Movie: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I read J. R. R. Tolkien's book 'The Hobbit' many, many years ago now and found it to be a much more accessible than The Lord of the Rings Trilogy of books. I have a vague memory of the story which tells how Bilbo Baggins came to acquire the one ring, whilst on a journey with Gandalf the Grey and a troupe of dwarves, to face off with the villain of the book, Smaug the Dragon.

Director, Peter Jackson's version of the story has been expanded into three films of which The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first. (to be followed by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dec 2013) and The Hobbit: There and Back Again (Jul 2014)).

Warning: What follows isn't so much a review of the film, rather it's my thoughts after seeing the film. There could be spoilers ahead. Don't read if you haven't at least read the book and don't want any major plot points revealed before you've seen the film.

Back to the film...

Unlike the individual films in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy the end of this film is a little more abrupt. Like they're making this new trilogy as one big film and just looking for the most convenient place to cut it. Hence you don't get any plot lines resolved... and won't for potentially a year and a half when the third movie comes out in 2014. The movies in the original trilogy hold up better as stand alone films where as The Hobbit doesn't at all.

This first installment is relentless with the action sequences, only really slowing down during the scenes in the Shire where Gandalf and his troupe of dwarves are trying to convince Bilbo to join them. Even then the majority of scenes are very busy with a lot going on. The sequence with the dishes being cleaned (supposedly), whilst fun and funny, seemed exceptionally out of character for a bunch of dwarven warriors more accustomed to camping and out door life than table manners and etiquette.

Speaking of the dwarves, something that bugged me from the start is that many of the dwarves aren't true dwarves. They're properly proportioned, but tiny men, particularly the leader, Thorin Oakenshield. It's only when you stand him next to Gandalf that you get a sense that he isn't just a normal sized human.

Thorin is supposedly a legendary dwarf warrior who's on a quest to reclaim his people's lost city of Erebor. Lost in the sense that the dragon, Smaug, kicked everyone out and now calls the place home (as opposed to lost - can't remember where it is). Thorin spends a good part of the movie telling Bilbo he doesn't belong in the group due to his inexperience and preference for the quiet life, yet it is Thorin who is the biggest obstacle to his group's success for most of the film.

He refuses to seek Elvin help to read the map they are carrying and he single handedly launches an attack on an Orc leader who, the entire group, only moments, earlier were trying to out run the leaders army (that are still in pursuit when Thorin launches his attack). As a result he is nearly killed were it not for Gandalf's giant eagles, saving the day.

(And why does Gandalf make everybody walk most of the way in yet another movie where he has flying eagles? All the trouble with Orcs, trolls, Stone Giants and goblins could have been avoided just by flying to Erebor).

For the most part this is an enjoyable movie with some really good humor and interesting villains. It's let down a little because, although we are introduced to most of the thirteen dwarves individually, you never really get to know any of them beyond Thorin. In fact, when I came out of the film I couldn't even name a single dwarf in the party. As a result you're constantly looking towards Bilbo and Gandalf as the familiar characters in the group.

The action, as I said, is often relentless, coming at you with hoards of pursuing warriors, thick and fast. Particularly in the Goblin lair where the group's escape crosses into 'Indiana Jones' territory (i.e. beyond belief even in this fantasy world). Often I felt I was in a video game shooter, where it's common for hoards of monsters to attack the game characters.

Clearly Peter Jackson is trying to expand this story to tie in more closely with the Lord of the Rings story by bringing in characters like Frodo, Saruman and Galadriel - all making an appearance even though none are in the original book. It feels like his intention is to weave some of what transpired in the original three films into the Hobbit as the beginnings of what is to come (much like Bilbo's acquisition of the ring).

Overall it's a solid start to the series, even if it comes across a little bit more of the same, rather than anything particularly new. As someone who likes Dragons, Smaug is really the draw card for me. This movie paints him as probably one of the most formidable dragons ever to appear in a film. That's what is really going to get me back to the next and probably the third installment.

It's Time We Armed School Children

Arming School Kids worked so
well in Tomorrow When
The War Began.
Not to make light of a tragic situation with the Newtown shooting incident or to discount the unnecessary loss of lives. However any incident that involves guns and innocent people being shot seems to spark debate online about gun control and, increasingly, mental health.

Clearly there is a mental health issue at stake. No rational person resorts to violence of any kind to resolve their issues. There's no real debate there other than what needs to be done to make it easier for anyone to get the help they need - before we see the next Newtown.

The gun control issue is a whole other discussion. Would disarming civilians or at least applying much stricter gun laws solve the problem?

In Australia, we have much stricter gun laws than the USA, and even had a gun amnesty where thousands of guns were handed in to police, it hasn't stopped supposedly outlaw motorcycle gangs from shooting each other (or not as the case may be - as they appear to have lousy aim). That problem appears to be escalating along with drive by shootings (often targeting the wrong house, apparently. Our criminals are just that dumb).

