The Hobbit Part 3 Movie Review

I finally convinced my wife to see one of “my movies” at the movie theaters!

My wife usually picks every movie we go out to see so it was exciting to finally see something that I wanted to see more than she did.

We saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, finally concluding Peter Jackson’s movies in Middle Earth and tying to the two trilogies together.

The movie contained a lot of the scenes I was waiting to see. Thorin’s last speech, Bard slaying Smaug with the black arrow, the arrival of the eagles once again. Awesome stuff!

The movie starts off with Smaug coming to burn Laketown. Everyone evacuates. Bard makes a last stand on the bell tower and shoots Smaug with the black arrow.

Smaug’s death is satisfying, but it feels like too big of a scene for the start of the movie. It would probably feel much better if the three movies were watched in sequence instead of just starting off with Part 3.

The next section of the movie concerns Thorin slipping into a greed-fueled madness called “dragon sickness” by the other characters.

The madness plays very similar to the corrupting power of the Ring in the Lord of the Rings movies. Thorin hears echoey voices, the camera rotates to oblique angles, and the soft whisper of Sauron can be heard just below the surface. It adds a supernatural element to Thorin’s madness and makes it more believable when he eventually shakes off the greed and returns to his former self.

The rest of the movie is almost exclusively what it says in the title, The Battle of the Five Armies. Tons of action scenes and no character development beyond some characters feeling sorry for the death of other characters.

But the action scenes! Woo! High notes include:

Bard riding a wagon down a flight of stairs into an ogre and stabbing the ogre with a spear.

Thorin and one of his dwarf buddies see a horde of goblins coming towards them and they say, “We can hold them off. There’s only about a hundred of them.”

Legolas fighting one of the orcs on a stone tower that has fallen over to construct a bridge between two cliffs. Every missed blow by the orc causes a chunk of the tower to collapse!

Thorin and Azog the White Orc’s final showdown on a frozen river.

The elf king riding on a elk mount that picks six orcs up by its antlers at once and tosses them all aside after the elf king decapitates them with one stroke.

The hilarity of the ogres in general. They’re used as battering rams by having them wear stone hats and then running into walls. They climb over shorter walls and the walls collapse under the ogres’ weight. I started to feel sorry for all the poor little ogres by the end.

Elrond, Saruman, and Galadriel take on the nine ring wraiths and win.

Dain, Thorin’s cousin, riding a pig and talking in an exaggerated accent while he headbutts orcs.

And so much more!

One of the more heartwarming parts is when Bilbo returns to the Shire. He hangs on to the Ring and within a few shots we see him slowly age until it’s his 111th birthday party and Gandalf is coming to see him once more.

Of course there are some things that the movie left out. Probably not necessary given how much time was devoted to action scenes, but it happened (or didn’t happen depending on your outlook).

The missing scene that I noted was how the eagles affected the battle. They showed up and that was about it. We still got to see Legolas and Thorin fighting the orc generals, but the actual soldiers were never seen again.

I also remember more of the 13 dwarves dying in the battle, but its been a long time since I’ve read the book. Perhaps my memory is just faulty.

Great action movie! Still felt true to the books as I remembered them. Almost a complete lack of character development and social drama though.

Thorin’s madness is supernatural and thus hard to sympathize with.

Bard slowly turns into a king, rejecting it at first, but accepting it later. Unfortunately this is a neglected side plot (accurately reflects its importance in the book though).

Bilbo’s desire for home is the only other social plot that had any realism in it. The other conflicts were predictable and bland.

But the epic fighting was why I went to the movie and it deliver on that count all the way!

-Mister Ed

Favorite Books

There’s this thing going around Facebook over the past couple weeks that finally reached me. No, not the Ice Bucket Challenge. I’m talking about a list of your top ten books.

Someone posts on their timeline and tags you in it. The copy and pasted section of the status reads:

“In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be the ‘right’ books or great books of literature, just ones that affected you in some way. Tag 10(ish) friends including me so I can see your list.”

