elrond’s outfits, head to toe.  I want that lovely long straight hair, his silver crown, his beautifully embroidered tunic, and his boots.  Galadriel’s gowns are gorgeous, too.  Galadriel is gorgeous, period.

I didn’t love Radagast.  I mean, I liked him, especially when he was saving the little hedgehog, but it was more like I tolerated his comic-relief “I’m kind of a forgetful pothead” schtick later on.  I probably wouldn’t even be commenting on it except that I had read that Phillipa Boyens thought he would be a fan favorite.  And what are Rastagan (Rastafarian? Rastabad? Radagastan?) Rabbits, and are they really faster than wargs?

One very cool thing towards the end of the credits is a list of names and corresponding languages with the header “Foreign translations of the novel provided by:”  I haven’t been able to find any articles about this, so I’ll have to jot down some of the names the next time I see the movie and look them up individually to be sure, but I think it’s just a list of the people that did the translating work over the years to allow more people to enjoy reading Tolkien’s work.  And if that’s what it is, that’s a terrific show of respect, both for the source material and for the people that have contributed to spreading an adoration for this story, and I love it.

Anyway, now that we’ve seen the first installment, I’m curious whether people’s opinions on splitting the story into three films have changed.  I’m not entirely sure where I stand myself yet; on my first viewing I thought that it did feel a little long, but I’m not sure what I would have cut.  I want to say I’ll wait until all three parts are out to make an official decision, but by then I will have fallen in love with everything that was included and not be willing to make a case for leaving anything out, so I guess my unofficial position is approval.

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The Hobbit: A Meticulously Prepared-For Journey

I did it!  I finished the 13 dwarf beards in time for the midnight premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  It took me five and a half weeks overall, but I didn’t work on them every single day during that time.  I didn’t do much of anything else in my free time, though.   All the hard work was definitely worth it; they looked great, (not 100 percent accurate, but overall pretty close), and wearing them with a big group while in line for the midnight showing was just as much fun for everyone as I had hoped it would be.   This is going to be an image-heavy post, but I’m just so proud of the work I put into this event, I want to be sure it’ s documented.  And if anybody is planning a Hobbit- or Dwarf-themed party, maybe this will give you some ideas.

Kili.  I gave him a goatee because I wasn't sure how to crochet a five o'clock shadow, and I didn't want him to be the only one without a beard section.

Kili. I gave him a goatee because I wasn’t sure how to crochet a five o’clock shadow, and I didn’t want him to be the only one without a beard section.

Fili.  Originally wanted to untangle the yarn on top that is pulled back, because movie-Fili's hair is kind of wavy there, but I ran out of time.  Love his braided mustache.

Fili. Originally wanted to untangle the yarn on top that is pulled back, because movie-Fili’s hair is kind of wavy there, but I ran out of time. Love his braided mustache, and I love this yarn color.

Oin.  some of his mustache strands have craft wire in them.  The lighter gray strands of unbraided mustache on top are actually hot glue-gunned onto the braid beneath them to keep them in that round shape circling the mouth.  I noticed during the film that one of the dwarves had a kind of spiked curl in the back of their head, and I think it was Oin, so I might need to add that for next time.

Oin. some of his mustache strands have craft wire in them. The lighter gray strands of unbraided mustache on top are actually hot glue-gunned onto the braid beneath them to keep them in that round shape circling the mouth. I noticed during the film that one of the dwarves had a kind of spiked curl in the back of their head, and I think it was Oin, so I might need to add that for next time.

Gloin.  I realized after I finished this one that those three small bundles on either side of his mouth should actually be braids, not loops.  Love this color of yarn, though--I used the same color for Nori and Ori, and working with it always made me want to eat a pumpkin muffin, because the color is called Burnt Pumpkin.

Gloin. I realized after I finished this one that those three small bundles on either side of his mouth should actually be braids, not loops. Love this color of yarn, though–I used the same color for Nori and Ori, and working with it always made me want to eat a pumpkin muffin, because the color is called Burnt Pumpkin.

Dwalin.  Couldn't figure out how to add tattoos to the scalp part.

Dwalin. Couldn’t figure out how to add tattoos to the scalp part.