I don't have any precise figures on gun crimes in Australia, the above is just my general sense of the situation based on TV news reports. For all I know gun related crimes could have decreased since the amnesty - which was many years ago if memory serves me correctly.

So, back to the article's title. There is a general consensus on one side of the argument that tighter gun laws in the USA would make little or no difference. After all guns don't kill people, people kill people. Anyone wishing to get their hands on an assault rifle will find a way to make it happen legal or otherwise.

With that in mind, why not go the other way. Let's start arming our school children. Don't stop there either. Let's make gun ownership compulsory. Every individual should be packing heat!

Why? Because that's what governments and countries do. It's called an arms race. If one country has a nuclear missile then all countries potentially under the threat of being the target of such a weapon will make every attempt to arm themselves equal to or greater capacity. Thus ensuring that should a nuclear missile ever be fired at them you can be certain one or more will be fired back very quickly. This is known as Mutual Assured Destruction.

Now imagine one psychopath opens fire on a classroom of kids. A few may get hit but the rest could be shooting back. That gunman could be dead before he gets a chance to move to another room and open fire there. Knowing that the students are all guaranteed to be carrying a weapon would the gunman even try in the first place? That's how Mutual Assured Destruction works.

If you don't hunt for food, aren't a gun collector, sports shooter or work in a profession that requires you carry a gun, then isn't the only reason you buy a gun to protect yourself from other people who may be carrying weapons?

Then once you've got the gun you hide it away, just in case, when what you should be doing is putting up a great big sign in the front yard saying "I carry a gun and I will use it if necessary". Not letting people know you have a gun is like buying an attack dog then not putting up any warning signs. People need to know you have a deterrent that could get them killed. They need to be informed.

What we need is a return to the wild west where people could carry guns around openly and there was zero crime as a result... Yeah I probably don't have all the facts there but I seem to remember a lot of 'Wanted, Dead or Alive' posters from that era.

Look, I know the whole premise of arming children is absurd but the day is coming that someone somewhere is going to think it's a good idea to arm teachers and train them properly in gun use. So teachers can protect our children. Or that schools become even more like prisons with not just metal detectors at the gate but armed security staff making regular patrols.

If we go in that direction it will be a sad day indeed.

I am a supporter of tighter gun controls but I'm not stupid enough to think that's the answer. I could make that god awful statement of many bleeding heart liberals (of which I am proudly one) "If tighter gun laws saves even one life then it will be worth it". No it won't... if it only saves one life why did we even bother? The goal is to save everyone. One person isn't good enough!

As an observer and commentator I don't have the answers. People can snap for any number of reasons and no one will see it coming (but will probably be kicking themselves in hindsight). How do you even know if someone who is a 'loner' is likely to turn up at your place of business with an arsenal of weapons and a target body count? They're a loner. Who's going to see the signs?

Maybe there's just a need for building stronger more inclusive communities. A 'leave no one behind' approach where everyone looks out for everyone and all people can feel like they're making a valuable contribution to something bigger than themselves... kind of sounds like organised religion doesn't it?

Human nature is what it is. You don't have to go much further than the internet to see an endless stream of people who enjoy tearing others down with no thought to the consequences.

You can make access to mental health programs easier or more affordable. You can tighten gun laws and even improve on gun ownership education. All of which are worthwhile however, at the end of the day, you may decrease the incidents but the reality is, there's always a chance for 'shit to happen'.

You can't protect everyone from every eventuality. You'll go crazy if you try. You can only live positively and trust that others will too.

Online Distribution Killed Music and Other Dying Pleasures

A 12-inch (30 cm) 3313 rpm record (left),
a 7-inch 45 rpm record (right), and a 5-inch
(120 mm) Compact Disc (above)
Source: Wikimedia Commons
I'm of the generation whose first experience of buying the latest music was to purchase 45 rpm 'singles' - having been born at the very beginning of the 1970's. Other formats were around of course, LP's, 12 inch singles and audio cassettes but 45s were the cheapest to buy for someone whose main source of income was parental pocket money.

All of these formats were popular up until the mid to late nineteen eighties where music distribution transitioned onto Compact Discs.

As clunky as it all was, buying your favorite singles and then eventually recording them onto a compilation audio tape was quite an enjoyable pass time.

Not only that but if you had a favorite musical artist you'd buy all their singles, not just for the featured song but also for the possible gem of a 'B-side' that didn't appear on their LP Album (which you also bought). The real fans even bought the extended 12 inch singles in which the artist usually took a great song and ruined it by dragging it out longer into some kind of dance mix.

Then there was the album art to be enjoyed. Especially the art of a 'concept album' which usually went above and beyond the regular photo of the band - unless you were a Pink Floyd fan, in which case nearly every album cover was a work of genius (or an Iron Maiden fan who didn't care for their music but thought their album cover art was something special).

