Less about the world, more about me.

Month: December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

(no spoilers)

I’ve been looking forward to writing this review for a number of years now. The project was beset by delay after delay, but fortunately all these setbacks merely served to whet my appetite.

I consulted the hive mind that is the twitterverse, as to the largest cinema screens in Ireland, and I booked tickets for The Odeon and The Savoy. I watched it on a Sunday evening and then the following day.

The film itself? Hmmmmmm. As a Tolkien fan, I loved it. The length, the self-indulgence, the unnecessary back-stories, the length, the reintroduction of old favourites, necessary and superfluous, the length, the beauty of New Zealand, Rivendell, the length, Riddles in the Dark, the snippets of humour and finally the length.

As a fan of film though, oh my Eru, it was fierce long. There was a point in my first viewing where I felt a pang of anger towards Peter Jackson for causing two terms to find their way into my mind. These were franchise and Star War Episode 1. An Unexpected Journey is no Phantom Menace, in that it does not merit the opprobrium poured on the head of Episode 1, but in releasing what is essentially a Director’s Cut, as a theoretical version of a story, that non-nerds won’t be familiar with, Peter Jackson has risked turning this franchise (oh how the snob in me hates that term) into something only those of us who have done the required reading will truly enjoy.

Other criticisms include some of the ‘forced-perspective’ shots not working, Azog looking a bit video-gamish and I can only imagine how enraging the appearance of the eagles will be.

The second time I watched it, I enjoyed it all the more, as I put aside all the problems I saw in the first viewing. The 3D was unobtrusive and as mentioned, it all looked beautiful. Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins was a delight. McKellen’s Gandalf the Grey more fun than the colossus that bestrode Lord of the Rings. Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield was wonderful. And finally Gollum was truly excellent. Riddles in the Dark, while not a long scene, was near perfect.

The depiction of the Battle of Azanulbizar though not canon, was brilliantly done. The White Council was very cool and filled with unexpected tension. Though as an aside, I do tire of watching The Lady Galadriel walking so slowly, as if this somehow enhances her gravitas. And Radagast the Brown’s brief encounter with some old enemies was an eye opener. Radagast himself will turn many people off, but I’m ok with the extreme depiction.

I look forward to Part 2, with my enthusiasm undimmed. The money has already been committed to the project, so I know it will be completed. And if Jackson chooses to continue in the vein, then he can expect me to fork over my euros without pause. But I won’t be able to recommend these movies to my non-nerd friends. And I think that unfortunate.There was a huge amount of good will built up by The Lord of the Rings, among the non-initiated. I fear this franchise, well this one film alone, will fritter away all that good will.

Fortunately, HBO’s Game of Thrones is proving successful enough, that I don’t have to overly worry about Jackson single-handedly destroying the genre.

But I have to say, I can’t wait to see it again. And I am giddy at the thought of a Director’s Cut.

In the Pale Moonlight

If there is one thing that Deep Space 9 has taught us, is that Deep Space 9 can teach us everything. For example, if one wishes to explain how short-form and long-form story telling can be present on one television show, then Deep Space 9 will provide an example of these forms and show how they interact within a series. Of course on TV, the terms episodic and story-arc, are used to describe the short and long term aims of a single dramatic piece. 

The episode which best demonstrates these two concepts, operating together, is ‘In The Pale Moonlight’ (Season6 Episode19). Generally thought of as among the very best that DS9 has to offer. 

In brief, our beloved United Federation of Planets is locked in a fight to the death with The Founders. The war is not going well. The denizens of DS9 are confronted with ever growing casualty lists. Friends and colleagues are appearing on these lists with growing frequency. Then Betazed falls. Commander Deanna Troi’s home planet falls to the enemy. Disaster. The Federation is out of friends and seemingly out of options.  

The Federation is forced to try something underhanded and morally dubious. Captain Sisko is expected to find a way to bring The Romulan Empire into the War, on the side of The Federation. To achieve this, Sisko plots with a Cardassian Master Spy, called Garak, to create evidence of a Founder plan to invade The Romulan Empire. Murder, assassination, espionage and various other unFederation actions ensue. Result being, The Romulan Empire is tricked into declaring war on The Founders.

That’s the entire episode, in 150 words. A plan is hatched, the plan succeeds, the end. Anyone not having watched Deep Space 9 before, or any of the Star Treks for that matter, will be able to follow the story. The episode stands as a discrete piece of drama. Little nods though, are given to the fans, like Betazed falling or more immediately, the now ironic rejection of realpolitik as the theme of the previous episode. But it can be understood by the uninitiated. This is an episode.

It is also exists as part of a larger story. Or more accurately, as part of a larger series of story arcs. The war with the Founders, Garak’s attempts to free his beloved Cardassia, the demands forced on Sisko by his duties to The Federation and to The Prophets and the larger implications for the geopolitical situation in the alpha-quadrant are all arcs which are served by this stand alone episode.

