Return to Middle-Earth: The Scope and Score of the Hobbit

First, let us begin with the music.the-hobbit-soundtrack-special

From themes that awash me in vivid recollection of characters and sweeping Middle Earth scenery, to melodies that haunt and entertain, Howard Shore has produced a fantastic return to Tolkien’s universe. Songs that once possessed only vague tunes in my head as a young child now reverberate strongly and playfully with melodies wonderfully sung by the Dwarf Cast, (such as Blunt the Knives),and serve as gems amongst diamonds.

Now, having sincerely and lovingly said that, I must also report that this score is lighter than LOTR (but not flimsy). The Hobbit score’s overall feel has a less haunting emotion backing it, but embraces the book’s lightness. As for individual themes…

Some themes that are fresh to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, (such as Gandalf’s short, Six Gnossiennes reminiscent theme and the epic Misty Mountains melody) are memorable and stir my very soul with delight. Other favorites of mine include The Adventure Begins, The Trollshaws, Thunder Battle, and Riddles in the Dark. Others, such as Bilbo’s hesitant string theme (An Unexpected Party) are perhaps more forgettable than previous LOTR Hobbit selections, despite being an effective scene supporter. Meanwhile, Radagast’s panic stricken danger tune (Radagast the Brown) in which violins rasp with foreboding threat works well in the film, but frays my nerves when heard solely in my head-phones. But the only cringe-worthy track is Neil Finn’s rendition of the Song of the Lonely Mountain, which wouldn’t be half so horrible if only the lyrics were from the book, and not a re-telling of the movie script with a rhyme scheme. Then again, have I ever enjoyed a movie’s credits music, even with Annie Lennox’s tones reaching my ear? I must say that I found Finn’s voice pleasant and clear, and really can’t complain….that much.

But I’ve negatively digressed–the score is deep and, more importantly, fun to listen to. Themes from previous LOTR films, like that of Rivendell, are predominantly featured…in my web searching, I’ve found that many complain about this fact. But this reality seems only natural, seeing as we’re still in Middle Earth, and many familiar locations are revisited. Shore has composed a great work, with few cons weighing down the many pros in my viewpoint.

Now for the movie! Let me shout aloud that I’ve now seen it in theaters three times, and the charm hasn’t yet worn off. The-Hobbit_01

Firstly, the casting is phenomenal. Having read Tolkien’s first work so many times, I had a definite and absolute mental picture of what Bilbo Baggins should look like. I was not disappointed. Martin Freeman‘s performance was absolutely perfect; his portrayal of a homebody Baggins trying to tap into his inner Took side was phenomenal.  Standing out from amongst their dwarven brethren in both number of lines, facial zoom-ins, and character were Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Scott (Balin), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), Dean O’Gorman (Fili), Aidan Turner (Kili), and James Nesbitt (Bofur). However, Ian McKellan‘s return as Gandalf was the clincher. We can’t have Middle Earth without the timeless Gandalf.

As for the LOTR appendices “add-ins”…such as, Radagast the Brown and Azog, the one armed, hook fisted villain, I can only applaud. As extremely silly as the animal loving Radagast is, I couldn’t help but desire a bunny sleigh to ride into town on. Azog’s presence also adds more danger to the dwarves’ homeless plight. Seeing as An Unexpected Journey only used about 100 pages of the original Hobbit story, the two upcoming sequels have 170 pages of Hobbit to work with, along with a sure mixing of other Tolkien tidbits.

TheHobbitMap

The only tiring thing about the movie lies at its beautiful source: The Hobbit is a children’s book.  This fact leads to a much lighter plot, which involves sometimes “silly” occurrences in what LOTR fans might expect to be dark. However, having always known and loved The Hobbit’s tone, the only distraction I experienced while attempting to reach full movie immersion was my recognition of the movie’s recurring battle theme. Step 1) Fight begins 2) Characters fight valiantly but are soon overcome by foes 3) The rest of the party rushes in and saves the day, while booming Misty Mountains themes foreshadow their victory. But this isn’t really a complaint. No group of warriors–however ardent or lucky–can survive on their own without backup. And so, even this I can brush off.

In other words, I’m such a fan of the original material and of director Peter Jackson’s respect of Tolkien’s work, that both add-ins and recurring last minute “saves” were delightful and caused uncontrollable joy. Anything that prolongs my time in Middle Earth is a welcome friend.600full-the-hobbit -an-unexpected-journey-screenshot

But what really seals these excellent movies lies beyond seamless CG and breath-taking locations. These movies show that a film can be completely clean and still retain excellent quality. No curse words or illaudable content material mar this film.

I highly recommend this fantastic adventure.

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The Dark Knight Has Risen *Spoilers*

The Nolans are cinematic wizards. I only say it because it’s true.

