Saturday, December 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit--An Unexpected Journey

On Christmas Day, my girlfriend and I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at one of our local theaters.  We ventured out mid-afternoon after our Christmas Brunch, but by the time we reached the first theater, the only seats available were in the front row.  Since I'm very prone to motion sickness, I never sit in the front row.  So we drove to another theater for a later showing.
We arrived an hour before start time and it was a good thing we did.  It took my girlfriend nearly 20 minutes to get our drinks and Tub-O-Popcorn and more importantly--we were part of the first half-dozen in line.
So when the theater was finally ready, we managed to snag my favorite seats--in the very back row.
Unfortunately this didn't even help.  Lately, film-makers feel compelled to make their movies like passive video games.  I actually had to close my eyes during parts of the action scenes and chase sequences.  This helped a little, but I still left the theater feeling queasy. 
This is my only complaint I have about the movie, since I saw the film in "old tech.''  Two other versions are available for big screen viewing:  3D and/or High Frame Rate (HFR).  Widget Walls, owner and producer of, lambasted these versions in his Wayhomer #138.  Widge isn't the only one who's less than thrilled with this newfangled technology either:   Other critics rolled-in.
Despite my mild nausea and the failings of new technology, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  Although, I must confess, I won't be seeing it a second time on the big screen and I'll be sure to take some Dramamine for the next two movies.
The film deviated slightly on several points from the original book, but I actually thought these made the story better.
For instance (spoiler alerts!):
Thranduil led an elf army to help the dwarves, but turned back when he saw Smaug had already entered Erebor
Thorin felt betrayed by the elven retreat.  Naturally, he did not want to stop at Rivendell, but was forced to due to circumstances, which suited Gandalf just fine.
And it was Gandalf who found Sting and gave it to Bilbo Baggins.  Stepping back a bit, Bilbo also helped to prevent the Trolls from cooking Thorin & Company in the first place.
The White Council also wasn't part of the book, but it was really cool to see Elrond, Galadriel and even Saruman together in one scene.
The most wacky deviation was Radagast the Brown and his jack rabbit sled. 
The biggest plot alteration was having Azog survive the Battle of Azanulbizar so he could be a recurring villain throughout the movie.
The average rating for The Hobbit is 8.4 stars out of 10 on IMDb.  In the traditional 5-star rating, I give The Hobbit a solid 4-stars because I didn't care for the nauseating special effects.
The movie also clocks-in at 169 minutes.  So plan your day accordingly.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

YouTube Movie #28: Duel in the Dust

(Image:  Renegade Legion graffiti on TOG Edifice)
Setting up for the third and final game I hosted at this year's Enfilade was a bit more involved.  In addition to the micro-armor tanks, I had to stow the middle eastern style buildings and dig out something more sci-fi-ish.  The scenario was based on the Distant Fire Supplement from the Renegade Legion Series, while the figures I used were from Renegade Legion: Centurion; Blood & Steel.
While I've played Centurion a time or two and like the rules (although a bit on the detailed side), I used Future War Commander (FWC) for the last game session.  FWC uses similar game mechanics as Blitzkrieg Commander (BKC) and Cold War Commander (CWC).  I wanted to keep the mental gymnastics to a minimum.
By the time I was ready to host this game, it was dinner time, which meant wolfing down a cold sandwich and washing it down with a soda.  We finished just before 11 PM and I was just as busy in my gamemastering duties as I was in the previous game sessions.
But I did manage to take enough pictures to splice together a 3:30 minute film:  Duel in the Dust.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Book Review" of The Silmarillion

(Image:  Akallabeth, by Grrod)
This past weekend, my sister Rox of Spazhouse was visiting our mom.  During her visit, I called and spent a few moments talking to mom.  When my mom passed the phone to Rox, we ended up chatting about The Hobbit in all its past, present an impending future versions.  (Which were the subjects of my previous two blogposts).
Then our conversation turned to The Silmarillion.
"Oh, no one reads The Silmarillion," she said. 
Well, I don't mean to publicly contradict my sister but, according to, at least 792 actually read it.  While there are a lot of negative reviews, ranging down to 1-star ratings, most are in the 5-star winner's circle.  This gives the book a very respectable 4.4-star average rating.
Back in junior high school, I read The Hobbit and I loved it and have recently re-read it.
Then I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy--and loved it too--and re-read it again as the Peter Jackson movies were being released.
Seeing my interest in all things Tolkien, my mom gave me The Silmarillion for Christmas one year.

(Insert the sound of a car screeching to a halt).

Ugh!  I could not get into it at all.  I don't think I made it to the end of Chapter One.  Even the cool artwork made since my teen years, like the one above, hasn't inspired me to pick up Tolkien's tome a second time.

When I mentioned this to Rox, she suggested I read the synopsis on Wikipedia

The other day I did.  So here it is:  The on-line "Cliff Notes" version of The Silmarillion

If you're in league with the 560 5-star reviewers on Amazon, this may pique your interest and you'll want to immerse yourself into Middle Earth's backstory and all its epic glory. 

But if you're like me, you'll save a bunch of time and be able to pursue other vital interests (like trolling through Facebook, or watching cute animal videos on YouTube).

Just be sure to thank Rox of Spazhouse.

