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Down to Middle-Earth.

Full disclosure: my first fantasy love was the Lord of The Rings.

Not the book , but Brian Sibley’s BBC radio adaptation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Peter Jackson’s adaptations. LOVE . THEM. But for me, Frodo will always sound like Ian Holms, Gandalf sounds like the grand Michael Hordern, Aragorn is the slightly fay, lispy Robert Stevens, and Peter Woodthorpe is the vocal Andy Serkis as Gollum.

One element the movie, radio, and book share is a sense of realism. Jackson’s trilogy is a movie about people first. The fantasy elements come second.  Brian Sibley’s version retained the elements of a simpler time that is dominant in Tolkien’s books. Middle Earth is our Earth. Granted, it’s during some nebulous period of prehistory, but the inhabitants of Middle Earth look up at the same moon as we do. They count the same stars and follow the same constellations.

Unfortunately for subsequent fantasy authors, Tolkien called “Shotgun” on Earth as the setting for classic fantasy. True, Howard’s Hyborean Age is also prehistoric Earth, but, for the most part, authors now set their fantasy adventures on other worlds: Krynn, Faerun, Westeros, The Land, and that place that Jordan set his books, but we’re stilled pissed at him so it doesn’t matter.

Wherever they are set, what I find myself responding to as I get older it that sense of realism – the idea that what freaks us out freaks them out, that if our heroes want to get from point A to point B, they have to walk, not use some magical doorway. (Although riding the Eagles to Mt. Doom wouldn’t have hurt).

As a kid, I wasn’t aware of any of this and after my first round of Tolkien, I spent my high school years branching out to other fantasy authors: Weis and Hickman, Brooks, Donaldson and many many many Forgotten Realms novels.

I used to eat them up. I loved them.

Then something changed. I don’t know when it was or why (age?) but I soon became less interested in magic-floaty lamps and more interested in wax candles.  Soon Drizz’t  Do’urde’s battle with yet another Ur-Demon from the 3rd Plane of the Universal wah wah wah was trumped by my fascination with the fact the Samwise Gamgee had never seen an elephant before, let alone an Elf. I began to appreciate that Conan’s cry of “Crom!!”, when he faced some devilry, was the Cymmerian equivalent of “What the fuck is that???!!”

When the fantastic elements of Classic Fantasy become commonplace, it’s less interesting.  One of my closest friends refers to it as “magic as science”. He’s right. That magic-floaty lamp is the fantasy equivalent of my halogen. It’s a tool. Mundane and commonplace.

It lacks a sense of wonder.

It’s led me to seek out fantasy stories which are more down to earth and grounded. It’s one of the reasons why I like Martin so much (but, seriously, dude, don’t pull a Jordan, wrap that shit up!) because his books are based in a believable world for the time period. Yes, there are dragons and magic, but both are rare and wondrous. When Gandalf faced off against the Balrog he didn’t say “Great. Another demon of the underworld. No problem, folks. I got this.” he said, “Fly, you fools!” while the rest of the Fellowship shit their pants.

Another side to this coin is characters acting appropriate for the time in which they lived. Whatever world the story takes place, it’s implied that it’s a simpler long forgotten period of history. The characters of a time long gone probably don’t have the exact terms to describe things they encounter. Their world view shouldn’t be the same as ours is in the 21st Century. My biggest example and pet peeve is the use of the term “humans” to differentiate us from elves, dwarves or whatever equivalent the author is using. For my gold,  “Human” is a relatively modern term that implies a more scientific understanding of humanity. For us in the real world, that concept didn’t begin until the Renaissance.  If you asked a hobbit what species that tall guy is from, he’d just tell you he’s a man. Sure, it’s dismissive of the female of the species, but these characters don’t mean any slight to women. They just don’t know any better. When it comes to sci-fi, it’s “humans” all the way, but when it comes to my fantasy, it’s the race of Men with a capital “M”.

