Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Hobbit Un-Trilogy: A Review


  Most Americans have seen The Hobbit 3-part movie that Peter Jackson has been piece-mealing us for the last 3 years, perhaps in-hopes that it is similar to the lauded Lord of the Rings trilogy from the last decade.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, the latter a fantasy-story in the Scorsese-vein that power corrupts absolutely and so the hero(s) attempt to destroy a ring that holds that power (with a nemesis that wants it for himself).  Pretty standard stuff, though beautifully sprawling scenery (filmed mostly in New Zealand) and panoramic vistas make for an epic experience.  I'm a bit more partial to the arguably more-correct animated Ralph Bakshi version from 1978, however, because that kind of effort was amazing, frame-by-frame painting each cell before computers did everything for you.  These stories were written by iconic fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien (yeah, he's got two middle-names) in 1937 to 1949 (not published until 1954) and has some allegories towards Europe and World War I & II pretty easily recognized (even the elves [not elfs, as Tolkien created a bit of his own language here] come-off as French without too much of a stretch of the imagination).   If you haven't seen the trilogy from the early 2000's, it's worth a watch, though be-warned each clocks-in at several hours.  Watching the Trilogy, like The Godfather trilogy, is an all-day affair best suited to a 3-day viewing.

Peter Jackson's well-received Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring film (2001)

  The Hobbit is a bit of an unintended prequel to The Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien wrote in 1937, along with several notes for a sprawling world that was published in 1977 called, The Silmarillion.  The notes themselves were very short stories and some were just poems or song segments to create a world-backdrop.  Very rarely are books of merely just "notes" published due to an international interest.  I've read it, and it's a tough-read with a lot of proper-nouns in it that boggle and drag-down the mind and I don't recommend it much unless you absolutely love the Lord of the Rings trilogy to pieces and want more of it.  A lot of folks did, and it sold relatively well, and most people buy it without actually reading it (because it's just a collection of rough-notes and a few sparse short-stories and poems) and there's no real "ending" to it and rambles on confusingly like The Book of Revelations sometimes, as well as this blog (yes, my work is near-biblical, thank you.)

  If you're a fan of animation, both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were released as animated features in good-effort and are worth a watch.  The Hobbit was by Rankin Bass who worked on Frosty the Snowman, some stop-motion animation such as The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV-movies, The Last Unicorn, and the iconic Heavy Metal.  Quite a few movies and shorts over the years.  The cartoon of The Hobbit is seemingly done in watercolors and follows the book fairly well, though a few key elements are missing as it's only 77 minutes long and made for TV in 1977 it's pretty good, though packed with some Shatner-esque singing segments that are still mimicked today.  It comes-off as being dark at points (as it should) and is probably best-suited for kids over the age of 9 or 10:  they might not understand some of the gravity and grim-ness of some of the situations.

Rankin Bass' The Hobbit.  Here is Bard of Laketown.  In the book and cartoon, a thrush tells him Smaug's weakness.

Bakshi's Lord of the Rings (1978) Ringwraith-Nazgul senses The One Ring nearby
Bakshi's Lord of the Rings (1978) Horseman of Rohan
Rankin Bass finished Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings roto-scoped cartoon version as he had only finished up-to The Two Towers (the second book in the series) by making a Return of the King film in the same scale and scope as The Hobbit though it comes-off being a bit disjointed.  Ralph Bakshi's work was quite like Heavy Metal with its brooding darkness and foreboding danger where Rankin Bass couldn't quite pull that off, trying a bit too hard and looking more like a Filmation's He-Man in a lot of ways.  Bakshi rotoscoped and added-over live-actors as Disney did in their Golden Era with Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Snow White (1937).  Watching all 3 animated films consecutively will get you the special Mike Cronis official Prize of

Return of the King (1980) King of RohanNotice the difference in animation style from above.

  Jackson has made these 3 movies a bit of a "fan fiction" spectacle of sorts.  He also added some video-game-like sequences about midway through each of the three, particularly with anything having to do with a supposed-to-be-non-existent "Legolas" who was added perhaps for the "ladies" in the audience, or that Orlando Bloom had nothing else going on.  As usual, he comes off as a whiny, fancy bitch with dainty booties, often rendered in video-game physics-defying low-resolution goofiness.  I'm not sure why Jackson made these sequences, particularly with roll-your-eyes action, perhaps for the very young, mentally handicapped children from foreign countries with gay-AIDS?

