The Hopelessness of Comparing Books to Movies, Part I

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In my post on The Hobbit, I state, "Adaptations of a book to film can take several routes: the slideshow or strict rendering (boring), the interpretation (more interesting), the other viewpoint (fascinating), the make-a-place-for-myself (problematic but possibly insightful), and the 'all we used was the title' (pointless)."

Lovely image in a slideshow movie.
I will address this paragraph in more detail over several posts.

To start:

The Slideshow or Strict Rendering

This is the most boring of the approaches and only slightly less pointless than "all we used was the title." It can usually be traced to a basic fallacy: books = movies.

No, no, they don't.

It is not only utterly unfair to expect a movie to be a clone of a book, it is utterly unfair to judge a movie/television episode by the same criteria as a book as I discuss in my post "Getting Snarky About Television and Other Anti-Television Silliness".

In sum, watching a movie utilizes one's imagination differently than reading a book.

This reality creates problems  for readers who think that the imaginative journey they took in the book--"I could imagine the characters and the world in my own way!"--ought to be echoed by the movie.
A non-slideshow movie.
Since the movie provides images of the characters and of the world, the reader-now-viewer feels gypped ("But that's not the way I saw it! I'm not having the same experience!").

Of course, it's great to watch a movie where the characters and the setting are what one imagined. It simply isn't the point. The imaginative leap evoked by movies is NOT about turning words-into-images. The imaginative leap evoked by movies is about sensory immersion, no immediate left-brained translation.

What a movie asks for in terms of imagination isn't better or worse than what books ask for. It is different. But it's a difference that matters because when a movie tries to be a book, it fails--it stops being a movie and becomes a slideshow.
 
Slideshow movies come about when adherence to plot cancels out the director's interpretation/worldview. Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone is a slideshow movie. Chris Columbus is not one for grand interpretations, yet Harry Potter the First lacks even his frenetic viewpoint.

Chamber of Secrets
Columbus isn't one of my favorite directors. Still, if he is going to direct something, I expect to see his thumbprint or, to get forensical, his DNA. Speaking artistically, I expect the movie to have his aura/feel/voice/tone. For example, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuaron has a haunting tone that makes it definitely, unmistakably a MOVIE.

Columbus did much better with the second movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. His imprint, especially in the chamber scenes, is more apparent. (In keeping with my yen for short, crisp stories, I quite enjoy both the second book and the second movie.)

Pattinson before Twilight!
Directed by Mike Newell, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is also a fine interpretation, which, in many ways, improves on the book's pacing.

To be more than a slideshow, a movie must have an authorial point of view and that authorial point must be the author of the medium (the director/producer/actors). Without a point of view . . . I might as well read the book. Such resignation might make "books only" folks happy; unfortunately, it would spell the death of an entire art-form. 

Tauriel and Kili: Jackson's Theme for The Hobbit Trilogy

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It's Patriot's Day in New England: of course, I watched the third movie!

Kili: I saw a fire moon once.*
*Jackson is quite adept at conveying
entire relationships in small scenes. Here,
we realize that Kili and Tauriel have more to
say to each other than to their companions.
The full exchange is below.
Brian Sibley's Official Movie Guide to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies quotes from concept artist John Howe:
The relationship between Tauriel and Kili is like one of those love stories where people think they are falling in love when, in fact, they are actually falling out of love with everything else around them, and the only sympathetic face is someone who they would never choose in any other circumstances . . .
Absolutely!

Take Tauriel first. She is an under-appreciated member of an insular society. The only person who seems to comprehend her worth, Legolas, is mute on the subject. She continues to do her job--very well--because after all, what else can she do?

And then this dwarf shows up who thinks she is the most impressive person, and woman, he has ever met. The actors provide decent sexual tension, and the characters have a nice vibe (not to mention gorgeous music). More importantly, faced with Kili's admiration, Tauriel begins to re-evaluate herself, to question the role into which she has been slated by her king and culture.

She chases after Kili yet in many ways she is chasing after re-definition.
When she declares to Bofur, "I'm going to save him," the line is not romantic. Rather, Evangeline Lilly gives it a reverberating pathos that addresses identity without sounding arrogant: I will do this. I can do this. Why did I never realize so before?

As for Kili: he is Thorin's second heir (Fili is the elder of the two). Like Fili, he looks up to his uncle, admiring his strength of purpose and leadership skills. Thorin is a goal-oriented guy! Even at the beginning of the trilogy (and in the book), Thorin comes across as one-idea-ed or tunnel-visioned. This is not necessarily a bad quality, especially when pursuing the seemingly impossible, but it closes him off to outside solutions and makes him susceptible to his grandfather's obsession with treasure.

As in the book, Fili and Kili demonstrate a flexibility of viewpoint lacking in their uncle. For example, they are more accepting and tolerant of Bilbo from the beginning than Thorin. As the trilogy unwinds, Kili (representative of the brothers) begins to identify Thorin's inflexibility as a flaw in an otherwise great man. Meeting Tauriel, stepping outside his slated role, lends him the objectivity to voice his worries. He remains loyal to his companions while becoming more likely to question Thorin's course of action. He is in the process--unfortunately never finished--of remaking himself.

Remaking--redefinition--is the theme of the trilogy. Everybody's doing it!

Bilbo  naturally remakes himself, changing into a hobbit who returns home still valuing the comforts of the cozy life yet willing and able to appreciate the dangers he has experienced:
A pivotal moment echoed by the lines below.
Bilbo Baggins: No! I am glad to have shared in your perils, Thorin. Each and every one of them. It is far more than any Baggins deserves.

Bilbo Baggins: One day I'll remember. Remember everything that happened: the good, the bad, those who survived... and those that did not.
This is the Bilbo who will adopt and raise the near saintly Frodo, who sets out to save not just hobbits but  the entire world. Could (would) Bilbo have done it otherwise?

Legolas, Bard, (Saruman, on the downside), all recast themselves as something not entirely new (they retain their fundamental personalities) but altered, redefined in terms of how they perceive themselves within their own communities.

The remarkable aspect of Jackson's approach to this theme is that the results of such redefinition are epic but the redefinitions themselves are human, ordinary, even small.

"He was my friend," Bilbo says of Thorin, a small declaration in which the entire Fellowship (and the future of the ring) is contained.

Kili and Tauriel's Conversation in the Dungeon:
Kili: Sounds like quite a party you're having up there.
Tauriel: It is Mereth Nuin Giliath; The Feast of Starlight. All light is sacred to the Eldar, but the Wood Elves love best the light of the stars.
Kili: I always thought it is a cold light, remote and far away.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug QuotesTauriel: It is memory, precious and pure.
[they look at each other for a moment]
Tauriel: Like your promise.
[she holds out his stone and he takes it back; she turns and looks up]
Tauriel: I have walked there sometimes, beyond the forest and up into the night. I have seen the world fall away and the white light forever fill the air.
Kili: I saw a fire moon once. [as he talks, she sits on the stairs to listen] It rose over the pass near Dunland. Huge! Red and gold it was: it filled the sky. We were an escort for some merchants from Ered Luin; they were trading in silverwork for furs. We took the Greenway south, keeping the mountain to our left, and then it appeared. This huge fire moon lighting our path. I wish I could show you...
For an unalloyed Romeo & Juliet moment (with non-teenagers)
watch this while listening to Billy Boyd's "The Last Goodbye".

