The Hobbit: The Battle of the Three Films

When it was first announced, there was a strong sense that the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic children’s novel into three films rather than two was for the sake of increased ticket sales. However the decision was made though, the decision has long since been made, and third and final chapter of The HobbitThe Battle of the Five Armies has now been released.

Depends on your definition of "defining".
Depends on your definition of “defining”.

And regardless of why it came about, it is not a bad film. It’s well made, the battle itself is often spectacular, and it highlights just how far CGI has come since Gollum ushered in a new era. That said, as the third part of the trilogy, it did seem a bit out-of-place. The main problem being that it just doesn’t feel like the third part in a trilogy.

With the dwarves completing their quest and taking back the Lonely Mountain, The Desolation of Smaug seemed to end mostly on a substantial ending. In addition to this, Gandalf’s cliffhanger and the added on Sauron subplot are resolved far too quickly at the beginning of Five Armies, that they may as well have just been wrapped up by the end of Smaug instead. In fact this cliffhanger seems to only serve the purpose of bringing people back to watch the third film.

As much as the main events of Five Armies are a part of the original novel, the way they have been presented in the film makes it feel as though it is an entirely new entity, and one which has been hijacked to bridge the gap between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There certainly is logic to this, and it does justify the executive decision to produce three films from the single novel source material (even over the increased ticket sales argument), but the trouble is that there just isn’t enough to fill a complete film. Especially one that tries to fit in with, and will inevitably be compared to, its epic predecessors.

Because of this, many of the links between Hobbit and Rings just seem arbitrary. Unlike Dath Vader joining Grand Moff Tarkin’s side at the end of Revenge of the Sith, Thranduil’s parting words to Legolas don’t so much tie the last entry in one trilogy to the first in the next, as potentially change the entire character relationship between the two: is Legolas now Aragorn’s stalker and/or guardian angel rather than brother in arms?

A younger immortal elf. Ten years later.
A younger immortal elf. Ten years later.

That said, some of the links were nicely crafted. It’s fair to say the addition of Legolas is the biggest manufactured link of all, and generally he is well used in both of the Hobbit films in which he appears. His presence has been made to gel nicely with the other elves and their interaction with the dwarves, and his jealousy towards Tauriel and Kili even adds an extra layer to his relationship with Gimli in the later films.

But more than just these connections, the film includes the expansion and addition of new characters, such as Alfrid. Where a single counselor to the Master of Lake-Town was referred to in the book, this subplot was not only taken too far but also given an unsatisfactory conclusion. Again it is easy to see the reason for this being included, at times Five Armies can be both dark and emotional, and comic relief is often needed to alleviate some of the tension; as highly respected storyteller Joss Whedon explains, “make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” This was done well in Rings with the aforementioned rivalry between Legolas and Gimli, but for all his tales of epic heroes and bravery, is the most cowardly person escaping with all the gold he could carry a message Tolkien ever wanted to get across?

And the reason these just feel like padding is that in a similar fashion to war films such as Black Hawk Down, the single battle is pretty much the only narrative of the whole film; something which in this context just doesn’t seem to work. The film may have shown the burning of Lake-Town, but a climactic battle such as the one shown here is an event which needs to be lead up to properly. Despite it being the culmination of two previous films, this anticipation is something that gets lost in the 12 month wait between theatrical releases.

I’m aware this may be painting the film in a negative light, but when watching it I couldn’t help but notice that these things took me out of Middle Earth and back to the cinema I was watching it in. And once this started happening, it didn’t stop.

One of the biggest problems overall was one of those small things which, for me, also caught my attention within the first two films. Whilst I admit it comes from a limited perspective in terms of worldwide distribution, the amount of British television actors used in the cast can at times be distracting. Not that I am begrudging them their talents and achievements, it’s just that it seems as though they have been specifically chosen to stand out in their roles, and therefore somewhat annoyingly, stand out.

