South Park Self

they shaped and wrought, and light they caught

I went back to work yesterday, after three weeks of holiday1, and more or less as a last desperate splurge before going back to work I gave myself a slightly mad Tuesday during which I saw two movies in actual cinemas and everything. The first was by cunning plan, viz. braving the holiday crowds for a morning show at the mall to see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, which I have unaccountably missed seeing earlier. The second was a random last-minute invitation from Pam & Lloyd to see Gravity with them, which was a splendid idea.

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I have a sort of sneaking feeling that I shouldn't really have enjoyed Desolation of Smaug as much as I did. I didn't adore the film utterly, but it was fun, and full of hot dwarves and beautiful landscapes and Martin Freeman being endearing. Even so I'm faintly surprised that its adaptation choices didn't nark me off more than they did. There's some odd stuff going on there, a weird Jacksonesque abandonment of perfectly cinematic bits of the book (the staggered introduction to Beorn, for example. I was looking forward to that. They didn't do it. Phooey. And Beorn himself was simply lame.) in favour of brand new sequences which don't seem to serve any particular purpose (like Thorin and the lads scurrying frantically around dwarven forges for no other reason than because the director wanted an action bit right there.) And the spider battle was frankly pedestrian. I loved Smaug, visually and particularly his voice, although it's effects-ridden enough that it doesn't really sound like the actor (a pity because Benedict Cumberbatch's voice). The dwarven halls of the Lonely Mountain are spectacular. I really didn't have a problem with the introduction of Legolas, it gives a face to all the anonymous wood elves. Nor did I balk at the, hooray!, actual female character such as Tolkien didn't include at all in the novel. Tauriel was pleasingly kick-butt and it's just a pity that her potentially gender-corrective presence was utterly undercut by her immediately being slapped into a love triangle. Because clearly female characters can efficiently kill orcs all they like, they are nonetheless incomplete without a sexual function. Jackson and Stephen bloody Moffat are of the same casually sexist ilk. (Also, is it just me, or are Elven/dwarven relationships simply weird?)

Despite all the whinging above, it's weird that I probably enjoy the film because of its departures from the original, not in spite of them. As with the first film, I love the expansion of the story, the filling in of the blanks - the sense that Bilbo's journey fits into a broader tapestry of history and meaning and plot, with Galadriel and the Necromancer and all - not just the whole world, but Jackson's particular vision of it. Middle-Earth is so huge and rich, the kiddied-down version of it we see in The Hobbit is a glimpse in a tiny mirror, and it's lovely to feel the vistas opening up. I applaud Jackson's vision, even as I wish the result had been slightly less ham-fisted and self-indulgent and, even, thoughtless at times. The project deserves a better execution.

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I am kicking myself that I left it too late to see Gravity in 3D, which I believe was spectacular. Even on the Labia's smaller screen and with their scratchy sound it's a phenomenal film, a virtuoso manipulation of tension, narrow focus and narrative control - such a simple, stripped-down plot to be so utterly engaging. It manages to be beautiful at the same time as it's gritty and real, with that minimalism of image and character despite the vastness of its backdrop. I loved the absolute absence of the kind of cuts to flashbacks on Earth which a more popular sort of film would infallibly have interspersed with the references made by characters to events in their past. Those actors had a hell of a task, to establish and maintain their characters with so little to play off. But they are amazing actors doing an amazing job of a highly skilled script, with jaw-dropping special effects that enhance rather than replacing the significance of the characters. The conveniently adjacent space stations all in the same orbit were a bit of a stretch, but the film-makers seem to have done their damnedest to actually replicate the physics of movement in space and the contemporary technology of the station and capsules. Science fiction at its best, if you accept the broadest definition of sf as fiction which is intrinsically about humanity's engagement with technological advancement, although of course strawberryfrog's point is valid, that from another angle Gravity isn't sf at all, but the purest contemporary realism. Bugger that. This is the sort of story sf should be telling, and I claim it with pride.

Subject line is from the dwarves' song in The Hobbit, of course - book version, not film. Film is the craft of light. I'm not sure Jackson is good at dwarves, actually: they're too bloody rude and slap-stick, even if the theme of greed and corruption is being nicely developed in Thorin. Dwarven dignity should not turn on and off like a tap.



1   In the exact opposite of celebration of my return to work, a random selection of my muscles have seized solid and my sleep patterns have been shot to hell for two nights. Last night I dreamed Moriarty turned me into a deer because of my refusal to assist in his nefarious criminal activities, resulting in my rude awakening at 5am this morning as I fled through the forests with his pack of werewolves at my heels. Hooves. Whatever. I need a new job.

I'd say that gravity is like Die Hard: a thriller, set in the present day, in a high-tech location, about overcoming huge odds, and not quite realistic. I know it's kinda also SF because Space.

Some of the major deviations from reality include - no, all those space stations' orbits aren't that conveniently close to each other; it takes a solo astronaut the best part of an hour to extract themself, unaided, from a space suit. And they wear a powered heating/cooling undergarment under the suit (the astronaut could otherwise boil in direct sunlight and freeze out of it) and a diaper (because things happen during 12-hour EVAs). And the debris storm. And ... never mind.

But despite that it's an amazing movie, even more so in big-screen 3d. Also really good considering that it's short, and simple in plot and a very small cast. And has to be almost entirely CGI, unless it was filmed in LEO without telling anyone.

I've never before seen absolute nothingness so chillingly realised, and triumphed over. That's a feat, and it's very SFy.

Edited at 2014-01-10 06:01 pm (UTC)
Also really good considering that it's short

Don't you wish we still lived in the days when 90 minutes was the standard movie length? Honestly, I don't think today's two and half hour epics necessarily give us better quality films. Storytelling has become bloated and self-indulgent. I blame CGI, or at least advancing tech which makes cinema cheaper to make.
I'm happy with movies that take 100 or 120 minutes; there's more room to tell a story and let characters develop. Assuming it's done, though and not just more time for explosions.

Two and half hour bloated GCI epics are indulgent though!
all I'm saying is that if the movie takes more than an hour and a half, the extra time can be story and character development, not more explosions. Or more orcs.
This is the sort of story sf should be telling, and I claim it with pride.

Yes. I support that claim. I loved Gravity to tiny little bits, and I'll be nominating it in the Hugos, once I figure ou twhich category it fits in.

And I've got nothing of value to add to your Hobbit review either, except that I enjoyed it more than the first one because it had fewer tonal shifts. It's almost as if they gave up on making the adaptation of the bedside tale altogether and decided to emphasize, as you put it here, where it fits in the larger body of legends.