Their Batman trilogy has far exceeded any other films featuring the caped crusader. (“Why do you blaspheme?” Tim Burton devotees cry). The main reason is the emotional heart put back into the story. Batman Begins does not start with a man in a cape jumping from rooftops…instead, we see the murder of a young Bruce Wayne’s parents, and the declining state of Gotham. We watch his transformation from an angry young man to wandering soul to imprisonment in a series of well-crafted flashbacks, and then understand his choice of cape and cowl. Once we have been fully won over to the hows  and whys  of the Batman, one of the characters sarcastically pokes fun at Bruce’s dramatization. “Well, well. You took my advice about theatricality a bit… literally.”

Each film resounds in it’s own fashion. Themes of Fear and Courage, Pain and Love, Betrayal and Trust are not simply spoken of; they are meshed into every turn of the plot, and woven into every interaction between characters. In Christopher Nolan’s own words, Batman Begins focuses on “Fear”, while The Dark Knight deals with “Chaos”. The third and final film brings these old focuses back, and brings harmony and completion to the series.

The acting is phenomenal. Christian Bale brings the Dark Knight to life with great talent. Michael Cain’s Alfred Pennyworth is what holds much of the movie together with his strong fatherly presence, and Morgan Freeman’s character makes the Batman’s acquiring of unrealistic gadgets entirely believable. Gary Oldman plays Jim Gordon, the future police commissioner of Gotham city, who becomes a great ally to the Batman. The selection of DC Villains is also superb, with Cillian Murphy playing a genuinely creepy weirdo, and Liam Neeson playing a mentor with an agenda.  Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is nearly as disturbing as the clown from It, and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman and Marion Cotillard join the cast in TDKR. Tom Hardy’s Bane brings us beyond the normal Villain/Movie Viewer relationship into one of understanding.

These villains show that this Batman series has forsaken lame, albeit classic bad guys, such as Killer Croc and the Penguin. Also, the translation of the mystical into realistic was done fantastically. Ras Al Ghul (meaning “Demon’s Head” in Aramaic) was originally ageless, thanks to the bubbling Lazarus Pits. But cinematic Ras Al Ghul was made more human, and given an actual death. His comic-book self was given several nods, however, both in movies one and three. Near the end of Batman Begins, Bruce is taken by surprise by his old mentor in a crowded room. When Bruce questions this mentor’s presence, he replies, “But is Ra’s al Ghul immortal? Are his methods supernatural?” This is also addressed in the newest installment, The Dark Knight Rises.

I also note that the plot of Batman Begins can be found in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series  in which the Scarecrow gases Gotham State University with Fear Gas.  In Batman Begins,  Ra’s al Ghul intends to use a Wayne Enterprises invention (a Microwave Emitter) to release a psychosis-inducing hallucinogen into the atmosphere, causing Gotham to be torn apart by its own population.


After Batman Begins came The Dark Knight. This movie focuses on what every Batman series has focused on–Bruce’s struggles against the villains that beleaguer Gotham. However, Heath Ledger’s portrayal is unique. He makes a truly horrifying Joker, a deranged man thoroughly equipped to disarm Gotham’s peace. The Joker’s stirring of Gotham’s criminals results in the fall of the city’s so-called White Knight, Harvey Dent (a “two-faced” politician–heh heh), and the death of Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s first love. Batman manages to foil the Joker’s schemes, but not without compromising his own ethics in the process. Driven by grief over his injuries, Dent, tipped over the edge into his insane alter-ego, Two Face, jeopardizes the legal victories he had previously won. Batman and Commissioner Gordon conspire to keep his madness a secret, with Batman taking the blame for his crimes instead.

Despite this film’s boldness with a controversial ending, and contrary to most of the population’s favor, this is my least favorite installment in the series…which isn’t to say I dislike it, but rather that  I find the Joker so very disturbing that his criminal antics go beyond entertainment into a dark spiral of movie watching. The movie accomplishes what it sought out to do, however, in showing that none of Batman’s actions go without consequence. This is perhaps the most powerful theme in the films.

With Dent’s sins forgotten, the fall of Batman’s good name will be addressed eight years later, when the start of The Dark Knight Rises shows us a Bruce Wayne overshadowed by guilt and shame.

In The Dark Knight Rises, Harvey Dent’s death is still being mourned. Dent is remembered as a hero, and has been honored with a holiday in his name–Harvey Dent Day. Batman is not remembered as kindly; having taken the fall for Dent, the Batman has vanished from Gotham’s streets.  The only man aware of the truth of things is Jim Gordon, whose police career may be over soon.

Eight years have passed since Batman’s name was tarnished. Bruce is now a shell of himself. He roams the East Wing of his mansion in true Disney‘s Beast fashion, hiding in shadows. Only when a Beauty (Catwoman) breaks into this sanctuary and makes off with a family heirloom does he come out of his depression. Alfred informs Bruce of past hopes he once held; that Bruce would find peace, and leave the cape and cowl behind.