The Two Hands of Person of Interest, Season 3

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Finch saves John. In the end, Finch will try to save even Collier
I recently finished watching Person of Interest, Season 3.

On the one hand, my heart sank the moment the writers introduced Vigilance. Oh, man, I thought, this is going to muck up the ending. (I was right.)

The reason: Vigilance is the worst-run activist movement in history. If I am an organization opposed to Big Brother surveillance, and I am based in New York, and I don't mind going a little too far--maybe not kill but definitely destroy--what do I do?

I vandalize street cameras.

If I have unlimited resources, I vandalize lots of them.

In the series' finale, the writers back-write the possibility that Collier et al. began this way. The problem: whatever Vigilance did to hinder surveillance affected NO ONE in NYC from our heroes to city citizens. Finch & company are never forced to fall back on "old-fashioned" investigative techniques  (like using Bear) due to Vigilance's activities. Lionel never mentions that surveillance in any part of Manhattan has suffered. More criminals don't get away.

The writers get Collier to argue that going after technology--specifically, the technology that put his brother in jail--is useless. Vigilance needs to "teach a lesson."

So . . . the group goes after the equivalent of the people who run www.whitepages.com. That is, they go after a "lesson" that nobody gives a hoot about. It's a "tree falling in the forest but nobody hears" stuff and has zero impact on the world as we know it.

To sum up: this is an activist group that fails to successfully impact the news media, the police, the Machine, the public, and, for that matter, the viewer. (When Elias and the Russians were producing collateral damage on a daily basis, everyone was discussing it.)

And yet at the end of the season I'm supposed to believe that this group of home-grown terrorists has had such an impact on the mind of America that a bunch of self-serving Washington politicians have been frightened into giving up their government feeds to a private corporation.

It isn't that the latter couldn't happen (Big Business meet Big Government); it's that politicians don't expose themselves to voter dissatisfaction and ridicule by "standing up to" the equivalent of Soccer Moms Against the DMV. The public doesn't fear Vigilance. Nobody cares about them at all (this would be hilarious if the writers didn't expect me to take it seriously).

Presumably, blowing up the courthouse *is* the trigger--so why didn't Decima do that to begin with? A completely useless activist organization that nobody is talking about is not only time-consuming to start but expensive to run. It also results in massive clean-up and potential exposure. (I guess Decima is run by idiots.)

At least Hersh kidnapped his fall guy and blew up the ferry himself.

On the other hand . . .

I love the ideas that Nolan pours into the third season episodes, specifically the Machine as God. Root's fantastic faith in the face of what she perceives as senseless priorities (more about this later); Reese and Shaw's decision to follow Finch rather than the seemingly omniscient Machine (or, to be fair, to follow Finch rather than what they perceive the omniscient Machine's request to be); the idea of ownership ("MY" machine); Saul Rubinek's touching performance as Claypool and his beautiful words to Finch that describe the Machine as both supplicant and transcendent "other":
Arthur Claypool: Everything slides toward chaos. Your creation: it brings us poor souls a cupful of order. Your child is a dancing star.
Harold Finch: It's not my child; it's a machine.
Arthur Claypool: A false dichotomy. It's all electricity. Does it make you laugh? Does it make you weep?
Harold Finch: Yes.
Arthur Claypool: What's more human?
Not to forget the questions, What does the Machine want? Does the Machine understand Finch's intentions? Is the Machine still influenced by Finch's deep, abiding kindliness? Does she (or "he," according to Reese) understand what Finch is to his own creation?

Nothing points to the religious theme more strongly than the difference between Decima and Root. Both wish the Machine to be free. Yet Root (backed by Finch) sees herself as a free agent. She chooses to follow, to demonstrate faith. Their relationship is about dialog, a state of affairs that the Machine encourages. Root is all about talking to God.

Decima is about being controlled by God. Tell me *your* commands.

And it raises the interesting theological query: Does God deliberately limit himself (like Finch's Machine) in order to keep us from being Decima?

Awesome stuff.

Occasionally dumb plots.

More Thoughts on Supernatural: Why Dean Has the Internal Arc

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I have reached Season 6 of Supernatural. So far, the bulk of the internal arc has been carried by Dean. As I mentioned in a prior post, even though Sam is ostensibly the more intellectual (i.e. deep thinker) of the two brothers, Dean as holder of the internal arc makes a great deal of sense.

To clarify: an internal arc is a character's emotional and/or intellectual journey from one state of mind to another by choice; it will be accompanied by an epiphany or a-ha moment. For example, in The Lion King (Walt Disney's Hamlet), Simba's face off with Scar is the climax of the external arc. Simba's acceptance of his role is the internal arc--as it is in Hamlet when the eponymous character states, "We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all." Hamlet has made peace with himself and the weirdness of life: he has resolved his internal questions.

Why Dean is the necessary keeper of the internal arc:

(1) Sam's internal arc would remove him from the storyline.

Sam's internal arc occurred before the show begun, climaxing when he left the "family business" for college. The series starts when his father disappears, his brother shows up, and his fiancĂ©e dies in a macabre fashion. But in his heart of hearts--as revealed in "Dark Side of the Moon," the episode where Dean and Sam visit heaven--the emotional journey that enabled Sam to leave hunting remains incredibly meaningful to him, defining him as a person. Leaving WAS the fulfillment of his inner desire to be his own man.

In the episode where Dean and Sam return to high school, "After School Special" (one of Supernatural's best, thematically speaking), Sam thanks the teacher who inspired him to follow his own path. As the conversation continues, Sam admits that life and duties have cancelled his original plan--but he is still grateful that someone at least gave him a second option.

To follow Sam's internal struggle to its natural conclusion would be to remove Sam from the family business permanently (or produce a Sam so bitter and resentful that nobody would much like him)--and whoops, there goes the show!

Consequently, much of what Sam endures is external--being tempted by demon blood, being stalked by Lucifer, even losing his soul. All these arcs work because they resonate at an emotional level; however, they are external struggles: they were done to Sam (passive voice).

Don't get me wrong: part of the show's attraction is watching HOW Sam deals with these things. Still, Dean runs the internal arc because he produces from within himself an emotional journey of guilt and doubt.

(2) Sam is better at cognitive dissonance than Dean.

Overeducated people in general are better at cognitive dissonance than less educated people.

