A little film called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey debuted this weekend. You may have heard of it.

The Hobbit










There have been a number of reviews that are set up from the start to dislike the film, like where Slate sent two “Hobbit virgins” to see the film and review it. That’s what everyone wants in a review. People that have no interest and no desire to be interested in the material they are reviewing makes for perfectly unbiased reviews, right? Of course, Slate is claiming this is not supposed to be taken seriously, because they did this with Harry Potter and Twilight, too. Like that makes it better that really what they are doing is making fun of geeks for loving something so passionately.

And this wasn’t the only review I’ve read where the reviewer seemed to have no actual knowledge of what they were reviewing, outside of its connection to the Lord of the Rings films. Many have seemed shocked at the more light-hearted tone of the film compared to the LotR films. Some have gone out of their way to point out that The Hobbit was written as a children’s novel, seeming surprised by this, despite the fact that The Hobbit is number 25 on BBC’s Top 100 Books (The Lord of the Rings is number 1).

The only reviews I’ve actually trusted have been ones by those that hold the source material near and dear to their hearts, for only they, in my mind, can be truly unbiased. Even the reviews I’ve not agreed with that were written by folks that love the book come at their review from a position of honesty and sincerity. The best review I’ve read was the one over at Forbes.

But you guys aren’t just hear to read my rant about the haters, you want to know what my thoughts are on the film, so I’ll get started. Some spoilers may be included. You have been warned. Don’t bitch at me if you’ve not seen it yet.

(Note: I saw the 2D version, in 24 FPS. Our theater isn’t set up for 48 FPS, and I’m generally  not a fan of 3D.)

The two word review is thus: LOVE IT!

The slightly longer review adds: I can’t wait until the next one is here. I want it now. I also want the extended edition of this one now, too.

I’ve read several refer to “bloat” for this film. I just can’t agree with that all. At two hours, forty-nine minutes, I didn’t think it was long enough. I’m hoping the extended edition (that Jackson has already promised) will be 4 hours in length. Seriously, I do.

The film opens with older Bilbo (Ian Holmes) narrating as he begins the book Tolkien readers know as the Red Book of Westmarch. Frodo (Elijah Woods) appears briefly in what we learn is a scene that actually appears just before the very beginning of Fellowship of the Ring. It’s so great seeing Holmes and Woods reprise their roles, albeit briefly, to kick this one off for us. It provides a nice, smooth connection to the first trilogy of films.

Soon we jump back sixty years to Gandalf’s (Sir Ian McKellen) arrival and a young Bilbo (played perfectly by the amazing Martin Freeman). Their dialogue is almost word-for-word from the novel, and it’s wonderful. The dwarves arrive, first one or two at time, then a large group of them, and we get one of the best scenes in the film – the raiding of Bilbo’s pantry. Their cooking, eating, and jolliness greatly distresses poor Bilbo, who does not like visitors and does not like his plates and pots and pans mistreated. And we are treated to dwarven songs as well, as Jackson kept some of the songs written by Tolkien for The Hobbit, and popularized in the animated The Hobbit from 1977. They sing That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates as they clean up after the party, and then after Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) eventual arrival they sing Misty Mountains – which sent chills down my spine. In addition to the two dwarf songs, we are later treated to a snippet of a goblin song in Goblin Town, plus there is Howard Shore’s brilliant score, which uses the familiar themes from the LotR score in places, but is primarily fresh material that transports us right back to Middle-earth.

Once Bilbo agrees to go along, hastily running after the departing dwarves, we get to really start understanding the story – and the backstory. Jackson does a marvelous job of working in material from the appendices and other Tolkien sources to both explain what happened (the views of Erebor in its heyday, before Smaug, are spectacular and exactly how I’ve always pictured a dwarven city) before the story and during the story, yet was not actually in The Hobbit itself. We see the Battle of Azanulbizar, the final battle of the War of the Dwarves and the Orcs, and learn how Thorin earned his name of Oakenshield. It’s a fantastic scene, and I know I did not catch it all. I can’t wait to go again, so I can examine this battle in more detail.

