We all know what the past looks like. Go back a hundred years, and the world was black and white, sped up and weirdly jerky. People talked in ornate title cards – which was lucky, because how else could you hold a conversation over the din of a dramatic piano score? Philip Larkin once wrote that sexual intercourse began in 1963; it seems that sound and colour began before that, but not by all that much, compared to the history of the world. It is strange to think that two entire world wars were fought entirely in monochrome.
Okay, this could just as well be a variety pack, but I’m saving that option for another time, ‘kay? Anyway, with the two films there’s a theme to be made, however tenuous. And that theme is… the fantastic! Either that or big, growling, carnivorous CGI creatures that would chew your face off as soon as look at you. How’s that for themeitude?
I’ve defended most of what Peter Jackson did to The Lord of the Rings. Jackson and his team had a good feel for what works in a book and what works on the screen. Cutting out Tom Bombadil? About the best thing that ever happened to Tolkien’s work. In fact, the film that gets the purists most riled up, The Two Towers, is my favourite of the trilogy.
I’m afraid that when it comes to The Hobbit, though, Jackson’s instincts weren’t quite as successful, at least with respect to the book-to-film transition. A lot has already been written about the decision to do yet another trilogy (seriously – what is it about fantasy and the number 3?), and I don’t want to come down too hard on Jackson et al. before I’ve seen all three of the Hobbit movies, but so far I have two main objections: 1) The Hobbit is a children’s book, it isn’t the big, world-shattering epic that its kid brother would be, and the relatively flimsy plot can’t carry the epicness that the film makers tried to inject. An Unexpected Journey tries to be two things at the same time – whimsical adventure and epic – and the film’s internal conflict makes it work less well as either of these two. 2) I understand that the writers’ team wanted to bring in all of the cool stories, scenes and characters from Tolkien’s other writings, but at least as far as this first film in the new trilogy is concerned there is no connection between the dwarves plot and the Necromancer storyline. As a result, the latter feels like a tenuously connected “Meanwhile at Dol Guldur…”
Having said that, though, The Hobbit Part I (In Which Everyone Wonders Why This Had To Be Yet Another Trilogy) is an enjoyable film. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s got a fantastic rendition of the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter (it’s a shame that Gollum’s appearance in The Hobbit is done by the end of the first film), and Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo – and most importantly, the film did succeed at bringing back the good old Middle-Earth feeling right from the start. Let’s just hope, though, that by the third film hobbit fatigue hasn’t set in too much.
Life of Pi
Yes, I know – it isn’t exactly the same sort of fantasy as Jackson’s revisiting of Tolkien, but the fantastic plays an important – arguably more important – role in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel. I wasn’t a huge fan of the book when I read it; Life of Pi is well written and perfectly charming for the most part, but its “I wanna be Le Petit Prince” whimsy, aiming for lightness mixed with profundity, grated. In addition, the novel’s final twist struck me as badly handled and gimmicky. I don’t mind stories that pull the rug from under your feet, and some of my favourite films and novels have similar elements, but Martel delivered his answer to “What’s the use of a story that isn’t even true (or is it?)?” too glibly.
Ang Lee’s film version of Life of Pi is beautiful to look at. I’d feared from the trailer that it would be tacky kitsch of a decidedly Kincaidy bent, but the film handles even the more outlandish, phantasmagoric images deftly. The 3D is integrated well, the CGI rarely looks computer-generated and the animation is just about as perfect as it gets. (Some scenes that I took to be CGI I later found out to have been shot with a trained tiger – go figure.)
In fact, I would go so far as to say that Lee’s film version may be the best film you can make of the novel – without changing it into something else altogether, that is. I enjoyed watching the film, but its twee attempts at depth, its facile final dilemma, it all bothered me. Life of Pi is quite the journey (minus the occasional bout of literary sea-sickness), but it’s one that ends in a disappointing destination. Perhaps the film depicts Pi’s story even too well, because it stacks the deck so much in favour of the fantastic version of his tale that the other version feels even cheaper. And it’s difficult to shake the feeling that in the end Pi is really saying, “Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?”, which is too much of a cop-out, both with respect to Pi’s story and the larger question of God he’s talking about. And cop-outs shouldn’t be delivered quite this glibly. Perhaps Life of Pi is a good story, and a good film, in dire need of a good ending.
Thanks to Hellboy II (or so I would imagine), I’ve been getting lots of hits in spite of a lack of regular updates. Messrs Mignola, Del Toro and Perlman, thank you very much! The film does look quite gorgeous, as do most of Del Toro’s films – obviously they give the Latin American version of Peter Jackson full reign, and his wild imagination thanked them accordingly.
But that’s not what I wanted to blog about. Instead, I’ve come to praise Yorick Brown, not to bury him.
Remember what I wrote a couple of days ago about Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men? Well, Joss is not the only sadistic bastard out there writing comics. Enter Mr Brian K Vaughan, who recently finished his long tale of a man, his helper monkey and a world full of women.
While I enjoyed all ten volumes of Y: The Last Man (the final volume just came out), the series isn’t perfect. There are moments when Vaughan missteps. The plot could do with some tightening. And the hook and setup are so breathtakingly big that it’s almost impossible for the ending to satisfy fully.
Warning: Here be spoilers!
The story strand that perhaps worked least for me was Alter’s trajectory. She’s intriguing to begin with, but Vaughan didn’t seem to know where to take her. She ends up as someone who cannot cope and, as an alternative to suicide, tries to get someone else to pull the trigger by being an all-round homicidal bitch. We’ve had similar motifs with Hero, with 355 (although more subtly, perhaps) and even with Yorick. It doesn’t help that there are entire issues that seem to forget completely about her.
Regardless of that, though, issues 58-60 are heartbreaking. 355’s death (apart from a flashback to Yorick’s intervention in an earlier volume (Safeword) that didn’t work as well as it should have) is done beautifully and practically wordlessly, to devastating effect. Pia Guerra’s simple yet effective art is at its best in the facial expressions: 355’s final look at Yorick, his silent exchange with Alter, and his face as he looks up at Hero, unable even to begin to express what has happened.
Issue 60 is a tricky one: with its “60 years later” conceit, it could easily have fallen flat. And there is something alienating about seeing a world where most of the familiar characters are absent and Yorick appears to be an old, white-haired loon in a straightjacket. My first reaction to the final issue was one of feeling at a distance from the guy we’d just accompanied for several years through a post-gendercidal world, where before he’d always been the ideal screen for all us white, somewhat nerdy male Lit majors to project ourselves onto. But with every flashback filling in glimpses of what happens during the 60 years in between the last two issues, Vaughan hooked me more and more.
At first I would have said that the best, worst moment of the issue is Ampersand’s death, euthanised by an old Yorick wanting to spare his friend the pain. It’s a simple, touching farewell to a character who, with his Eeps and Cheeps has become as much of a person as any of the human characters. This was topped, though, by the silent, moving last three pages, as our escape artist Yorick gets out of his last fix. Vaughan and Guerra handle it perfectly, giving us and the characters just the right note to end on.
So, on that note: Thank you, Brian K Vaughan. Thank you, Pia Guerra. Thank you, Yorick, 355, Dr Mann, Beth, other Beth, Natalya and, of course, Ampersand. It’s been a terrific journey.
And if you break my heart again, Mr Vaughan, I will do real damage to you with the Absolute Sandman vol. 3.