Note: I did not say, "over" and "less" intelligent. Smarts, commonsense, discernment, the ability to comprehend the world: all these things have nothing to do with education. Education, in general, does three things: (1) provides people with usable skill sets (ability to read, ability to add); (2) creates habits of discipline; (3) provides exposure to multiple ideas. (#4: In today's world, it enables people to compete in the marketplace.)

#3 has an interesting pay-off: more exposure leads to an increased ability to balance disparate ideas at the same time. Aging does the same thing, which is why as people grow older, they tend (on average) to get less dogmatic/black & white in their thinking.

That is, as people get older or become exposed to more ideas, they become more comfortable with hypocrisy, a good thing since such cognitive dissonance (I totally believe in freedom from government tyranny--I still pay my taxes) allows the human race to survive.

Terrorists and saints find the disparity between ideals and reality less comfortable. Legal student Sam is comfortable (in the earlier seasons at least) with contradiction--all the horrors that he has seen do not negate, for him, the possibility of angels. This would  be awe-inspiring if it was based on some large theological view of the universe. In Sam's case (and I think this is quite realistic), it is based on the educated man compartmentalizing his ideas because he knows that many ideas do get compartmentalize, simply by necessity.

Dean, on the other hand, is never comfortable with contradictions. His education is the education of experience, not the education of ideas. When experience contradicts reality, he suffers confusion, disillusionment, and angst--all elements of an emotional/internal arc.

(3) Dean is a non-boring idealist.

In many ways, Dean is an idealist. Idealists invite instant arcs, being primed--so to speak--for worries followed by large personal sacrifices.

"What do you think Death does to people who lie to his face?"
Unfortunately, idealists (and their arcs) often come across as whiny, dull, or unrelatable. It is easier to write internal arcs for Batman than Superman--though even Batman's internal angst can get unbearable.

Dean escapes the worst aspects of idealism: he is not a terrorist and eschews being a saint. He remains interesting (especially) since his entire personality is underscored by hard-headed realism. 

While Dean doesn't accept the contradictions neither does he avoid them. Sam is the guy who either tries to figure things out (make the contradictions square with each other) or deals with them separately (this is what I can do today); Dean is the guy who agrees that the Apocalypse is coming, it can't be stopped, earth is doomed, and we should all give up--then goes to the field to be with his brother anyway. Dean is stoicism squared.

To put it another way, Dean rejects cognitive dissonance because he won't try to believe two seemingly contradictory things at once--instead, he decides that trying to make stuff square is wishful thinking, right before he goes straight at the problem. And since he actually is a Saint (he just doesn't know it), the solution that nobody ever even thought of occurs.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Cognitive Dissonance

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I recently watched the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

I enjoyed it.

And I have no idea why.

I'm a proponent of the idea that humans largely like things due to personal taste--then rationalize their likes (and dislikes) after the fact. An over-thinker like me can create a rationalization in no time flat.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles leaves me blank. I have wanted to write about the phenomenon on my blog for years now. I was waiting until I understood my interest. I still don't. So I'm writing about it anyway.

Why do I (and others) like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

I was a teen when the Turtles hit the big time. I vaguely remember the animated series. I saw the completely ridiculous live-action 1990 movie more than once. I even had a favorite turtle (and still do): Leonardo.

But turtles? I mean TURTLES? I don't even like reptiles. (They're not exactly cuddly--and since Splinter would chew off someone's arm to save his sons, the rat is out too.)

Possibilities: Maybe it's an evolutionary psychology thing--I'm hearkening back to some atavistic memory of evolving from a fishy thing.

Or maybe it's the whole animals-talking attraction thing, but I'm not typically a fan of animal heroes (I never got into Brian Jacques' Redwall series, for example). In general, I prefer humans. (It would be interesting to have a movie where the turtles temporarily become human, just to see who would be cast as whom.)

Another possibility: in the 2014 movie, the turtles are HUGE, making them comparable to the Hulk, (except they talk more). And the Hulk is cool, so that could be one explanation. Yet I enjoyed the 2007 animated film where they are more svelte and lithe. So, now that explanation is out too.

If I had to explain all this to aliens--Humans enjoy this show because...

I would give up.

But I will continue to ponder--and maybe the answer will come to me. For now, this post will have to do.

Everybody Needs a Spike: Thoughts on Supernatural

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Mark Sheppard as Crowley
Both Whedon's Buffy and Kripke's Supernatural tackle theological themes. Buffy provides demons, vampires with souls, and the Powers-that-Be. Supernatural--with slightly less depth but a whole lot more complexity--supplies demons, self-serving angels, confused angels, and a writer who may or may not be God.

Both also provide a self-serving and sarcastic bad guy who helps the good guys while helping himself.

James Marsters as Spike
In Buffy, this guy is Spike (played by James Marsters).

In Supernatural, this guy is Crowley (played by Mark Sheppard).

They both deliver their clever lines in crisp British accents--acquired by Marsters; the real thing for Sheppard.

Both characters are impressively at home in the real world:
Buffy: What do you want?
Spike: I told you. I want to stop Angel. I want to save the world.
Buffy: Okay, you do remember that you're a vampire, right?
Spike: We like to talk big, vampires do. "I'm going to destroy the world." It's just tough guy talk. Struttin' around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You've got... dog racing, Manchester United . . 
 Crowley is Spike's brother under the skin.

It raises the question: Why are these guys so necessary to theologically-themed fantasy? Supernatural went through several ambiguous bad guys (Gordon Walker, Ruby, Bela) before settling on Crowley as a long-term player. Crowley's appeal was so readily apparent, reasoning backwards from Crowley can help explain Spike.

Three reasons why Crowley is necessary to Supernatural

(1) Crowley (like Spike) wants something.

The brothers want things, but their things--like Buffy's things--involve the future: I want my brother to survive. (I want to be a normal girl.)

Don't get me wrong: these are great things to wish for, and they help to ground the characters. But such things--accompanied as they are by highly emotional states of mind--make the characters extremely vulnerable and serious.

The angels--and Angelus--also want futuristic things though their futuristic things are far grander: cosmic show-downs, the end of the world, etc. etc. 

Crowley (and Spike) want things in the here and now: fish 'n' chips, big house, big dog.

Characters who want specific things in the here and now lend themselves much better to episodic writing than characters who want futuristic things. And if too many of the latter type want grand futuristic things, the episodes sadly run to (bad) ground on the ridiculous sandbank of big-bad-conspiracy-theories.

Crowley (and Spike) keep things real.

(2) Crowley (like Spike) is irreverent. 

Theological shows need irreverence because they need to be able to discuss doubt and faith without becoming too dogmatic. Despairing angst is no better than Touched by an Angel.

Crowley's irreverence is quite distinct from Dean's (as is Spike's from Buffy's). Dean is a believer who doesn't want to believe because he doesn't want to doubt. In many ways, the internal arc of Supernatural belongs to him while the external arc belongs to Sam (since Sam is ostensibly more intellectual and insightful than Dean, this may seem contradictory but actually it makes a great deal of sense).