So enough of the ramblings of a quickly aging member of the race of Men. What kind of fantasy do you like and why? Do you prefer the escapism of Drizzt? Or the realism of Ned Stark?  Do you like Wizard Wars? Or are you more of a cheese and pipe-weed Gandalf lover?

Gentle reader, we at the Starblog offices want to know!

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Classic Scenes is a new segment we are adding to the Starblog and it is just that – classic scenes that we all know and love from movies past. With our lives so busy and hectic, it’s good to stop for five minutes and revisit some old friends.

For our first installment, I thought the Rescue Scene from Superman: The Movie (1979).  In a world as crazy as ours, take five minutes to remember when you believed a man could fly.

 

It all balances out a heck of a lot better than I imagined it would going in to see Predators. Adrien Brody can act with greater subtlety and emotion than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold Schwarzenegger can use Adrien Brody as dental floss. On the whole though, Brody’s “Royce” and Schwarzennegger’s “Dutch” both do well to kick ass and entertain as they kick it. Neither film bogs down too far in preaching, delivering any slight messages in enough blood sugar coating to make them go down smooth.

In 1987, Schwarzenegger was the onscreen epitome of Reagan era gung ho American manliness. I do not say this like it’s a bad thing. In fact it is sorely lacking in Hollywood action heroes of this apologetic, contrite, “we did bad” time in which we live and watch movies. Supporting Schwarzenegger, Predator features a cast of badasses: Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham. This team of commandoes is the best of the best and is charged with rescuing hostages from rebels in their South American stronghold. In the course of this mission, they are at first duped by the CIA into wiping out an entire rebel group and then pursued for the balance of the picture by the titular Predator, an alien hunter who dispatches one and all until he meets his match in Dutch. It is a cast of basically good guys, marked for death on account of their own warrior prowess.

Enter Adrien Brody and today’s Predators. Chosen not for their strength or military abilities, this band of bad brothers is brought to the aliens’ hunting preserve because of their own predatory natures. They are masters of their domain on our home planet, each having developed a skill set that puts them at the top of the food chain. To be sure, there are soldiers among them but they are a disgraced former IDF sniper (Alice Braga) and a black souled mercenary (Brody). Other members of the “team” include Mexican cartel muscle, a Sierra Leone death squad member, a rapist, and an apparent serial killer. In short, they are today’s Hollywood moral equivalence, writ high concept. But producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal wisely choose plot over proselytizing, cranking nicely through Alex Litvak and Michael Finch’s script. In fact, at the points where the filmmaker slows down to develop character, we hit the major snag of the aforementioned prevalent policy of moral equivalence – and that is we don’t care too much when a certain character is killed and in fact look forward to the deaths of some long before they actually meet their fate. Walton Goggins’ Stans, I’m talking to you.

Predators tries to one-up the original by having the original Predator come out on the losing end of some species clan warfare to a bigger badder version of the race. It is a good excuse to make reference to the original film, with Braga’s IDF agent recalling a CIA briefing about an incident on Earth in 1987.

Overall, I prefer the cohesiveness of a band of warriors swaggering into combat spouting lines like Jesse Ventura’s “sexual tyrannosaurus,” to the sleazy shenanigans undertaken by an uneasy alliance of thugs and mercenaries who talk of “raping bitches and snorting cocaine,” but the reboot does still know how to bring the big scary violent alien fun, so the hunt is still worthy.

Predators will tide you over until The Expendables.

Superman

I like Smallville.

Even geeks have our guilty pleasures. Let me add that I have been perpetually two to three seasons behind. I’ve just finished Season 7 which sees Lex discovering Clark’s secret and causing something really bad to happen at the Fortress of Solitude.

For up to date fans of the show, this is old news.

But one question that starts to surface by season 7 which I believe is still being asked by the aux currant fans is: When will Clark become Superman??

Age is not an issue yet. After all, Clark is still in his early twenties and it’s SuperMAN, not SuperGUY. So there’s time. The issue is the events in Clark’s life up until now.  There is not much left for him to discover as Superman as he’s encountered just about every major bad guy from his comics rogue gallery already.