The character Turiel isn't in any Tolkien books, added for romantic-conflict only, played cutely by Lost's Evangeline Lilly.

Legolas fights Smaug.
  The "action" is over-the-top sequences that are painful to watch.  In the first installment, it's in the Misty Mountains.  Jackson took liberties here and created a Mario Brothers engineering feat of mining railways that are nonsensical and virtually useless, lest the goblins were drunk in designing them.  The dwarves and company are chased through these while riding and bouncing around ridiculously.  It looks really poor.  In the second installment, the chapter "Barrel Out of Bonds" was supposed to be a quiet escape into the night towards Laketown, but instead, more video-game action and violence-porn even Tarantino would blush at.  Not enough?  A goofy, non-canonical dwarven attack on Smaug in the Lonely Mountain such that MacGyver would frown upon.  In the final installment, an unnecessary mono-e-mono against an Uruk-hai leader-orc that ends stupidly.  Legolas jumps and runs up falling rocks, and there's a ton of ninja-like action that is just downright silly.  Kids might like it, but I'm weary of retarded physics.  I can handle a little suspension-of-disbelief but Jackson just ignores physics for some reason and it caters to young-minded children who might find it "cool" that an elf can run up a falling bridge's stones like a broken video game because they're so buried in their smartphones they don't know what is possible and what is not anymore, those lines blurred. 

1970's magician Doug Henning obtains, apparently, the Ring of Power, the One Ring to rule them all, to Mordor's door.
Peter Jackson's version of the Nazgul.

  Aside from the 20-minute action-sequences and fan-fiction add-ins, the movie is a bit slow and any sort of danger is kept wan.  I feel no concern for any character throughout, partially because the story is mandatory reading for 5th graders where I come from, and partially because the grimness is "backed-off".  In the book (and Rankin Bass' efforts) three scenes are quite grave:

1.  The three trolls. 
     In the cartoon, it starts off pretty much like they're dullards but a sense of real doom starts creeping-in to your awareness.  At first it's a mild inconvenience like driving into Detroit but then it's like the car runs out of gas and it's midnight and those blue-lit boxes aren't working and there's no phone coverage and... In the recent film, however,  it comes-off kind of goofy and stays that way, trying to get some laughs somehow (to who might laugh I don't know, perhaps Family Circus lovers and retards).  It's kept light on-purpose.

2.   Misty Mountains

Rankin Bass' goblins are better.
     In the cartoon, the ponies are outright murdered by the goblins and they show them being drug down and Bilbo laments about this, all to the song of Down to Goblin Town, "Down-ho, my lads!" sarcastically.  Thorin is met with the Goblin King who's mouth extends viciously to rip-off his head.  It's no joke as the King quivers with salivary anticipation animalistically, eyes gone vacant like a pure-creature who is to devour a meal with lust.  Jackson akins his version to Rotta Hutt (aka "Baby Stinky") from Star Wars: The Clone Wars film (2008) and company.  Again, the goblins are comedic-relief, even when riding the wargs when chasing the company through the goblin caves and later up tall fir trees with only a slight tinge of concern as they're set-ablaze with some more impossible-physics to save-the-day.  The cartoon has the goblins singing, "Fifteen Birds in 5 Fir Trees" as a joke as they announce they're going to roast them alive.  The dealings with Gollum in the cartoon were done in the vein of Peter Lorre's best work in the radio-drama Suspense (1942-1962) with a desperate The Joker-like madness there, Jackson's Gollum, though well-rendered, comes-off as laughable and a non-threat throughout.  Rankin Bass' is a bit more unpredictable and his murderous intentions are far more clear and likely.