A character who can be disillusioned is not a character for whom irreverence is a comfortable state of mind. Dean's irreverence (which can be quite amusing) is tied directly to his weary calls for aid. He is Job-- overwhelmed by catastrophe and his inability to fix his family's lives--demanding that God intervene. He is Dylan Thomas's father "raging against the dying of the light."

One of Dean's favorite memories: when he was able to "fix"
his brother's problems.
All the above makes Dean a great character! But the irreverent Crowley (or Spike) is necessary to restore balance. Rage all you want--you still gotta buy gas. What can it hurt to call for aid? It doesn't change what's going to happen to you anyway. And by the way, you need more chips.

While Sam and Dean are (enchantingly) willing to throw themselves in the fire for each other, Crowley (and Spike) are looking around for an actual match--or a fire extinguisher: Kind of depends on the day. 

(3) Crowley (like early Spike) is an outlier.

From a writing point of view, the outlier is a necessary character. The outlier--like the omniscient narrator--can step outside the action and explain what is going on.

Dean: Is this a fight? Are we in a fight?
Castiel: [Hugging] is... their handshake.
Dean: I don't like it.
Castiel: No one likes it.
Regular characters must be committed to their narrative arcs. This is one reason that Castiel, however amusing at times, is NOT the outlier. He is committed to the narrative arc of questioning his faith. Castiel does provide a nice foil to everyone (including Crowley). But he has chosen a side.

Chuck--despite his outlier tendencies--also has a side. Only Crowley (and Buffy Spike) don't.

In mystery shows, the outlier is the audience or occasionally the newest member of the team--or Watson. It is to the outlier that characters deliver long-winded explanations about how DNA works, the ins and outs of game theory, and the exculpatory nature of tainted evidence.

Fantasy suffers from the same need for definitions: who is that guy? why did he show up again? The audience needs to know the information but is less willing to be educated in the same way as mystery audiences. After all, if you were a real fan and watched the show every week, you'd know already! Since the audience is less willing to BE the outlier, the outlier must be a character--but not one of the main characters (see above).

Not only does the fantasy outlier get told stuff (both Spike and Crowley operate as "new" members, who occasionally need to be caught up), the fantasy outlier also possesses the ability to deliver information in tidy ways that don't appear explanatory (even though they are).

Crowley explains that Bobby can now stand:
Crowley: Bobby, you just gonna sit there?
Bobby Singer: No, I'm gonna Riverdance.
Crowley: I suppose if you want to impress the ladies. Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. Really wasted that crossroads deal. In fact, you get more if you phrase it properly. So, I took the liberty of adding a teeny sub-a clause on your behalf. What can I say? I'm an altruist. Just gonna sit there?
Spike explains that the scoobies need to fight the Native American demon, no matter how politically incorrect:
Spike: Oh, someone put a stake in me.
Xander: You got a lot of volunteers in here.
Spike: I just can't take all this mamby-pamby boo-hooing about the bloody Indians.
Willow: Uh, the preferred term is...
Spike: You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That's what conquering nations do. It's what Caesar did, and he's not goin' around saying, "I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it." The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story.
Buffy: Well, I think the Spaniards actually did a lot of - Not that I don't like Spaniards.
Spike: Listen to you. How you gonna fight anyone with that attitude?
Willow: We don't wanna fight anyone.
Buffy: I just wanna have Thanksgiving.
Spike: Yeah . . . Good luck.
Willow: Well, if we could talk to him . . .
Spike: You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It's kill or be killed here. Take your bloody pick.
Xander: Maybe it's the syphilis talking, but, some of that made sense.

A Few of My Favorite Book Moments

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Continuing with favorite moments in art . . .

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie: My favorite line, which is excluded from audio plays and the Suchet movie, occurs when the four detectives and four possible murderers are seated around the dinner table. Mr. Shaitana (played brilliantly but disconcertingly in the movie by Alexander Siddig of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame) discourses on different types of murder. After he finishes, there's a brief moment of silence; then Mrs. Oliver speaks:
“Is it twenty-to or twenty past? An angel passing … My feet aren’t crossed— it must be a black angel!”
Another favorite Agatha Christie line from Death on the Nile is always excluded from alternate versions. At the end of the book, Poirot speaks with Jacqueline De Bellefort. He deplores the choices that she made that took her down such a terrible path. Jacqueline attempts to comfort him:
"Don't mind so much for me, M. Poirot. . . . Do you remember when I said I must follow my star? You said it might be a false star. And I said, 'That very bad star, that star fall down.'" 
In The Fellowship of the Rings, one of my favorite scenes is the scene at the inn: Strider and Frodo are speaking when Sam comes barreling in, full of fury. At Sam's challenge, Aragorn responds:
"If I had killed the real Strider, Sam, then I could kill you. And I should have killed you already without much talk. If I was after the Ring, I could have it--NOW!"

He stood up, and seemed suddenly to grow taller. In his eyes gleamed a light, keen and commanding. Throwing back his cloak, he laid his hand on the hilt of a sword that had hung concealed by his side. They did not dare to move. Sam sat wide-mouthed staring at him dumbly.

"But I am the real Strider, fortunately," he said, looking down at them with his face softened by a sudden smile. "I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will."
Interesting enough, although I love this scene, it wouldn't have worked in the movie. Visuals impact viewers differently than words. It is not that books are "deeper" or more profound--it is rather than books can be "dense" without running the risk of confusing the reader.

In the movie, this scene would have altered the dynamics of the Aragorn/Frodo relationship. Instead of Aragorn being someone Frodo intuitively decides to trust, Aragorn would have become a kind of Spike character (Is he trustworthy? Is he dangerous?), distracting the viewers from the real threat, the Nine Riders. (Jackson does allow ambiguity to creep into the relationship towards the end of Fellowship after Boromir's betrayal throws the entire Fellowship into confusion.)

The Lord of the Rings radio dramatization, starring the excellent Ian Holm as Frodo and Bill Nighy as Sam contains many lovely moments (Robert Stephens plays Aragorn; he has one of those marble voices--kind of guttural and almost lisping, as if he has marbles in his mouth: he is absolutely fantastic!). One of my favorites occurs when Sam sings part of the ballad of Gil-galad:

Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last who realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and Sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen, 
his shining helm afar was seen; 
the countless stars of heaven's field
were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away, 
and where he dwelleth none can say; 
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.

A Few of My Favorite Television Moments (Just to Start)

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In reference to my post Enjoying the Moment, here are few of my favorites from television: some exciting, some serious, some funny--
 
In Numb3rs, Season 3, "Burn Rate," a robot retrieves a bomb from a government office. It is set against sandbags and blasted with a saline spray. I have absolutely no idea why I like this so much. It isn't as exciting as blowing up a building, but I enjoy it every time.

As seen from Sarah's POV, the
lab appears to implode first.
CSI, Season 4, "Down the Drain" provides a similar robot scene to Numb3rs plus a blown-up building; CSI, Season 3, "Play with Fire" provides a blown-up lab! In general, as Mythbusters "proves," a bang is the best way to cap a show.