Ok, so it is an unusual hat.
Ok, so it is an unusual hat.

Take the dwarves for example: in An Unexpected Journey we are introduced to them as they come knocking on Bilbo’s door in ever-increasing amounts. There’s a dwarf, another dwarf, and then another. Complete with bushy beards, big hair, large frames, and personalities to match, next comes two dwarves, three dwarves, and then there’s James Nesbitt in a hat. It’s almost as if he arrived in the Shire on one of his Thomas Cook package holidays.

Yes, The Lord of the Rings had its share with the likes of Sean Bean and Bernard Hill, but at no point do we expect Boromir to tell the council of Elrond to “be more dog” when dealing with ring of power. Billy Connelly’s voice alone on the other hand, whilst perfect for Pixar’s Brave, coming from the mouth of a rough and ready dwarf is too close to his own flamboyant Glaswegian stand up persona to be taken seriously.

The Battle of the Five Armies is in a many ways a fine example of film making, but for all of its accomplishments it falls at the first hurdle. What use are great acting, meticulous production design, and state of the art special effects if the story they are serving isn’t up to scratch.

J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t just write novels, he crafted an entire world and populated it with different races, histories, mythologies, and even complete languages. I can’t say how much of it was by design and how much was interference from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros., but in their attempts to do Tolkien’s novel and his world justice, Peter Jackson and co. just didn’t have enough focus on crafting the story.

And isn’t that the whole point of a film in the first place?

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Where’s My Minority Sports Report?

Whilst watching the wheelchair rugby final of the Invictus Games, it occurred to me that in this current media climate dominated by violent headlines of war and beheadings, it is the sport also known as “Murderball” that can be the most uplifting thing shown on TV. Allow me to explain:

Mention the 2014 World Cup, and for most it would be the men’s football championship that springs to mind. This is despite the fact that England spectacularly fulfilled everyone’s expectations of mediocrity, whereas the women’s national rugby team romped to glory in a 21-9 victory in the final. World Champions, and yet the media decided that the men who could only achieve one draw deserved more screen time. Consider that it is also the second time England have won the women’s rugby world cup, and 1966 somehow seems even more distant than it did before.

Waterman and the IRB women's World Cup © West Somerset Free Press
Nolli Waterman and the WRWC trophy.    © West Somerset Free Press

In fact I have to admit that this is something that I myself would have remained largely unaware of, were it not for the fact that we both grew up in the same town and shared several classes at school with England international Danielle “Nolli” Waterman.

Considering she and her team-mates were representing the entire nation, it is nothing but a shame that their accomplishments received more space on the front page of our local broadsheet, The West Somerset Free Press, than from a large portion, if not all, of the national newspapers.

Print media aside, coverage of the women’s rugby team fared much better on television. Not only has Nolli featured on the Clare Balding Show, but earlier today she also appeared with team-mates Maggie Alphonsi and Heather Fisher on Sky Sports’ Game Changers, a sporty Saturday morning kids show.

Great coverage they no doubt deserved, but that which again, I was only made aware of through Nolli’s own advertising on twitter. In addition these were also both on dedicated pay to view sports channels, of which BT Sport is still up and coming, and seems to advertise to non-subscribers predominantly through their coverage of, you guessed it, men’s football.

To be fair, it has to be said that sport isn’t my main passion, and not something I would normally seek out in terms of media coverage. Obviously there are those who do, and will no doubt have been made aware of the Rugby world cup long before myself and those others who rely only on more general media coverage. Whilst it can certainly be argued that the media is only a reflection of what the mainstream audience want to see, I would instead argue that it is in fact a vicious cycle: the mainstream audience often cannot want to see what it has not been made aware of by the media.

Just as London 2012 and the Women’s Rugby world cup has shown, there is nothing like getting behind athletes representing your nation at international events to get the adrenaline pumping, and interest growing.