We also meet Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), one of the five great Wizards (besides Gandalf and Saruman), whom Tolkien only mentioned a few times, but who apparently was important to the backstory. Radagast is nature-loving wizard and when we meet him we see his concern for the animals and plants of his beloved woodlands as they fall ill and die. He lovingly treats a dying hedgehog, nursing it back to health with his magic after he figures out that dark magic is the only thing that could be responsible for what is happening. Radagast learns the source, and then sets out to find his friend and fellow wizard Gandalf and warn him. We are treated to one of the best images of the film as Radagast rides his sled pulled by a team of giant rabbits! In a scene that parallels Arwen’s ride to Rivendell with Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring, Radagast leads warg-riding orcs on a merry chase to give Gandalf, the dwarves and Bilbo a chance to escape. (“These are Rhosgobel Rabbits. I’d like to see them try.”)

The company arrives in Rivendell, much to Thorin’s chagrin (he doesn’t have much love for elves, since Thranduil, king of the wood elves, did not come to the aid of his people when Smaug arrived), but which allows them to learn important information about their quest, and allows Gandalf to meet with the White Council – Saruman (Christopher Lee), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). This is another scene not in the novel, but which Tolkien wrote about in other sources. They discuss Radagast’s findings as well as the nature of Thorin’s quest, and we learn that Saruman opposes all actions. One of my favorite lines in the film comes when Galadriel asks Gandalf why he chose Bilbo. “It’s the small things that keep evil at bay. The everyday deeds of ordinary people. Simple acts of kindness.” That sent chills down my spine and brought a tear to my eye.

The dwarves leave Rivendell while the council is meeting, hoping to slip away unnoticed – just as Gandalf planned. They take to the mountains on foot and after a harrowing escape from a stone giant fight, find shelter in a cave. I loved Jackson’s interpretation of the stone giants as basically being stone version of the treants, very elemental-like in their nature. While in the cave, the dwarves are captured by goblins and taken to Goblin Town and the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries). Much has been made of the goblins – the Great Goblin in particular – looking “bad”. I’m not sure what film those people were watching. The CGI is at least as good as, if not better than, that in the Lord of the Rings films. I was amazed by the Great Goblin, and Humphries’ performance, frankly.

While the dwarves deal with the goblins, Bilbo encounters a mysterious figure deep in the caves – Gollum (Andy Serkis). What follows is, in my opinion, the best scene in the film. Riddles in the Dark is amazingly good and Serkis still has it as Gollum. The exchange between the two is nothing short of brilliant. (Bilbo – “I didn’t say anything.” Gollum – “Wasn’t talking to you!”) Bilbo wins the riddle contest, but when Gollum discerns what the hobbit has in his pocket, we get the beginning of Gollum’s hate for Bilbo and later Frodo and Sam.

The dwarves effect their escape in a harrowing and exciting run for their lives, aided by timely arrival of an ally, and leave the tunnels behind – now on the other side of the mountains. They fret over Bilbo disappearing, but when Thorin suggests Bilbo took the opportunity to return to Hobbiton, Bilbo slips off the magic ring and steps out, announcing himself. Thorin is surprised, but Bilbo tells him, “I know you doubt me. I know you always have. I often think of Bag End. That’s where I belong. That’s home. You don’t have one. It was taken from you, but I will help you get it back if I can.” Again, cold chills and a tear.

In the finale of the film, the company is chased by Azog, the white orc that Thorin thought long dead, and they climb trees to escape. Gandalf calls for help in the form of the great eagles and all are carried to safety, and when Thorin confronts Bilbo – who risked his life to save Thorin’s life – he finally accepts the halfling. They see the Lonely Mountain far in the distance and we quickly move to the interior of ruined Erebor and the great pile of gold and treasure for a tease of what’s to come.

Brilliant. Perfect. I could not possibly be more pleased, except for when the extended edition is finally released. The cinematography was stunning, and we are once again treated to a brilliantly unintended tourism ad for New Zealand. The mountains, the forests, the rivers, are all simply stunning. The set pieces, even those involving large amounts of CGI (like Rivendell and Goblin Town) are also stunning.

I can’t wait to see it again (probably after Christmas, unless someone wants to buy me a ticket!). And again. And again. And…

What did you think? Were you as enthralled as I? Or did you dislike it as much as some of the critics?

…When I made this post on my Facebook page earlier today while watching the extended edition of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.


And what ensued was a 93-comment (and climbing) discussion – heated at times (though luckily all involved are friends) – about how that statement was either right or wrong.