3.   The Lonely Mountain
     Smaug is depicted as the classic rendition of a "red dragon" in the Dungeons & Dragons vein properly in the cartoon visually.  He considers Bilbo for a while and there's tension as to whether he'll be spotted with the infra-vision.  This is not depicted in Jackson's version well and again, we're spared the tension a bit.  There's no dread.  It comes-off more like, "Oh, cool!  It's a dragon talking!  Neet!"  Smaug is rendered fairly, about as good as Dragonheart (1996) and no-better.  Even Vermitrhax from Dragon Slayer (1981) is slightly more realistic, arguably, and we see little of her in that movie except when she's burning things towards the end in classic horror-film fashion where you don't see her much until the end, just suggestions to let your mind create something more sinister.  I'm not sure why Cumberbatch is considered a good actor.  I've seen his work and am utterly unimpressed.  In this day-and-age, however, when people think DeCaprio deserves an Academy Award, it's easy to see how far the film-industry has fallen, (as well as musical talent).  Indeed, a laughable actor in 1971 might be Academy-Award-worthy in 2015!  Talent has slipped, partially due to CGI and call-it-in lines.  Not much by-way of passion in acting.  It's so rare to see now.  Lines are delivered so flatly these days.  To do a dragon-voice it's easy to do an octave-drop digitally with a little reverb and bingo, "dragon".  Shrug.  Lines are delivered mediocrely, but ramp-up a notch in the third-installment.  There's little vehemence or drooling hatred in this tired old dragon's tone.  If Dumberbatch wants to know how to emote hatred, I can show him quite-readily, because I saw what George Lucas did to my childhood with The Phantom Menace, what Michael Bay did to Transformers, and Abrams did to Star Trek.  I'll show him a red glowing, deeply-rooted hatred that would make him wet himself like some Kwisatz Haderach rebellion shout-weapon.  It's easy to draw from hatred, Cumberbunny, just draw from "The Well of Hatred" that all Irish possess.  It never ends.  Drink from it, Cucumberbatch.  Taste the rainbow.

Rankin Bass' Smaug
Peter Jackson's Smaug.

  So, overall, the movie is "fun", non-canonical, visually goofy at-times, and Pete skips Bilbo's return-trip home for the most part.  Guess it was too boring because you gotta fill-in more shouldn't-be-there Legolas' "Roronoa Zoro" impersonations from Japan's One Piece anime because, "Hey, hey!  He's badass, see?  See how cool he is?  Wow!  He can jump super-high and wow!" 
Legolas forgets his "katana" mastery (Niten Ichi Ryu) in Lord of the Rings, apparently.

  In the third-installment, there is a highlight of Galadriel banishing Sauron with one of the Elvish Rings of Power, and a 92-year-old Christopher Lee as Saruman fighting Ring Wraiths as a wizard-badass.  That entire sequence was pretty impressively done, so a few points there.  Still, final verdict:

Grade of the Jackson's The Hobbit Trilogy:  C

Neil Hamburger says, "You know what's wrong with The Hobbit?  It's not realistic enough a fantasy film!"

Here's a picture of a hot chick to make you feel better:


Oh, and one for the ladies too...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Talkin' Bout' My G-G-Generation

      It's interesting to note that kids these days (ie. under 30) are in love with themselves.  I think every generation generally is, though the previous ones would embrace earlier works of art, literature, and media whole-heartedly.  This generation (which you all know is dubbed (by me) as Generation Zero) refuses to look-back.  This could almost be a good thing, hoping a level of progression exists, but it does not.  You cannot progress if you do not have an earlier starting point to base progression off of.  Essentially, you're starting with zero (hence, even more perfection of my definition of those born in the "naughts" as "Generation Zero".  Serendipitously awesome there.  I'd like my Pulitzer in 10s and 20s please, keep the trophy, unless it's gold, then melt it down and give me the cash-value of it at the current going-rate).

     GZ tends to be quite sensitive to those who recommend something from the '70s or '80s that might be super-awesome and disregard it as "old" and therefore negligible.  It's an odd connection.  When I was growing-up, others would recommend something 20 or 30 years older than myself and I'd give it a go and sure enough it was noteworthy and impressive.  Talent is talent, despite the age of it.  Some musicians realize that certain equipment was of higher caliber than present-day efforts, such as analog equipment.  The HipHop Industry raves over the Roland DR-808 drum machine, ugly and cumbersome as it is, this device has a particular warm and iconic "thud" on the kick-drum that is pleasing to every generation's ear.  Certain guitarists' chorus-effects can be best-produced from earlier Boss Chorus Ensemble devices from the mid-1970's.  Often, analog devices are somehow more pleasing to the eye or ear, and ultimately "brain".  I can remember when we all switched to digital LCD (or LED) screens from massive analog CRT computer screens several years ago.  I remember that though they looked "crisp" there was a je-ne-se-qua element missing and it came-off as being cold, perhaps vacant or "false" in some way. 