Something which can also be said of disability sport. The BBC’s coverage of the 2008 Paralympics was limited to the red button, and four years later it was outbid by another broadcaster. Whilst it cannot be said that Channel 4’s coverage of the games at both London and Sochi were severely lacking in any way, it also cannot be said that their legacy goes much further than The Last Leg.

A Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony tent getting more air time than disability sport.
A Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony tent getting more air time than the games themselves.

A satirical news programme which, despite originating from the 2012 Paralympic Games, still concerns itself more with whether its twitter followers considered the 2014 Commonwealth Games to be either #notshit or #abitshit, than the fact that it is the only major competition in which able-bodied and disabled sports are competed side by side.

Whilst this fact was mentioned, even a show in which three presenters have only four legs between them still seems to cater to, rather than educate, a largely unaware audience. Meanwhile disability sport has continued to be played throughout the past two years as it always has done, even if it is still doing so in the background.

Not to say that male footballers aren’t skilled athletes, but the amount of coverage they receive also gives them an unfair advantage off, as well as on the pitch. Whilst players for the England women’s rugby team are only just now becoming paid professional athletes, sportsmen who have been receiving large paycheques for their entire careers somehow still feel the need to supplement these with advertising deals. Not to begrudge them these opportunities, but it makes you wonder if their World Cup experience would have turned out differently had the England goalkeeper, Joe Hart, not spent his run up to the competition appearing in no less than three separate television commercials.

The broadcasting of women’s and disability sport is far from adequate, and I would say that it is Wheelchair Rugby that can help bridge the gap that needs to be crossed.

GB's Kylie Grimes in action
GB’s Kylie Grimes in action.

Wheelchair Rugby is perhaps the only sport that has something for everyone. It is a full contact sport in terms of wheelchairs crashing into each other, and the fact that these chairs/battering rams act as a barrier between player contact means that the contact can often be more aggressive than its grass pitch counterpart.

Not only are there rules and classifications ensuring that those on the pitch are of mixed (dis)abilities, but while predominantly played by men, it is also a mixed sport in which both male and female players compete with and against each other, side by side.

In addition, like any disability sport, the athletes have already achieved so much before even entering the pitch. To me, sport is all about personal achievement; I enjoy archery because it is one of those sports where it doesn’t matter how many others are on the shooting line with me, I am always competing against myself. By overcoming obstacles many of us would have trouble imagining, pushing themselves to higher and higher standards is nothing new to those who participate in Murderball.

More than any this though, wheelchair rugby is generally just as thrilling as team sports get. Take a look for yourself, and see what even €100million can’t buy:

It’s now the 21st Century, and surely it’s time for decent coverage of sports that don’t deserve their description of “minority”. The advent of Sky Sports’ Sportswomen show last year was a great step forward, as is Game Changers introducing the younger generation to sports in all it forms, but one in which other broadcasters and newspapers need to not only follow, but also expand upon.

Thankfully things are also changing for the better in terms of disabled athletes. Last year at the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year awards, Hannah Cockroft became the first wheelchair athlete to be nominated outside of the Paralympics, a far cry from 2000 when Tanni Grey-Thompson was unable to accept her trophy due to the stage not having the most basic of disable access.

Surely it’s only deserving that the women’s England Rugby team be given the Team Of The Year award at this years ceremony in December, something which could, and indeed should, be the latest chapter of greater coverage of even greater sports.

Into The Dark?

"Into The Dalek"
“Into The Dalek”

Of all the recent Doctor Who episodes, “Into The Dalek” is one that I personally want to see the most, perhaps even more than 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” itself. Rather than the anticipation that has been built up around current episodes, the War Doctor, regeneration, etc, “Into The Dalek” instead has me curious.

Last week was the broadcast of “Deep Breath”, the first full episode to feature Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Like many (make that all) fans I had been looking forward to this as I was eager to see exactly how Capaldi would portray the Doctor. Even though we have all now seen this portrayal however, there is still the fact that we don’t know who Capaldi’s Doctor is.