CD's kind of kept the album alive along with not just cover art but cover book inserts. However the smaller size diminished the appeal some what.

All through the nineteen eighties and nineties collecting and listening to music was a pass time that was quite important to me. Particularly in the nineties where I really started to search out newer, less mainstream music.. usually music labeled 'alternative'. So much of it was by bands that have become mainstream as they progressed.

I have a collection of LPs, 45s and CDs that people used to enjoy looking through to see what I had. A collection that I could browse and select an album of music that suited my frame of mind when creating art in my studio or just looking to sit back and relax.

As the music industry transitioned its self kicking and screaming into the online distribution of singles, thanks to online music stores like iTunes (and my entire music collection can now fit on my smart phone), I've stopped buying music.

Not only that but I've almost stopped listening to it as well (save for the fact that you can't completely isolate yourself from music if you watch TV or go to the movies).

It's not a purposeful thing. I didn't just decide not to buy music or try to avoid listening to it. Part of the fun of collecting music for me was the album. Even though artists still release albums digitally online it's just not the same as going out and buying music from a record store. Then bringing the disc home and listening to every song because it's on the CD. Hearing the tracks that never get any radio play because those songs are for the true fans.

When you buy a single online, that's all you get. There is no 'B-side' featuring a completely new song or even an alternate version of the single you might not have heard otherwise.

I know you can buy albums online but I don't feel compelled to do so if all I'm getting is the songs. I want the cover art, the book insert, the experience of learning to appreciate songs that would never work as singles but work within the context of an album. An album that I can hold in my hand and say 'yes I bought this'.

That's the real problem with online distribution and downloading music. You're not actually paying for anything tangible. You're just buying a code. Your MP3 player already has the ability to play every digital song released. All you're doing is buying the codes that make it play those songs you want to hear.

Collecting movies is going the same way with movies on demand services. You can still buy movies on DVD and Blu-ray but for how much longer? Will these download on demand services kill the one reason apart from the film to buy a movie on DVD... the DVD extras? Are they going to disappear like the 'B-side'.

Computer Software purchases are just about all digital downloads now. I haven't bought software in an actual box from a computer store in nearly 10 years, if not more. That's not really a bad thing but I do miss not having a printed manual. I can't begin to tell you how much easier and quicker it is to learn software with a printed manual as opposed to one displayed onscreen as a PDF file.

I'm actually not bemoaning these changes - well perhaps with music I am just a little. Being able to buy things online as digital products is a great thing. Particularly in terms of cost. I'm sure I would've embraced paying 99 cents for a single in a heart beat considering we paid somewhere between $5 and $7 for a 45 single back when I was a kid.

I just miss being able to buy the tangible, hold in your hand item. Maybe I need to start collecting something much more tangible... like action figures perhaps!

Disney's Song of the South - the Classic that Never Happened

Recently I listened to a Kevin Smith smodcast in which he mentioned Disney's Song of the South as being the film that Disney treats like it never happened. (Sorry don't remember the exact show but his comment was a brief, one sentence aside to another discussion).

A few days later one of my Social Network Friends posts a link to a new book, Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories by Jim Korkis, as well as a link to the entire movie posted to YouTube (embeded below). If you have the time it's well worth watching.



I'd never seen the full film so I spent my some of my morning watching it on YouTube. I had become curious as to why the film had been largely pushed to the side by Disney since its last theatrical and home video release in 1986.

Apparently in a post 1986 world, the film, which was originally released in 1946, is now 'culturally insensitive' and even considered racist by some people.

After watching the film it's actually quite hard to see how this film is racist, or even culturally insensitive for that matter. Sure it's filled with stereotypes and perhaps its depiction of American life during the reconstruction is far too idealistic (shock, horror a Disney movie showing an 'idealistic' view of life - that never happens) but the heart and intention of the film is anything but racist.

It's especially odd that the film is viewed unfavorably in its treatment of African American people when the central character of Uncle Remus is dispensing all the wisdom and common sense messages of the film through his fun stories about Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear.

I also recently watched the movie The Color Purple and I have to say the depiction of African Americans in both films was not that dissimilar. Naturally the Disney movie lacks the gritty realism of The Color Purple being a kids film but otherwise not that different.

If there is one thing the internet has taught people it's that context matters. For Song of the South to have been made and released in 1946, at a time when people were less culturally tolerant, this movie would probably have been seen as quite progressive I would think.

Though my research reveals it was considered racist even back then by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). NAACP seemed to take much issue with the stereotypical characters of the film and also felt it was revisionist of history.

Despite that, surely today's modern audiences are smart enough to know that a movie is a product of its time and should be appreciated in the context of the time?

As far as cultural insensitivity goes I see more African American people on TV shows like Hardcore Pawn causing more cultural damage than anything a film like Song of the South would do if shown to audiences of today.

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