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Dec 16

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A Review

Posted on Sunday, December 16, 2012 in Film, Rant, Review

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

DID I MENTION SPOILERS!

YOU SHOULD NOT PASS… if you haven’t seen the movie and want to be surprised.

You have been warned…

Okay, the disclaimer is out of the way. Today, I went with the family to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the 3-D HFR version. Having now seen it, I’m surprised at the vitriol that’s been heaped on the movie by some (e.g., here and here just to name two). Maybe “vitriol” is too strong a word, but it seems some of the negative press is unwarranted. I’ve also seen Tolkien fans that have written reviews saying they’re not even going to see movies two and three in this trilogy. I’m planning on seeing the next two without question. To me, An Unexpected Journey seemed like a quick three hours. There were some parts that dragged on too long (more on that below) and some superfluous material, but, overall, it kept my attention, didn’t offend my sensitive Tolkien sensibilities (too much – again, see below), and was a fairly enjoyable and entertaining ride. I just have to remember that any shortcomings of the film in no detract from Tolkien’s work and world. The films aren’t canon. They’re based on an interpretation of Tolkien’s work and can stand or fall on their own.

Some of the best parts, in my opinion, in no particular order were:

  • The scenes inside Bilbo’s hobbit hole. These were, for the most part, true to the book (in spirit if not literally). I’ve read some reviews that talk negatively about the dishwashing sequence but found this to be very faithful to the book itself.
  • Elrond showing up in his armor. No, it wasn’t in the book, but it always bothered me that Rivendell was supposed to be this idyllic sanctuary in the mountains. How did it stay safe? Well, it makes sense that Elrond and his house would ride out once in a while to “take care of business” in the neighborhood. Plus we got some Sindarin in here 🙂
  • The opening prologue inside and around Erebor. Seeing Thrór, Thráin, and Thorin ensconced in their kingdom and getting a glimpse of Dwarven culture was very interesting. Plus this also gave us a peek at Smaug’s feet and fire. The scene with all the dwarves waiting inside Erebor as flames lick at the front door was very cool.
  • Radagast. Yes, Radagast. As a character design, I thought he worked very well. I have other misgivings about him in the movie, but overall his look and action seemed very in keeping with what I had always thought about the brown wizard.
  • Seeing the progression of Balin from Erebor, to Azanulbizar, to the “present”. The only issue here (literal book-wise) is that Thorin is actually older than Balin: Thorin was 24 when Smaug attacked Erebor; Balin was 7.
  • Gandalf’s look on his face when he finds that Saruman has shown up at Rivendell. I could almost hear a “Oh, man, it’s my boss.”
  • Gollum and riddle game. This was worth seeing the HFR version right here! Gollum is absolutely amazing looking, and Andy Serkis is in full command of bringing Gollum to life.

Before we go any further, let me address the conlanging aspect of the movie. There was some Sindarin in Rivendell. It’s always nice to be able to pick up a word here and there. I got Gandalf’s “Mellon nin!” even before I read the subtitle. Yay, me. I was very disappointed I didn’t hear any Khuzdul (except maybe a snippet from Bifur). However, as I was given a heads-up by Erunno Alcarinollo on Twitter, I expected a lack of Khuzdul and that the orcs seem to be speaking the Black Speech or at least some orcish dialect of it. Interesting turn of events when both the elves and the orcs get subtitles. But it’s not all the orcs. The goblins of the Misty Mountains still speak English with a British accent although they know the ones who speak only Black Speech. (We know this because the Goblin King is going to send a message to the leader of the Black Speech orcs.) And even the Black-Speech-speaking orcs seem to have some auto-tune reverb thing going on with their voices. I am looking forward to some notes online on the Black Speech in the film.

I’m going to assume that Black Speech and Khuzdul maybe sounded too much alike to do them both in the film. Plus, some movie-goers may have said, “Okay, the dwarves were speaking with subtitles before but now they’re speaking in English. What’s up with that? And why are those orcs speaking the dwarves’ language? I don’t get it!” So, I’m going to cut some slack to Peter Jackson and let the Khuzdul go. However, I still want to hear a “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd aimênu” at the Battle of Five Armies, most likely from the armies of the Iron Hills.