When terrorist attacks led by the League of Shadows resurface, however, Bruce knows his time as Batman has not come to an end. Alfred gives a heartfelt ultimatum; he will not bury another member of the Wayne family. The attacks increase, however, and Bruce dons the cowl of Batman once more, leading to an abrupt departure of Alfred.

This movie brings the villains of the Nolan trilogy full circle. The leader of the terrorist attacks is Bane, a man so foul Ra’s al Ghul himself had excommunicated him from the League of Shadows, and indeed, he is perhaps the most intriguing villain in the trilogy. His character is laid out openly, and then challenged, leaving the viewers to see each new layer in turn. Bane not only challenges Batman physically, but mentally, and the result is disastrous. Since Ra’s death, Bane has come to Gotham to complete Ra’s failed mission. But not every villain shows themselves in the light. Batman will team up with Catwoman to fight against the terrorists, and seek out the part of himself that he had lost.

I absolutely love these movies. They ask questions that can be applied to any of us, and leave us with sentiments worth remembering. From Rachel Dawes’ line in Batman Begins “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me”, to the idea that “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat over a little boys shoulder to let him know the world hadn’t ended,” these films speak with wisdom.

The Nolans have created the Classic superhero films of our time.

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© 2012 Amanda Newman All Rights Reserved

No Habla Espanol

You know that moment when two complete strangers start speaking in Spanish right in front of you? They make some wisecrack about something, or ask a question that neither knows the answer to…then BAM! You surprise them by speaking in Espanol to them with perfect fluidity?

Unfortunately, this has never happened to me. I’m the English speaker (basically an unimpressive one trick pony in these parts), who struggles to make out the words “perro” or “dia”, despite having taken a Spanish class sophomore year. But no more. Because this perro viejo is about to learn some new tricks.

In an episode of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern meets up with a guide in Africa who taught himself English simply by reading American magazines. No text books, no Pimsleur’s approach. This inspired me. I fetched my English/Spanish Bible from the shelf and set to work.

This has been an immense blessing. Not only am I doubly motivated to read God’s Word, but remembering those memory verses in English isn’t so much of a chore anymore.

Psalms, or Salmos, 18:1-2 was my introduction to memorizing Spanish vocabulary.

Te amo, oh Jehova, fortaleza mia…”

The Spanish was brought to life.

So no more, no habla. Now I say say Hola to Espanol.

One Amazing Team: Mark and Bopper

Although I’m no fan of The Amazing Race, season eleven brought a team that I absolutely, completely wanted to win the end prize. Mark Jackson and “Bopper” Minton of Clay County, Kentucky, graced this year’s race with good natures and a country draaawwl.

Their reason for entering the race? For their kids. That beats selfish “gotta have the money” reasoning any day. And while this country duo’s had their share of disagreements, their discussions never seem to escalate like the teams that drive me batty.

Perhaps the most humbling moment was when Mark, dehydrated and sick, was about ready to quit a complicated challenge as he sweated beneath India’s sweltering sun. But did he quit? No! Bopper gives the reminder that they have to finish it for their families, and Mark is back at it, suffering in silence…and his ethic pays off. They make it in dead last, but thankfully a non-elimination round saves them for one last trek.

Their last stretch began in last, and despite mastering the art of drawing tigers on men’s chests and rushing to a Fast Forward, the country boys are sent home.

But even when they went out, they went out well. No name calling, no bitter tears, just a sentiment of “We came into this as friends and we’re leaving as friends.”

So stay classy, Mark and Bopper, and thanks for a great run.

For another dose of Kentucky, this article at seattlepi.com is fantastic: http://www.seattlepi.com/ae/tv/tvguide/article/Amazing-Race-s-Bopper-and-Mark-Our-Friendship-Is-3522257.php

Why I’m Sympathetic Toward Angry Birds

Me. Birds. Birds and me. We have a sordid history together. Take, for example, the swan that gracefully came floating off the sea one day, a long time ago. Child-me watched this swan with eager eyes…until sea swan caught sight of me. I only have a vague impression of fear, a distant memory of sprinting up the shore, with this swan (that may as well have been twelve feet tall) in hot pursuit of three year old me, and my shouting father in hot pursuit of enraged sea swan.

Now that was an angry bird.

But despite a serious dislike of all water fowl, present-day-me has a healthy relationship with Rovio’s scowling, winged kamikazes. Angry Birds  is a challenging, brain stretching game that pits your tiny bird army against smug little piggy heads. And having been sneered at by these pigs, there’s no question as to why these birds are so upset.

Those pigs have the nerve to come onto what’s obviously bird territory, set up tiny fortresses with Jenga blocks, ice cubes and rocks, and laugh as the feather’s fly???!!

