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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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/

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!

Are you Connected?

Connection speeds. Just mention this to anyone who knows a gigabyte from a word processor, and you’ll have waded into some deep waters.

But there’s another type of connection I’d like to ramble about–the connection between you and me, between you and your mother, between your friend and his estranged great uncle. The power of connection is not just the punchline to an annoying homeschooler joke, or something we need to get by in the work force. It’s a key to happiness.

What? Scoffs the scoffer. Everyone knows how to be social.

But when was the last time you had a failed attempt at conversation, because the other person didn’t seem to know how to carry on, or lost interest in what you were saying? In my experience, it’s always the “cool” people who just don’t understand some of the basics of making people feel welcome, accepted, or good about themselves. Like waiting for your dial-up to, well, dial up, making friends with such people is an arduous, often disappointing task.

Having recently lived through a frustrating week of such behavior, I decided to do some research about other people’s research. My search brought me to a wonderful book. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, (and the more recent update, which pins ‘In the Digital Age’ to the title), is choke full of anecdotes, examples from history, and wise advice, without ever stepping over the line from helpful to indulgent self-help book.

Some of the counsel Carnegie writes is wonderfully simple. Such as, the effectiveness of a smile.

Just yesterday, I stood in a long, dawdling line to the women’s restroom. My attitude was of sleep deprived, road weary traveler, eager to hit the road and get home–so naturally, while I wasn’t scowling, I wasn’t exactly exuding joy. The little blond girl who stood in front of me, however, had a much different outlook. After looking up at me curiously, she gave me an uncertain smile which, although lacking confidence, was so genuine it brought a smile to my own face. We then talked about her cowboy boots. Later, toting her Big Gulp toward her mother in the store, she noticed me again and waved enthusiastically to the stranger from the bathroom.

That kid brightened my whole day. And although I wouldn’t recommend engaging most strangers in gas stations as she did, I was thankful she had chosen to shine a little bit of her sunshine onto me.

In conclusion, I would hypothesize that sociability is not how many friends you hang out with, but how genuine those relationships are. And to really speed our connections up, I would also define it as being polite. Not, pinky up, polite, but considerate and kind–making others realize the worth in themselves by taking an interest in them. Anyone who does that meets my standard of “cool.”

 

Nerd? Geek? Neek.

My evening began with creating this blog. But as I typed in possible URLs, a question began to form in my gray matter. Am I a geek…or am I a nerd? A little bit of Google searching helped me answer this quandary. It appears that, to be a geek, one must have obsessive interests, yet to be a nerd, one must have the same qualities as a geek but also must be socially awkward.

But is this the true test of one’s geeky/nerdy tendencies? We all know Steve Urkel was a nerd, but was he not a geek also? Do we really have to pick and choose what titles we want with our name? Am I not made a nerd by simply having the need to Google search and find out what category the world puts me under? Or is that just obsessive enough only to be geeky?

I’ve convinced myself. This needs further study.

A trait all nerds and geeks have in common is their love of pop culture. What city did Darkman become Darkman in? What year did the Who start making awesome music? How many hours of extra features am I buying with my new director’s cut version of my favorite movie? Our very souls cry out to know these things. We thirst for knowledge that most find pointless, nerdy even. But every nerd/geek will always have a home on a Trivial Pursuit team, will be welcomed into the Cash Cab with great thanksgiving, because there comes a point where we realize that we just know. There’s no point in explaining where you acquired all your knowledge, because once word gets out about what you are, there’s no turning back.

As for me, I’d like to coin a new term. Neek. That’s me. I wouldn’t say I’m on the level of Urkel, but I’m no James Bond either. But neek or not, I still like my URL…and the nerd train rolls on!

http://thesaurus.com/browse/nerd