Okay, so that brings us back to this band of Black-Speech-speaking orcs and their leader, Azog. Yes, that Azog. We see him, Thorin, and Balin in the Battle of Azanulbizar. I was really looking forward to this but found the movie adaptation somewhat disappointing. Azog, referred to subsequently in the film as the Pale Orc, becomes the primary antagonist of Thorin & Company because of an extreme hatred of Thorin himself. It seems… SPOILER! again… after Azog beheads Thrór in the battle (not as in the Appendices), Thorin battles the orc chieftain and cuts off the orc’s forearm. Inexplicably, the orcs carry their leader back into Moria, the dwarves claim victory, and Thorin assumes Azog dies. Bad move, Mr. Oakenshield. Azog sticks an iron claw on his forearm (with a nice spike sticking out of his elbow) and swears vengeance on the “Dwarf-scum” or whatever Black Speech phrase means that.

The creation of Azog’s revenge seems to be a superfluous sub-plot for the film. If Peter Jackson did want to have this storyline, it seems a better tactic might have been to have Azog fighting at Azanulbizar with his son Bolg. I don’t know how you show this, but having Azog kill Thrór, then have Thorin kill Azog (yes, I know he didn’t kill Azog but I’ll give them some leeway here), and have Bolg retreat (maybe with the look in his eyes as the orcs of Mordor when the Rohirrim rode down on them in Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King). But showing an orc swearing revenge on someone who slew his father might be ascribing too many emotions to orcs (who are really the expendable Star-Wars-stormtroopers or battle droids of The Lord of the Rings films).

And Azog really does look like a very good CG video game character, but a CG video game character nonetheless. If they were going with an orc antagonist, it would have been nice to see something like Lurtz. I do have to agree with those who have mentioned that aspect of the movie.

I mentioned above that I enjoyed the look and behavior of Radagast. I still stand by that. My only beef with Radagast in the film was the… SPOILER! again… rabbit-sled race to distract the orc band. “These are Rhosgobel rabbits!” I don’t even know what that means? He breeds super rabbits? And the sled just goes around and around, constantly bringing the orcs back to Thorin & Company who finally find a way to escape on their own. And Radagast just disappears then. It’s really Elrond and his elves who get rid of the orcs. So, the sled race went on way too long and, in my opinion, was superfluous in the first place.

Another part that went on a little too long was the Stone-giants scene in the Misty Mountains. I’m fine with them being in the film, but it seemed prolonged and didn’t really move the story forward. A few boulders crashing through the rain and knocking debris down on the company would have been plenty.

Just a brief note on the HFR: It didn’t really thrill me nor distract me. Maybe I’m just jaded from watching HDTV at home. Other than seeing the weave of Bilbo’s shirt and an absolutely stunning, crisp Gollum in all his slimy paleness, the HFR was just fine but nothing to get really worked up about (positively or negatively).

So, as you can see there were some disappointments but some absolutely enchanting moments, too. It could have been a great movie, but it wasn’t a failure as some seem to have suggested. Even with what I know of Peter Jackson’s additions and alterations, I’m still looking forward to seeing The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.

Dec 9

Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings Marathon

Posted on Sunday, December 9, 2012 in Film, Rant, Review

Yesterday, I attended The Lord of the Rings Marathon at my local movie theater. This was an all-day showing of each of Peter Jackson’s films based on Toikien’s magnum opus from 11:00 am to 11:30pm (with only a half hour break between each film). I also saw it with my children who never got the chance to see the films on the big screen when they were first released so that was fun, too. Viewing the film trilogy in one fell swoop was an eye-opening experience and really allowed me to see the work as a whole. I’d like to share some thoughts and favorite moments from the films. Some of these will be familiar from ten years of voluminous commentary in print and online, but this is meant to be my subjective reaction to Jackson’s opus.

