Sunday, December 22, 2013

In which there are far too many orcs...

I went to see the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug today. Why? Why do I do this to myself? When the first movie (of a trilogy!?) was one of the most boring movies I've ever sat through at the movie theatre. Well, the reviews I saw claimed that this movie was an improvement over part one. And so it was. But was it an improvement over the 1977 cartoon? That 77 minute rush-through-the-story-as-best-we-can-with-cheesy-songs? I mean, it's 2013. This is an epic Big Movie with a Big Budget and Modern Effects and Stars and New Zealand and other Cool Stuff. Surely this could be awesome...

...

No.

No no no no no.

WTF is wrong with these people!?

Is it that they have no sense of restraint?

Is it now a contractual obligation that they have an extended amusement-park-ride-battle-through-vast-underground-complexes in every single movie? Did the union of orc actors make demands for a certain percentage of screen time? (Plus, the orcs didn't even sing in this movie. Bah, humbug! The orcs always had the best musical numbers in the cartoon versions.) Did they really have to drain every last ounce of charm and whimsy out of what was originally a children's book? One of the things I was looking forward to in this movie was Beorn. A pity they turned him into an overlong CGI fest.

"A little bit goes a long way." I wish they understood that better. The CGI effects look worse the longer they're shoved up in our faces. Something that should be awesome and exciting just gets... dull, from over-exposure. This is also true of the action sequences.

The underground scenes seem even more overlit than ever. The bit with Bilbo sneaking (and why was he so noisy in this movie? I thought hobbits were supposed to be soft-footed little critters) would have been much creepier and scarier if it had actually been dark. Darkness is DARK! This wasn't.

What's the deal with the wizards-vs-Dol Goldur plotline? That pretty much went nowhere this movie. I don't object to them including it (in a... 9 hour saga!?) to fill out the trilogy (since they insist on it being a trilogy), but it just didn't do anything here. Pointless.

It's a pity we've lost the hobbit's eye perspective. The movie is still called "The Hobbit", isn't it? Not "The Kickass Ninja Elves" or "Orcs!" or "The Wizards' Holiday" or "Social Unrest and Revolution in Laketown".

Really, there were things I liked about this movie:

Thorin sending Bilbo in to get the Arkenstone, in order for Thorin to be able to use it to prove his legitimacy as ruler of the dwarves, and then using that to raise an army to defeat Smaug, made sense. More sense than what seemed to happen in the book. (Did they expect Bilbo to extract the hoard one handful at a time? What were they going to do about the dragon?) And the dwarves in the movie did come up with ideas to kill the dragon. Sure, it didn't work, but they did try. I just wish they had not gone so overboard with the underground chase sequences. They should all have been dead a dozen times over. It was more cartoonish than the cartoon! It had the perverse effect of making it all seem LESS threatening to the characters. They might as well have been bouncing around in a pinball machine.

They made a credible attempt with the various languages! Nice touch. (But their accents were all over the place when speaking English. What is the deal with that? They had that problem in the cartoons, too.)

Laketown looked cool. I liked Bard. I don't think the orc attack on Laketown was necessary, but otherwise I liked that bit of the movie.

Not too many horrible changes to the central characters. (Better than the first movie in that respect.) You could quibble about Thorin and Bilbo at Erebor, but eh. Or maybe I'm just numb. The worst moment was when all the dwarves just gave up and started going home, as far as I could tell. Also, they added that whole Kili elf-loving thing. Shades of Gimli. Whatever! I keep seeing the actor as the vampire from Being Human, so it all just made me laugh. Kili never had any characterization in the book, anyhow. (All I remember is him being one of the "young dwarves".)

So yeah. Just when I think I'm over the whole Tolkien-fanatic thing, some movie comes out and I can't help going off to see it... even if it's just to complain about it. Ha ha ha!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Winter Solstice!

...at least to those in the northern hemisphere of planet Earth, otherwise known as Sol 3, etc.

Happy Summer Solstice to those in the southern hemisphere...

Or, as I see from the technical definition, happy "day in which the solstice occurs."

These days people know it's the solstice because they looked at a calendar (or it said so on some computer somewhere). Perhaps we're missing something now that we no longer figure out the solstice through painstaking observations of sunrise, sunset, angle of the sun, shadows, etc. etc. No more big stone monuments to mark alignments, etc. etc. Bah humbug!

But to celebrate, my younger daughter decided we should open our Christmas (Midwinter?) presents today. Well, ok, their winter break has already started, so this way they have more time to play with their new toys. She's lying there behind me singing "Jingle Bells" impatiently...

In retaliation, I'm starting up my Christmas playlist on my computer. ("It's too rock!" she says. "I thought it was supposed to be more classical. I want my presents now!") In a fit of nostalgia, I downloaded a couple hours worth of holiday music yesterday. Many many years ago, I used to have so many disks of Christmas carols and play them non-stop for the whole week of Christmas.

I blame the school music teacher! At the concert last week, in introducing each of the pieces, she mentioned Mannheim Steamroller and asked if anyone had heard of them. Well, of course I had, but back in the day I never owned any of their albums. Probably at the time I thought "bah, bastardized pop versions of the songs... way too synthy." But the school orchestra playing the Mannheim Steamroller arrangement of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies (from the Nutcracker) ("Faeries") was so cute. Since they got to borrow some percussionists from the band, they managed a much fuller sound than usual. (The school orchestras are normally sadly feeble, lacking winds and percussion.) So... now I have half an hour of Mannheim Steamroller tracks. Ok, I still think it's "bastardized pop versions with too much synth", but hey, they're cool bastardized pop versions... and I did find a few acoustic renditions (which, yes, I thought sounded better).