I got tagged by my sister and here is my list:

Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Game of Thrones – George Martin
Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkein
Shade’s Children – Garth Nix
1984 – George Orwell
Dark Prince – Russell Moon
The Iron Ring – Lloyd Alexander
Nine Princes in Amber – Roger Zelazny
Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Obviously there are a lot of great books that I can think of that I didn’t include on here. Dune and Harry Potter for example.

I felt the list was supposed to be composed somewhat impulsively, so I stuck with what I first thought of.

So why did I pick these?

Hyperion is possibly one of the best space opera novels ever written. Dan Simmons is an excellent writer in nearly every genre. The story follows seven travelers in a space ship on a pilgrimage to the fictional Hyperion planet where a great monster, the Shrike, awaits them. The Shrike will grant a wish to one of the travelers and kill the other six. The travelers spend their voyage telling stories like in The Canterbury Tales (every story where characters sit around and tell stories now officially based off of Canterbury Tales). The stories focus on the travelers’ past lives and why they are going to get a wish. I put Hyperion on this list because it was the first book that made me realize I love fragmented stories. Like in TV shows where there’s an A plot and a B plot. I love that in books as well. Hyperion has three sequels that I’ve read as well, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion.

Game of Thrones is the latest craze. I got into the series right before book 5 came out and consumed them at a rate of about one book per month. They’re good, they’re sexy, and they’re one of my favorite genres, medieval fantasy. Plus, it has a fragmented story line! Perfect!

Lord of the Rings is also a great book. My dad spent years reading me bits and pieces as bedtime stories. We started with The Hobbit when I was six and didn’t finish until I was eleven. The Lord of the Rings also inspired my favorite hobby, Dungeons and Dragons. So this one’s got too amazing things going for it. AND FRAGMENTED ACTION  ONCE AGAIN!

Shade’s Children was my first dystopia book. It’s fairly awful as far as complex themes go. Some robots from an alternate dimension invade Earth and start hunting humans for sport. The humans hide underground, but their society is kept alive by the robots or something? Sounds like a Matrix ripoff. Still, I loved it. Also, I was eight around the time I read it and there is the barest hint of sex in the book. I’m pretty sure it was my first exposure to sex, so it is significant for that reason as well.

1984 is the quintessential dystopian novel. Also, its by Orwell who is an amazing author. I loved this book and I still love it. I love the genre. Putting Shade’s Children on my list reminded me of 1984 so I put it on as well. Like I said, I didn’t think much about the list.

Dark Prince is probably one of the weirder ones on this list. It is the last book in a trilogy. The first book is called Witch Boy. The author, Russell Moon, has only written one other book. I’m not sure why he stopped writing because his stuff is quite good (or at least I remember it being good). The book tells the story of a teenage boy who suddenly discovers he is a witch and accidentally kills his girlfriend with his newfound magical powers. He then discovers that she was part of some weird witch cult which plans to use him in a plot to take over the world or something. My memory of the book is hazy, but I do remember loving it at the time.

The Iron Ring is a story that imitates Indian fairy tales. My dad read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me when I was a kid and I loved them.  This was a continuation of that, but in an entirely different way. The stories were vaguely familiar because they used the same themes, plot devices, and stock characters, but they were also very different due to the setting for the story. Rajas instead of kings. Rakshasas instead of the Devil. It was really cool!

Nine Princes in Amber is amazing and everyone should read it. The book is the first in a series of ten books split into two halves of five books. The series details a titanic struggle between order and chaos across all dimensions. The center of order is called Amber. The series is extremely well written. One of my favorite parts is how Zelazny handles sexual or crude stuff in the books. He always alludes, but never mentions stuff explicitly. A character curses instead of “He exclaimed, ‘Shit!'” It’s very well done and I’d recommend it to everyone as long as you don’t require female characters. There aren’t very many of them…

Gates of Fire is a historical novel about the Greek defense of the Hot Gates of Thermopylae from the Persians. The story is stunningly realistic. The Spartans fight until their swords, spears, and shields are broken. All that’s left is their hands and they fight on against the Persians. I’ve always loved reading and learning more about the ancient Greeks and Romans. This novel gave me a means to do that in a more mature way.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy always makes me laugh. I loved the books and they are one of the few novels that I have read more than once. A few of the others on this list are also in that exalted category. The book is absurdist humor in a space opera setting, both of which appeal to me greatly. The Hitchhiker’s Guide was originally a radio show which I own a recording of and listen to occasionally in the car. If you like absurdist humor you should check it out!

