30 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit

Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien’s works are equations in which addition and subtraction are crucial. In The Lord of the Rings, Jackson solved the equation well. Subtracting extraneous elements, such as Tom Bombadil, the Barrow Downs and the Scouring of the Shire from Tolkien’s narrative made for a better movie. Additions were minutely scrutinised and, for example in the case of a stronger ‘warrior Arwen,’ largely abandoned.
In The Hobbit, Jackson has made a number of additions, both to the story and to the viewing experience, which are largely unsuccessful. The Hobbit is of course a far lighter text than The Lord of the Rings, really a children’s story largely free of the deeper mythology and symbolism present in the LOTR, and, as such, open to additions in order to improve character and story. Unfortunately, Jackson’s additions seem largely to be present in order to create enough material for three movies rather than any other consideration.
Least successful is Radagast and his rabbit powered sleigh. The character, barely mentioned in The Hobbit, is given a larger billing in the movie as part of the sub-plot concerning Sauron’s rise as the Necromancer of Dol Guldur. In some respects this is a good addition; it presents the story in the wider context of a prelude to the LOTR, and the scenes in Dol Guldur itself, and the meeting of the White Council, are satisfying additions. Radagast however, is drawn as a largely comic character in a story already full of comic dwarf, goblin and troll characters.
A second large addition is that of the orc Azog. As the conventional hero of the story, Thorin Oakenshield requires an antagonist not present in The Hobbit, and voila, another character, mostly reproducing the role already filled by the Great Goblin, is introduced.
The addition of a major character is a symptom of Jackson’s largest change to the equation, that of form. The Hobbit could have been adapted as a single movie with some of the less successful elements, for instance Beorn, removed. It could have been adapted quite faithfully over two movies, perhaps with a little playing up of the Dol Guldur/Necromancer subplot to give it more coherence and relevance as a prequel. To make the adaptation over three movies, introducing multiple characters and story arcs not present in the original text is an addition that would not have been tolerated in a LOTR adaptation, and is only permitted now that Jackson has attained golden child status amongst Tolkien fans.
My last gripe about form is the choice to shoot in HFR 3D. From a purely personal and aesthetic standpoint 3D has been completely pointless in nearly every movie (Avatar is the only exception) I’ve seen. HFR was continually distracting for the first hour of the film, after which either I was used to it or the proportion of action sequences was higher (it is most noticeable in non-action sequences). We are a media savvy/saturated culture, and that that saturation has occurred in 24fps. Until the visual language of our culture is migrated to 48fps it will always seem jarring for the first hour of any film. But, since our culture is unlikely to swap to HFR en masse any time soon, I will have to call the horse bolted on this one. Beta video might be better quality but VHS won. HFR might be better, but it’s too late.

Final word: Decent movie, a few cringeworthy scenes, a few spectacular scenes. See it in good old 2D, 24fps. 67%  

6 November 2012

Visual Puns and Recycling

My new job has left me with little time to post, but in the spirit of keeping my hand in here's a little pun I came up with yesterday:

I prefer one of these myself:

Though it's a surprisingly mediocre drink for such a classic.

In other ramblings today is Melbourne Cup Day. As you can see from this earlier post, the winner today should complete the race in some time less than a minute, while possibly being outrun by Hicham El Guerrouj who, according to Ten News, is already trackside and becoming belligerent.

Lastly, a hearty congratulations to Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, who managed to dodge Kerry O'Brien's questions about the latest live export fuck-up like a fly dodging a rolled up newspaper. Reading between the lines, I think Senator Ludwig's point was essentially, "we put regulations in place so we can control the slaughter of animals exported overseas. If that sometimes falls in a heap and a bunch of state-sanctioned, drunken butchers happens to be let loose on the odd mob of sheep then so fucking what? We put regulations in place dickhead." No doubt Senator Ludwig's position will shift over the coming days in the face of the inevitable shit-storm.
Typically, I've already covered things in an earlier post.