Balin.  I curled the ends of the beard by dipping them in a mixture of water and glue and wrapping them around wax-paper-covered rolls of toilet paper to dry.

Balin. I curled the ends of the beard by dipping them in a mixture of water and glue and wrapping them around wax-paper-covered rolls of toilet paper to dry.

Bifur.  I don't think his beard cuffs got enough silver spray paint, and I didn't manage to figure out how to include the axe head that is supposed to be imbedded in his forehead. Maybe I can work something out by next year.

Bifur. I don’t think his beard cuffs got enough silver spray paint, and I didn’t manage to figure out how to include the axe head that is supposed to be imbedded in his forehead. Maybe I can work something out by next year.

Bofur.  The braids have craft wire in them, and the mustache was formed separately with glue and let dry, then hot glue-gunned onto the upper lip crochet base.  You can't see it in this picture, but he's got another braid hanging down in the back.

Bofur. The braids have craft wire in them, and the mustache was formed separately with glue and let dry, then hot glue-gunned onto the upper lip crochet base. You can’t see it in this picture, but he’s got another braid hanging down in the back.

Bombur.  Hard to tell in this picture but he does have a "bald" spot on top.  I ended up making another ,bigger neck-braid too, but that part was pretty simple.

Bombur. Hard to tell in this picture but he does have a “bald” spot on top. I ended up making another, bigger neck-braid too, but that part was pretty simple. And I know for a fact that Stephen Hunter approved of this creation, because he favorited my tweets of it.

Nori.  Definitely the most complicated design, so I was the most proud of how this one turned out. The cones are crocheted and stuffed with batting.  He's the only one I made eyebrows for, since they had to be braided back into his hair!

Nori. Definitely the most complicated design, so I was the most proud of how this one turned out. The cones are crocheted and stuffed with batting. He’s the only one I made eyebrows for, since they had to be braided back into his hair!

Ori.  This was the first one I added extra yarn "hair" to, and I was originally planning to do this de-tangling of the yarn for all of them, to make them look more like hair.  But it took way too long, so I didn't do it on the rest of them.

Ori. This was the first one I added extra yarn “hair” to, and I was originally planning to do this de-tangling of the yarn for all of them, to make them look more like hair. But it took way too long, so I didn’t do it on the rest of them.  Adam Brown re-tweeted a picture of this, too, so it must have turned out good enough for the real Ori!

Dori.  Had to show off the multiple angles!  This was one of my favorites.  I just think it looks so cool!  I don't have the braids replicated exactly right but I'm pleased with how it turned out.

Dori. Had to show off the multiple angles! This was one of my favorites. I just think it looks so cool! I don’t have the braids replicated exactly right but I’m pleased with how it turned out. The silver cuffs on all of these were made by first squiggling designs with Elmer’s glue onto white cardstock to create texture, then after the glue dried I spray-painted the whole thing silver.  If I had more time I might have tried to match the actual cuff designs, but the random glue squiggles still look pretty cool.

Thorin Oakenshield.  Should have made his braids a bit longer, and I noticed while watching the movie that it looks like maybe he has a bigger braid or two in the back?  But I love the gray streaks that I included at his temples and forehead.

Thorin Oakenshield. Should have made his braids a bit longer, and I noticed while watching the movie that it looks like maybe he has a bigger braid or two in the back? But I love the gray streaks that I included at his temples and forehead.

Our company of dwarves was first in line at our chosen theater, although not all 13 dwarves were there right away.  After the sun went down it was pretty cold, but the beards helped keep our faces warm, and I had arranged for a friend to deliver us hot pot pies, (because it sounded like a hobbit/dwarf-ish food), when there were still about four hours left before the show started.  We also had somebody bring us hot chocolate, which we shared with the people behind us in line.

Themed activities that we did to pass the time (and to give me an excuse to hand out prizes) included an archery contest, (we shot at a goblin target with a toy bow and arrow, and the grand prize was a Kili action figure), a warrior attack contest, (charging at the same goblin target with a chosen fake weapon from our stash and seeing who had the best style), playing a dwarvish rune-based memory game (I made the cards based on the movie’s “dwarvish word of the day” from the facebook page), riddles, and trivia.  And anybody that could correctly name/identify all 13 dwarves got an edible pipe.  We also traded some edible pipes for lembas bread from some elves that were a few groups behind us in line.  We also had an on-going burglary competition, but the caveats were that you had to be wearing your beard at the time and you couldn’t actually steal anything serious.  (The winner ended up being a sneaky little dwarf who drank half of somebody else’s soda before they noticed, and the prize was a Bilbo action figure.)  Other prizes were posters, some of them small ones that I made by cutting up a Hobbit movie calendar–I don’t exactly have an unlimited party-planning budget.