The strength of a series, especially in the pre-boxset and digital recoding eras, was the ability to entertain both the diehards and the occasional viewer. On could tune into an episode of Cheers and not know its provenance. but in the first ten seconds one would discern that Sam was a slut with a heart of gold. He has unresolved feelings towards the terminally uptight Diane. Norm is a barfly and Carla a harsh tongued independent woman.  

Back then there might be the occasional two-part episode and the second part would be preceded by a reminder of what was going on. If one was to try that with a demanding series like Homeland, the entire episode would be taken up with call-back. 

One now only sees the episode and the arc co-existing in soap-operas. One can dip in and out of ‘London Harpies and Their Wide Boys Being Shrill’ and have an idea what is going on. The devoted fan however, cannot afford to miss an episode. A particular arc may end, but it will spawn others. A series of true quality, will provide riveting episodes that both stand alone and continually move these arcs along. Deep Space 9 always did this, it was the Space Opera extraordinaire.  

Catholic Politicians

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman –  19 December 2012 edition

In the recent American Presidential Election, great emphasis was put on the fact that the incumbent Vice-President Joe Biden, and his challenger Paul Ryan are Catholic. Many asked if their faith would influence the decisions they’d make while in Office.

The answers these two Catholic men gave, could not have been more different. Joe Biden said his faith was a private matter and it wasn’t his place to impose his faith on others. Paul Ryan answered that he would govern as a Roman Catholic.  

You might think it remarkable that this question was asked, but don’t forget that the USA had always considered itself to be a White Protestant Nation. John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic President and don’t think he didn’t have to give a bit of reassurance about not imposing Rome Rule.

This election, the Americans chose men of faith, but men who would not impose their particular faiths. This had never been an issue in Ireland as we have always had Catholic men, ruling as Catholics, wielding their Catholic Constitution. The few Protestants left in the Free State after independence, were slowly pushed near out of existence. We became even less diverse.

Fortunately for those of us who are not Catholic, or who’s Catholicism is worn lightly, Ireland again has difference. There are even atheists about the place. And this change means that our Catholic politicians must now face the questions that Biden and Ryan faced. 

Will our politicians insist that non-Catholics adhere to Roman Catholic dogma? Will our schools and hospitals remain Catholic? Will gay people continue to be second class citizens? Will women ever be allowed to control their own bodies? 

I consider myself most fortunate to be a citizen of an increasingly multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and an ever so slowly secularising 21st Century Republic. I’d hate to see us return to the days when priests and bishops could command our leaders. Do we really want to return to a time when Catholicism was law and the law was Catholic? We know where that led. We know what the consequences are, when a religion is given too much power.   

I hope we don’t allow ourselves be herded backwards. And I hope our Catholic politicians will put their duty to us before their loyalty to their church.

Savita, A Hero

As appeared in Letters – The Kerryman –  5 December 2012 edition

There is something the dead do for us, that no one living can ever manage. They become whatever symbol we demand of them. Whatever symbol suits us best. And who better demonstrates this, than the Men of 16?

Within a few short years, heroes were killing heroes, based on what they thought dead heroes would have done. No one can ask the dead what they think, so a mother of ten children, can be kidnapped, tortured, murdered and her body not returned to her family, because that is what someone thought the Men of 16 would have done.

Not that using the dead is always a bad thing. How many young men and women were inspired by their dead heroes to fight in The War of Independence? It wasn’t a war of chivalry. It was ugly and people died ugly, but the Men of 16 inspired heroism.

Unless of course one is a Unionist. Then the Men of 16, were, and have aways been, a symbol of wrong. They have their King Billy. He might be dead longer than our dead, but dead is dead.

Today we have a new dead hero to inspire us, Savita Halappanavar. We don’t know all the reasons behind why she is dead but the truth hardly matters.

Savita is no longer real to anyone other than her family and the medical professionals who treated her. She now exists as a symbol of inspiration to those who wish to fight for a county not yet realised. A country where women are safe and respected.

Of course safe and protected mean diametrically opposed things to different people. In a recent poll, 36% of people were of the opinion, women are best protected and respected by a right to choose an abortion. Fine Gael received 36.1% of the votes cast in 2011.

For that 36%, Savita is a hero. What she’d think if she’d survived, is immaterial. She was denied an abortion. She died.

In this poll, over 80% were shown to want the x-case legislated for. Most of these people do not want abortion on demand. Savita is still their hero. No matter why she died, over 80% of Irish people now refuse to accept legal grey areas continuing to exist. A woman’s life is too important and the law must reflect this. Over 80%. That’s the combined votes of Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.

Like all our dead heroes, Savita Halappanavar will divide us as she inspires us. We don’t even know for sure how and why she died, but we are certain she is another dead hero, to be used as we see fit. And we are certain that she is inspiring change, even if it is taking our betters an inordinate amount of time to realise it.
Kerryman 05-12-12

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