Tag Archives: fantasy

Film Review : The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies

Finally the dwarfs and Bilbo Baggins have reached the lonely mountain and met Smaug, who promptly flies away to wreck short-lived revenge upon Laketown. With the dragon dispatched, Thorin Oakensheild should be a happy dwarf but now his thoughts turn to how to protect his golden hoard. And where did that Arkinstone get to?

Thorin Oakensheild on a pile of gold

This was always my favourite part of the book, the quest is over but the characters have to deal with the consequences of their decisions. The actual battle itself is secondary (and not even described in the novel), it is Bilbo’s actions that drive the plot, and only now does he really become the main character in the story.

Of course, being a Hollywood fantasy epic, The Battle of the Five Armies has a go to great length to show five armies battling. Peter Jackson is an old hand at this and the battle is actually reasonably compelling, although I don’t want to ever again see a character raises his eyes to a distant ridge just in time for a host of warriors to appear. It happens at least twice in this film alone – don’t these mighty leaders ever send scouts out? It’s all about basic situational awareness, people!

Everything is very pretty and well directed but The Battle of the Five Armies just doesn’t know when to stop, especially with the individual fights. The titular battle is eventually ignored as half the characters go dwarfo e orco in another location. The film establishes that the average orc dies immediately from the merest scratch (even a small stone thrown from a child-sized hobbit can completely flatten them), but orcs with names take forever to take down. It is always entertaining watching Ninja-Legolas dance around but Thorin’s final struggle comes to a perfect conclusion and then … keeps going. It just will…not…end.

On the other hand, the film itself doesn’t draw out its ending after the climax. Once the battle is over it quickly moves to the amusing denouement of the novel with a couple of minutes left over to finish off the tedious wrap-around story started over 8 hours of screen-time ago.

Of all the three films, I enjoyed this one the most. It has the possibly the least plot but by this stage the characters are well developed and you can’t say it is boring. Even Gandalfs pointless and padded side quest is despatched with quickly.

As a Hobbit film, TBotFA is still impossibly violent and lacks the charm of the book, but the it succeeds on its own terms and you can’t really argue with that title.

Recommended for completists or if you like this sort of thing

Film Review : The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug

The barrel escape fromThe HobbitAfter negotiating the Misty Mountains, Bilbo Baggins and the party of dwarves make their way to the Lonely Mountain and their date with a dragon, pursued constantly by a band of murderous orcs hellbent on killing Thorin Oakensheild and adding some urgency to what would otherwise be a gentle stroll of a plot.

Another year, another Hobbit film. I was pretty lukewarm about the first film (my review), it was OK but seemed like a really good 90 minute film crammed into 3 hours. The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug (HobDoS) is also almost 3 hours long but I am glad to say that it hangs together a lot better and some clever choices have been made in what to add to bulk up the plot.

The Hobbit was never a story that would support 9 hours of film, it is a thin book, episodic and repetitive in nature as befits a story designed to be read to sleepy children. The producers of the films have had to scratch around to additional material to pad out time and to make the films fit in stylistically with the Lord of the Rings movies. In the first Hobbit film, this meant stretching out the fight scenes with the goblins to a ridiculous degree and adding some tediously canonical foreshadowing that made no sense unless you already knew the story. Somewhere during production of HobDos the decision was made to just start inventing new stuff and the film is much better for it. The journey through the elvish kingdom is enlivened by an unlikely love triangle and Laketown becomes an impoverished city of political intrigue.

The additions are all a little Shakespearean and make for entertaining viewing. What the new stuff isn’t is very Tolkenesque, and the seams show when scenes that are taken verbatim from the book (Bilbo talking with the dragon) are juxtaposed with 21st century comedy action fare (the dwarfs battle plan) and the horror styling of Gandalf’s pointless side quest. The over-the-top action scenes are still very long and sometime nonsensical but they do not outstay their welcome so much this time around.

Once again, I got sucked into paying extra for the high frame-rate 3D version. The 3D is very subtle this time around and I didn’t notice any problems with the high frame rate although I don’t know whether that is due to changes in the process, the crew learning how to light scenes for the new cameras, or just me getting used to the way it looks.

HobDos is an improvement on the first film and I enjoyed it.

Book Review : Deadhouse Gates

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

The Malazan Empire is completing its purge of the former nobility, sending thousands to the slave mines to die. Meanwhile a huge rebellion has reached boiling point amongst the tribes that inhabit the plains between the empire’s seven cities. Meanwhile a heavily outnumbered group of loyal empire troops struggles to fight its way across the continent while protecting tens of thousands of refugees. Meanwhile some characters from the first book arrive, among them an assassin who will carry a sacred book into the heart of the rebellion (unknowingly being followed in the meanwhile). Meanwhile, his companions head off somewhere else, while escapees from the slave mines do some other stuff meanwhiley.

