amid ash and fog
there you will find an answer
beware the sirens
amid ash and fog
there you will find an answer
beware the sirens
There and Back Again, or: How The Hobbit Trilogy Let Me Down (and I’m clearly not over it)
So I’m a little late to this particular party (haha, party pun for ya), but having recently reread The Hobbit and finally finished the associated movie trilogy, I need to get some things off my chest. Before I get into all that, though, let’s establish my ring-cred so you understand why I feel so let down. The Fellowship of the Ring came out in theaters when I was in eighth grade and I, along with many of my friends, was immediately obsessed. I probably saw it ten or fifteen times in theaters and attended the midnight releases of the second and third movies in costume. My friends and I religiously attended our local Lord of the Rings (LOTR) convention and were so well known in the fantasy con/renaissance faire circuit that everyone called us The Fellowship. My room was filled with LOTR posters, figurines, replicas, games, books, trading cards, and just about every other related thing I could beg my parents to purchase. I even had a LOTR-themed birthday party with a buffet spread of which any hobbit would be proud. So when I say I was a fan, I mean it – and I still am. My wife and I routinely quote the books/movies and I’m currently rereading the trilogy. Hell, I took a LOTR-themed writing class in college! What I’m saying is, this is a love that will never die. I am loyal to LOTR until the end.
All that being said… I was supremely disappointed with the Hobbit movies. In fact, I was so disappointed by the first two that I didn’t even see the third one in theaters (sacrilege!). I rewatched them recently hoping to change my mind, thinking perhaps my expectations had just been too high the first time around, but my opinion remains the same: they’re just not good movies. And believe me, it truly pains me to admit that. I feel like I’m betraying a piece of my childhood merely by offering criticism where criticism is justly deserved. Maybe cloaked figures will show up at my door in the middle of the night to whisk me away to Mordor, or other fantasy fans will cross the street to avoid passing by me, yet still I have to speak this truth no matter how it breaks my geeky heart.
Many critics have already dissected the movies’ main weak points – mediocre special effects, bloated plots, and unnecessarily lengthy action scenes to name a few – so I won’t repeat them here, but all of these issues lead back to what I believe is the real flaw in the trilogy: its creators just tried too hard to recapture a magic that can’t be forced. You see this with many popular franchises that have become very dead and very beaten horses (like my beloved Jurassic Park, alas!), so it’s obviously an easy pit into which creators frequently stumble. The thought process seems to be something along the lines of, “They liked what we did last time, let’s just do that again exactly the same way” without actually considering what they did and why it was so successful. Sequels in these franchises become copy/paste plots with so many allusions to the previous movies that even the most faithful fan grows tired of being pandered to. We don’t want old characters and old plots dressed up in different outfits, we want new characters and new adventures!
The Hobbit trilogy tries so damn hard to be dark and edgy like LOTR and it just doesn’t work. It’s obvious the creators threw the book out the window, along with its humor and lighthearted vibe, and just pasted Bilbo and co. into the LOTR framework. All of our heroes are updated with tragic backstories and noble, selfless motives: Thorin becomes the burdened, exiled prince trying to save his remaining people, Bard is now a widower forced to smuggle so he can care for his young children, and the dwarf who falls in love with an elf (because every movie needs a star-crossed romance) is somehow stabbed with a morgul arrow so his lovely lady can dramatically save his life in the nick of time. It’s just all so cookie-cutter obvious and feels like LOTR played out with different actors. They even managed to shove Legolas in there because why not? We definitely need another ten-minute action scene of Legolas shooting arrows and surfing on vines.
There’s no heart in The Hobbit. I don’t doubt that it was a labor of love, of course, because you can’t produce a movie trilogy that complex without people who love what they’re doing, but it lacks the essential magic that made the first trilogy so captivating. The action scenes feel meaningless, primarily because there are so fucking many of them that you become oversaturated with the constant high-stakes drama, and the plot bits in between feel too repetitive to be truly engaging. By the third movie this horse is not only dead and beaten but practically unrecognizable as a once-living creature. All you really want to do now is kick some dirt over the remains and leave. And that sucks, honestly, because I went into this trilogy ready to renew my obsession with a childhood passion and yet came out of it feeling… well, tired, mostly. Like butter scraped over too much bread, if you know what I mean.
