Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hobbit, or About One Third of the Way There

"For sale: a copy of Titanic. First tape watched once. Second tape never watched."
-- MicroNews ad, circa 1998

If you, like me, have read The Hobbit six or seven times during your childhood, you probably remember being supremely bored with unnecessary details, longing to cut through all the useless crap as fast as possible and see how it all ended.

Well, my fellow Americans - I address you, as the largest and the most merchandisable movie market in the world you are most certainly the primary target for Hobbit, The Movie - your long wait for a better Hobbit has come to an end!

The movie version has a number of improvements on the book.

Less talk, more action

The best feature of the movie is that it cuts down on tedium of the original.

The long and, frankly, unnecessary scene of one-by one introduction of dwarves in the very beginning - cut. After the first couple the rest of the them just roll in - literally - as a group. All nine of the rest - Thorin now comes alone after Gandalf (and most of the dinner).

Many days and many miles of boring trudge to Rivendell? Gone, gone, and gone! And good riddance! In the new version the company races there with orcs and wargs on their heels - much faster and, frankly, more action, with Radagast riding the bunny rabbits against orcs and Gandalf opening a passage in the stone just as everything is about to be lost, and Elvish cavalry riding in to mop orcs up!

Long wonderings inside Misty Mountains - greatly streamlined, and a lot more action added.

In the book the cavalcade of dwarves goes back and forth, and back and forth, through the dark tunnels, with and without the hobbit. And then the hobbit making his separate journey in the dark - again, back and forth, back and forth. While I imagine this was OK for the beginning of the 20th Century, 100 year later the book feels slow and quaint. The movie is faster and more action packed.

In the movie, the dwarves leave Rivendell without Gandalf. They run into the laps of fighting stone giants - which kick each other for good five minutes while the company is trying to hold for dear life to the body of one of them. Eventually, they make it into a cave where everyone goes to sleep. The hobbit wakes up and decides to turn back home. Then, after a conversation with a dwarf, he changes his mind. Then the floor opens and they all drop down and get hauled to the Great Goblin. The fall through the floor is just like in Ice Age - it's great to see Peter Jackson taking advantage of so much artistic progress that film-making had made since the book was written!

The tunnels themselves are gone. When the company escapes from Great Goblin's hall, they run through a large system of wooden scaffoldings propped up in the middle of a huge cavern that seem to take all of the space inside the mountain. The scaffoldings disintegrate as they run through them, orcs fly around, and eventually they slide down to the very bottom of the cavern on a segment of the scaffolding - think Ice Age again.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

With all the boring parts gone and some serious action added, the movie needed real fighters to make all the action possible. It handled it masterfully by giving the personages a significant overhaul.

In the book, Bilbo was a reluctant hero. He was a hero, yes, but he only performed heroic acts when every other possibility was exhausted.

In the movie, Bilbo is a willing participant. A fighter. A freedom fighter, almost.

He leaves Hobbiton on his own volition, rather than being kicked out by Gandalf. He is the hero of the fight with the trolls - and a fight it is, unlike the book's affair of subterfuge and distraction. He gives a speech worthy of a great leader about his connection with his own home and how he wants to help dwarves find theirs.

Finally, he literally saves Thorin's life in the battle of "Out of the frying pan, into the fire". Yes, in the movie, it's a battle. You wouldn't expect real heroes to just sit in the tree, would you?

I only have to hope that this trend continues and in the end Bilbo will have strangled Smaug with his bare hands.

Just like Bilbo the dwarves have gotten a major face lift. While reading the book I could not help being annoyed how dour the dwarves were. Other than Thorin, Balin, and (maybe) Bombur (through his mass) they did not really have distinct personalities, mostly playing as a crowd. They couldn't fight, they weren't very witty, and they were spending their parts trudging along and muttering under the breath. It always puzzled me how they even expected to fight the dragon in the first place.

Well, not in this movie! From the moment they show up (looking like a motorcycle gang) to the several battle scenes where they make short work of orcs and administer some serious punishment to the trolls, they are fighters. Warriors. While success of the mission may not be 100% assured, there is no doubt that Smaug will have to fight hard to defend the stolen treasure.

New plot!

As I pointed out above, the movie omitted a lot of unnecessary parts of the book. Unfortunately, here the interests of the viewers were in direct contradiction with the interest of the business. The audience of course has benefited from less crap, but the business plan clearly called for three installments.

Having three movies rather than one means four times the revenue, because the interest in the previous one heats up again right before the release of the next installment. The sales of DVDs, action figures, various movie-related novelty items all go up.

(By the way, the idea of writing a book version of Hobbit The Movie is exciting. I am very much looking forward to it!)

The other problem with the book is that it does not flow naturally into the plot of Lord of the Rings. The link to Sauron is very vague, the nature of the Ring unclear, Gandalf has considerably less wizard power, etc. The reader is left with a lot of questions - and you CERTAINLY don't want to have viewers ask questions after they've seen the movie. People come to theaters to have fun, not work through complicated plots!

Furthermore, a lot of important personages from Lord of the Rings are absent from the Hobbit. This means that a great number of people from the original cast - who, I am sure, have become good personal friends to the director during their long work on the epic trilogy - would not be involved in the new project. With the royalty revenues from the trilogy coming down, and the price on real estate in Hollywood going up, this is a bigger problem than you might think.

Well, maybe all this would have been an insurmountable challenge for lesser men, but Peter Jackson is truly a brilliant director, and he has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that he is worth every penny of the millions and millions and millions of dollars that he hill have made from this movie.

He did what lesser men would not have guts to do - he radically modified the plot.

The solution is easy to see if you understand the root cause of all the consistency problems with the book. You see, in the past people wrote prequels BEFORE they wrote the successful work. The Hobbit was actually written PRIOR to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

There is a lot of problems with this approach - the prequel might place certain limits on what could later be exploited. For instance what if Star Wars III were to be shot before Star Wars IV, and let's say Obi Wan Kenobi would have killed Anakin Skywalker. What then?

But what we know now Tolkien did not know 100 years ago, and that's why we have what we have - two literary works that look like they were written during different time periods and for different purposes.

Luckily, Peter Jackson's masterful work on the new plot for The Hobbit has fixed all these problems in one fell swoop. It extended the plot giving enough footage for three 3-hour long extremely entertaining, action-packed installments. It created roles - and therefore, jobs! - for the actors that would not otherwise be there. And it made the plot consistent with The Lord of the Rings.

Some plot modifications were small, but extremely cute - for instance, Radagast reviving his favorite hedgehog. Or Radagast riding a sled propelled by bunny rabbits pursued by a band of orcs.

Some were more fundamental, but short - Galadriel, Saruman, and Elrond in a council explaining the connection between The Hobbit's Smaug and the rise of Sauron.

Perhaps the biggest addition to the plot was the revival of Azog - which according to Tolkien was killed in Moria by Dain (Thorin's second cousin). In the movie he is back from the dead, and in hot pursuit of Thorin and his company.

In conclusion

If you liked the hand-to-hand combat between Gandalf and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, you will enjoy every minute of Hobbit The Movie. And... let me know what happens in the next installment, because I don't think I will be going. I've seen enough :-).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Python is the best programming language? Really?

Apparently, it is, according to LinuxJournal readers

Don't misunderstand me, I LOVE Pyton. It is a great scripting language. In fact, if *nix shell programming languages never existed, and Python would be the default - and the ONLY - shell programming language - on ALL OSes, including Windows - the world would have been a greener place.

But best PROGRAMMING language? Really? Above C and all its derivatives?