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The Hobbit

Viewed: Theater

The Desolation of SmaugI originally read The Hobbit some 30 years ago. I recently read The Hobbit to my boys a few years ago over a few weeks as bedtime reading. They liked the story, and we as a family have been excited to see the movies together. Especially after the great success of The Lord of the Rings movies. We saw the first movie, An Unexpected Journey, last year for my oldest son’s 12th birthday party.

We saw this second part of the movie trilogy this week. I’m not the fanboy I used to be about Tolkien. I really enjoyed the stories, both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in my youth, but they’re not in my top ten favorite books now. The LotR movies, though, rekindled my interest. Those movies were very good, and relatively very true to the books. But The Hobbit movies have strayed far from the book’s storyline. I know movies can’t always follow the books exactly, if for no other reason than they are just such different mediums. But after seeing LotR, I came to expect Peter Jackson to make a relatively faithful production of The Hobbit. He didn’t.

The first Hobbit movie, I’d say was 80% true to the book. I thought the product, in general, was good. But this second movie is like 50% true to the book. Arguably less. There are several bits of the book missing in this second movie, and there are whole swathes of this movie that are completely made up, not in the book. That fact alone is not bad, in and of itself. But it’s what was added, and how, that makes me not like this movie as much as the previous and the LotR trilogy.

First off, The Hobbit (the book) is a children’s story. A story for children. This fact makes the violence in the film adaptations shocking. The movies have lots — lots! — of violence, fighting, killing, and at least three beheadings on screen. Fortunately there’s not much visible blood from all the sword and axe strokes. Watching this second Hobbit movie made me regret taking my 9 year old son to see it without reviewing it first.

Second, most of the fighting action is what Peter Jackson fabricated whole-cloth for the movies. The last 20 minutes or so of The Desolation of Smaug is a long scene of the dwarves fighting the dragon — a scene that not only doesn’t happen in the book, but feels really stupid in the movie. In the book, Bilbo Baggins survived his encounter with Smaug by using his wits (and the magic ring of invisibility). In the movie it’s an action sequence that shows Bilbo surviving mostly by being incredibly lucky. In the book, the dwarves survive the dragon by hiding from it. In the movie, the dwarves manage a running battle with the beast and even forge a freakin’ giant gold statue for apparently some kind of morale victory.

I was stunned when the movie ended before Smaug attacked Laketown. The Keystone Cops-like battle with the dwarves even made Smaug’s boast about being “Death” while flying toward the human settlement feel pathetic. He couldn’t kill even one of the 9 dwarves (and 1 hobbit) inside his own lair. Instead of a terrible force of evil nature, Smaug comes across as a buffoon.

All in all, I didn’t like this second movie. I don’t hate it. I don’t even dislike it, although I do dislike the on-screen violence added to a children’s story.


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The Avengers

The Avengers PosterViewed: Theater

I took Calfgrit11 to see this movie this weekend. I’ve been cautiously excited about it for about a year, (since I first heard about it), and we’ve been planning to go for a few months, (since first seeing the trailers).


When anyone ever asked me what my favorite movie is, I’d always say, “Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark are in my top three.” I could never pin down for myself what the third movie of my top three was — it could be any new flick I was excited about. Well, The Avengers may have kicked SW out of the top three list. Yes, that’s right. I just said that. Joss Whedon is my master now.

The writing was fantastic. The story worked, the plotting worked, the dialogue worked — it was all so well planned and thought out. The casting was perfect, the acting was great, just everything about this flick is very well done. All the characters got to show off their personalities and abilities, (and not all abilities are for kicking ass). This movie was better than the comic books it was based on.

Being a big comic book fan, (especially Marvel comics), and knowing the characters, setting, and history as well as I do, the whole movie made sense to me. But I wonder how well it worked for someone not as steeped in the lore. I mean, there’s a lot going on here. I wonder if someone who hasn’t seen the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America movies can follow all the characters.

Although this movie is a big budget spectacular, really, it’s the writing and directing and acting that make this so damn good. The characters and the dialogue rule this.


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Watching a Movie Ten Minutes at a Time

I see maybe two hours of TV in a week. One hour consists of 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there, of just random tidbits throughout the week. Mostly some news and/or weather in the mornings while getting ready for work. The second hour is what I manage to catch in our bedroom on Saturday morning while the boys are watching a couple of cartoons in the living room. I very rarely get to see any TV on the big screen in the living room.

Yesterday, though, it looked like I was going to get a little more. Just after noon, the boys had already eaten their lunch, and were upstairs playing well with each other. I was downstairs in the kitchen making me some lunch, thinking I might just sit and eat with the big TV. It could be a nice little spur of the moment indulgence.

I got my meal, and sat down in front of the downstairs TV. My timing was randomly perfect; V for Vendetta was just starting. I remember seeing the trailers back when it was in theaters, and I thought it might be interesting to catch a few minutes of it while I ate. I might actually get to watch half an hour.