30 July 2012

Miroslav in America

I’ve previously posted about my desire to witness or experience something paranormal; about the loneliness of being Scully in a world of Mulders.
So surely, with the ubiquity of the internet and the bottomless well of belief that this taps into, I should have been presented with something odd by now. With all those UFOs in the night sky, coupled with the millions of people walking around with a camera built into their phone, surely a few shots should have gone viral by now? Experts should have been unable to debunk a particularly convincing image. I should’ve seen a clip of a ghostly apparition where I thought, actually… is that real?
Well – almost.
You might have seen this image at some point on your cyber wanderings:

Honestly, what is that? My rational side says it’s been Photoshopped, or it’s some weird animal caught at an odd angle. If neither of those are the explanation, then we have to go down to the basement and ask Mulder what he thinks. I did, and his best guess is a hobgoblin.
I plugged the image into Google’s new Image Search tool which tells me that it first appeared online on www.fiski.net on 12/4/2006, posted by Tom Hendrix: “Here is a strange creation, I filmed, photographed when the parents' home in Florida (translated from Russian).” The word ‘creation’ here seems odd, but maybe that’s an artefact of the translation engine.
The only other explanation I can think of is that it’s a photo of the guy on the far right in this picture:

This one first appeared online at www.kalerab.sk on 30/7/2007. Perhaps this young man, let’s call him Miroslav as this is a common Slovak name and the website is from Slovakia, fled the Nazis (or perhaps his uncouth brother, second from left) shortly after this photo was taken. Escaping to America he worked for many years on the General Motors production line, but was continually persecuted for his unusual appearance. Eventually Miroslav was retrenched from his job and forced to live on the streets. Years later, old and thin, he was snapped by Tom Hendrix running across his parent’s backyard.

25 July 2012

The Noise of Slaughter

Another shooting in the US got me thinking…

A little perspective.
I think I was 11 or 12 when I first became aware of the phenomenon of mass shootings. I was reading a Stephen King short story called 'Cain Rose Up' in which a student shoots people from his dorm window. The story stuck with me because it contained no monsters or supernatural elements. It was based on Charles Whitman’s 1966 shooting spree at the University of Texas at Austin in which the former marine killed 16 and wounded 32. Whitman’s rampage is interesting in that it embodies many of the elements that have since coalesced into an archetypal model for this kind of incident. He was a young man of above average intelligence with a strong sense of order and personal hygiene. He had an abusive family life. He planned his shooting meticulously. He shot indiscriminately from the elevated position of a clock-tower. An autopsy revealed an aggressive brain tumour. He was a white, male American.

Mass shootings seem an almost purely American beast in the popular imagination, with just a few examples, Martin Bryant, Anders Breivik, Dunblane, bred from a different stock, but this is only partially true.

  • Of the 550 ‘rampage killings’ listed on Wikipedia (excluding school and workplace shootings), a greater percentage occurred in Oceania and Asia than the Americas.
  • Looking only at the 61 school shootings listed, China leads the pack with 19 incidents to the US’s 16 (Germany punches above its weight with a respectable 8). 
  • When the number of deaths is factored in, Chinese students, although good at math, are shown to be inaccurate marksmen. School shootings in the US claim an average of nearly 10 victims per incident, while the Chinese only average 3. 
  • Unfortunately the US seems a stressful place to work. Of the 40 workplace shootings listed nearly half occurred in the US (only 2 involved postal workers).

Technical aspects.
Unsurprisingly some military training is an advantage, though not necessary. Access to high powered automatic weaponry is also an advantage (although Africa’s William Unek incredibly killed 57 people in 2 separate rampages, mostly with an axe and a pistol), as is access to explosives. Posing as an authority figure also seems to work quite well. Asia’s worst spree was conducted by Woo Bum-kon who travelled from one village to another killing people while dressed in his police uniform. A secluded spot and some sort of structure to corral people into would also seem to be advantageous. Anders Breivik combined many of these strategies (substituting simulated combat for real by playing video games), and achieved a very high death count. James Eagan Holmes’s recent shooting spree was less successful for omitting some of these strategies. Although having access to explosives, which he used to booby-trap his apartment, he did not incorporate these into his rampage. Additionally he did not block the cinema’s exits and, in choosing a cinema, he selected a location with multiple points of cover and further hampered his visibility by letting off smoke canisters.

Shooting sprees in the future.
As evidenced by the accompanying graph, shooting sprees are becoming more common.

With the wealth of information now on offer in the media we can expect future killers to plan and conduct more lethally effective rampages. In most instances easy access to weaponry is a requirement. Without some change to make obtaining such weaponry more difficult, mass killings in the US will continue. Sadly, with 12,632 gun related homicides in 2007, any single shooting spree, while horrifying, will effectively always be nothing but background noise to the larger slaughter.