I didn’t really have a point to this rant; I mostly needed to get it out of my head so I would stop harassing my friends about it. I just… I really love the LOTR universe and I strongly believe The Hobbit could be made into a fantastic movie. By pandering to the box office, though, we missed out on that potential awesomeness and instead got a LOTR prequel trilogy that didn’t really add anything to the franchise. There’s probably a good metaphor here about what happens when you’re driven by money (*cough* gold *cough*) instead of a more noble desire, but I’m ready to bury this horse once and for all. Rest in peace, mellon.
I’ve never been tempted by the idea of immortality (surely all those years must drag one into another at some point, who wants to hang around for that long?) and I’ve never cared much for physical beauty or youth (I prefer the anonymity of mediocrity and look forward with eagerness to my first gray hair) but housing prices these days are just outrageous, it’s almost criminal, and thus if I’m guaranteed a little cottage in the woods, all paid up and legally mine, then sure I could use my witchy wiles to lure a couple kids a year into my cauldron and cook up whatever spells you want, my singing’s not half bad, does the talking cat come with the cottage or is he extra?
Jurassic Park/World, the Cinematic Franchise We Need (But Not the One We Deserve)
A couple days ago I watched the most recently released trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and it sparked an interesting thought process. I have linked the trailer at the bottom of this post for those who are interested, but I can sum up the plot pretty easily – it’s basically Jurassic Park: The Lost World all over again, but with some fancier dinosaurs. The movie will start with a visit to the island (just like in Lost World), where the dinosaurs need to be removed before am imminent volcanic eruption (or for a zoo in Lost World). Once transferred to the mainland, one or more dangerous dinosaurs will escape (just like in Lost World) and our heroic hetero couple will have to save the day (just like, you guessed it, in Lost World!).
At first I rolled my eyes at this unnecessary rehashing of a previous plot line. If the events in San Diego happened only years before the building of Jurassic World, shouldn’t we as a species have learned a lesson regarding carnivorous dinosaurs in population centers? Wouldn’t we at least put extreme cautions in place, or even new state or federal regulations governing the transfer and containment of extinct creatures? It just isn’t possible for the exact same scenario to play out only a few years later, not when such a scenario was covered worldwide and many of those involved are still alive. Even considering the volcanic threat and therefore the need to save as many of the dinosaurs as possible, I can’t imagine any nation would essentially say, “Yeah, go ahead and bring those things back here, they only destroyed two different parks and escaped their containment in San Diego and killed like forty people, what’s the worst that could happen?” It doesn’t make sense at all.
…except that it does. As I pondered the new Jurassic World era, wondering if the third movie would also be a rehash of Jurassic Park 3, I realized I was missing the point. What if instead of recycling old plot lines out of laziness, the creators of Jurassic World were making a very pointed statement? What if Jurassic World is an allegory for the ways humanity continues to repeat past mistakes without learning from them, even when the consequences are a disastrous loss of human life? Viewed through this lens, the repetition of the movie plots teaches us a valuable, albeit grim, lesson – a portion of humanity will always choose personal power over the safety and prosperity of others, and this greed will inevitably lead society down a dark, deadly path. Considering we’re on the cusp of a third world war, this theory actually makes a lot of sense. Jurassic Park/World is fiction, of course, but I can see it playing out in reality exactly how it does in the franchise. People with too much money attempt something dangerous in the hopes of making even more money; innocent people die as a result; a few years later a new group of people with too much money attempt the same thing but with more bells and whistles; more innocent people die; rinse and repeat. It’s been happening more or less since human society came to be, and it sure doesn’t seem like we’re going to do a 180 any time soon.
Maybe I just don’t have any faith in humanity left. Maybe I just can’t admit my favorite franchise is becoming repetitive and unoriginal. Or maybe it’s just comforting to imagine our current reality isn’t the only one where greedy businessmen have doomed us all. Whatever the reason, I’m standing by my thesis – Jurassic World is trying to warn us that if we don’t learn from our past, we’re doomed to repeat it… and repeat it… and repeat it. Are there money-hungry people out there willing to build a zoo full of dinosaurs even though the last two attempts ended in complete disaster? Yup. Because humanity sucks.
…maybe we deserve to get eaten by dinosaurs.