Generation Zero cannot tell if this is real or not (it is).

     When I see CGI in a movie, I can see that missing element of analog-y-ness, like some pixilated doppelganger out-of-place more-so than even a hand-drawn cartoon or a Claymation Ray Harryhousen brilliance.  It seems, despite great digital efforts, utterly pathetic and fake compared to an analog or "practical" effect.  Ah, how I miss the actual "Stunt Man".  The "real-ness" of things just impresses me: the talent, the honesty, the integrity of it.  This synthetically-rendered world is getting on my nerves, and it lacks of professionalism somehow, it's dryness creeps around every corner like a blow-up-doll in a passenger-seat, the driver trying to fool the Law in the carpool-lane.  I ain't fooled.  It lacks quality.

     We can look, however, to the concept of what "quality" is, as is explained in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  From that (rather lengthy) book, one can philosophize that "quality" is universally agreed-upon, though truly, it is not.  Quality itself is an individualistic element, different to each of us.  Sure, the CGI-master-renderer can simulate very closely elements of Truth to get very close.  Still, what is lacking?  It's hard to tell exactly "what".  Once in a while, I can be not sure in a low-videophile environment (such as on a tablet or "smart"-phone) that I'm being tricked.  As we increase quality of viewing to microscopic levels, it's easier to tell, and it sticks-out like a sore thumb.

MP3 or M4A files mean you can have a ton of songs in a small space.  2 Loss-free files in comparison visually.
     Back to the topic, when you mention that Steve McQueen in Bullitt was actually driving like a madman in real-life in that Ford Mustang, they shrug it off to the excellence of some of the Fast and Furious films, even though the physics in a bridge-jump with a front-wheel-front-engine car would make it nose-down hard.  Mentioning the physics silliness of it makes them respond ambivalently.  "It just looks cool!" like some Applejacks commercial from the 1980's, "We just do!"  Uh-huh

Fake car race in Cars 2 (2011)
Actual car race in Bullitt (1968) with no safety and real drivers.

Actual jump, no safety, no fake car, no mods. Bullitt (1968)
Dodge Charger got f*cked-up pretty badly throughout the chase, especially after the previous jump (above).

     When a kid I know at work mentioned that he thinks Arcade Fire is an excellent band, particularly for their guitar-work, I respond to that with, "Well, you should also consider Joe Satriani or perhaps some Dream Theater."  Shrugged-off.  Why?  It's older than him so therefore shunt.  I never did that.  I never closed my doors to things before 1969.  It's part of history.  It's part of Americana.  In this case, the kid was born around 1994.  Pre-1994 doesn't exist for him.  He won't allow it for the most part.  He's the most open-minded of the bunch, too.  Others won't give pre-birthday a chance.  You know, 12 Angry Men is a good flick.  Ignored with, "That was before I was born!"  Right.  Not everything is awesome upon your birth and beforehand the world was zero.  Not by a longshot.

     I think that there's a sensitivity to this generation's feelings, that things could possibly be better before them, that there were rock-and-roll giants in the 1960s and 1970s such as Led Zeppelin and Queen, wearing those concert shirts ironically without knowing the bands they wear.  Non-fans liking great album-art (now almost dead thanks to digital media).  Little kids refusing to leave their playpens.

