Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

I planned to outline and put together a comprehensive and long review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; however, it isn’t going to happen. Too damn busy with other things. So what follows are some short(-ish) and haphazard observations about the film.

Two things to get out of the way first:

1. I consider Tolkien’s The Hobbit one of the most influential books on my development as a reader. My father (a fantasy and SF guy) read it to me when I was 6-7; and I read it myself at 8 (and again a few years later, and again, and a few more times adding up to 7 or 8 total). Having reread it last month, however, I have few romantic, nostalgic illusions about it overall. It is, in a number of ways, a flawed book, and it doesn’t engage me anywhere near as much as an adult as it did when I was much younger. I’m still a fan, though. I would venture that those who grew up as kids loving the Harry Potter books (which I read the first 3 installments of before deciding not to go further) will feel similarly rereading those books ten or twenty years down the road.

2. What is below the cut will contain so-called spoilers of the film and all of the novel (not just the section the film covers).

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I had an awesome streak of reading excellent books and seeing pretty good films for a couple months.  Which is, in part, why the last few weeks have been pretty disappointing in these same departments.  Each of the following are things I had high hopes for but didn’t end up feeling very satisfied with, written up pretty briefly and without major plot spoilers.

Among Others – Jo Walton

This book has won or been nominated for a ton of major fantasy and science fiction awards, and I’ve seen a lot of glowing reviews online.  I went in pretty much blind, assuming by the hype that it would be, at least, something I’d feel I should have read.  After finishing it, however, I have to say I’m pretty unimpressed and found it mostly forgettable and mediocre.

Among Others is told from the first-person, diary-style point-of-view of Morwenna (Mor), a Welsh teenager who sees fairies and is convinced in the reality of magic.   Mor also happens to be disabled, which seems to be a thing in YA lit recently (I don’t have anything insightful to add on this, but I’m sure it is  worth thinking about).  The novel uses the frame of the boarding house story and focuses on typical teenage themes, albeit in the framework of a world with hidden magic going on (from the protagonist’s p.o.v. anyway).

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[As a brief sidenote before I get any snarky comment about it:  I’m aware there is debate, especially in feminist theory circles, about the phrase “strong female characters” and the mere flipping of gender roles and denial of femininity and all that.  That’s all fine and good for grad seminar or the like, but I’m looking at this through the eyes of a father who wants to continually expand his daughter’s experiences of what girls can be like.  So, yeah, strong female characters it is.]

Modern Primate just published my article on Disney/Pixar’s Brave, which you can read here if so inclined.  It is less of a generic film review than a response to a few overly positive reviewers who seem to be falling over themselves to congratulate Disney for finally creating a princess character who isn’t stereotypically girlish and driven by desire for romance and marriage.  Sure, the film has this element, which is a huge deviation from past Disney princesses, and Merida is certainly a strong, non-traditional character in a lot of ways.  Despite this, the film is very conservative overall in how gender roles, patriarchy, and parent-child relationships are portrayed.

One of the things I took note of that I think bears more consideration is the portrayal of Princess Merida’s father, King Fergus, and what that means for how the film may or may not challenge traditional gender norms.  I wrote:

In the close of the film’s action, King Fergus is shown embracing his beloved wife and daughter as the patriarch whose role has not really changed throughout the film’s crises.  There is little new understanding between father and daughter or husband and wife because Fergus is a mere caricature.  Because of the way the story’s world is set up, and the lack of development of Fergus, very little of importance can change due to Merida’s rebellion, recklessness, and bravery.  While she may indeed be a strong female lead character, her story ends as a lesson in traditional values.

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The imperatives of blockbuster action films and the composition of The Avengers’ team make for odd bedfellows

Hawkeye wouldn’t stand a chance if Hulk smash

Almost a month after everyone else, I finally got around to seeing Joss Whedon’s The Avengers this past weekend.  I was impressed.  Though I’m certainly not an Avengers super-fan and have only read a few Avengers team comics, I felt Whedon does a great job doing justice to what I know of the source material and character continuity while still creating a compelling action film.  I initially worried a bit about Loki as the villain falling flat, but Tom Hiddleston’s acting and Whedon’s writing/direction pulled it off much better than I expected.  One thing that stuck out as a weakness, however, was the make up of the team that Whedon has to work with: the pairing of superhuman heroes with exceptional humans who happen to be at the top of the mere-mortal scale of physical ability. This comes through most clearly in the final, climactic battle scenes, which are mostly thrilling but had me feeling I was actually consciously suspending my disbelief.

[spoilers follow]

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