In Leverage, Season 1, "The Second David," Nate tells Blackpoole and Sterling he will only return the stolen items if Blackpoole is stripped of his job. "Extortion?" Sterling queries to which Nate responds, voice lifting slightly, "Oversight." Sterling (played by the marvelous Mark Sheppard) gives a half-shrug/half-nod of assent. That bare movement is utterly hilarious.

Back to Numb3rs, Season 4, "The Janus List," the father quotes from Siegfried Sassoon's poem:
Light many lamps and gather round his bed/ Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live... But death replied: 'I choose him.' So he went/ And there was silence in the summer night/ Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep/ Then, far away, the thudding  of the guns.
Reading (rather than giving lines) is a different--and difficult--skill set. Judd Hirsch as Alan Eppes does a great job.

The compassionate Dr. Pandy
In NCIS, Season 2, "SWAK," Gibbs corners a scientist in a lab. Desperate to stop the plague killing Tony, he asks him what Tony's chances are. Stammering, the man responds that Tony is young, healthy, in much better shape physically than people of the medieval era: his chances of survival are much greater. "What was the survival rate [in the past]?" Gibbs demands. Hesitantly yet gently, the man responds, "15%".

Every time, I see this scene and hear that statistic, I tear up. To me, it is the classic example of why fiction impacts people so much more than non-fiction. Alongside Tony's struggle and Gibbs' urgency (the story of two individuals), 15% becomes a real, painful number. I ache for the people in the past. (In this case, I admit, meaning is evoked.)

My absolute favorite romantic scene--Bones, Season 1, "Two Bodies in the Lab," where Booth finds Brennan in the warehouse. Unable to lift her due to his broken collarbone, he ducks under the rope and lifts her with his whole body. I love the show, and I'm pleased Bones and Booth get married, yet nothing has ever surpassed this small, 2-minute scene.

Enjoying the Moment

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A scene that brings me unalloyed joy--a little sad,
a lot happy: perfection.
When I was younger, I would pick up beloved books, ones that I had read multiple times (after all, if a book is worth reading once, it is worth reading once, twice, thrice, frice . . . ). I would then skip forward to reread single pages, even single scenes. Those single moments were like pings of brilliant color--absolute, refreshing joys.

As I grew older and, I suppose, more seriously self-conscious, I would force myself to read entire books rather than delving into a particular scene or moment. As I've grown even older, however, I have allowed myself the enjoyment of the single passage. Nowadays, I allow myself to delve into the moments of books, films, and television episodes.

C.S. Lewis wrote about these moments in his spiritual autobiography--he tied them to joy, touchstones of eternity. Along the same lines, Tolkien often spoke of God as a creative Author who appreciates, even applauds, the human desire to make stuff. Both men understood that a work of creation carries purpose and depth entirely separate from whether or not it entails a TEACHING MOMENT.

A great moment in Supernatural that is its own reward.
Dracula in his suburban house.
My agreement is even more prosaic--these moments illustrate that art can be satisfying for its own sake. A book or movie or episode doesn't have to have an applicable MEANING, in the sense that it MUST promote higher thoughts and abstract discourse. There is something positive and life-affirming (whether in a comedy or tragedy) about a particular image, arrangement of events, or lines of dialog. The moment works and is therefore a constructive addition to the universe rather than destructive subtraction.

A few of my favorite moments will follow in a separate post.

"Shall We Dance"--The Song That Makes a Musical and Explains a Romance Motif

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Quite frankly, the story of The King & I is odd.

The musical is based on a book Anna and the King of Siam which is based on a memoir which is reportedly dull (I tried reading it many years ago and remember being unimpressed) although, by all reports, the king of the book, film, and musical, King Mongkut, was a fairly interesting guy.

The musical heavily streamlined everything, concentrating on the savage-seducing-a-civilized-lady theme: Thug v. Maid Marian.

This is a classic motif in romance literature--its better known (and more usable) alternative is the-rogue-reformed-by-a-lady. Modern writers are fully aware that rogues don't always reform, so the alternative to the alternative is the-rogue-who-is-accepted-as-he-is-and-loved-by-the-lady-anyway.

The latter, to my mind, is perfectly acceptable and can even be written rather sweetly.

The original, however, is a little hard to take--ladies impressed by serial killers, Mafia lords, and other dirt-bags are, um, "idiots" is the word that pops to mind. I think there is some (minor) truth to the idea that an evil thug can be faithful and decent to one person; it is just far more likely that that one person will end up dead either BY the thug or DUE TO the thug.

So The King & I is a bit daft. Until "Shall We Dance" swats away the logic side of the brain in favor of pure wow-ness.

Yul Brynner and Anna are discussing the waltz. He takes over the man's part and--they're off! It's a romp, pure and simple. Head thrown back, Deborah Kerr glides without effort. Brynner leaps. They circle the room at full tilt--obstacles no question: impediments will remove themselves. It is energetic, exciting, fun, and . . . hot.

If one wishes to understand the attraction of the rogue or the thug to women, this dance by these actors explains it.

Of course, it's always best to let the logic part of the brain back into the conversation--at some point.


 

Leonard Nimoy

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Leonard Nimoy died today, February 27, 2015. His is the second celebrity death I've encountered where I have really felt the loss (I mourned Phil Hartman several years after he died).

I'm not the type of person who takes flowers to celebrity graves, but for Nimoy I might be tempted. It has been such a pleasure all these years to admire an actor not only for his work (which is technically enough) but also for his character. I'm sure he had flaws. To my knowledge, he always handled himself with gentlemanly panache, articulate thoughtfulness, and honorable fair-dealing.

On my Facebook page, I also pay tribute to DeForest Kelley. DeForest Kelley's death kind of passed me by in 1999. Should Shatner go while I still have this blog, I will likely return and update this post. I don't mean to dismiss James Doohan who died in 2005 or that marvelous lady Majel Barrett, who died in 2008. But the three are the three that expanded my imaginative universe.

Leonard Nimoy--Spock--will always be the linchpin.

Black & White Done Right on Supernatural

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"Monster Movie"--B&W done right!
Usually when a television show wants to pay tribute to classic television/movies, it films its episode in color, then switches the palette in the same way people "art-ify" their photos on Photoshop (I'm sure the process is slightly more technical but the end product is the same).

The end product is something that looks like it was filmed in color, then switched to black & white on Photoshop. It looks, in other words, one-dimensional, flat, boring, and pretentiously arty.

The episode "Monster Movie" from Supernatural, Season 4, however, is done right!

(1) Black and white are used as colors! The boys' suits aren't simply black; they are shiny, slippery black. The white blouses and bowties and dresses aren't simply white; they are crisply white: they shine.

(2) Shadows are considered. The opening shot pans across rooftops where attic windows send stretching shadows across the shingles at an angle.