So sweet, the sound!
     I installed an 8-Track player in my 2012 Corvette GS.  The audio-quality was surprisingly exceptional, that analog-goodness through Bose speakers were impressive.  Same song converted to an MP3 through a USB stick was clearer in some ways but not as rich.  Too bad the 8-Track doesn't quite play well due to its mechanical spiral setup.  I find Bluray-Audio and DVD-Audio tracks to be "acceptable" however.  CDs are just "good".  MP3 files are painful at highest-quality.  M4A files (iTunes) is unlistenable junk and about as lo-fi as you can get.  I'd rather listen to MIDI (.MID) files than M4A.  Hurts the brain like converting your collection to Atari 2600-format with the mid-range spiked at 1k Hz.  God help us, these GZ-ers prefer it!  They PREFER it!

     Hopefully, BluRay Audio will seep into our world, or 4K BluRay (no cool name for that yet, probably just 4K, though 8K exists in Japan already, we're 2 generations behind, some folks haven't graduated from 1976's 5.1-Surround format yet!  That's right.  5.1 came-out in 1976!) 

     If you're born after 1993, I recommend strongly you don't feel sad that you missed a hell-of-a-ride from the 50's through the 80's (and arguably the 40's).  You have such an adventure to set-upon!  So much good music, movies, and art back-then.  A little weird?  Sure, sometimes.  There's elements that will appeal to your lizard-brain-medulla-oblongata (aka ancient memory DNA) in some way as it did us.  I'll listen to your music and you can listen to mine.  Try it.  Start with the Academy Award Winning movies of each year, starting from 1940.  Not a movie-fan?  Consider the Billboard Top 10 of each year.  Will take you an afternoon to go from 1940 to present-day (Billboard started in 1936, so you could essentially one-up me and start there).  Enrichen your mind!  Fear not!  Begin, children.  BEGIN!

We shall be your guide.. on an ADVENTURE!  Join US!  Or.. maybe you can do it on your own.. it's up to you...


Friday, December 5, 2014

You're Wrong, Go Cry

Military doctor ready for your lawsuit-exempt operation
I've noticed over the years a lot of people ask my opinion on things, or a way-forward, as most of the people I work with are much younger than myself by at least 10 years, and I'm doing quite well for myself in life and what-not, which is nice.

What's in here?

Interestingly, most people literally freak-out uncontrollably when they ask my opinion on something and I reply that I don't like it.  I've been told I can get a bit "harlequin" about things, (ie. passionate) in my opinions.  If I don't like something and you ask, I'll say so; upfront.  Over the years I pause upon someone asking my opinions, because I know that I probably don't like something stupid when a guy asks me, "Whaddya think about... such-and-such?"  I know that if I don't like it, I'll say so, and then they'll rave on-and-on about that and be very upset, that I might be picking nits or being over-critical.  Apparently I've hit some sort of nerve.  I'm not sure if these people want me to just say, "Oh, it's great!  Everything you like is great and I like it too!" to satisfy their fragile, teen-girl-like self-esteem or something.  I explain quietly and in-detail what specific elements I don't care for, as, well, it's my opinion.   If I ask your opinion and you don't like something that I do, and then you explain why, that's fine.  I may not have considered your point-of-view!  I gain knowledge and wisdom from that.  I'm not a child.  You're just (understandably) wrong, and quite likely retarded.

She disagrees with me: Emma Blackery without makeup.

That's just it.  It's my opinion.  That's all.  I'm allowed and entitled to not like things for my own personal reasons (which are usually very clever and intellectual and well thought-out because, after-all, I'm an expert, along with eHal.) 

I creator of things!  I make a bay-bay!
Now, if you're a creator of things, like music or what-have-you, then that's great.  Good fer-yeeewww!  Still, I might not like some things that you did, like when you played all-retarded-like on the electric-hurdy-gurdy, or using a miniature couch incorrectly (for obvious reasons).  Use my explanation of criticism to advance, or at least consider it.  Don't have your pee-pee hurt because of it, lest you wear a girl-wig and rub girly perfumes all over yourself and frolic with unicorns in the gay-glen.  Just accept and learn, eh?  If you like it and I don't, that's fine.  It's your opinion, (however uneducated that is.)  This world has become so sensitive to negative feedback!  Sheesh, Gen-Zero'ers!  Really?  You need head-pets all the time?  You can be dumb and go on your merry way, little one.  Enjoy your dumbness and be told you're right when you're wrong. 

Ger'er DUN!

Good night!  (a ding-ding-ding-ding)..