Let me know what your ten would be in the comments!

-Mister Ed

The Fault in Our Stars Movie

I saw the Fault in Our Stars movie this weekend and I was a little disappointed.

It’s an excellent adaptation of the book and is a solid movie on its own.

I just couldn’t help comparing every little detail in the movie to the book.

So many small things had to be cut out and I missed everyone of them.

Charlotte is missing, Mr. Van Houten doesn’t play Bomfalleralla in Hazel’s car, the subtle clues of Augustus condition are all gone, the voice in the Anne Frank house is “Anne Frank’s” instead of Otto Frank’s, etc.

I’m sure this happens all the time with movie adaptations of books, but this was the first time I really noticed it.

I think that’s partially due to the amount of time between when I read the book and saw the movie.

For Fault in Our Stars there were less than two weeks between reading the book and seeing the movie.

Other movies of books that I’ve seen were usually a year or more between when I read the book and saw the movie (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Hornblower).

There are errors and missing parts when I look back on those movies, but I don’t care as much about them.

My sister has the same problem for the Harry Potter books, but for a different reason.

Because the books are so good, she’s read them several times. Enough that she’s memorized all those little details.

So when the movies are missing parts, it feels wrong to her. It feels like its not Harry Potter.

Same thing happened for me with Fault in Our Stars.

The movie is great, but it is not EXACTLY the same as the book.

I do recommend the movie and the book as well, but try to keep them separated by at least a month to avoid this problem from happening to you too!

That’s all for tonight.

-Mister Ed

An Overview of Gurutama Part 7

The elves of Gurutama live in the Lower Maw.
The elves of Gurutama live in the Lower Maw.

Previous: An Overview of Gurutama Part 6

Last time I mentioned that the elves allied with the dwarves against the human Najar Empire.

Elves are typically enemies of dwarves in high fantasy. Which is strange because they are both “good” races in D&D.

Tolkein started this trend by making dwarves and elves good, but having them disagree on nearly everything.

Tolkein’s dwarves and elves disagree on how to wage war, on how to act socially, on what professions are honorable, etc.

I controlled the elves and the dwarves in our Dawn of Worlds game, so I decided to change that rivalry into a partnership.

But first! Where did the elves come from?

Our first four races were based around the four elements. Water for Merfolk, Air for Avians, Fire for Humans, and Earth for Dwarves.

The second set of races only had three positions in it. One of my friends became too busy to keep playing the game and dropped out (resulting in his race, the Avians, becoming a subject population).

The new set of three was based off of the Hindu Trimurti, Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer.

The elves represent creation. Everytime I had the elves do something I always tried to tie it into creation.

The elves built many of the wonders of the world that exist in Gurutama.

This also allowed me to stay within normal elf stereotypes. They live in the forest, are good with magic and bows, and they make beautiful things.

In our Dawn of Worlds game, the elves showed up and began expanding through the Halusho Forest, seen above.

The elves joined the dwarves against the Najar humans because they also thought it was the right thing to do. Demons should be sent back to Hell after all!

The elves created the port city of Cyflenwi at the upper left of the posted image. This city supplied the dwarven invasion of Najar.

The city was subsequently taken over by the Merfolk and handed back to the Najar humans under some treaty or another. The details on it are a little hazy, just like everything else when you look too closely at the Dawn of Worlds game.

After Cyflenwi was taken over the elves became more independent from the dwarves. I’ll talk more about the rest of the elves history in my next blog post on Gurutama.

-Mister Ed

Next: An Overview of Gurutama Part 8

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

I played Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) with my friends last night. We’ve been playing for over ten years together. We started when we were all homeschooled by our parents during what would’ve been elementary school. After we all split apart for college we ended up playing through Skype for a little bit and later through a cool web application called Roll20. I love playing D&D with my friends because the game is capable of almost anything in the fantasy genre. We can slay dragons, run away from orcs, obtain powerful magic weapons, destroy those weapons if they turn out to be evil, sail the sea as pirates, etc. It’s a whole lot of fun.

