I am no fan of so called ”reality TV” shows, finding them tasteless, ludicrous and/or denigrating. Now a Dutch entrepreneur is raising the stakes of this entertainment niche by proposing to go to Mars for real and turning the expedition into a TV show to cover a part of the costs. He is looking for reckless volunteers for a one-way trip to the Red Planet in the next decade or so. New York Times writes more about here >>>
The website of his Mars One colonization project is located here >>>
The Wikipedia article about the project (link >>>) contains its timeline plus a few acerbic quotes by space technology experts about its unrealistic ambitions.
And here (link >>>) are somewhat more sensible thoughts on how to the same thing, inter alia by former astronauts.
Some years ago, Nickelodeon produced an intelligent and funny cartoon: Avatar: the Last Airbender (not to be confused with the miserable live-action movie). Everyone in my family, regardless of age, liked it. And now there is a sequel that has moved into dieselretro territory: Avatar: the Legend of Korra. I have not been able tp get hold of the DVDs yet, but, judging from this review, it will certainly be worth watching. Fantasy with motorcycles and HGWells-esque tech. That’ll be great.
Enormkritik är en svenskspråkig blogg som på ett trevligt sätt analyserar och diskuterar schabloner och normer inom nördkulturen (länk >>>). Jag rekommenderar ett besök. (Balnd annat konstaterade jag att min roman Spiran och staven skulle få överaskande många pluspoäng enligt bloggens normanalys.)
Looking around for news about the next two installments of the ”The Hobbit” project, I found this web page with some amusing snippets of information (link >>>).
It contains this photo of Legolas and Bard the Bowman, probably at a meeting after the Battle of Five Armies. It is tempting to make some cutting remark about 1980s hairstyles, but I restrain myself today to saying that Bard ought to look rougher.
When I read in the newspapers that Peter Jackson intended to turn The Hobbit into a three-movie extravaganza (eight hours of film), I wasn’t too pleased. Tolkien’s novel isn’t thick enough to support that many movie minutes, I thought. Well, the jury is still out on that issue, but I have seen the first movie in the trilogy and I am content.
Beware, the following review contains plenty of spoilers.
However, the film is not The Hobbit as Tolkien wrote it, but rather a ”Lord of the Rings”-ified version of it. Peter Jackson has worked diligently to make the new movie into a conceptual prequel of his LotR-movies from ten years ago: the same actors, the same esthetics, etc. The general mood is, however, somewhat lighter, though the many cases of silliness and the ironic witticisms of Tolkien’s text are absent.
The actors playing Bilbo (Mr Middle-Class going on misadventures) and Thorin Oakenshield (an arrogant and vengeful Norseman) are splendid. These two chaps catch my attention whenever they appear on screen. The other actors range from okay to good. (However, a few of the Dwarves made me think of the Swedish comedy ensemble Galenskaparna and that is not an association I want to get in a Tolkien movie.)
The movie’s apex is the encounter between Bilbo and Gollum. Peter Jackson provides a good explanation how the One Ring found Bilbo (yes, it has a malevolent will of its own) and the angst-ridden riddle game is gripping. This is the only part of the film that touched my heart.
Peter Jackson has also put in a lot of the back-story found in the LotR Appendices, for instance the meeting of the White Council at Elrond’s home. OK, here the director had to fudge some details about Dol Guldur, the Witch-king and Radagast, but that was probably required for the sake of good dramaturgy. He shows elegantly how Saruman is busy obfuscating the major developments for his own gain and how Galadriel maneuvers smoothly around everyone else (she is obviously the most powerful person west of Mordor and she knows it).
The insertion of the Azog subplot is also a case of Peter Jackson taking significant liberties with the source material, but I don’t mind, because it adds a Norse Saga touch to the proceedings: hate, revenge, foolhardy courage, honor before reason; after all, Tolkien moved in the same cultural landscape as the Icelandic skalds.
I am disappointed only about two sequences — and that’s mainly because they disrupt the movie’s Tolkienian mood for me. The first one is the stone giants’ fight (too much Transformers) and the second one is the Dwarves’ kinetic escape from the goblin realm (too much Indiana Jones).
The movie is 165 minutes long and I was never bored. That is an unusual experience nowadays and that proves Mr Jackson’s craftsmanship. I guess that the second movie will deal with the Dwarves crossing the Mirkwood and the third one with the fiery showdown at Laketown and Erebor. Considering what I have seen so far, I think I have little reason to worry about their ”watchability”.
My verdict: The Hobbit (Part One) gets 4½ gold rings out of 5.