I first read The Hobbit in 1977 or 1978, I can’t remember exactly now. I know it was a few months after I got the original Blue Box D&D Basic set and I got that in late 1977. I wanted to know more about halflings and elves and dwarves and dragons. I found The Hobbit in my school library and checked it out, and I enjoyed it. It was fun, and gave me lots of inspiration for my earliest D&D games, plus got me pointed in the right direction for fantasy literature as I was soon reading REH’s Conan stories as well.

About 12 to 18 months after I read The Hobbit, I found The Lord of the Rings in the library, and checked it out as well. Now, I was in 3rd grade when I read The Hobbit, and probably in 4th, maybe 5th, by the time I got around to The Lord of the Rings. I remember having to force myself to read LotR, too. I had signed up for a reading marathon, with LotR as part of it, and so I had to finish them. But they were so different, in both style and substance. I didn’t understand then that The Hobbit had originally been written by Tolkien for his children, while LotR was a much more serious, darker story in the style of Icelandic sagas. These are things I wouldn’t even begin to learn about until high school.

But ultimately I did finish LotR, and despite myself, I liked it. I would go on to read the books again around 8th grade, again in high school, and a fourth time right before the film version of Fellowship of the Ring was released. Each time I read them, I envisioned landscapes and scenes in my mind that Peter Jackson would replicate on film almost exactly. Each time I read them after the first, I also skipped Tom Bombadil’s appearance (HATE Tom Bombadil), and each time I felt that the scouring of the Shire was a hastily added on afterthought. So, I was extremely pleased when Jackson chose not to include Tom Bombadil and when he chose to kill Saruman and not have him escape to come back as Sharkey to scour the Shire. Neither Tom Bombadil nor the Scouring of the Shire by Sharkey further the story, and Jackson proved that you could ignore both completely and still tell the story of the Lord of the Rings.

(the Scouring of the Shire was hinted at as a possible future when Frodo gazed into Galadriel’s mirror, so it’s not liked it was completely gone from the story)

Many people complain that Jackson didn’t get Boromir right, or Faramir, or Elrond, or Galadriel, or Farmer Maggot, or Bill the Pony right, but I always felt each interpretation was perfect for a film adaptation, and each fit my own vision I’d had since I was in 5th grade, over 2 decades before the films came out. I like them. No, I LOVE them, and no one will ever convince me that Tolkien’s own version of the character is better.

Tolkien was a great storyteller, but not a great writer. Heresy, yes, but that’s my feelings on the situation. And it won’t change. From everything I’ve seen and read so far, I know that I’m going to continue to feel this way about Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit, even if it is a trilogy, instead of the originally planned duology – something that has his detractors up in arms, but has me and others giddy as school kids.

So, flame me all you want. Tell me how wrong I am. I’ll never tell you that you are wrong for liking the novels better – but I will explain why I feel differently.

Which do you prefer, Jackson’s films or Tolkien’s novels?

While I was getting complaints about my stream of LotR movie quotes on Facebook today (more on that shortly), I was silently – ok, not so silently – brooding over the flood of “12/12/12” posts.

The gist is this: today is 12/12/12, and numerology aficionados are waxing eloquent about it being the “last sequential date of the century” and “the last sequential date you’ll/we’ll ever see!”

To start with, today is not a sequential date. Yes, it is the 12th day, of the 12th month, but today is the 2,012th year, not the 12th year. So, everyone is about 2000 years too late, really. If today were, somehow 2012/2012/2012, then you might be on to something.

But really, even if I accept that when you abbreviate 2012 to ’12, that makes 12/12/12 a sequential date, it’s still not necessarily the “last one we’ll ever see”. The average life expectancy in the US right now is 78.2 years. In the UK it’s 80.1. We’re getting older, and the UN estimates that there nearly half a million centenarian’s worldwide right now (a centenarian is someone that lives to be at least 100 years old). Even if that average number of centenarians remains unchanged over the next 89 years, that means that there are nearly half a million people being born today, or were born within the last few weeks, months or even years, that will be here when January 1, 2101 rolls around – 01/01/01. Children born on January 1, 2013 will only be 87 years old at the next sequential date – so, no it’s not the “last sequential date you’ll/we’ll ever see.”

So, was this day special for you, or just another Wednesday?

