Friday, December 13, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug

I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night. In short, I liked it a lot.

I wasn't too thrilled with the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey. Not that it was bad, per se, just that it was incredibly long and boring. And this is coming from me, an extremely dedicated Tolkien fan who believes that no one should ever watch anything less than the full extended editions of The Lord of the Rings. I once read a review of An Unexpected Journey that compared it to a calm, leisurely drive through Middle-Earth, as opposed to the masterful action drama of The Lord of the Rings. If that's the case, then The Desolation of Smaug is akin to jumping into a Ferrari and blasting through Middle Earth, engine screaming and adrenaline pumping.

TDOS takes quite a few liberties with the book, adding in natural context in some areas, altering select moments, and sometimes creating things that are entirely new. The end result is something that seems like it should infuriate a Tolkien diehard like myself, but it's all handled with so much love—and so much fun—that it's easy to accept. After all, The Hobbit, as a book, was a largely shallow story, focused more on entertaining children than delivering a powerful dramatic narrative. The fact that the dramatic context of The Lord of the Rings is retroactively applied to The Hobbit's story in these films—something that Tolkien himself attempted to do in written form but never finished in full—is a welcome change.

When the Hobbit film trilogy is finished, TDOS will probably be labeled "the action film." There's about as much fighting in this movie as there was walking and eating in the last film—which is, to say, a metric ton of it. If you walk into TDOS expecting or wanting to see lots and lots of epic fantasy action (as I did), you will be very pleased. Furthermore, even though the movie is just over 2.5 hours, it clips along at a rather quick pace, all things considered. When watching An Unexpected Journey, I felt that it needed trimming, but with TDOS I constantly felt that it was cutting from scene to scene unusually quickly. I suspect quite a lot of the movie is on the cutting room floor; the extended edition is sure to be much longer.

Some notes on the characters:
-Legolas shows up and kicks all the orc asses. Hooray!
-Thranduil was wonderfully venomous.
-Tauriel was enjoyable to watch, though without knowing where her story is going it's hard to tell what her purpose is. She seems to represent the opposing philosophical viewpoint to Thranduil, but given that there isn't any payoff for that yet, her story isn't satisfied as of yet. But, like Legolas, she also kicks all the orc asses, so hooray!
-Bard the Bowman was really well-acted and -written; I look forward to seeing how his story progresses. It's great to have so much depth given to a character that was totally underdeveloped in the book.
-Smaug the dragon is incredible. Seriously, this has to be the best movie dragon of all time. I'm still more than a little in awe of how well-realized he is in this movie.

Now, as positive as I've been on this film, I do want to clarify that it is not, in any way, on the same level as The Lord of the Rings. This is not the triumphant return to the epic cinematic mastery of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is, quite simply, a very fun chapter in a three-part story. But on that level, it's really enjoyable. I plan on seeing it again as soon as possible.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Iced in

On Thursday, a record-breaking winter storm swept through here and covered everything in ice. This is a very big deal for Texas. Unlike in colder states, there are no city-funded snowplows or other measures to deal with the problem. Lots of people found themselves iced into their own homes, myself included. To reiterate, the storm happened on Thursday. It's now Monday, and it's the first day I've been able to leave my house.

Things I did while being iced in:
Watched nine episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series that I hadn't seen before
Finished Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Finished Tomb Raider (2013) for the 3rd time
Played through the first half of Pokémon Ruby
Researched elven culture for a story I'm writing
Wrote more of said story
Listened to the Frozen soundtrack because of course

So yeah. Netflix, video games, and writing. That's about it. There really wasn't a whole lot else to do.
We didn't adequately prepare food supplies before the storm hit, so we ran out of most of our normal food. No bread, meat, or fruit. Towards the end, I had to get inventive. I cooked and ate a lot of popcorn (useful during Trek-watching). I learned to bake blueberry muffins.

When the sun finally peeked out for a few brief moments and temperatures got above freezing, I got to work on shoveling out the driveway. The problem was that the snow on the driveway had melted and re-frozen at some point over the weekend, forging itself into some kind of bizarre ice concrete. "Shoveling" was really more an act of breaking the ice, cracking it into flat slabs, lifting those slabs and throwing them onto the front lawn. And the ice didn't break easily. The concrete of the driveway warmed just enough to turn the bottom layer of the ice into sticky slush that wouldn't lift off the ground. So I was basically an ice harvester (it's a real thing; watch Frozen if you want to see) trying to break through a rock wall and pull out bricks that were glued down.

After an afternoon of shoveling (ice-picking? ice-battling? struggling?), I'd only finished half the driveway and I was exhausted. I went to bed that night and woke up late this morning, ready to get back at it. Either because I was (kinda) rested or because the ice and snow had melted even further, I was able to clear the rest of the driveway in an hour or so. And by "clear the driveway," I mean that I just barely made enough space for my mom's car to be able to get in and out of the garage. I actually left a bunch of ice near the sidewalk because I figured the car's inertia would carry it over that patch anyway. I was right, of course. It worked perfectly. PHYSICS.

Around noon, I left the house (SMEAGOL IS FREE!) to go get more anti-snow gear and a ton of food for the fridge.

First off, I headed to Home Depot for a new shovel and some de-icing salt for the sidewalk. They were completely out of everything I needed. Then I drove to Ace Hardware for the same items and found them in about 30 seconds.

Next I went to Kroger for groceries, but that proved problematic: apparently Kroger hadn't gotten many shipments in since the storm, so stock was low on lots of things. I bought what I could and headed for home, stopping at Chick-Fil-A for lunch. After I got home, I finished up the driveway-shoveling and went straight back out to Wal-Mart (they built a brand new one near our house) to finish the shopping. On my way back, I noticed that the car's left headlight was burned out. Since my mom drives to-and-from work in the dark both ways this time of year, that was kind of important. I didn't really have any choice other than to go back out AGAIN and get new headlights. I suppose mom could have gone out to get headlights, but... wait, no, there shouldn't be a but in that sentence. She just didn't want to.

So yes. I drove out to Autozone (because Wal-Mart didn't carry the headlights I wanted/needed), straight back near where I'd been earlier in the day. I got the headlights, replaced them in the Autozone parking lot, then grabbed a burger out (my payment from mother for my troubles) and came home.

When I got home, I logged into Facebook and saw that my weekly bible study / board games-playing group (kinda my only regular group of friends/peers at this point) was meeting at 7:30pm tonight. It was then 7:45, and I had literally JUST LEFT that general area. And I haven't seen my friends in... three weeks? Something like that. I'm bereaved. I could have left home AGAIN and gotten there 45 minutes late (which would have been fine), but I was so tired that I just had to shrug and forget about it.

I've had a day. Everything aches like crazy, and I feel like I need to do something tomorrow to relax. Maybe go see Frozen again.

(see, my theory is that if I reference Frozen three times or more, it'll Beetlejuice-style summon something Frozen-relate—AAAAAARUHGUH)