Front and back example of easy-to-make Sting prize; hold it silver-spray-painted side out when all is safe, but flip to blue cardstock/candycane to signal that orcs or goblins are near!

Front and back of Sting prize; hold it silver-spray-painted side out when all is safe, but flip to blue cardstock/candycane to signal that orcs or goblins are near!

Edible pipe, made from brownie cooked in mini-muffin pans with reeses peanut butter cups at the center for the "tobacco."  I stuck pretzel sticks in the reeses when they were still warm so that it would harden around the pretzel, then dipped the "bowl" in almond bark to reinforce it.  A little tedious, but they turned out great!

Edible pipe, made from brownie cooked in mini-muffin pans with reese’s peanut butter cups at the center for the “tobacco.” I stuck pretzel sticks in the reese’s when they were still warm so that it would harden around the pretzel, then dipped the pipe “bowl” in almond bark to reinforce it. Tedious, but they turned out pretty well and they were a hit.

Another snack idea that I thought of but didn’t have time for was stone trolls; I was going to make rice crispies and cut them out using a gingerbread-man cookie cutter, then dip them in white chocolate almond bark with a little bit of candy food coloring to make it gray, so that they resembled Bill, Tom, and Bert after they were turned into stone.  I thought about dipping all but their feet and calling it “Trolls at Sunrise,” but I didn’t end up having time to do any of it, and that’s not a snack that will be appropriate next year for part 2 since the trolls are only in part 1.  I can re-use the pipes and candy-cane Stings ideas, though.

Ori enjoys an edible pipe.

Ori enjoys an edible pipe.

Fili sneaks up on the goblin for a surprise attack with a glowing Sting, (which I got over at thinkgeek.com).

Fili sneaks up on the goblin for a surprise attack with a glowing Sting, (which I got over at thinkgeek.com).  I painted the goblin based on the Grinnah action figure.

The Dwarven rune-based memory game cards; basically I copied the runes, pronunciation guides and meanings provided by the official Hobbit movie facebook page, and found pictures to match the meanings. I put the runes and the pronunciation on the cards with the pictures too so that anybody could make a match regardless of previous rune knowledge. The cards are printed on colored cardstock so that you can't see through them when they're flipped over to cheat, and laminated to make them more durable.

The Dwarven rune-based memory game cards; basically I copied the runes, pronunciation guides and meanings provided by the official Hobbit movie facebook page, and found pictures to match the meanings. I put the runes and the pronunciation on the cards with the pictures too so that anybody could make a match regardless of previous rune knowledge. The cards are printed on colored cardstock so that you can’t see through them when they’re flipped over to cheat, and laminated to make them more durable.

I’m definitely going to save the beards for next year when part 2 comes out, although personally I’d like to go to that one in a Smaug costume if I can, although I have no idea at this point where to begin crafting on that.  I’ll probably tweak the beards to improve them before then anyway, especially now that I’ll have a lot more reference pictures from multiple angles to work with from the first film.  And we didn’t have a Bilbo or a Gandalf this year, so maybe they can be added as well.

13 dwarves wearing pagelady's beard creations at the theater for the midnight showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

13 dwarves wearing pagelady’s beard creations and 3D glasses in the theater for the midnight showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

This project was a lot of work, and sometimes it seemed ridiculous or frustrating that I was putting so much effort into something that might seem silly or fleeting.  But if you watched the Hobbit production videos like I did, you have an idea of how much work by how many people goes into making these movies that we love.  And I think this is the best way to honor and appreciate the hard work that those people did–not just Peter Jackson and the cast, but also the people who did make-up, lighting, sound editing, digital enhancements, and every little step along the way, for months and months–by putting in a lot of hours myself to enjoy experiencing their work to the fullest.