Top 5 Songs to Listen to While on a Killing Rampage
1) “We Know Speak Americano” - Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP
2) “Popcorn” - Hot Butter
3) “Zorba’s Dance”  (from the movie Zorba the Greek)
4) “Yakety Sax” (theme tune to the Benny Hill Show)
5) “Theme from New York, New York” - Frank Sinatra


9 April 2012

Remember When the Whole Street Got Together and Killed the People in Number 37?

The Holocaust holds a fascination for many people. I am one of them. Up until recently this has manifested as an interest in the technical aspects, and in the grisly details, of killing somewhere between 11 and 17 million people; also in the details of life in a concentration camp. These interests are satisfied most fully by Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man and The Truce, and in the testimonials of the members of the Sonderkommando or ‘Special Unit’ – the Jews who were forced to run the gas chambers and crematoria.
In the last week I’ve been reading Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark and this has drawn my attention to an aspect of the Holocaust I’d previously been only peripherally aware of. Previously I had thought of the attempted genocide as something secret, as something a minority of people were aware was occurring, but this is not the case. As early as 1941 the Allies were aware of mass killings of European Jewry. In 1943 there was a meeting between the UK and US to discuss what to do about the extermination camps which aerial photography had revealed. The lack of action from this meeting led Szmul Zygielbojm, leader of the Polish government in exile, to commit suicide in protest.
For the German people though, the holocaust must been an open secret. Estimates put the number of Germans directly involved in the Holocaust at 300,000. The SS had around 900,000 members, all of whom would have been aware of what was happening. Add to this the 1.2 million people working on the railways who would have seen the cattle-cars filled with prisoners rolling past, the thousands of civil servants who would have gained an idea through their day to day work of what was occurring, and finally the average citizen who would have seen Jews rounded up, beaten, often shot as they were deported to ‘the East.’
Add to this the level of knowledge and collaboration in neighbouring states: the Balkans, Romania, Poland, Hungary etc. We are left with a picture of a large percentage of Western Europe rife with anti-Semitism, that watched on, or helped, as the Nazis carried off and killed millions of their neighbours and fellow citizens.
What must this have been like for that generation? The men and women now in their 80s and 90s who have been walking around with this secret for 50 years? The fellow with the beard who you see every week at the bus stop, what did he do? How much did he know? The woman at the pharmacy? The man selling you your car? The others in your retirement home? When you see news of a mass grave discovered in a Polish forest what secret communication passes between you and the other old men at your club? Didn’t Thomas say his regiment was stationed in that area? Did he kill as many as you did?

An insanity of shared experience.

29 February 2012

Leap Day

Today is that most exciting of days – February 29. Leap Days occur to keep our calendar of 365 days in line with the reality that is the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, which takes 365.24219 days.
Julius Caesar made a good stab at solving this discrepancy with his Julian Calendar of 365.25 days. There is some debate about where and how he inserted his Leap Day, but most likely it was achieved by having February 23 twice. During the late Middle Ages this evolved into the custom of having a February 29 every 4 years.
But don’t we still have a Leap Day every four years? After all we’ve got the rhyme:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Save February, with twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine each leap year.

Slippery, no? The rhyme doesn’t actually specify when the Leap Day occurs. If it did we’d have to tack something on the end along the lines of:

Which are those divisible by 4,
But not those by 100,
Excepting those divisible by 400.

Feel free to fix up the rhyming and scansion there. Still, better than this 16th Century version:

Thirtey days hath November,
Aprile, June, and September:
Of twyecescore-eightt is but eine,
And all the remnante be thrycescore-eine.
O´course Leap yare comes an´pynes,
Ev'rie foure yares, gote it ryghth.
An´twyecescore-eight is but twyecescore-nyne.

Anyway, the difference between the Julian Calendar and reality meant that each day was 11 minutes off. Pope Gregory instituted our current Gregorian Calendar in 1582, at which point the cumulative inaccuracies of the Julian Calendar were such that people went to bed on Thursday, October 4 and woke up on Friday, October 15 (spare a thought for the Greeks, by the time they adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1923 they had to drop 13 days)
So, a happy birthday to all those born today, the Leaplings as you are called, with your furry tails and cute little snouts. Your peers include such luminaries as serial killer Richard Ramirez, motivational hack Tony Robbins and rapper/actor Ja Rule.
A special mention too, for James Milne Wilson, Manager of the Cascade Brewery, Mayor of Hobart and Premier of Tasmania. Admired by Anthony Trollope, he was not only born on February 29, but died on that day too, his “17th” birthday.