Deadhouse Gates cover artLike its predecessor, Deadhouse Gates tells a bunch of overlapping stories, although this book amps it up to eleven with an incredible amount of plot going on simultaneously. The point of view changes very frequently and I found it almost impossible to keep track of who was who. By far the best parts are the passages that follow the Malazan refugees and their tireless protectors as they struggle through the desert under the leadership of the brilliant Coltaine. This is basically a rip off of Spartacus but no worse for it. Other parts could probably be jettisoned without losing much however the multiple viewpoints do allow for a couple of genuinely surprising reveals.

The good news is that the writing has improved immeasurably since Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates is a very readable book. The bad news is that it still has a very D’n’D plot, with events happening because they must to advance the plot rather than seeming to arise organically as a result of previous actions and incredibly arcane and powerful objects just falling into characters’ hands at the right moments. The whole world was apparently created for the author’s role playing game in what must have been a real humdinger of a campaign, but this makes for an oddly constructed story. Huge coincidences drive the plot as the novel jumps from action set piece to action set piece. You can just about hear the dice rolls, and anytime a character doesn’t speak for a while you get the feeling like the rest of the players sent someone out to pick up the pizza.

Speaking of action set pieces, Deadhouse Gates is incredibly bloody even by the standards of grimdark fantasy. I doubt there is an 800 word stretch in the whole novel where nobody gets their liver ruptured or their face staved in. The action is pretty well written though and the talkiness of the first book is greatly diminished.

Only recommended if you really like this sort of thing.

Book Review : Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

The already vast Malazan empire is in an expansionist mood although discontent simmers within the ranks of the armed forces. Powerful wizards on both sides clash with arcane sorceries leading to huge loss of life. Only two free cities hold out against the oppression of the empress and the air is thick with magic, vile treachery, and the unsubtle touch of the gods themselves.

Cover art for Gardens of the MoonGardens of the Moon is a complicated book, there are a lot of overlapping stories going on and many of the characters are secretly not-what-they-seem so it can be hard to keep track of who is who. The incredibly silly names do not help matters; along the way the reader will meet High Fist Dujek, Anomander Rake (Lord of Moon’s Spawn), Sergeant Whiskeyjack, mage Tattersail, love interest Challice D’Arle, and elder god K’rul – none of whom are really that interesting. It is this sort of thing that gives fantasy a bad name (could be worse though).

On the other hand the setting is pretty great. There is whole backstory of the empire lurking under the plot not to mention a very unique system of magic, which is important since half the characters seem to have some sort of magical power. Also, unlike a lot of fantasy, there are plenty of females to mix things up and less of the standard casual racism. This strikes me as a tad unrealistic but it is a refreshing change of pace.

The novel’s biggest flaw is the dialog. Gardens of the Moon is a dialog-heavy tale but almost all the characters speak with the same (very modern sounding) voice, using the same flat tone whether they are addressing a lover, a demon or a thief in a back alley. Even worse, all the named characters tend to talk only to each other, as if the novel was a cheap TV show that can’t afford to spend money on extras that speak. Much of the story is supposed to take place in a teeming city, but it feels deserted and most scenes take place in one of a handful of locations.

I am sick of books that will not end properly to encourage you to buy the next one so I was happily surprised to find the Gardens of the Moon comes to a pretty satisfying ending for a book that spawned a bunch of sequels. I struggled through GotM because a friend reckons that the first of these sequels, Deadhouse Gates, is one of the best fantasy novels he has read. This might be a low bar, but I am reading it now. Deadhouse Gates does seem like an improvement but I am reserving judgement until I reach the end. UPDATE: reviewed here.

As for Gardens of the Moon, I cannot recommend it unless you really like this sort of thing.

Rage of Thrones

So season three of Game of Thrones has started.

View on youtube
Actually, the adaption of Game of Thrones has been pretty great so far. In some ways it is even better than the books, mainly due to stuff actually happening in a timely manner. Also, instead of G.R.R.Martin’s vivid descriptions of breasts in every chapter, we actually get to see breasts. This behind the scenes look explains the creative process.

The books are crazily ambitious but the pace has been slowing with each successive novel. I suspect that the next book will cover in detail what each of the 85 characters did between the hours of 8:30am and 11:30am on a particular Tuesday morning, including what they had for breakfast, if anything scary made their bowels turn to water, and if they saw any nice breasts. It is these colourful threads that the novels’ rich tapestry is woven from.

(Axis of Awesome also have this unrelated but amusing song which is worth a look.)