Having just found Angry Birds for free on  Facebook, the war of fowl against swine has come full circle. With me at the helm of the slingshot, piggy fortress going down. Come join the fight!

Free Wallpapers such as this found at http://www.gamerswallpapers.com/

Madnessville: Facebook Games

Ah, Facebook. I try to break free of your addictive grip, but who am I kidding? I enjoy connecting with too many friends in far away places, talking with family I wouldn’t know well otherwise, and feeling the thrill of seeing the tiny number “1” in my notifications.

Recently, I’ve gotten sucked into the fatal, spinning vortex of Castleville. I guess I didn’t learn any lessons from having crawled out of Farmville‘s black hole, because I dutifully dispel Gloom Wolves and wait with bated breath for more energy.

But I had to laugh when I saw the new stickers on chip bags, giving away free items for the “ville” games. And what’s with the relentless adds online, pushing me to pull out my wallet just to purchase a fruity St. Patrick’s Day Dapper Horse, or Celtic Tights with nifty sword attached? Not cool, Zynga. I realize that’s how you make your money, but still, not cool.

There’s also the complaints I might begin receiving from friends to consider. I mean, this is a real issue for anyone looking to take up the Facebook game banner. If your experience is anything like mine, it begins with an occasional post asking for nails or horseshoes…pretty soon, you’re begging for Easter eggs for your bunnies, and shards of rare crystal for your princess’ tower. It drives me crazy when I can’t complete my bakery quests, just because two people haven’t sent me fancy virtual chocolate. This frustration is redundant, I know; it’s kind of like begging an imaginary friend to arm wrestle with you, then pouting over his refusal.

Also, the whole Martha Stewart thing is weird.

So here is my proposal–make a game, in which your avatar is just an average Facebook user, and bombard her with adds from “Hot Christian Singles” (what Christian guy would be showing off his Schwarzenegger abs, anyway?) and notifications of inane “Pokes”. Have her refuse FB creepers from her friend requests and message friends in Ohio. Then you could make a virtual FB profile, and add friends onto your game account.

Zynga Heads to the Grocery Aisle

Found at allfacebook.com

It’d be hilarious. It’d be the next Cow Clicker.

But rant aside, and as ridiculous as any game is that requires you to lean on other people’s facebook generosity, Zynga definitely has me held in an iron grip.

Play on, Facebook gamers. Play on. And send me a rolling pin for Raphael!!

Execute Error Order E74

Well, friends, it’s happened. My Xbox 360 has been stricken with that sickening scourge, that deadly disease, that hideously heinous, abominable Error 74!!!

At first, I wasn’t too crushed. When I first discovered this problem, I chose to be blissfully ignorant of the specifics for a few hours…despite my inner voice, which psychotically screamed Noooooo!! I just got to level 28 in Skyrim!!! A detailed research session later on, though, confirmed my worst suspicions…that it might take more than a quick fix to get my 360 back on its metaphorical feet.

Error 74

Now, there are two ways to go about fixing your 360. One way is to send it into Microsoft for repairs. But I wouldn’t recommend this. Microsoft is notorious for taking several months for repairs, and gamers have been known to receive their Xboxs back with either wiped hard-drives or completely different consoles, (often second hand). Either way, you might lose your saved games and Gamer Points. The fee is another cause of worry--you might save more just purchasing a new console than repairing the old.

Oh, and that old towel trick we’ve all heard so much about? You may get it working again for a short while,  but do not attempt it--you might just fry your Xbox for good.

Now, what are the causes of Error 74?

The real answer is heat. For this reason, I would recommend purchasing an Intercooler, a small cooling unit that attaches right over the 360’s main cooling vent. (I purchased mine at Wal-Mart.) It does an excellent job, and has saved my Xbox’s hardware for years…unfortunately, nothing seems capable of staving off Xbox’s infamous overheating issues. Is anybody else sensing a conspiracy by Microsoft here?

Another cause seems to be a loose scaling chip. This chip acts like a graphics card, and the stress put upon it after heating then cooling causes the thermal glue that holds it to loosen, rendering your Xbox a useless piece of machinery.

Then again, you could be the occasional, lucky gamer whose only problem is a bad AV cable. Thankfully, this was my problem.

If a bad cable is not your problem, then there are several books available for purchase or download that give detailed instructions on how to remove the 360’s casing and access the motherboard.

For us, however, one quick cable change, and our 360 was working well again. My Skyrim saves were all well and intact, and my very soul sighed a breath of relief.

Now that I’ve become paranoid about my 360’s health, I think I’ll break the seal (my warranty wore out a long time ago, anyway) and give the motherboard a good dusting with some compressed air. I’ll also be backing up some saved games on a flash drive later.

Take that, E74!