Ok, I’ll say it. I don’t like the looks of Man of Steel. I haven’t liked what I’ve read about it. I didn’t like the teaser trailer. And I don’t like the new full trailer either.

I know I’m in the minority here. But, it just does nothing for me. I like Zack Snyder, but I’m not moved by this trailer, and I find myself thinking “meh, I’ll just wait til it’s on bluray to see it.”

It’s too brooding for me. Batman? Batman is supposed to be brooding. But not Superman. Some friends have pointed out that at the end of the trailer you get a glimpse of the “Superman is hope” theme, but I don’t see it. I just see and hear “the world is awful, and I’m going to be a fisherman, and I’m going to wear a bad version of my classic uniform, and the world isn’t ready for me”. Why would that make me want to see the film?

Give me Christopher Reeves and the original Superman: The Movie any day.

Of course, I thought I wasn’t going to like X-Men: First Class or The Amazing Spider-man, but I ended up loving both of them, so we shall see. I will give the film a watch, but my hopes are pretty low. And that might be the saving grace for it for me.

Am I wrong about Man of Steel?

So, yesterday I made this status update on Facebook:


What ensued was a 55-comment conversation – mostly between two friends I actually know outside of Facebook – about what actually is a “fake geek girl” or “fake nerd” and what folks who rage against “fake geek girls” are saying when they do rage (like when comic artist Tony Harris raged on his Facebook page recently…). One friend believes that such rants are actually rages against predatory actions by some not-nerds in a barely-there costume, and some of what Harris says seems to indicate this to be true – and here’s a funny comic reaction to the “predatory” issue by artist Jemma Salume over on her deviantART page.

But I don’t think that’s really what’s going on. It’s a veneer. A disguise. A distraction. I think what’s really going on is a once male-dominated group is now seeing a large surge of female fans enter the picture and they are afraid. Why? Lack of social skills could be one reason. Simple misogyny could be another. I think it really ties in with the same kind of vitriolic crap that is leveled at women in gaming and the gaming industry, or comics, or sci-fi/fantasy in general. Just look at this Kotaku post from a couple weeks ago to get an idea of what women in the gaming industry have to put up with.

It’s something that has to change. Period. Gamers and geeks are usually a lot more inclusive. We tend to understand what it’s like to be the outsider, to be pushed around. So why is this such an issue? Because some – mostly males – are insecure? Because of fear? Because of a lack of social skills? I don’t really have an answer, but we need to find one so that we can move past this and get with the modern world.

My wife is my partner in 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming. She’s an editor, layout guru, designer/developer, author, and financial wizard. And she doesn’t do it to be accepted by me or other guys in the tabletop gaming industry. She does it because she loves gaming. She’s passionate about it. And she’s passionate about comic books, and sci-fi/fantasy films and novels and TV shows. She devours those things. Yes, I introduced her to the X-Men back in 2000 when the first film came out, but she very quickly read every comic I had, bought more and read them, read X-Men novels (which I’d never done), and within months her knowledge of the X-Men far out ranked mine – and I’d been an X-Men fan since the late 70s!

I have a number of friends that are cosplayers. Some I actually know outside of social media circles, and others are only through Facebook. Whether I know them in real life or not, I get offended for them when others accuse cosplayers of being “fake”. People want to see their “geek cred card” for them to prove that the amount of time and money they spent putting together a costume actually makes them a real geek. It’s ridiculous.

Some of the hate is heaped on “booth babes”, and I can see a legitimate reason for wanting to do away with booth babes because of sexism issues. But I hear a lot of excuses for getting rid of booth babes at cons ending with “they don’t know the ins and outs of the game/comic/movie they are selling!” This is such a ridiculous accusation, too. Who really cares if they can quote the history of Wolverine? They aren’t there for that. Odds are they are models hired simply to do a job. You don’t stop in the street and demand that the dude with the cardboard guitar quote the entire ingredient list for Little Ceaser’s pizza, do you?

So, this needs to stop. There are no “fake geek girls”. There are no “fake nerds”. They wear costumes and/or geeky t-shirts because they like those things. They might not know the detailed history the way you do, but can you make the costume the way they did? We’re supposed to be welcoming. We’re supposed to be a big family. Start acting like it, geeks.

Do you have a problem with “fake geeks”?