Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit

I know, I know, I know. Bad geek! Bad! I had wanted to see The Hobbit the moment it came out. I was hoping that I could even score free tickets to an advance screening (like I have for other movies lately). Sadly, the free tickets were not to be. The one screening my wonderful wife found were gone in 15 seconds and I couldn't have gone anyway. And Friday, well, Friday I had an eye doctor appointment and then we went to see Santa as a family. Weekends are bad, too, so I had to wait until a Monday. A Monday! I know, I need to turn in my geek card now.

But the time finally came and I settled in. After twenty minutes of previews (and I'm still wondering why they thought that fans of J.R.R. Tolkien would be interested in Stephanie Meyer's alien movie thing), the epic tale of Bilbo Baggins unfolded before me. And it was good.

For the most part.

So let's start with the caveats and the words of warning. I wasn't totally sold on the idea of splitting the story into two parts, let alone three. The Hobbit is a much shorter book than The Lord of the Rings, so it seemed a little odd to me that Peter Jackson would divvy up the film, regardless of if he brought in extra material or not. But it's Peter Jackson, for crying out loud. I trust him with Middle Earth, so I was willing to let go of my minor misgivings.

But what format to see it in? I could have gone to see it in IMAX 3D at the Minnesota Zoo, but the last movie I saw like that (Tron: Revolutions, or whatever that train wreck was called) left me feeling a bit dizzy. So should I try for 3D? Or track down the nearest theater that would show it in 48fps 3D? I finally decided on just plain old vanilla 2D.

And it was great to be back in Middle Earth again! It was fantastic to see Gandalf and Bilbo again. I was ready to stand up and cheer the first time I heard a whispered voice in a dark cave. And it was a fun movie, with lots of adventure, some silliness, and that spectacular New Zealand scenery.

And yet . . .

And yet there were some minor details, things that bothered me. I "saw the seams" on some of the visual effects, particularly when Gandalf and the dwarfs were trying to escape from the goblins. I could tell when the CGI folks took over, which I don't remember happening in the Lord of the Rings movies.

But most of all, there was disconnect for me, and I think it's the fact that the source material was slightly incompatible with Peter Jackson's vision.

Let's remember, The Hobbit started life as a story for children. So while there is danger and adventure, none of it is quite as life-and-death as in LotR. And in some ways, Jackson remained true to the source material, by including the "Blunt the Knives" musical number and the goblin's torture song (!) in the movie. Radagast too seemed particularly suited for a kids' story.

But then there are the parts where Jackson was clearly trying to hearken back to the style and vision of Lord of the Rings, and it caused a little bit of cognitive dissonance in me. It didn't feel right.

Not only that, but I think the film suffered a little bit because the story of The Hobbit doesn't strike me as being quite as epic as Lord of the Rings. Yes, taking on Smaug will be awesome and yes, the journey is important for the dwarfs, but the movie seemed to lack a "Big Bad." Because of that, the movie didn't feel quite as big. And yes, I know who the Necromancer is.

Now that may sound like I didn't enjoy it. I did. And I'm looking forward to the next leg of the journey.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm something of a steampunk neophyte. I've seen bits and pieces here and there, read a few books and short stories, and admired some cool fashions. But I suspect that this is one speculative fiction sub-genre I'll never really get all that into. That's not a judgment on the idea as a whole. It's just not for me.

In spite of that, though, I really enjoyed Steve Rzasa's latest book, Crosswind. This is the tale of the Sark brothers, inhabitants of a town called Perch. Perch sounds like a frontier town, a sort of alternate version of a Wild West metropolis, where aeroplanes are the order of the day and the inhabitants aren't too keen on their neighbors to the south, the city of Trestleway. Trestleway is all about the railroad, you see. More than that, they want everyone to be a stop on their lines, whether they want to be or not. Winch Sark is a newspaper reporter, while his brother, Cope, is a daredevil pilot. Neither are all that political, but when the Mayor-General's nephew crashes while bearing an important message to his uncle, Winch and Cope investigate. This pulls them into a winding intrigue between Perch and Trestleway, but more than that, because dark forces are at work to not only destroy Perch, but the faithful who live within its borders.

Like I said, while steampunk isn't my thing, I really enjoyed this story. The setting is vibrant and alive, and Steve did a great job of creating what felt like an "old world," one with its own unique history and geography. The best part is, he doesn't slather on loads of unnecessary backstory. Instead, he just teases us with a little bit of, "Hey, there's more to this than meets the eye." In short, it tantalizes instead of bogs down, which is great. Winch and Cope are fun to go on an adventure with, and I particularly liked Winch's spiritual journey. There's a great deal to be gleaned from this book about the interaction between faith and fear, and I really found it fascinating how Steve set the theology in the days of the early church. The Christ event analogue for this world occurred just a decade earlier.

I don't know what a hardcore steampunk fan would make of this book, but I enjoyed it, and I suspect that if you're like me, you will too. Be sure to check it out today.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

O Come, Let Us Do Laundry

It may sound like an odd Christmas greeting, but God invites all people to come and do laundry with Him.

Text: Malachi 3:1-7b

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Weird Al: The Book

I don't think it should come as a surprise to anyone that I'm a fan of Weird Al Yankovic, right? I mean, several years ago, I did spend a few hours writing an outline for a Weird Al themed musical. I own just about every song he's ever written. My poor family has had to suffer through me playing his music often enough that it's enough to send my six year old son screaming from the room. On my Facebook profile, I've listed three people as being influential in my life: St. Paul, Martin Luther, and Weird Al. So when I saw that a book dedicated to Al had been published, you can bet that I put Weird Al: The Book on my Christmas list right away. Since my side of the family did Christmas already, I got my copy and devoured it in about a day.

Now some of the stories that I read in here, I knew already, such as how Weird Al and his drummer, Bermuda Schwartz, met before Al performed Another One Rides the Bus on the Dr. Demento Show. I've seen the video of Al performing on Tom Snyder's The Tomorrow Show:

But there was a lot I didn't know. Like how Madonna apparently came up with the idea for Like a Surgeon (!!!), or the problems Al had with TV executives for his kids' show, or how, after UHF bombed, Al almost wrote another Michael Jackson parody. This was a great read for me to find out more about one of my favorite musicians. And the fact that this book is filled with lots of pictures from Al's life and career makes it all the better.

So if you're a Weird Al fan, you owe it to yourself to get this book. And if you're not his fan . . . well, then, what's wrong with you?

I leave you now with a picture of the Weird One that I took myself when he was performing at the Minnesota State Fair two years ago:

Sheer genius.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Branch

Do you put your trust in hollow trees?

Text: Jeremiah 33:14-16