I studied political science and macroeconomics 30 years ago and I have always loved when scholars apply these subjects to fantasy or SF contexts.
Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Middle-earth are currently common subjects in the media. Here is a good piece on Dwarvish gold management in Erebor before the arrival of the dragon (link >>>)
And here is a sequel explaining how Smaug’s gold hoarding disrupted Rhovanion’s macroeconomy before the Battle of Five Armies (link >>>)
An interesting popular science movie on how to carry out manned exploration of Mars with current technology.
I haven’t been blogging much recently because my mind has preoccupied with the on-going novel project. Its Swedish name is Ökenvandring (the Desert Wandering), but I might have to change that title. It is simply not enough desert in the story. The novel belongs to the same alternate Earth as Iskriget, a dieselretro vision of a different 1940 in which the republican rebels in northwest Europe fight against the oppressive Habsburg empire.
Iskriget sent the protagonists across the ice-covered southern continent of Alba. This novel takes the reader to the hot and arid continent of Magalhana, the stage for the two concluding short-stories in Iskriget. (Both short-stories are actually prequels that take place several years before the rebellion.) Afghanistan and India have been some of my sources of inspiration — two countries in which I have lived — but Alba and Magalhana are fictional testing grounds where the protagonists face social, natural and moral challenges.
One recurring underlying theme in my stories is Cain’s question in Genesis: ”Am I my brother’s keeper?” The scarred and reclusive marshal in The Road has to respond to it and the consequences get more far-reaching than anyone would imagine. The world forces everyone to choose — taking the narrow path may cost the wanderer much trouble, but out of those hardships comes inner growth, too. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: ”The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”
When I worked in Kabul in 2008, I watched the movie The Journey of August King* on a satellite channel. North Carolina 1815, a widowed white farmer helps a runaway slave woman. The consequences are harsh, because that state’s law shows little mercy for such behavior. But what is morally right and what is legal may differ significantly. At the movie’s end, Mr King, simultaneously facing one victory and one defeat, concludes: ”I have never felt so proud before in my life.”
*The movie is well worth watching, being unsentimental and understated.
One hundred years ago, Edgar Rice Burroughs created his peculiar brand of science fantasy by the publication of Princess of Mars. Transforming his Edwardian-era tale into an action movie suitable for a modern audience is a challenge. Burroughs’s style and pacing belongs to the pre-modernist era. His many Mars/Barsoom stories instead gain their power through their drama and colorful visions of an alien world. This movie takes more liberties with the John Carter stories than Peter Jackson did with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. But this is a well-crafted Barsoom for our times.
What strikes me is the beauty of that far-away world: the arid plains and hills, the insectoid airships, the vertical rock city of Helium and the mobile monstrous machine that is the city of Zodanga. Disney has spent a fortune on this movie and spent it well: the esthetic execution is flawless. The Martian technology is appropriately designed right into the small details. The computer-animated tharks are believable — they never look CGI.
The protagonists are what you would expect from an old-fashioned yarn like this, with one exception: princess Dejah Thoris is a renowned scholar and a skilled sword-fighter, capable of putting down a horde of attacking soldiers. In short: she rocks. It was also a pleasure to see some British quality actors add their gravitas to plot, e.g. Ciarán Hinds as the jeddak (king) of Helium.
The twists and turns surrounding the scheming therns is clever. Burroughs never explained the backstory why people travel between the planets by teleportation, but the film does — in a way that I approve of. That also opens the door (pun intended) for the developments of the final ten-fifteen minutes of the movie.
I don’t want to put any spoilers into this review, because a lot of my enjoyment of John Carter was based on not knowing what was about to happen. Several things are left unexplained, but that is no problem because they are as mysterious to Dejah and John as they are to us. The therns must be having a lot of nasty tech hidden ”up their sleeves” (unlike all other Barsoomians, the therns hide their bodies completely under long robes).
In Sweden movies are traditionally rated on a five-point scale. I give the John Carter movie 4 red planets out of 5. A beautiful world, a cool heroine, full-speed action. I got exactly what I expected. (And John Carter is notably more enjoyable than the regrettable Episodes I, II, and III of the Star Wars saga)
Disney gambled on making a cool adventure movie. To me, they succeeded. But I am an enthusiast of the right kind and the John Carter movie is made for people like me. And there aren’t enough of us in the world to ensure a financial success for the producer. So despite the ”sequel to come” ending, I do not expect any John Carter II to be made. What a pity.
This Sillof site (link >>>) shows how the Star Wars saga can be recreated in many ways: dieselretro, steampunk, western, samurai fantasy, medieval fantasy, and so on. It is well worth a visit.