There were probably around 20 to 25 people in the theater for our marathon, so it was somewhat of a shared experience. There were even a couple women who showed up in medieval gowns. Of course, no one talked to anyone else, but we all clapped when each film was over, and giggles went through the audience at several key points: Boromir’s “One does not simply walk into Mordor” line, Sam’s “PO-TA-TOES” line, Legolas’ “They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard“, and several others. My daughter and I enjoyed Elrond’s facepalm during the Council.

One of the things that struck me was the prevalence of clasped hands. Take a notice next time you happen to watch these films. I often saw one character reaching out for another’s hand and the other grasping the outstretched hand. The two biggies are Frodo rescuing Sam from the water when leaving the Fellowship, and Sam rescuing Frodo in the Sammath Naur. There are a number of others, and I wish I had kept track. One of the reasons it struck me was when it didn’t happen. When Aragorn stretches out his hand to Gríma after Théoden is ready to kill Wormtongue on the steps of Meduseld… and Gríma spits on Aragorn’s outstretched hand.

Not having viewed the trilogy for quite some time, another thing that struck me was the prevalence of tears. I knew there was crying, but, wow, that was a lot of tears over 12 hours of movies.

And the last plot device that struck me was people plunging off of cliffs. Gandalf in the first (okay, it’s a chasm but the effect’s the same); Aragorn in the second (not in the book); Denethor, Frodo and Gollum in the third (only one of those goes over in the book). Even Boromir plunged off the Falls of Rauros, but he was already dead. I may be reading too much into this, but it looked to me like Middle-earth needed a lot more signage to alert people of dangerous cliffs.

I do have some favorite moments from Jackson’s films:

  • Gandalf and the Bridge of Khazad-dûm
  • Gandalf driving out Saruman from Théoden
  • The ride of the Rohirrim into the forces of Mordor on the Pelennor
  • Any scene with Sindarin in it 🙂

There are more, but those really spring to mind. I do find it interesting that none of those first three occur in the movie exactly as they transpired in the canon. For example:

Fire came from [the Balrog’s] nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm
“You cannot pass,” he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”

“You cannot pass!”

Yes, a lot of the film dialogue in that scene is from the movie, but I think the change from “You cannot pass” to “You shall not pass” was a very good decision.

The episode between Gandalf and Théoden is also much more dramatic in the film than the book. The addition of Saruman’s possession of the king of Rohan appears to have helped that plot point along in the film. Kudos again to Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Peter Jackson. Finally, the ride of the Rohirrim. One scene I did want to see there was Théoden blowing on the horn until it “burst asunder” although I realize that might be a little difficult to pull off realistically.

I do believe that Jackson absolutely got the casting spot on with Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey and Christopher Lee as Saruman the White. In fact, McKellen’s Gandalf is one of the major reasons I can’t wait to see The Hobbit this coming week. In my opinion, Théoden, as portrayed by Bernard Hill, was also very regal and convincing. The design team also hit the nail on the head with the Black Riders, right down to the nails coming out of the bloody hooves of the horses. And Andy Serkis’ Gollum/Smeagol is always amazing (and disturbing… in a good way) to watch.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some scenes and plot points I don’t particularly like:

  • Elves at Helm’s Deep: If the Elves were going to show up anywhere, it would have been to come to the aid of Minas Tirith
  • Elrond himself bringing Narsil to Aragorn: This is like Capt. Kirk always having to lead the away team (Although I did go back to the book and see that Elrond’s son, Elrohir, was the one to remind Aragorn about taking the Paths of the Dead).
  • The avalanche of skulls in the Paths of the Dead: WTF?
  • Faramir taking Frodo, Sam, and Gollum to Osgiliath: Seemed a little needless
  • Aragorn’s angst: The “book Aragorn” seemed much more sure of himself and his duty to be king
  • Denethor’s death

That last one especially still bothers me. After watching it again yesterday, it seems to me that it would be easy to blame Gandalf for Denethor’s getting torched. In the film, Denethor even has a last moment of sanity looking at his son’s face before he bursts into flames and runs off the cliff. And it looked to me like Shadowfax either pushed him onto the pyre or, at the very least, Denethor was trying to get away from the rearing horse. In the book, it’s Denethor that takes the torch and leaps onto the pyre. He takes an active role in his self-immolation. In the film, it looks, in the end, to happen almost by accident.