And the highlight of the night for me was when the official Hobbit movie twitter account acknowledged all my hard work with a “so great!” stamp of approval.

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Re-Playing The Hobbit

This Saturday (September 22) was “Hobbit Day,” the shared birthday of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins.  I might not have noticed, but the marketing for the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made a big deal out of it being “Tolkien Week,” releasing a new trailer and asking via their facebook page what people were doing to celebrate Hobbit Day.  Since it was a Saturday and I’m always up for a random reason to celebrate, (I once threw an elvish party on Orlando Bloom’s birthday, and an Australia-themed party on Australia Day which involved watching movies set down under), I decided to celebrate by eating second breakfast and playing the Vivendi Universal video game The Hobbit on Gamecube.

pic of video game cover

I may have slept in too late to have what could really be considered “second breakfast,” but it at least counted as “elevensies.”  And I did manage to play The Hobbit up to the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter, so I covered nearly as much ground as I predict the first film will.  Plus I was barefoot, so, it was a pretty good Hobbit Day.  Could have used more theme foods, but maybe next year I’ll have more time to prepare.

I was excited about re-playing The Hobbit because I remembered it fondly as my favorite video game, the first RPG that I played all the way through.  (I didn’t grow up with any gaming consoles, so until college I only played snippets at friends’ houses.)  In re-playing I discovered that it isn’t quite so perfect, but still very enjoyable, with the best video-game music I’d heard before I played Skyrim.  The game music for The Hobbit actually won “Best Original Soundtrack of the Year” in 2004.

The drawbacks to this game that I either forgot or didn’t recognize the first time I played include not having any maps to refer to, so if you stray from the courage-point-gemstone-led path it’s very easy to become lost for extended periods of time.  I guess Bilbo didn’t have a map for all of his burgling either, but I was jumping to a ledge so I could fight some goblins to get to the next save pedestal in a cave, and missed, sliding down the cave wall to a level below.  It took at least thirty minutes to find my way up again without a map or courage points leading the way.  It was extremely frustrating, and leads me to another drawback of this game-not enough save pedestals!  Maybe that’s just supposed to be part of the challenge, but you can’t save unless you’re at a save pedestal, and sometimes they are few and far between, meaning I had to keep re-killing the same goblins over and over and jumping up and down the same paths because I would die before I could reach the next save opportunity.  Also annoying is the fact that you can’t go back and re-play a level; when you get to the end of a level your stats tell you if you missed any chests, coins, or loot, but you can’t tell while you’re in the level if you’ve found them all or not and you can’t go back to re-play once you find out you’ve missed some.  (Maybe that is just another challenge and I’m too accustomed to relying on game hints).  Finally, the camera angles are super-irritating; they change in the middle of your movements and make it difficult to maneuver since the joystick direction depends on the camera angle.  If you’re in a corner it’s sometimes impossible to get the camera behind you to look ahead, and you have to sort of jump blind or at an awkward view and hope you don’t miss.

The things that I love about this game far outweigh the frustrations, (except in those moments where I am being defeated by some foe or falling off an edge, in which case I temporarily scream that it sucks, until I go back and vanquish the same foe or difficult jump and then I’m back to thinking it’s awesome.  So maybe I am not the most emotionally stable and rational person when I’m playing a game.)  I love that the tone is a light-hearted, yet at times dangerous adventure, just like the book.   The music does a lot to help set the tone, and as I’ve mentioned it is fantastic.  I love that part of the game is solving puzzles, sneaking around and “picking locks”, like a good Hobbit burglar.

picture of lock picking in game

To pick a lock in game, you have to hit the button as the moving pieces line up with the green. More difficult locks have more pieces to get right, and there is always a timer. Some locks are poisonous, and if you hit the button at the wrong time or run out of time your health suffers. Of course, those chests tend to have better loot.