Shadows--and therefore light sources--are continually taken into account. Consequently, even the darkest scenes aren't overly dark. I compare this to X-Files. The season 6 episode "Triangle" is not shot precisely in black & white but it is shot far far far too dark (Joss Whedon had the same problem with the last season of Angel). Sure, guys, it looks great, but I can't see what is happening, so who cares? (Since I love the plot and dialog of "Triangle," I pretend I care.)

"Monster Movie" avoids this problem. Despite dark, night-time settings, the scenes never feel claustrophobic and/or unviewable.

And he has a coupon!
(3) "Monster Movie" uses B&W settings as well as B&W lighting to not only present delightful imagery but to tell the story. In one of the episode's best scenes, Dracula stalks through his suburban house to answer the door (and get his pizza). The sharp contrast between his black cloak and the white, paneled (utterly ordinary) closet doors is hilarious--it communicates the character's disconnect while making a joke: it has a point. (It isn't simply "cool" because it is B&W; it is "cool" because of the way the B&W is done.)

Black and white as colors, the use of intelligent light sources plus clever settings (both classic and non-classic)--not to mention the use of shapes, grays, and DEPTH--all combine to make this one of the best B&W creations I've seen since, well, the days of Arsenic & Old Lace.

N is for Not Much! (Plus Thoughts on Readership, History, and Individual Choice)

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I assumed that "X" would provide me with the fewest authors. I never anticipated that my "N" list would be so short!

Nabokov, Vladimir: I have never read Lolita though I did read a fascinating book about it.

Norton, Andre: Andre Norton is a fantasy writer that I desperately, desperately wanted to love as I teen. There were just so many of her books in the library! Fall in love with one: a whole world awaits.

Alas, I tried--then tried again--and again. Unfortunately, Norton's books don't grab me. However--

Norton is an excellent example of the ultimate failure of literary criticism: liking has little to do with judging. 

Far too many times, critics insist, "If I don't like something personally, it must be because it is no good." Reasoning from the personal to the general is a survival mechanism. It is also unreliable.

Yet we humans remain perfect little Victorians, insisting that today, right now, in us, is the objective best of times and worst of times; in the latter case, we become subject, as Eugene states, to "the near-universal idea, especially beloved on the academic left, that there existed a point in [the past] when All Was Good"
The fascinating mural from Criminal Minds that contains
overlapping elements of a single person's life.

One Summer by Bill Bryson captures the reality: dig into history at any one point in time--1927, 1803, 321 B.C.E.--and thousand of events begin to crowd themselves onto the stage of one's brain. Prohibition, Babe Ruth, Mount Rushmore, Herbert Hoover, Mississippi Floods, President Coleridge, Lindbergh, Al Capone. Murder cases. Political rallies. Political backstabbing. Boxers. Random people sitting on flagpoles. Model A Fords. Eventually, there's too much. Even Bill Bryson can't handle it all.

Did I mention Mount Rushmore?

Humans (not just historians) smooth it all out, highlight the important stuff, slide names into biographies, and move on. How else could we cope with life's complications? (It is unfortunate that the result of this necessary leveling is a belief that "life really was like that.")

Back to literary criticism:

Likewise, although a case can be made for a book being "good" or "bad" (and I am advocate of making the case)--the unreliable habits of readers indicate how little that literary criticism matters in people's personal lives. On Amazon, beloved popular series almost all have 4/5 stars (A-). That doesn't mean readers will find the series in a bookstore. And on IMDB, over time, everything eventually rates a "B" (with a few outliers on either side), no matter how popular (or personally beloved).

One of my favorite books growing up.
The book has 14 other fans on Amazon.
It is also out of print.
There are plenty of books that I love that other people happen to love too. There are also plenty of books that I love without any expectation that they will be beloved by anyone else. Along the same lines, Andre Norton isn't my cup of tea. If you follow the above link, you will find that she is plenty of other people's. Good for her!

As far as literary enjoyment is concerned, "taste" rather than "good" or "bad" seems to determine not what lasts (gets streamlined) but what matters in everyday life. In one of his tomes,
Stephen Pinker argues that evolutionary psychology (examining the rise and fall of civilizations from a macro point of view) explains a great deal and would appear to wipe out the need for free will. But he argues (I am paraphrasing), isn't it better for us in our day to day lives to behave as if free-will exists?

I would add--because, after all, that's what going to happen anyway. 

In the day to day, people make choices--career choices, marriage choices, housing choices, pet choices, reading choices, viewing choices--that belong to them alone. Hence everything--from literature to civilizations--remains messy. Until enough time has passed--the rough edges get smoothed out, and the important events (or books) rise to the surface: the macro appears.

But thinking that we know the macro while we are living in the micro--that's where the little Victorian in all of us insists on taking a nosedive into the void.

Better to make the best choices you can, live by the moral code you've selected, and read what you want. The macro will take care of itself. 

The Pointlessness of Alarming Statistics

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Am I the only one who hates those "every 10 seconds" statistics?

Take this one: according to several websites, child abuse is reported every 10 seconds, resulting in approximately 3 million reports of child abuse a year.

That sounds terrible--and I certainly won't dispute that child abuse is an awful thing.

Here are the problems:

(1) "Every 10 seconds" creates an unbalanced impression about people and society.

According to Census.gov, there are approximately 56 to 73 million children in the United States (the latter number includes adolescents). Assuming every single report of child abuse addresses a single, separate child (which is doubtful), then 4% to 6% of children in the United States are reportedly abused in a single year (this number does not include verified abuse).

Any amount is troubling, of course. But the hyperbolic, hysterical "every 10 seconds" doesn't invite rational consideration. Instead, it sounds, well, hyperbolic and hysterical--and therefore, far more likely to be ignored, even when accepted by believers, simply because the idea is unfathomable and outrageous. 

Here's another one: every 11 seconds, a healthy pet is put down, a total of 2.7 million a year. I agree that 2.7 million unnecessary deaths is disgusting; many times, the healthy pet is the victim of ignorance, indifference, and vanity (stupid people who wanted a "cute liddle dog," then got tired of its barking ways and dropped it off at a kill-shelter).

And yet--according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are 144 million cats and dogs as pets in the United States. 2.7 equals 2% of overall ownership (less, in fact, since 2.7 refers to ALL pets, not just cats and dogs).

People who throw away their pets still make me mad but my main reaction to that statistic was WOW! It appears that most Americans are surprisingly responsible pet owners, just as they also appear to be reasonably dutiful parents.

(2) "Every 10 seconds" is false. 

Well-meaning doomsdayers reason from the base statistic (2.7 million healthy animals killed per year) to create the "every 10 seconds" argument.

But "every 10 seconds" is literally impossible.

State and city offices aren't open at night. And most shelters are open even less. Excluding Alaska and Hawaii and assuming that most government offices close at 5 p.m. and open at 8 a.m, then "nothing" at all is happening between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. EST. (If one takes Hawaii and Alaska into consideration, this means that "nothing" is happening between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. EST.)