I really enjoy the movies, but I have to remember that they’re based on Tolkien’s work. Masterfully adapted in many cases and even (gasp) improved-upon in some, but based nonetheless. I find that the films drive me back to the books and Middle-earth again, and maybe that is the most important thing. I’m fine with some people only experiencing Middle-earth through Jackson’s prism, but I would compare it to someone only knowing the Iliad through the Brad Pitt film. Yes, you can get a good idea of the characters and the plot, but there’s no substitute for returning to the source material.

Hannon le, Tolkien. Hannon le, Peter Jackson. Eglerio!

Dec 6

The Colbert Report… Now in Elvish!

Posted on Thursday, December 6, 2012 in Conlanging

I was inpired this week by Hobbit Week on the Colbert Report to delve into some Elvish. To be more exact, I wanted to see if I could translate the following into Quenya or Sindarin or both:

  • Stephen Colbert
  • The Colbert Report
  • Colbert Nation

I freely admit I’m no Helge Fauskanger or Måns Björkman, but I figured I’d do my best to puzzle through these translations. Besides, it seemed like a nice little challenge. With that admission, I am more than happy to hear suggestions for better translations. (Note: I did use Björkman’s Tengwar Eldamar for the transliterations into Tengwar below.)

To begin with: The name “Stephen”. According to Quenya Lapseparma, “Stephen” can be translated as Ríno or Rínon for “crowned”. It appears this word is attested in Sindarin, but it appears it could be a valid word in Quenya as well. So, we’re going with that.

“Colbert” was a little trickier. The easiest thing to do was to simply go phonetically and use Colber as the Elvish equivalent since he doesn’t pronounce the final -t. I did check and -lb- does seem to be a valid consonant cluster. However, I wanted to see if we could do a full Elvish. I then tried to look up the meaning of the surname. According to this and this, the name appears to mean something like “cool-bright” or “renowned, bright, famous.” Since “bright” seemed to come up in each, I decided to investigate that angle. It appears “brightest” is ancalima which many will remember from Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima! “Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars!”. So, taking the masculine ending -o, I arrived at Ancalimo as the very rough equivalent of “Colbert” thus giving Ríno Ancalimo or Ríno Colber “Stephen Colbert”.

Next came: The Colbert Report. I had “Colbert” handled from the first step. “Report” turned out to be much more difficult. I used Fauskanger’s Quenya wordlist and the Sindarin glossary from Ambar Eldaron. There does not appear to be a word for “report” so I looked up some synonyms and found the following Elvish possibilities (Q = Quenya; S = Sindarin):

  • quentalë “account, history” (Q)
  • quentasta *”historical account”, “any particular arrangement (by some author) of a series of records or evidences into a given historical account” (Q)
  • menta “message, sending” (Q)
  • canwa “announcement, order” (Q)
  • siniath “tidings, news” (S)
  • trenarn “tale, account” (S)

Lots of possibilities, but I decided on quentasta for the Quenya and siniath for the Sindarin: Quentasta since it involves an author (in this case, Ríno Colber) who arranges a series of records or accounts (on the show); siniath since “tidings” and “news” are pretty close to “report” at least in the sense of Colbert’s show. With that, I could now form:

I Siniath Colber “The Colbert News” (Sindarin)

I Quentasta Colberwa “The Account of Colbert” (Quenya)

I like the Quenya since both primary words end in a vowel the same way that “The Colbert Report” end in the -r sound. Of course, I could also use I Siniath Ancalimo and I Quentasta Ancalimova. Somehow, I like the Colber better.

Finally: Colbert Nation. This one had to use Colber so that was a given. The Quenya word nórë was tailor-made for this since it means “a land associated with a particular people”: I Colbernórë! However, The Colbert Nation is known to be a rowdy bunch, so I hopped over to Sindarin to find hoth as in the Glamhoth “The Yelling Horde” (orcs). Hoth has to do with a horde or host of people, so a Sindarin Colbert Nation seems to me to be better named I Colberhoth “The Colbert Horde!”