Seriously though, even after reading the Wikipedia synopsis, I not interested in delving into The Silmarillion much for the same reason I can't get into epic fantasy gaming (beyond 20th level in Dungeons & Dragons terms).  Instead, I prefer the "ordinary-people-in-extraordinary-circumstances" stories/games. Which is why The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings continue to appeal to me, whereas The Simarillion doesn't

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit (1977 Animated Version)

Near the end of his Introduction to The Annotated Hobbit, Douglas A. Anderson had this to say: 
There have been many dramatizations of the book, both amateur and professional, since March 1953...These have been followed by various other reworkings, including a truly execrable 1977 television program...
(The Annotated Hobbit, page 23)
The execrable television program Mr. Anderson referred to was, The Hobbit produced by the animation duet of Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, most famous for their Christmas Cartoons. 
Now the '70s were known for some truly execrable things--like fashion and interior design--but I don't think this Rankin & Bass production falls into that category.
True, its most likely doomed to be blown away by the upcoming Peter Jackson version, but hey, back then this was cutting edge animation!
As my sister Rox of Spazhouse and I, in our best Gollum impersonations, say about this film: 
We likes it.
Yes, the animation is dated and the movie has its flaws (scroll down to the "Goofs" Section on the IMDb page). 
Personally, I didn't care for how the elves are portrayed...
...who look marginally better than the goblins.
My vision of elves "just happens" to coincide with Peter Jackson's, such as Legolas...
...or Arwen:
The movie also left out Beorn and the Arkenstone, along with glossing over its climax:  The Battle of the Five Armies.
My girlfriend and I watched it on my copy of the DVD a couple of weeks ago and I noticed that some of the sound effects are missing.  (Yes, I purchased it legitimately). 
However, despite these shortcomings, there are a few key scenes that elevate this movie from "execrable."
First, having re-read The Hobbit, I was surprised that the songs--some of them quite silly-sounding--were taken right from the book. So were the poems.
The movie is comprised of an all-star cast of film and voice actors that did an excellent job of dramatizing the dialogue, once again, lifted right out of the book.
For instance,  Richard Boone, as the dragon Smaug, will be a tough act to follow, even for Peter Jackson's ensemble.  In fact, I still get goosebumps when the dragon brags about his might and prowess. 
This isn't the only scene that tingles my spine every time I watch it. 
I can still hear Gollum screaming:  "...WE HATES IT!  HATES IT! FOR--EVER!"
When Bard the Bowman grabs his trusty Black Arrow and lets fly, his soliloquy is one of the coolest moments in fantasy motion pictures ever.
And yes, I get choked up just happen to get something lodged in my eyes, when Thorin Oakenshield says his final words to Bilbo.
Does this mean I'd give the movie a 5-star rating? 
No.  I give it a solid 3-stars. 
The ratings on are all over the map, (of Middle Earth or Real Earth, take your pick); but average out to a respectable 3.7 stars.
Even with the impending release of Peter Jackson's movie, it's worth buying--a good copy--of the DVD.  I think it will be especially helpful for parents with pre-adolescent children, who may want to introduce them to story.  This way the little ones won't be exposed to the blood-letting that will hopefully surely be a part of Peter Jackson's movie.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Book Review: The Annotated Hobbit

With Peter Jackson's movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, due to hit the theaters next weekend, I thought I'd do some homework and re-read the book. 
Normally I don't re-read books, because there's so many other stories I have yet to discover.  Until now, I've only re-read two other tales, which were also in response to upcoming movie buzz:  Starship Troopers and Lord of the Rings (which I count as one story).

In this case, the version I chose to read was Douglas A. Anderson's The Annotated Hobbit, my sister Rox of Spazhouse, gave me years ago.  I first read The Hobbit way-back-when in junior high school and it was my first introduction to high fantasy literature.  While I remembered the basic plot and all the major characters, there were a lot of details I've forgotten.

Like The Hobbit was written for children in the UK back in 1937 (and was published a year later in the US).  While the book is narrated as if it is being read aloud to children, the storyline is certainly one adults of all ages have enjoyed through the years--and continue to do so. 

This annotated version is especially interesting and helpful.  There is a 28-page Introduction, which includes a short bio of J.R.R. Tolkien and a publishing history of the book (which makes up the bulk of the intro), along with some anecdotes on such things as runes and other mythological reference material.

The narrative of The Hobbit itself is sandwiched between Anderson's copius footnotes.  These sidebars contain information ranging from 1-sentence definitions to historical, literary and philological information, which can run for two or more pages. 

At first I was determined to read every footnote, so I could later brag about my scholarly knowledge of Middle Earth lore and Real Earth publishing history.  But alas; I grew weary of having to step out of the story to read the sidebar stuff.  So I limited my note-reading to only those items that interested me--and were a few sentences long.

Despite this, the book itself--in any version--is a hands-down, 5-star classic.  Thirty Eight reviewers on think so too.  However, not everyone is happy with the annotated version.  Seven reviewers found the footnotes too distracting.  But even from this crowd, only two reviewers pegged the book a 3-star rating--and all the less-than 5-star ratings deal with the footnotes, not the story itself.

This is quite an achievement for a tale originally written 75 years ago.  In fact, Marcus S. Crouch, writing in Junior Bookshelf, back in March 1950, had the foresight to say:

 I know of no children's book published in the last twenty-five years of which I could more confidently predict that it will be read into the twenty-first century. 

(The Annotated Hobbit, page 22).

Twelve years into the New Millenium and Mr. Crouch has yet to be proven wrong.