I love that you can use your walking staff to sort of pole-vault into a long jump, and you don’t immediately drown if you hit the water.  (You can’t swim, but sometimes you can hop out or onto a rock if you’re fast enough.  If it’s too deep, you die rather gruesomely–poor Biblo struggles and then leans his head back, eyes closed, and opens his mouth when he drowns.)  I love that you can climb, up some cliffs if they have vines hanging, and you can hang on ledges by your fingertips and creep along them scooting one hand at a time while hanging.  I love that you get to use Sting as light in dark caves, and use the Ring to sneak invisibly past foes after you acquire it.  (The Ring has a time limit, which is good because otherwise the second half of the game would hardly be a challenge).  I love the choices in weapons–you start out with just your walking staff, but later acquire throwing rocks and the sword Sting.  The staff has a longer reach, Sting does more damage, and the rocks are a distance weapon.  Sometimes you can use flaming or freezing rocks for special attacks.

I’m currently at a stage in the game where I’m trying to sneak past and/or fight goblins, and it made me realize how differently I think of the same “type” of creatures within different stories.  In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, goblins are the enemy, they’ll kill you if you don’t kill them.  But in the Harry Potter universe, goblins run the wizard bank Gringotts.  They have an uneasy history with wizards, but they aren’t goons grunting around in caves.  And in The Hobbit, there’s a whole company of heroic dwarves, while dwarves are hardly mentioned in Harry Potter.  There are several dwarves in The Chronicles of Narnia, but I don’t remember any goblins.  It’s funny how some fantasy elements are universals, but still re-defined in each story.

To give you an idea of what gameplay in The Hobbit looks like, here’s video of someone playing part of the first level, “An Unexpected Party.”  The music for this part in the Shire might be my favorite in the whole game.

I expect there will be new Hobbit video games made in the next few years to go along with the movies, but I think I’ll always prefer this version.  Despite the drawbacks, it’s truly a delight to play.

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Singing of the Dwarves (Hobbit Trailer!!!!)

ZOMG, the first trailer for The Hobbit is finally here!  I love it.

I love the singing.  The lyrics are taken from a song in the book, obviously.  There are some lines missing that leave the bit in the trailer a little nonsensical, but they always splice scenes together for trailers, and even in the movie I wouldn’t expect them to include every line from every song.  Tolkien was quite verbose.  Here’s some text from the paragraph just before the song, that I think show how well this movie is bringing the story to life:

The dark filled all the room, and the fire died down, and the shadows were lost, and still they played on.  And suddenly first one and then another began to sing as they played, deep-throated singing of the dwarves in the deep places of their ancient homes.

Musically, I think the song is reminiscent of Pippin’s song (Edge of Night) from Return of the King.  Here are the lyrics that are sung in the trailer:

Far over the misty mountain cold,

To dungeons deep and caverns old,

The pines were roaring on the height,

The winds were moaning in the night,

The fire was red, it flaming spread,

The trees like torches blazed with light.

These come from two stanzas about half-way through the song as it is included in the book, and there are two lines missing that should come after the first couplet:

We must away, ere break of day

To seek our long-forgotten gold.

Rather important syntactically, (without them it sounds like the pines were roaring to the dungeons, or something), but maybe in the full version of this scene the song will be more complete.  (The flames, by the way, are from “the dragons ire, more fierce than fire,” and there is also a stanza about goblins that was skipped over between the lines of the trailer song.)  I do love that it is a new tune, and that it continues throughout the second part of the trailer.  New music!  I mean I love the Lord of the Rings soundtracks, and they instantly increase my level of excitement when Peter Jackson includes them in his vlogs as he has been doing, but these are new films and I’m so stoked to be getting new, epic music to go with them.  (The score is by Howard Shore, who also composed the music for all three Lord of the Rings films).

The tone of this trailer is undoubtedly dark.  The song lyrics included talk about deep dark dungeons and burning landscapes, and several times Bilbo’s chances of survival are called into question, which I think is a little bit silly because we all know that this is a prequel and that he’s going to survive.  I think they could generate excitement or market this as an action adventure full of dangerous escapades without trying to make us believe that Bilbo might die, don’t you?  But they didn’t really need to work at convincing me to be excited for this movie anyway. I am duly excited.  Maybe I will re-read The Hobbit during the holiday break!

**update 12/14/12**  The full version of this Misty Mountain song, as sung in the movie and on the soundtrack, has these lyrics:

Far over the misty mountain cold,

To dungeons deep and caverns old,

We must away, ere break of day,

To find our long forgotten gold.

The pines were roaring on the height,

The winds were moaning in the night,

The fire was red, it flaming spread,

The trees like torches blazed with light.

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