Although well read audiences are used to the idea of regeneration and several actors all playing the same character, a new Doctor is still something that takes getting used to. Many fans, particularly those new to the series, will also need convincing that this new character is the same one they know and love. As such “Deep Breath” follows a similar template to “The Christmas Invasion” and “The Eleventh Hour”, the first appearances of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors respectively.

Whilst fending off an alien invasion these are episodes which see a companion trying to figure out who this new/same man is. Throughout the run of the series it has always been the companion who is the point of view character, through whose eyes the audience discovers time and space. In this situation they are more important than ever, and amnesia or not, the failure of the 1996 TV-movie is often blamed on introducing two incarnations of the Doctor before his companion.

For those post-regeneration episodes of the revived series however, we first get to see the comical but crude side of the Doctor. Capaldi comparing Strax to the seven dwarves is no different from Matt Smith telling Amelia Pond to fry something because she’s Scottish. It may be harsh, but it’s that funny element of being alien and not quite understanding that is the initial reassurance that there is nothing to worry about. So far, so very Doctor.

"Basically, run!"
“Basically, run!”

Throughout the episode the companion is puzzled by the Doctor saving the Earth by asking seemingly ridiculous questions, but come the end of his investigation he will save the day through his ‘I am the Doctor’ moment. David Tennant called the Sycorax’s blood control bluff and pressed their big red button for them, and Smith stared down the Atraxi with his history of saving the Earth. Capaldi on the other hand …. didn’t.

The confirmation phone call from Number 11 wasn’t for Clara’s benefit, it was for ours.

In interviews and previews leading up to Capaldi’s episodes, one word which was often used was “dark”, and here we are given a Doctor who may, or may not, have pushed a (half) man to his death. Regardless of whether it was push or jump, it is hardly the first time the Doctor has had to oversee the death of the antagonist, but here he does so with a look of almost indifference.

Dark indeed, and something which harks back to the days of Sylvester McCoy (apparently) destroying Skaro and committing Dalek genocide. It came at the point in the show’s history that script editor Andrew Cartmel wanted to add some more mystery to the character after years of accumulated drip-fed information. Twenty-plus series after the question had first been asked by Ian and Barbara, “Doctor Who?” had essentially become “the Doctor’s life story”.

The question...
The question…

And after the broadcast of “The Time of the Doctor”, this was exactly where we found ourselves again. Not only have we had revelations regarding the Time War, an element that Russell T. Davies used to renew the character and wanted to leave untouched, but along with Smith’s tenure, “The Time of the Doctor” also saw the end of the question.

This time it was quite literal in fact, as it was even used diegetically within the show itself; “on the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked — a question that must never ever be answered”. To be fair it wasn’t exactly answered properly, but it did at least give a substantial conclusion to an arc that had run throughout Smith’s entire portrayal, if not the series as a whole.

And so now we find ourselves ready to continue/renew the adventures of a character we have known for 50 years. After the climax of “Deep Breath”, we are eagerly awaiting the next appearance of a Doctor who has every indication of being as dark as it gets, and it doesn’t get much darker than when facing the Daleks.

Throughout years of mystery, answers, and revelations, we are once again asking ourselves that central question which brings us back to our television sets Saturday night, after Saturday night: Doctor Who?

Day 165: We’ll Tear Your Soles Apart

Two weeks ago I gave Dave Golder an old pair of trainers. Today he’s wearing them as part of a year long challenge to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research. My Granddad suffered from dementia for several years before his death a few years ago, and I have seen how much strain such a terrible condition can put on not just sufferers, but also those who care for them, normally members of their own family. Please read this blog, and follow the link to donate to such a worthy cause. Thank you.