This may seem like quibbling, but "SOMETHING alarming happens every 10 seconds"  is a something, even an alarming something, without context. If the report or death truly happened, then the reality of when it was filed/took place should matter. (The child abuse statistic is often presented as if the reports were the same as the actual abuse--this is disingenuous, which is a nicer way of saying that it's a lie. Abuse can take place between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., but in order to understand the statistic, the report and the event being reported should not be conflated.)

The straight statistic--3.3 million reports/2.7 million deaths--is a non-emotional fact. Wording that statistic as a report or death every 10 minutes is deliberately provocative, loaded even, yet ultimately less truthful than the straight fact. Since day-to-day life does not, in fact, work like a Road Runner Acme device ("It's time for another alarming event!"), the claim eventually becomes meaningless.

3) A number with "every 10 seconds" attached isn't useful. 

It is far more useful to find out, say, how many children live in Maine (approximately 210 thousand)--and worry about what's happening to them. Abandoning "alarming" national statistics for local knowledge (Are reports more likely to come from neighbors? family members? the child? teachers? Are reports more prevalent in certain seasons? Areas? What types of abuse are reported? Are such reports dependable? Why or why not? What is the best reporting method? What can be done to help?) will also go much further in helping people actually combat the problem.

Hysteria might make people feel relevant and in-tune with social problems--it doesn't actually accomplish anything and its attendant sense of horror ("Oh my goodness; that's so awful!) often prevents people from going any further--the horror is deemed to be enough ("I felt bad today--good for me").

Voices of Commonsense: Mrs. Christie and Mrs. Bradstreet

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The ebullient Mrs. Bantry asking to look at the Rudds'
bathrooms--because frankly that's the kind of
thing people really care about.
I recently finished Laura Thompson's biography of Agatha Christie. Although too long in places (Thompson tackles anything that was ever said about Christie, good and bad), Thompson's analysis, especially of Christie's work, is insightful.

Better than any biographer I've encountered, she pinpoints that Christie the mystery writer is not simply a puzzle-maker. Clever plots would not explain why the books remain on library shelves--why they are read and reread.

While acknowledging that Christie's plots are often implausible (so many of Christie's murders would fall to pieces if a normal person walked in at the wrong moment rather than a character who  attempts blackmail, only to be killed off three chapters later), she points out that human nature lies at the center of all Christie's books:
When she is working at her best . . . the satisfaction of the solution is intense and profound,  because it solves the puzzle and resolves the human dynamic . . . These characters may not be deep, but they are there: vivid as a splash of color (my emphasis).
Christie's Poirot defends the surly Frank
because he, Poirot, is "not concerned with
nations . . . [but with] the lives of private
individuals."
Perhaps not everyone could become a murderer, as Poirot and other Christie detectives claim, but everyone does carry a share of jealousy, lust, rage, hope, greed, love, and desperation in their natures. The humanness of Christie's characters rings true. She understands what makes people tick.

Thompson touches on another aspect of Christie's writing that I consider fundamental: her views of people and institutions are grounded in commonsense. Although she comprehends human nature writ large, she tackles it through individuals writ small, precisely because trying to figure things out by principle (how society and people ought to behave) is a waste of time. There is little to gain from trying to remake the world; there is also little to gain from protesting the functional trappings and institutions of civilized society. Christie was no party member; she was also no rebel.

In many ways, I consider Christie another Anne Bradstreet. Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan woman, the daughter of Thomas Dudley, the Puritan leader of Massachusetts Bay Colony. She was a gifted poet, luckily encouraged by both husband and father to publish her pieces. She was also close friends with intellectual (male) Puritan leaders: she was able--despite her time-consuming roles as wife and mother--to read, explore, and discuss everything from Pilgrim's Progress to Milton and the latest political discourse. Yet she made sure to emphasize and defend her traditional roles in letters and forwards.

From one viewpoint, Bradstreet would appear to be the quintessential upholder of the status quo--she was no Anne Hutchinson (whom Bradstreet knew), challenging Puritan leaders, then stepping even further over the line to defend her individuality. From a modern perspective, it is easy to see Anne Hutchinson as "advanced" while representing Anne Bradstreet as bowing to male authority, the exigencies of her age.

And yet Bradstreet got her poems published, poems that still live in anthologies today. Bradstreet, not Hutchinson (and more than Rowlandson), left a legacy of female thought, reminding us that Puritan women lived and loved and pondered and struggled, even if they weren't making intentional waves. Bradstreet reminds us that well-behaved women make history, especially if they are clever and tough and understand their society all the way from its supposed shallowness to its profound heights.

Like Christie, Bradstreet trend a line between idealism and conventionality. It is on that line, in that space, that reality resides.

Here they are, reflecting on everyday life:

From Christie:
 "Does one really care about being comfortable?" David asked scornfully.
 "There are times," said Midge, "when I feel I don't care about anything else."
 "The pampered attitude to life," said David. "If you were a worker--"
Midge interrupted him.
 "I am a worker. That's just why being comfortable is so attractive. Box beds, down pillows, early morning tea softly deposited  beside the bed--a porcelain bath with lashings of hot water--and delicious bath salts. The kind of easy chair you really sink into--"
 Midge paused in her catalogue.
 "The workers," said David, "should have all these things."
 But he was a little doubtful about the softly deposited early morning tea which sounded impossibly sybaritic for an earnestly organized world.
 "I couldn't agree with you more," said Midge heartily.
                               --from The Hollow
From Bradstreet:
My head, my heart, mine eyes, my life, nay, more,
My joy, my magazine of earthly store,
If two be one, as surely thou and I,
How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lie?
So many steps, head from the heart to sever,
If but a neck, soon should we be together.
I like the Earth this season, mourn in black,
My Sun is gone so far in's zodiac,
Whom whilst I 'joyed, nor storms, nor frost I felt,
His warmth such frigid colds did cause to melt.
My chilled limbs now numbed lie forlorn;
Return; return, sweet Sol, from Capricorn;
In this dead time, alas, what can I more
Than view those fruits which through thy heat I bore?
Which sweet contentment yield me for a space,
True living pictures of their father's face.
O strange effect! now thou art southward gone,
I weary grow the tedious day so long;
But when thou northward to me shalt return,
I wish my Sun may never set, but burn
Within the Cancer of my glowing breast,
The welcome house of him my dearest guest.
Where ever, ever stay, and go not thence,
Till nature's sad decree shall call thee hence;
Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone,
I here, thou there, yet but both one.
                             --from A Letter to Her [Absent] Husband

Stargate, Season 9, Episodes 9-14

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Not a Season 9 image but a great image of Don S. Davis.
I'm happy to say that not all Stargate, Season 9's episodes are a loss--the villain doesn't improve but ways of dealing with the villain do.