That’s my attempt! It was fun and hopefully somewhat correct 🙂

It is so refreshing to see someone revel in their Tolkien geekitude on television. As the audience says on The Colbert Report almost every night:

STEPHEN! STEPHEN! STEPHEN!… or wait, I guess that should be…

RÍNO! RÍNO! RÍNO! RÍNO!

Apr 22

I Love Library Booksales

Posted on Friday, April 22, 2011 in Books

I have the good fortune to work in a major public library, and our booksales always have a linguistic treasure or two. This season’s booksale just finished, and I picked up two books on Swahili (one a dictionary, one a “Teach Yourself” title) and a dictionary of German synonyms.

At other booksales, I’ve picked up books on learning languages and, a number of years ago, one outlining all the similarities between Scandinavian languages and Native American ones (trying to “prove” that Eastern Native American languages were directly related to the Viking settlers of North America, if I remember correctly).

There have been some ones I’ve kicked myself for not buying. I’m thinking especially of last year when I saw a complete set of The Lord of the Rings in a Russian translation. Saw it lying on a table and thought, “Oh, I need to stop back around and pick that up.” By the time I came back, they were gone. I even remember looking through them a the time and thinking, “Ah, no translation of the Appendices.”

Oh, well, I can curl up with my German synonyms, and see how I can create some vocabulary. Sure, I could have used a Roget’s, but synonyms in another language than English seemed a more interesting way to go.

Anyone willing to share any finds they’ve come across at library booksales?

Mar 4

One Conlanger to Rule Them All

Posted on Friday, March 4, 2011 in Books, Conlangers, Rant

The One Ring with the inscription in the Black Speech

Today, I downloaded the relatively-recent English translation of Kirill Eskov‘s Последний кольценосец (The Last Ringbearer), the story of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as told from the viewpoint of Mordor and its inhabitants.

I’m only a couple chapters into it, but it got me thinking: Conlangers should really root for Sauron in Tolkien’s work, because Sauron is a conlanger! From what we know, he singlehandedly devised the Black Speech to be used by those who serve him.

Well, that wasn’t very satisfying. After all, Sauron is the bad guy. (At least in Tolkien’s work, not Eskov’s). Who wants to root for the bad guy? (Although, I must admit, I thought Darth Vader was the coolest until I found out he was Luke’s father. Ew! And, mind you, this was way back when A New Hope was the first Star Wars film. But I digress…) So, I started thinking, and remembered Aulë who created the Dwarves and devised a language for them, Khuzdul. It’s interesting to keep in mind that Sauron was originally one of the Maiar of Aulë.

To the best of my knowledge, Aulë and Sauron are the only two conlangers in Middle-earth. Yes, it’s true a couple elves (i.e., Rúmil and Fëanor) devised writing systems, but they didn’t create entire languages.

So, who ya gonna root for? Ash durbatulûk.

Sep 2

Namárië, JRRT

Posted on Thursday, September 2, 2010 in Books, Conlangers

JRR Tolkien

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1973 of JRR Tolkien, arguably the Shakespeare of constructed languages. Although my personal penchant for playing with language (okay, that’s more than a sufficient amount of alliteration) dates back even to Dr. Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra in elementary school, Tolkien was a HUGE influence on my early conlanging efforts and beyond. My personal constructed world owes a lot (in its early incarnations) to Middle-earth. I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, but I think my favorite parts were the Appendices. It was the background that Tolkien felt compelled to create that really sparked my imagination and set me down the path of language creation.

Furthermore, “A Secret Vice” is still instructive and remains a pivotal, eloquent document in the line of apologetics for our craft which has continued with David J. Peterson’s The Conlang Manifesto and Boudewijn Rempt’s Apologia pro Imaginatione to name only two.

So, thank you, Professor Tolkien, for your inspiration.

Nan úye sére indo-ninya símen, ullume; ten sí ye tyelma, yéva tyel ar i narqelion, íre ilqa yéva nótina… (from Firiel’s Song)

(Note: The photo at left is one of my most enduring images of JRRT. It was the one on the back cover of the first edition of The Lord of the Rings that I ever bought.)