The Sole Of Sci-Fi

Sole Of Sci-Fi raises some Hell in the latest installment of the charity challenge…

June 14

So, Day 165. It may not sound like a landmark, but in a way it is. Because it means there are exactly 200 days left of this challenge. A little bit of a worry when I’ve only got five pairs of trainers currently lined up, but on the other hand it’s one hell of a psychological barrier to break through. And in just a few weeks, I’ll have reached the halfway mark. That’ll be a massive relief.

Today’s Hellraiser theme boasts a much better headline than photo. In my head, the photo was going to be a Photoshop masterpiece, but in practice, I think I still have a lot to learn. But you get the idea. And the “tear your soles” gag was too good to miss. The Hi-Tech trainers were donated by Ian Comber (apparently…

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A Dystopia Made In Heaven

I always enjoyed meeting up with Jo, Alex, and Daisy, and the combined imagination of us when we got together is something that should never have been underestimated (I don’t like using the past tense there, that needs to be rectified):

As the multinational president looked out into the slums, only one of the posters baring his face had been graffitied with birthday wishes.

He frowned as he wondered why it was so hard for the public to remember his birthday – after all, he had had the date lasered into the moon’s face for everyone to see!

That had been a public relations disaster, of course. How was he to know that the laser was shining through Moon Base Beta, killing the entire staff as the were sucked into the vacuum?

“I can never do anything right”, he sighed to himself and lent on the terminate button.

Poor Jumblie, why had he changed places, he didn’t deserve that fate, shredded and liquefied.

Forgiveness & Courage

I recently went to Lynton & Lynmouth to catch up with my friend @thefairyjo, who I met at a creative writing group. After lunch, cake, ice cream, and a walk up a big hill, we sat down to write something inspired by our day out. Here is mine:

He stopped as he reached the door. It had been so long. Would he still be welcome? He looked up for guidance, and saw the angels smiling upon him. He had always admired the stained glass windows, ever since he first came here as a child. He liked the colours and the stories they told. The morals they instilled in him from an early age.

He reached out to open the door. Slowly. Morals he had let slip. Some faded away, but most coming back. That’s why he was here. To come back home. To see the faces he knew and seek forgiveness. The doors opened slowly, the creak of the hinges long and drawn out. People’s attention turned from the door to the man now holding it open. They were the same faces, but had changed.

The town butcher had grown older, his daughter had grown up. He tried to remember. Two years? Three? Three, she wasn’t four years younger, but seeing her grown reminded him of his own age. All eyes watched as he walked down the aisle. The hard part was over, but he still needed courage. Courage which came from the man behind the altar.

“A pint of ale”, he said. “And the strongest whiskey you have.”

Untitled Zombie Apocalypse Story

I haven’t thought of a title for it (let me know if you have any suggestions), but here’s a short story I wrote some time ago, inspired by how much Dunster Castle would be a great place to hide out during a zombie apocalypse.

Twang! The arrow loosened from the string in a way that was much more satisfying than a shotgun blast. More accurate too, at least with practice. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since the guns became all but useless, but he didn’t miss them. Aside from being fired from castle battlements, it was just more simple, more skilful. More right.

The bodies were piling up against the wall. They were coming less frequently now, but no-one wanted to go out and move them. Even those gathering food, hardly necessary, but gave the stir crazy survivors a small sense of freedom, they rushed in and out as fast as they could. Everyone told themselves that the odd case when the mound shifted was just decomposing bodies rotting and falling in on each other. No-one dared mention there were those still crawling underneath. Not alive exactly, but spinal cord still intact.

Despite the still lumbering corpses, in fact maybe even because of them, he felt better up here on the roof. Picking them off, one by one gave a sense of control, not take his anger out on, but each zombie no longer shuffling was something he achieved. Something he could do.

Looking out at the distance also helped him forget. Smiling at the rolling green hills he felt serene that nature, at least to some degree, was getting back to normal. It was only when the holiday camp came into view, unavoidable if you wanted to look out to sea, that memories came flooding back, faster than even the hordes through those park gates.