Saturday, January 4, 2014

in which i put my nerdiness on full display

I am racking my brain for a single emotionally resonant scene in The Desolation of Smaug
[...]In place of all they omit, what do the filmmakers give us? 
Lots of orcs, to begin with. Orcs lurking around Beorn’s house, orcs on the Running River, orcs in Laketown. Orcs by night, orcs by day —can I say I’m heartily sick of orcs? 

When I was very small--about six-ish, I suppose-- I knew for a fact that my family was not as cool as our cousins' family, because my cousins had a TV in their car.
A televsion in their car
To my small, childish heart, this was a miraculous phenomenon as exotic and paradisiacal as the Garden of Eden on wheels.
Instead, to keep us from killing one another on long road trips to ye olde ancestral home deep in the heart of Carolina, my mother had us listen to audiobooks of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, narrated by the actor Rob Inglis. The sounds that defined my childhood are the sounds of a redolent, smooth British voice booming: "You're a foofy, Bert" and gleefully chanting "Attercop, attercop." 
And that probably explains a lot of my character tics.

Anyhow, the result of this childhood indoctrination is that my imaginative landscape is molded permanently into the form of a map of Middle Earth.
The flavor of those books is as comforting and familiar as wine or hot cocoa.
They are not cold, action-adventure tales, they are not testosterone-laden shoot-em-ups, they are simple stories of people caught up in undertakings much larger than they are.
The quests undertaken by hobbits are kind metaphors for any of us who has ever found ourself in the middle of a project worth doing, and asked themselves: how on earth did I get myself into this?
These are stories of people whose weapons are not bottomless quivers of arrows or fancy swords, but the weapons all of us possess: loyalty, honor, clear-headedness, and courage.
These are not characters who solely speak in quick, clipped speech, in raspy tones that signal These Words Are Important; but rather, in the face of great danger, say charming and civilized things like: "Would you like some tea?" and "May the hair on your toes never fall out!" and “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”


In a burst of familial bonhomie, Dad took the family out to the movies.
This never happens.
The Cinema is our family's collective allergy.
Because, you see, The Cinema is primarily made of loud, obnoxious, repetitive advertisements and previews.
Previews are generally loud, boorish, and you can feel your brain cells being annihilated along with every single car on screen. 
The Twenty Minutes of Previews at the Cinema is the seventh circle of the Inferno.
In the spirit of extreme candor, I'd just like to point out: you never have to sit through twenty minutes of Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise look-a-likes blowing up some starship or battleship or small island when you attend some good ol' live theatre.
I'm just saying.
Previews are bearable when you're rewarded with a film as delightful and enchanting as, say, Frozen or Moonrise Kingdom, but when what's waiting for you on the other side is a glorified video game, then the evening is looking rather grim indeed.

Dad took his brood of Tolkein enthusiasts to see The Desolation of Smaug, and that was his first mistake. (His second was offering me a class of very sweet sherry when I was writing this post.)
What is missing from The Desolation of Smaug isn't all my favorite bits of the novel.
What's afflicting The Desolation of Smaug is the same affliction that ails the Tin Woodman: it lacks a heart.
The movie is filmed with brilliant actors who aren't given a chance to act at all, just run through the very exhausting obstacle course of constantly running away from orc bandits. Adding a bit of dramatic tension to a rather cozy little book is all well and good. A constant drive to evade Death By Orc is not necessarily dramatic tension.
Watching computer-ized looking characters run about in a computer-generated little fantasy landscape is hardly dramatic action.

Magic is created by human beings.
Some of the most skillful magic I've ever witnessed was a team of several skillful puppeteers bring a horse puppet, composed of sticks and strings, to radiant life.
The audience didn't sit back and admire their handiwork, the wide-eyed audience was sucked into the life that had been created in front of us.
We were drawn out of ourselves, into the story of this creature that human imagination had brought into being.
We may be dazzled by the glamor of slick, clean, pretty digital special effects, but whatever magic we find enchanting in the story we've come to watch will be lost when the humanity of that story is lost.
These airbrushed, digitized scenes are hardly a reflection of the real world.
In a slick, digital world, we still remain an un-slick, very lumpy, sometimes rough, always unpredictable, and endlessly quirky human race.
And I'll lift my sherry glass to that.

'Where did you go to, if I may ask?' said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.
'To look ahead,' said he.
'And what brought you back in the nick of time?'
'Looking behind,' said he.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

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