Forty-five minutes later, I was hooked on it. The boys had continued playing quietly upstairs, but it was time for one of Calfgrit10’s friends to come over. Usually when one of the boys’ friends come over to play, they all three hang out upstairs or outside and play for a couple hours without needing direct parental attention. That’s usually a great time for me to get stuff done around the house or on this web site. So I figured I might actually get to watch the whole movie. I was excited, it would be cool. It was a good movie so far, but it wasn’t something for the boys to see. (Violence and subject matter inappropriate for 6 and 10 year olds.)

When the friend arrived, I turned off the TV, and answered the door. My boys came downstairs, the friend came in, and then all three ran upstairs. Yay! I talked with the friend’s parents for a minute, and then I was able to get back to the movie.

Ten minutes later, the boys came downstairs with Nerf guns in hand. I clicked off the TV as they came into the living room. They told me they wanted to play Nerf guns, and I told them they had to go outside for that. “OK,” they said. A couple minutes later and they were out, and I turned the TV back on.

Ten minutes later, the boys came back inside. I clicked the TV off again. They were done with Nerf gun fighting. When they bounded back upstairs, I turned on the TV again.

Ten minutes later, the boys came downstairs again. I clicked the TV off again. They had plastic lightsabers and wanted to sword fight. Again, I told them they had to go outside for that. “OK,” they said, and out they went. I turned the TV back on.

Ten minutes later, the boys came back inside. I clicked off the TV again. They were thirsty and wanted water. A couple minutes later, they charged back outside.

Ten minutes later, the boys came back inside, and I clicked off the TV again. All this in and out interruption got repeated over and over and over.

This wasn’t a DVD I was watching, where I could pause it and restart it. This was a TV channel. So every time I turned off the TV, the movie continued on with its action and plot. Half the time I had the TV on, it was showing commercials. Hell, I don’t think I even saw a full commercial without interruption.

The action and plot that I was seeing, was interesting, and I really wanted to follow it and see how it went and ended. But after interruption after interruption, I just dropped my head into my hands.

Really? Come on!

So now I’ve seen half of V for Vendetta. Not the first half, not the last half, not even half in the middle. I’ve seen half of every 10 minutes of the whole two hours. It’s like having read a book with every other page torn out.

This all just validates and confirms why I usually see very little TV. It’s better to not even bother trying when the effort turns out so frustrating. It was foolish, even dumb, to think of trying to watch an adult, (not-for-kids), TV show in the middle of a Sunday with kids in the house. Really, I did this frustration to myself. And even with continuing to put in the effort against all obvious problems, I still don’t know how the damn story ends.


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The Princess Bride With The Boys

With Calfgrit6 recuperating from his tonsillectomy, and with no school because of track out time, (year-round schedule), the boys have had some time to watch some movies. Their mother borrowed a stack of movies from a friend, and I looked through it to see what was on the schedule: all the Harry Potter movies, plus The Princess BrideI’m not a fan of the HP series, but Calfgrit10 has read all the books, (as has his mother). Over the past several days, the family has sat down and watched a HP movie each evening. I’ve joined in for a little while during a couple of the movies, just to enjoy the family enjoying something. (I have to refrain from rolling my eyes at a lot of scenes in the films.)

The Princess BrideBut The Princess Bride is something I would enjoy watching again. The TPB package looked kind of “accidentally” included in the stack of HP DVDs, and no one had mentioned making time to watch it this week. I wanted to watch the movie with the boys, as I thought it would be something they’d both enjoy, but I knew they’d be immediately turned off just by the title of the film. “Princess” and “Bride” aren’t words that excite young boys, 10 and 6 years old.

When I mentioned to the boys that I wanted to watch it with them, they reacted exactly as expected: they scrunched their faces and slightly shook their heads. I intentionally didn’t show them the DVD package. Calfgrit10 asked, “What’s it about?” with a tone of doubt.

“It’s got sword fights,” I explained, “a giant, monster eels, rodents of unusual size, a six-fingered man, and a dread pirate.”

“Huh?” they both responded. Yeah, those aren’t things you expect to find in a movie titled, “The Princess Bride.”

“Trust me,” I encouraged. “You’ll like it.” Then I did my best Inigo Montoya impersonation: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Trust me they did, and like it they did.

There were several times that Calfgrit10 laughed out loud. He even often put in his own commentary on various scenes and lines, much to my annoyance. I was glad he was engaged with the story, but good lord, he talked over some lines I wanted him to hear.

And every time a new character walked into a scene, Calfgrit6 would ask, “Who is that?” before the character got three paces in. “Why is he doing that?” “Where are they going?”

I had to say, “Just watch and listen,” probably twenty times through the film. I was rather surprised. They didn’t do this during the Star Wars movies. Maybe they knew so much about the Star Wars story already that they never got confused for a moment about what was going on or who someone was. I didn’t hear any of this during the Harry Potter movies, but maybe that was because when I sat down with them, they had already been through a couple of the movies and, like Star Wars, already recognized the people and places.

Still, in the end, they both seemed to enjoy the movie. They didn’t even seem to mind so much the kissing parts. And they were pretty revved up and difficult to herd toward bed afterward — that’s usually a sign that they got worked up about a movie.

After getting them both calmed and tucked in for the night, I told them, each, “As you wish.”


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