Top 10 Munchie Movies, or: Better Hold Onto Your Butts
a subgenre of movies in which one or more characters is physically eaten by an entity in the film
Are you familiar with the phrase “munchie movie”? If not, you are forgiven; after all, I made it up as a child and I don’t believe its usage has gone much beyond my circle of friends and family despite it being a totally legitimate genre. You’ve seen plenty of munchie movies, after all, even if you didn’t know it. A munchie movie is any movie in which people are eaten (ie munched) by something – for example zombies, dinosaurs, monsters, sharks, aliens, etc. These movies usually fall into the sci-fi and horror genres, though some of the best can also be shelved under action/adventure or comedy. As the undisputed queen of munchie movies, let me introduce you to my favorite subgenre with my Top 10 Munchie Movies list. Sit back, relax, and grab some popcorn!
10 – The Mummy (1999)
1999’s The Mummy is an all-around fantastic movie and really needs no introduction. It’s ostensibly an action movie, yet what earns it a spot on this particular list are not just the folks our titular villain sucks dry to regain his human form, but those creepiest of creepy crawlers: the dreaded scarab beetles. More voracious than piranhas and a thousand times as inexplicably plentiful, these little suckers can strip a grown man in seconds flat. Not a pretty sight, as poor Benny learns at the end of the film while our heroes ride off into the sunset. The Mummy is a cult classic, if I do say so myself, and earns its spot on this list with some Egyptian-themed PG13 snack-gore.
9 – The Ruins (2008)
The Ruins is not a film for the squeamish; however, if you aren’t too easily grossed out it’s a very interesting take on the usual munchie movie monsters. Seeking a cool “off the map” archaeological dig, a group of American tourists trespass on a forbidden ruin in the Mexican jungle (never a good idea) and subsequently discover what happened to the mysteriously missing scientists. They were eaten, is what happened to them. By carnivorous plants. Highly intelligent carnivorous plants. Those don’t sound that scary to you? Oh, just wait.What ensues is a gruesome yet entertaining struggle for survival that literally pits man against nature. A definite watch for any horror fan, and the book of the same title is even better.
8 – Pitch Black (2000)
Much like in The Ruins, Pitch Black’s characters must ask the question “Where did everybody go?” and then, much to their regret, discover the answer. No killer plants in this one, though; our heroes in Pitch Black are stranded on a desolate planet populated by hungry aliens who come out to hunt in the dark. On a planet with multiple suns this shouldn’t be an issue, but to make matters worse an imminent eclipse is going to send the whole planet into total darkness. Vin Diesel is fantastic as our anti-hero Riddick and Pitch Black hits all the right munchie movie notes. A word of advice, though : just avoid the other movies in the series and stick with the original.
7 – Komodo (1999)
Komodo was a late-90s straight-to-VHS release that apparently no one but myself has seen. It features a young Billy Burke (in a far better role than as Bella’s father in Twilight) and several CGI komodo dragons of surprisingly good special effects. This movie has probably never been on any Top 10 list in its life, but it deserves to be on this one for its tension, action, and killer komodo dragon scenes. For a movie that never made it into theaters, it’s worth the watch. I mean, come on, KOMODO DRAGONS.
This movie is so obscure I can’t even find a gif from it, so here’s proof of how fast they are in real life:
6 – Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Remember when we all still liked Joss Whedon? Well, despite who he is on a personal level, the man can write some cool shit – and Cabin in the Woods is arguably the coolest of his creations. Unlike most munchie movies that lay the plot out pretty early, this movie actually has a big plot twist that I can’t bear to spoil for you. Just be assured that a LOT of people get eaten by a LOT of monsters and it’s pretty darn great. Plus, the movie shines with Whedon’s characteristic dark humor and likable characters. Once you’ve watched it, let me know something: would you have made the same decision as our surviving characters?
5 – Resident Evil (2002)
Ah, the movie that turned me
gay homoromantic. It was hard to choose which zombie movie to include on this list, but Resident Evil just edged out 28 Days Later by sheer number of on-screen munches. Another classic of the horror/action genre, Resident Evil has everything you could want in a movie: zombie people, zombie dogs, something that used to be a rabbit maybe, an evil AI, more zombies, and both Milla Jovovich AND Michelle Rodriguez. Great special effects and a killer (pun intended) soundtrack are the toppings on the cake, so to speak, and overall it’s worth a watch or two, or ten, or fifty. And if it makes you question your sexuality, well, hey, we’ve all been there.
4 – Lake Placid (1999)
Lake Placid is a vastly underrated movie with a stellar cast including Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, and Betty White. This movie is more a dark comedy than an action movie, with our monster crocodile providing just the right amount of tension and the occasional blood-fest as background to the gallows humor. The special effects are great, as is the writing, and I think you’ll find yourself siding with the crocodile as Gleeson and Platt go head-to-head over its ultimate fate. Another classic that deserves far more praise than it gets.