I also downloaded Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride". I remember that was one of my favorites from the good old youth orchestra days. That and the Cantique de Noel/O Holy Night (the phrase "Fall on your knees!" stuck in my head.) Plus a bunch of songs that Amazon.com is offering for free. Free stuff!

Speaking of "free stuff", off to open the presents!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Halfway through December!

...so it's good NaNoWriMo is in November rather than December. I don't even know what I've been doing. Christmas shopping, I suppose. (Or Winter Solstice shopping, as technically I'm not a Christian, but whatever.) I'm one of those sad nerds who buys everyone books or gift cards to bookstores (well, ok, there's only one major chain left now, which is kinda depressing) as gifts. My relatives give me clothes or jewelry or whatever and I'm always like "what the **** did you waste money on that for!?" I suppose when I give them books, they're all "WTF? A ******* book!? Does she really expect me to read that?" Well, books, book cards, and toys. The little mini-cousins are fun to shop for. I just hope they share my taste in toys. (It's not as if I get anything really weird. I try to get things different from what the cousins and aunties got me for my kids, in hopes that I don't give them something they already own.)

At least my son managed to get on the bus to school today. It's been a trying month. The whole "special needs" thing becomes that much more "special" when he's going through a growth spurt and is suddenly larger than me. The physical coercion option gets dicier at this point. I don't even know if we are making rational calculations or not. In some ways, it's rational to act as if you're not rationally motivated, as that can get the other party to make concessions, but in other ways, it just ends up with a lot of misery all around. It's enough to make me ponder home schooling, but ha ha. No. I would just fail at that. Besides, the kids need to go to school to interact with normal people...

This week is music week for the kids. Instrumental juries, school concerts, blah blah blah. Hopefully I won't end up on refreshment-table guard duty this time. The middle school kids and their younger siblings roam the lobby area like a pack of starving hyenas. The really bored ones try to walk off with entire boxes of cookies tucked away under their arms. The jazz band kids plead for early access, claiming that since they play last, the food is always gone by the time they get out. Ha. I guess at that age, they're hungry all the time, even if they did just eat supper right before the concert. (Admittedly, it is long. There's a separate band and orchestra for each grade, and everyone has to play.)

The next week after that is winter break. Hmm. Possibly I'll get something done. Or not. But we're not going anywhere, so if I'm sitting around at home I should try to be productive...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

NaNo2013 Post-mortem

*pokes the novel with a stick* *flop* Yeah, it's dead.

So this is the first year I've done NaNoWriMo and not hit 50000 words. Still, 25000 isn't that bad a number. It was a combination of factors that added up to me not writing.

  • Doctor Who! Between the missing episode rumors, the 50th anniversary excitement, and me going to the Doctor Who convention in Chicago at the end of November (plus visiting family for Thanksgiving), half my mental space was NOT on my novel at all. Ha. Well, the convention was fun! I went with my daughters and my daughter's friend who is a Who fan. Got to see and hear real live Doctor Who actors! And more Who fans in one place than I've ever seen (in person) before. And I also got to wait... and wait... and wait... and wait... in lines to get our picture taken with three Doctors. It was as bad as the Department of Motor Vehicles! Wait in one line, then move to the other one, get a pass, then wait in another line to get another pass, then wait in the waiting room, then wait in the line in the waiting room, then wait in the line outside the other room... Bah. By the time I was in front of the camera, I was completely dazed. Ok, so I'm not a people person. I hate having my picture taken. I don't do cosplay. The MST3King of "The Five Doctors" made my (younger) daughter cry. Fan conventions are clearly not my thing! But it was cool to go, once in my life!
  • "I'd rather be coding." So, usually, NaNo is a two-month endeavor for me. I spend October planning out what I'm going to write in November. Character, setting, plot, important scenes, etc. etc. This month I waited until the brink of November before seriously contemplating what to write. And even in the first week of November, I was thinking about things to put in my game instead of things to put in my novel. D'oh.
  • Outline. Yeah. Ok. I do need a plan. I'm terrible at making it up as I go along. This is not to say I don't make things up as I go along, but I need to have an outline first. I don't mean a complete formal outline. I usually just have a bunch of notes reminding myself of how the story goes (including an ending!) and a rough list of the important scenes. Sure, I add scenes and modify the outline as I go along, but there is always somewhere to go (in my mind, at least). This year, I didn't know. So I ended up with some short short stories to go inside the novel (1/3 of which were left dangling when I couldn't think of a plot for them), because I can think up a plot for a short story more quickly than for a whole novel so I could do them on the fly.
  • Wow, so light and easy! I'm much less burnt out after 25000 words than 50000.
  • I still need to finish the simple game project first, though. I mean, it's easier for me to make a playable game than a readable novel. (Not a polished game, just a playable one. Whereas the novel is readable for a bit, then suddenly explodes, leaving a horrible gory mess. Or disintegrates into a nasty puddle of incoherent goo. Or something.)

I still want to finish this novel, though. Maybe next year. I'll have to work out an outline first. I did have fun writing last month, even if it wasn't enough for the NaNo goal. And I still have to figure out just what the hell was going on with my plot! I want to know. Really. What was I thinking!? It must have made sense at the time.