Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review of The Hobbit

I sat through a 3D IMAX viewing of The Hobbit today, along with the extended preview of the new Star Trek movie.  In the end, I found myself liking The Hobbit (three out of five stars) and loving the Star Trek preview. 

I went in a bit excited.  I had heard the hype about the new high speed filming technique though I must admit, I was a little strained at the concept of turning The Hobbit into a trilogy.  My concerns were semi-justified.  The Hobbit is a good movie – it’s just not great, which is a shame. 

We all know that The Hobbit was intended as the enchanting prelude to the Lord of the Rings.  Got it.  But when Professor Tolkien penned the book, he made it stand alone.  It was the journey of Bilbo Baggins who happened to find a magical ring that made him invisible.  We saw Bilbo grow, overcoming his weaknesses, and becoming more of a character that was heroic. 

We get that in the movie, but Peter Jackson has made this first film more of a prequel to the Lord of the Rings than was ever necessary.  Yes, it adds to the story, and I’m sure the die hard fans of the Lord of the Rings movies will devour this addition to the original story as new canon.  I didn’t.  It seemed to draw me away from the real plot and story that the movie should be focused on – Bilbo’s journey. 

When the movie focuses on the material from the book, it’s good.  Jackson has added a lot of additional depth which I’m not convinced makes the story.  The build-up of Thorin’s nemesis, the injured Orc king, while nice, detracts from the original story. 

The battle in the Goblin King’s lair felt a little over-the-top to me.  It felt like Jackson was trying to top his scenes from the Mines of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring.  But hey, there was a lot of action so I enjoyed it.

From a character standpoint, I got the dwarves confused.  With a couple of exceptions, they didn’t come across as individual characters but as a merged group of characters.  I’m hoping this will change in the coming movies. 

We don’t get to see Smaug the dragon in this movie, not entirely.  We get enough snippets to know one thing, he’s scary as all hell. 

I’m not a purist to Tolkien’s texts, but The Hobbit holds a spot near and dear to me as a book I’ve read seven or more times in my life.  The movie was good, but it could have been betting if it had stuck to the original book’s themes without the additions.  Just my personal opinion.  I’d say check out the movie, but go in prepared to see something more than the book.  You will need to determine if that is a good thing or not.    

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Game of Thrones Fixation

Having now made it through season two of HBO’s rendition of Game of Thrones I find myself inspired.  I read the first book of the series, A Song of Fire and Ice, I am unsure if I want to read the second book.  HBO has done such a great job of rendering the story to the screen, it’s hard to say that it would be any better to read the book.  With season three coming in March, I’m not sure if I’d enjoy reading or watching it first.  Even worse, do I even need to read the books since the series does such a good job of retelling the story?  If you haven’t seen it, the series is that good.  This may be one of the rare times where a movie may cut into book sales (though I tend to doubt it) because the quality is so high. 

For the first time ever as a writer I’m contemplating writing a fantasy series.  This began two years back, even before I got drawn into the kingdom of Westeros I started my Dungeons & Dragons campaign world back when I purchased my white book set (first edition).  Each time I start anew, the universe I’m writing has begun to evolve.  With influences like Katherine Kurtz and now George R. R. Martin, I am envisioning a final stage of the evolution – into a series of novels.  Just documenting the lead characters and factions have already taken up dozens of pages.  A year ago I began to cull my notes into an organized fashion – which is usually a precursor for me to undertake writing a book.  I did it almost unconsciously, even before I began a GoT addict.  Watching the series has begun to inspire me though. 

As a writer – do I really want to go there?

The appeal of George R. R. Martin’s kingdom of Westeros is that it has been highly defined.  The complete history of the characters for generations is mapped out.  The history of the world is well defined.  There are characters we love, and those we hate (Joffrey - let's be honest, he's not even lovable to his mother by the end of season 2).  There is the hint to true history, The War of the Roses (Lancaster’s vs. York’s) being reflected in the Lannister’s vs. the Starks.  The word is rich but not overpowering.  Seemingly minor characters rise to the forefront.  Politics trumps swordplay.  Major characters can and are killed.  Each character has a journey they follow as they evolve (or devolve). 

As I stare at my author’s notes and concepts I know I would not be doing a Game of Throne’s knock-off.  My story is very different, but no matter what, people will draw parallels.  Martin has set a new standard for such fantasy book series.  People have incredible expectations now for such series.  And undertaking it would not be a short journey, it would take years to craft this story the right way. 

As a writer, I'm always tackling new genres.  Fantasy doesn't scare me.  Living up to the expectations of readers does.  

Yet despite this the lure of penning a massive fantasy series has a lot of appeal.  What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting Ready for the Late December Gaming Sessions

My son Alex (aka his professional name, William) will be back from Michigan this holiday season, as will our neighbors/friends the Rivenburgs which can only mean one thing – gaming!  I’m not talking online – I mean boardgames, miniatures, and RPG’s. 

On deck this season is a planned monster game of Leviathans!  If you haven’t picked up the game, order it.  We’re talking a steampunk miniatures boardgame set at the turn of the century – with flying battleships!  I did some of the background fiction writing and playtesting of the game system and Alex did some playtests of the game early on.  Naturally I'm biased that the game is incredible.  We’re planning on a big battle which I will be photographing the moves for a future blog post.  We’re talking big – two full game sets plus all of the additional ships from the expansion packs and the ones we won at GenCon.  This is going to be brutal, massive, and painful.  I can’t wait. 

Miniatures and board games are great but you have to have opponents.  Leviathans launched a Kickstarter to have a mobile device version of the game and I have to admit, I’m geeked.  Finally all of the fun of the game and I don’t have to wait months for players.  Go to and check it out. 

I picked up Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars X-Wing fighter combat game this year too.  Love the minis and from what I’ve seen of the system, this is going to be a lot of fun to play.  Alex was always a Star Wars fan so this should be a hoot to break out. 

I have been recently making the proverbial hop from Dungeons and Dragons to Pathfinder, thanks to Barry Buchanan.  In high school I Barry played in my group and at GenCon two years ago he convinced me to try Pathfinder.  I was shocked.  One, it was well written.  Two, it simplified all of the overburdened rules of D&D.  For years now I have had a well planned fantasy game setting that I am revamping now to incorporate Pathfinder.  Not only that, but I’m planning a seven book series on the universe setting – one I’ve been working on since college.  The downside, it’s as complicated and complex as Game of Thrones.  The upside, it’s as complicated and complex as Game of Thrones.  I hope to get in one session during the time between Christmas and New Years.  That, or Mutants and Masterminds.  Let’s be honest, this is a win-win scenario for me. 

Finally, nothing says loving like invading the United States of America Red-Dawn style.  Yup, time to break out the new edition of Fortress America.   I played this puppy at Gen Con and got hooked on it all over again.