3 – Deep Blue Sea (1999)
I know, I know, you’re thinking, “You chose Deep Blue Sea over Jaws??” I did, but here’s why. Jaws is one of the best movies ever, hands down, and you don’t have to like munchie movies to agree; so let’s let a different shark movie have the limelight for once, okay? Deep Blue Sea may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but it has super smart sharks, an underwater lab full of edible people, and a black character who DOESN’T DIE. Plus, it has the one thing even Jaws doesn’t – a shark-themed rap by LL Cool J in the credits. Why would you want to miss that? You wouldn’t. It’s amazing. People act like this movie is trash, but if you actually watch it you’ll see that it’s entertaining, bloody, and action-packed, which is all a munchie movie needs to be to earn its name. Also, did I mention LL Cool J is in it?
2 – Tremors (1990)
Have you ever wanted to see Kevin Bacon fight off giant subterranean carnivorous worms? You have? Well, do I have good news for you! That is exactly the plot of Tremors, a cult classic in its own right and shoe-in for number 2 on this list. When the tiny town of Perfection Valley, Nevada finds itself beset by killer worms from
outer space underground, it’s up to Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward to save the day. Before this is accomplished, however, a lot of people are gonna be worm food (*snickers*). This is one munchie movie series where the sequels, albeit not quality movies by any real definition, are still humorous and bloody enough to be worth a Saturday afternoon watch. The sixth apparently is set to be released in 2018, so you better catch up quick!
1 – Jurassic Park (1993)
I will forever remember watching Jurassic Park for the first time at the tender age of five. This movie earns its number 1 spot by a combination of nostalgia, staying power, fantastic acting, and special effects that even look better than those of some movies coming out today. Jurassic Park is the perfect munchie movie; the monsters are engaging and realistic, the characters are fully formed, and the plot moves along at a steady pace while allowing for many a munching to occur. The movie also surpasses some of its fellows by getting the audience to not only care about the characters, but the monsters themselves. The T-Rex might be a killer, but it’s impossible not to see the dinosaurs, even the predators, for what they are – creatures acting as they would in the wild. Jurassic Park balances action and blood with moral consideration and natural philosophy, elevating it from basic munchie movie to cinema classic. It’s basically the best movie ever and I will not entertain arguments that say otherwise.
What are your favorite munchie movies? Let me know in the comments!
Do you ever experience a piece of media – a book, a song, a movie – and get hit with the knowledge that this thing would have totally spoken to your younger self? That if you had experienced it at, say, sixteen or seventeen, who knows how it might have changed you?
Flashback to myself in high school, circa 2006. I hadn’t yet discovered asexuality and assumed, for all intents and purposes, that I was straight (despite having zero interest in dating). If you had asked me then why I so adamantly adored Elizabeth Hurley in Bedazzled, Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil, and Clea Duvall in The Faculty*, I would have said it was because they were so cool, so badass, so confident. I might have said it was because I wanted to be like them in some way, or just tag along on their adventures.
Um. Yeah. I was pretty oblivious to things. In my defense, though, my peer group didn’t use labels like sapphic, homoromantic, or really anything besides the L, G, and B. I didn’t know it was possible to like girls without, well, LIKING girls, so I never analyzed the feelings I was having at the time. Even after I learned about asexuality at the age of nineteen and officially adopted the label for myself at age twenty-one, I still spent several years agonizing over what my strange attraction to girls meant. It wasn’t until I was almost twenty-six that I finally opened that door a crack – just enough to let in the girl who would become my fiance.
I say all this with a purpose, I promise. See, a couple months ago I started a local queer meetup. We happen to all be in one way or another attracted to women, so when we held a movie marathon last week, we watched sapphic movies. One of these, But I’m a Cheerleader (BIAC), was a late 1990s comedy featuring Natasha Lyonne as a closeted lesbian sent to a conversion therapy camp by her parents. It’s a very silly movie with an undercurrent of dark realism that makes the friendships and romances all the more poignant. It also, to my embarrassingly giddy surprise, features a Clea Duvall who looks exactly like her Faculty character Stokley. On whom I have had a raging crush since high school. Oh, and should I mention this is a movie where you get to watch Stokley make out with another girl? How the internet didn’t let me know this movie existed sooner, I will never know. And I will always be bitter about that. You let me down, Tumblr!