But I’ll let the writers of Smallville worry about that. I’ve always felt that Smallville could be subtitled: Becoming Superman – the Hard Way.

And this is what makes Smallville so engrossing to me as a Superman fan: it tells the type of stories that are hard to do with a fully formed Superman. After all, Superman is a tricky franchise: make him too powerful and he’s not relate-able. Underpower him and he’s no longer Superman.

Smallville manages this balancing act pretty well (for the most part) and it helps when Clark still can’t fly.

By the way, when is Clark gonna fly!???

Smallville is now like a pregnant woman at nine and a half months. It’s ready to blow. Clark has been through every trial and tribulation imaginable in ten years and has emerged from each a step closer to becoming Superman – not in powers, but in heart.

And that’s the story that has never been told about Superman in quite this way. He’s more than the sum of his powers. Superman is an ideal.  He’s better than us, not because he’s faster than a speeding bullet, but because he will value the life of even the criminal who fired the gun. Superman challenges us to be better than we are and Smallville shows how Clark learned that lesson.

Who we are left with is a Superman with a real honest to goodness past to that we can relate.  All other incarnations of Superman (Even Christopher Reeves – my favorite) give lip service to the time that molded Clark into the Superman he becomes.  That’s not their fault – they only have two hours to tell the story, but then Superman becomes more alien to us.

We have to assume the Ma and Pa Kent just did good.

With Smallville we watch it happen. Even Tom Welling has grown as an actor into playing Superman convincingly.

So why should Smallville become Superman?  Because it could be the most fully formed and well rounded Superman ever.  I would love to watch Tom Welling and cast carry on the Adventures of Superman with all the back story that they have earned. Erica Durance is a Lois Lane that I would watch along with Tom Welling’s Superman for another ten years. And Michael Rosenbaum?? Don’t even get me started on how great he is as Lex Luthor. In a world of Lex’s dominated by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey, Rosenbaum gives a stellar third alternative. I want to see Smallville’s Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor go at it.

Come on, CW. Do it.

Call it Metropolis.

Avatar: Ode to Cameron

So like everyone else I endured two plus hours of having those stupid plastic glasses sitting on the bridge of my nose in the IMAX theatre watching James Cameron’s newest epic – Avatar.

I have to say I liked it. After all, it was visually a treat with a serviceable, if hackneyed, plot.

What I enjoyed the most was James Cameron’s dedication to himself.  For Avatar, if nothing else, is a Frankenstein monster of all of his earlier films – an ebay-bound drawer of old stuff recycled to create something new.

Most young’uns probably haven’t paid much attention to Cameron’s earlier essays. They were, after all,mere  trifles, with little to no merit of their own. They were simply practice runs for the second coming known to man as “Avatar”.

Therefore, in order to prevent newly inducted Cameron fans from wasting their time with his earlier sophomoric films, we here at the Starblog offices have a list of ingredients drawn from them and used to better effect in Avatar. Continue Reading »

Do You EU?

Expanded Universe: there are no two words that cause such controversy among Star Wars fans as these, with the exception, maybe of “Jar Jar”.  Some date the beginning of the Expanded Universe as far back as Del Rey’s “Splinter of  A Mind’s Eye” in 1978.  Other’s cite Brian Daley’s “Han Solo Trilogy” while others hold out for Timothy Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire”.  Whatever you consider the beginning of the EU, the fact is that it is exists and it’s here to stay.  There is also another unspoken fact about the EU:

Star Wars isn’t the only one that has it.

Continue Reading »

Star Trek 2009

Star Trek 2009

Ba-Bang! Last one.

There was a lot going on in the world in 2001.  As for Star Trek, 2001 was also a big year. Voyager was coming to an end and, unlike other “trying to get home” series like Battlestar Galactica and Space: 1999, this good ship would actually make it.   In its seven year journey, Star Trek: Voyager had become more like the original Star Trek than either TNG or DS9.

Continue Reading »