So I finally got around to seeing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. As is my custom with movies that are currently in theatres, I’m going to skip the full review and just give a few comments and observations.
Now, despite the fact that the movie is based on a book that’s 77 years old, and the outcome has to be essentially the same for the original trilogy to work, I’ve received complaints about spoilers while discussing this movie among my friends. To avoid that with y’all, the comments and observations will begin below the fold, in no particular order.
Filed under Fantasy, Reviews
Do you remember the scene from Princess Mononoke where Moro, the wolf-goddess, confronts Lord Okkoto, the boar-god?
Lord Okkoto has just lost every single one of his followers in battle with humans. Between that grief and his own wounds, he’s gone mad and degenerated into a demon. No one wants to fight him – “Don’t touch him,” Moro says, “He’s no longer a god.” – but he’s…absorbing…Moro’s adopted human daughter. Before she leaps to the rescue, Moro sneers in utter contempt at how far her former colleague has allowed himself to fall: “Look at you,” she says. “You can’t even speak.”
That’s what brings me to my titular thought about the Balrog of Moria:
That giant, flaming demon began its existence as the same order of spirit as Gandalf. It is no less old and, theoretically, no less intelligent than any of the wizards. These things were Morgoth’s generals, after all. And yet…it’s roaring. That’s how the Balrog of Moria expresses itself. It doesn’t shout threats or make demands. It roars.
Is that what Gandalf is thinking as he faces a fellow Maia who has allowed itself to fall so far?
“Look at you. You can’t even speak.”
This post was originally going to be just a follow-up on my recent post about internal consistency and the use of detail. In most ways, it still is. But where that post was about using those tools for the essentially defensive purpose of establishing plausibility, this post is about using them for the proactive purpose of world-building.
Once again, I’m going to use works from the fantasy genre as examples, because, once again, fantasy gives the most freedom when choosing what kind of world you want to build. Science fiction must give at least the pretense of being science-based, and horror must at least look like a familiar world, if only so the horrific revelation that that world is a lie has that much more impact. In contrast, a fantasy world – as Terry Pratchet’s Discworld and the world of the Exalted role-playing game, as discussed in the previous post prove – doesn’t even have to be a round planet.
The two works I’m going to use are both set on round planets (…I’m pretty sure. We only see one hemisphere of each, but one is supposedly set on our own world and the other has a standard scientific version of outer space), but are otherwise extreme ends of the spectrum in terms of fantasy world-building: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Some time ago, I wrote a post – far and away my most popular to date – concerning J.R.R. Tolkien’s dark lords. In it, I mention that Tolkien’s books were written with the conceit that Middle Earth was in fact our own world, in a mythic time before history as we know it began.
That means that Tolkien couldn’t just make up an artificial pantheon and cosmology for his fantasy world, like most fantasy authors do. The spiritual and moral universe of Middle Earth is the one that he actually believed in – which is to say, that of a devout Roman Catholic. Eru Iluvatar, the Creator of the setting, is clearly the Christian God; the Valar, His most powerful servants, are archangels; and the Maiar, the host of lesser spirits, are angels.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens tonight at midnight, and I have no intention of going to see it until after Christmas. As I’ve stated before, I’ve been to one too many opening nights packed to the rafters with drunk, screaming, swearing, babbling, popcorn-fighting idiots (no small percentage of whom have their six-year-old children at midnight showings) to ever even risk it again. This is why professional reviewers are show previews at private screenings.
But make no mistake, I will go to see it, because I loved The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and I fully expect to love The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
The Hobbit movies have been the target of a lot of criticism, pretty much all of it justified. The hardcore Tolkien fans resent the liberties it took with the novel; even if you think incorporating the material from the appendices of The Return of the King was a good idea, some changes were made for their own sake. More casual fantasy fans and those who were simply interested in the latest big-budget movie spectacle complain of the ridiculous amount of padding. By all rights, The Hobbit should be two movies at the absolute most.
All true. But I love it anyway. Why?
Because it finally gave dwarves their moment in the spotlight.