Although D&D is great for me, it has a history of being misunderstood. I’d like to clear up a few of those misconceptions with this blog post. I’ll talk more about my own experiences with D&D in forthcoming posts.

D&D started off as a spinoff from board game simulations of wars or war games. Risk is the most popular one that many people have heard of, but there are hundreds of others. A few of the other big ones include Axis and Allies, Diplomacy, and Small World. War games are pretty simple at their heart. You get a set of pieces and you use them to simulate a battle. The rules might tell you how to simulate the D-Day Battle for Omaha Beach, but nothing’s stopping you from using those same pieces to simulate the Battle of the Bulge. My friends and I did the same thing with green army men when we were kids. We’d separate them out into teams and have little skirmishes on the living room floor. Occasionally an air strike would be called in and we’d drop a red foam ball on the troops. Whichever army men got knocked over were casualties.

At some point two war gamers, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, decided they were tired of only doing simulations of real battles. They wanted to simulate the same battles that happened in the high fantasy books they read. Battles with swords, dragons, and magic instead of guns, artillery, and aerial bombardments. Gygax and Arneson worked on a set of rules for several years until D&D was released on January 26th 1974 (I know the exact date because I’m on an email list that informed me of the 40th anniversary a couple weeks ago). The game featured heavy influences from the Lord of the Rings books which were popular at the time. My dad was one of the first people to start playing D&D. There were 1,000 games made in the first printing run in 1974 and my dad snagged one of them. He played throughout college and passed the habit on to me and my friends.

D&D gained a poor reputation in the 70’s and early 80’s. This was largely due to Christian groups viewing it as a form of devil worship just as similar groups burn Harry Potter books today. D&D reached its peek negative reputation with the suicide attempts of James Egbert in 1979 and 1980. Egbert played D&D and newspapers all over the nation sensationalized his death. The media claimed that he had killed himself because his character had died in the game. Everyone overlooked that Egbert was severely depressed. His story was “adapted” into a book and later a movie staring Tom Hanks called Mazes and Monsters. These negative stories of devil worship and suicide piled on with more accurate stereotypes of pimply nerds without social skills playing the game in basements. D&D was, and still is to some extent, something that people are embarrassed to admit they play. I didn’t tell my wife until a month or two after we’d started dating because I was afraid she’d judge me for it. As an inside observer, I’m unsure how much of this reputation has gone away or not.

So that’s the history of D&D, but what exactly is it? Well, it’s a roleplaying game similar to video games like World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Fable.

D&D has many key differences from video games though. In video games the player is often restricted to only one character and may never change who that character is (there are exceptions in video games, but as a general rule this stands). In D&D the player can be whoever they want.

Video games decide actions based on programmed random number generators. D&D uses dice, a low-tech version of the same thing.

Video games have amazing graphics. D&D relies heavily on imagination to visualize the events taking place. If you’re lucky, you get fancy miniatures to play with like this one that I painted.

A metal mini glued to a plastic base that I painted myself.
A metal mini glued to a plastic base that I painted myself.

Video games have one plot. If you play the video game again you will be taking essentially the same actions once again. D&D has as many plots as you can imagine. And if you use the same plot, you don’t have to resolve it the same way. If the plot was a bank robbery you could do it with a shotgun the first time or with a hacking program the second time.

Video games have restrictions that seem illogical. The ones that annoy me the most are when my character can’t jump or walk up small slopes. The game does this to keep you on the set path/plot that the designers created. In D&D you can go anywhere. A gorge isn’t necessarily an impassable obstacle to your character in D&D if s/he can jump really or fly over it.

And most importantly, D&D is always played with your friends. You and your friends can go on great adventures and explore new lands just like Bilbo, Conan, Harry Potter, or any other fantasy character you can name. It’s a great way for adults to use their imagination just like when they were kids pretending to be heroes.

More D&D posts to come in the future!

-Mister Ed