Episode 9: Prototype

This is a straightforward plot that keeps the Goa'uld in the running as potential bad guys (and isn't that how life usually works? nothing every goes away forever) though I was disappointed that Khalek didn't turn out to be an ambiguous villain who could help humans fight the Ori. Considering episode 14 below the writers may be attempting to kill off all Goa'uld characters, which would be a mistake!

Episode 10 & 11: The Fourth Horseman, Parts 1&2

This is an Ori episode, which means dull politics and dull acquiescence. How likely is it really that a Jaffa leader would completely accept Ori theology or that anyone would believe that he had? People just don't switch world views that fast. It would be far more likely that the Jaffa would return to believing in Goa'uld gods than get embroiled in Ancient stuff (which is very Terran).

Like all Stargate scripts, the two parts are well-written. The problem is the uncomplicated either/or reaction of entire planets to the Ori. As Joe points out, sentience is usually accompanied by disagreement. Hey, just look at the religions, causes, and political parties on our planet!

Regarding the rest of the episode, Orlin's reapparance (as a teen) is nicely used: the Sam-Orlin plot is one of the two parter's best storylines. I continue to enjoy Ben Browder's Jack-like insouciance. He has taken over the Jack part of the Jack-Daniel repartee with panache. It is always nice to see Don Davis again (he died later than I had realized--in 2008). 

Last but not least: the one good thing about the Ori is that their storyline puts context to the Ascended (Alterans)'s non-interferance policy.

Classic murder mystery ending--Tuvok as the detective.
Episode 12: Collateral Damage

Very nice episode that reminds me of one of my favorite episodes from Star Trek: Voyager, "Ex Post Facto,"  where Tuvok investigates a murder supposedly committed by Tom Paris.  There's a nice twist that I saw coming, but I never mind seeing twists coming--I still enjoy them! (I would never have seen The Sixth Sense seven or eight times if I didn't.)

Episode 13: Ripple Effect

Another nice episode with a classic sci-fi motif: parallel universes. I love how putting 2+ Carters in a room results in instant scientific breakthroughs! There's also a great Star Trek reference about having "beards" in an "evil universe." And a couple of pleasant guest appearances.

Ba'al in paisley--and he pulls it off!
Episode 14: Stronghold

Jaffa politics. Mitchell's subplot is interesting--his friend is one of those actors who show up all over television: Bones, Numb3rs, Whedon's Much Ado, CSI. Yup, he has one of those careers!

Ba'al is back--in pastel--I love his clothes! (And I hope someone got him into a sarcophagus. Pity to lose one of Stargate's more interesting villains.) 

More to follow . . .

For the Fans: I Like Jackson’s Trilogy, Part II

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The final movie captures Bilbo's inner struggles.
Ultimately, the movies are an excellent showcase for Martin Freeman. Throughout the trilogy, Jackson delivers Bilbo's scenes with surprising accuracy (adaptations do involve change!). He is in the movies as much as he is in the book.

Bilbo’s presence in the book ebbs and flows. Tolkien's prose is smooth and unselfconscious: he doesn’t call attention to his own textual strategies. Because so much of the action is delivered through Bilbo’s eyes (Bilbo saw that the dwarfs had . . . ), the reader is left with the impression that Bilbo is doing more than he does in fact do. Many of the chapters use the third person plural almost exclusively: Bilbo and the dwarfs. They . . . Thorin and company . . .

Every place in the book where Bilbo rises to the fore in action, not just voice, appears in the movies. These instances may appear less because, well, more is more. But Jackson never forgets his protagonist. Not only are Bilbo’s scenes rendered, they are often “strictly rendered”: Bilbo and Gollum 's scene is transferred practically verbatim from book to film.*

It would be interesting to see a "book" version of the trilogy, one cut to just Bilbo's scenes (or those that affect him directly). Since all of them are there, the resulting movie might hold together surprisingly well. But then, of course, all the "more" would be gone! I am personally hoping that Jackson puts out a director's cut that expands the trilogy by several hours. My one complaint about Five Armies is that it ends too abruptly--I think Jackson was responding to criticisms that Return of the King had too many endings. Me? I want three or four endings!**

Returning to Bilbo, one major difference between the book and the trilogy is that we don’t hear Bilbo’s inner voice in those scenes where he rises to the fore—which one does with the book. I wonder if Jackson considered (and obviously discarded) a voice-over by Bilbo. If so, I imagine he found no need for it once he watched Martin Freeman on film.

Freeman’s physical acting makes a voice-over unnecessary. In the scene where Bilbo rescues the dwarfs from the Elf King's prison, Freeman conveys Bilbo’s exasperation and sudden confusion (“I forgot to get a barrel for me!”) through physical movement: the tilt of a chin, the hunch of a shoulder, the rise of a foot. But then film is—and should be—about what one sees, not what one hears.

So if you are tired of reading all the negative commentary online (and believe me, there’s plenty of it out there!), rest assured: at least one person loves the book and the trilogy!

--Slight Spoiler--

*In Five Armies, Bilbo’s decision to keep the Arkenstone, then pass it on to Thorin’s enemies plays as large a part as I had hoped it would. Despite the rapid sequence of events—Jackson is tackling multiple storylines at once—the movie conveys the difficulty and pain of Bilbo's decision (in fact, more time is spent on Bilbo making the decision than on carrying it out). The confrontation between Thorin and Bilbo at the gate after Thorin discovers Bilbo's "betrayal" is powerful although I favor the final scene between Bilbo and Thorin as heartbreakingly "true": both Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman deliver their characters' lines from the end of the book with gentle pathos and, in Martin Freeman's case, a boldly different interpretation: masterful performances by both actors.

**Interestingly enough, Five Armies is far more self-consciously thematic than the Return of the King. LOTR is message or platitude-oriented: it is always darkest before the dawn; never give up; despair is the worst sin; the smallest person can change the course of history. Five Armies, however, ends with an uneasy peace (as does the book)--a difficult plot to platitudize.

The Mithril coat plus a discussion of values.
In many ways, Five Armies plays the same role in its trilogy as Two Towers except that Five Armies comes at the end of the quest cycle rather than the middle (hence the need for more endings). In a way, Jackson's decision to keep to the book here may have worked against the overall trilogy. I expected a more deliberate bridge of The Hobbit to LOTR; I surmise that Jackson pulled back to satisfy those who accuse him of "marketing" the movies and trying to capitalize off his success with LOTR. (This is a truly weird criticism: of course, Jackson is trying to make money off both trilogies! That's his job. Somebody has to pay WETA--the folks there can't work for free. Most readers don't have several million dollars floating around  with which to mount their own interpretations of Tolkien. Thank goodness somebody does!).

To solve the problem of Five Armies, Jackson threads it with a classic motif: by their fruits you shall know them - or - people show what they care about by what they argue, fight, and die for. Consequently, Thorin's speech to Bilbo at the end is not only a part of the book that had to be included (how I felt going in) but the capstone of a not-too-overly-didactic theme.