Anyway, all this is to say that the ending of the movie made me cry. Not Carol, which we watched first, oh no. BIAC made me cry. Why? Partly because the ending is so sugary sweet (a sapphic movie with a happy ending? yes please!), but also partly because I watched the whole movie thinking This came out in 1999? I could have watched this as a kid? As a confused teen who had no idea why she got so mad that Stokley wasn’t a lesbian after all? You mean I could have had an actual queer Stokley to obsess over all these years??
I’ve read and watched a lot of queer media since I was a teen, but none of it quite hit me like this movie did. I sincerely think that if I had watched BIAC as a teenager, I would have known ten years earlier that I was sapphic. Ten years! Ten years I could have spent learning to embrace my identity, instead of agonizing over it. Ten years I could have spent making friends with other queer people, instead of feeling unwelcome in those circles. Ten years I could possibly have spent dating and exploring my desires and boundaries. Ten years of angst and loneliness that could have been ten years of friendship and pride parades.
That thought kinda hurts, to be honest. I’m in a good place now – proudly ace and proudly sapphic – but I wasn’t for a long time. I struggled, especially in college. There are songs I can’t listen to because they’re just filled too much with that old longing. When I see queer representation in media these days, especially in shows like Legend of Korra and Steven Universe, I feel simultaneously joyful and jealous. Joyful that representation like this might save someone years of hurt; jealous because I could have used that representation, too. As a kid, I was too deeply in the closet to even think of seeking out queer media. I can’t imagine how much seeing queer relationships in “regular” media might have opened my eyes. I know being a queer kid today isn’t easy, but I’m still so happy to think that even one kid might be saved the emotional bog through which I had to wade.
*and Michelle Rodriguez and Gong Li and Fairuza Balk…
They say every age births its own gods, so maybe for this age of techno-extinction you’re the new goddess of war. What do you think? Maybe you’re Inanna and Ishtar, Kali and Sekhmet, just in a new story for a new age. No crown, just a bright red dress; no sword, just a machete and a lot of anger. Maybe that’s why you can never rest. Maybe that’s why you can never escape. What do you think, Alice? Maybe you’re trapped in the apocalyptic Eden of our new mythology, fighting corruption and chaos because we’re all afraid our bodies and minds will be taken from us. You’re proof that even infected, we could harness the virus and retaliate, tear down the walls and set the skies on fire. Science and genetics might have made you into a weapon, but you elevated yourself to the status of deity to challenge your creator. Goddess of war, goddess of resurrection, goddess of retribution, lead us down the rabbit hole.
The scene opens on a dim yet inviting bar. There are several other patrons and parties, though they keep to themselves in booths or tables on the periphery. No one yet sits at the bar counter, behind which a handsome young man polishes glasses in between taking drink orders. The shared single gender of the clientele reveals the theme of the bar, though nothing else about the tasteful yet understated room betrays their common preference.
Tanim enters and makes his way straight to the bar, slumping down on a stool with his chin propped on one hand. With a self-deprecating eye roll, he grumbles, “If there’s a prize for rotten judgement, I guess I’ve already won that. No man is worth the aggravation; that’s ancient history, been there, done that.”
The bartender sets a glass of whiskey down in front of Tanim with a disbelieving raise of his eyebrows. He’s heard this from Tanim before, for weeks in fact; the man’s a broken record. “Who do you think you’re kidding?” he replies with a hand to his hip for emphasis. “He’s the earth and heaven to you. Try to keep it hidden? Honey, I can see right through you! You can’t conceal it. I know how you feel and who you’re thinking of.”
Tanim grabs his drink and turns on the stool to avoid the bartender’s knowing smile. “No chance, no way, I won’t say it, no.” He sips the drink with a grimace and stubbornly avoids the others eyes. The bartender shrugs and goes back to polishing glasses, pretending not to notice Tanim’s brooding. Over the polishing cloth he prods, “You swoon, you sigh, why deny it?”
“It’s too cliche! I won’t say I’m in love,” Tanim sighs and stares down into his glass. “I thought my heart had learned its lesson. It feels so good when you start out. My head is screaming ‘get a grip, man, unless you’re dying to cry your heart out!’” He slams the glass onto the counter, causing amber liquid to slosh up the sides.
“You keep on denying who you are and how you’re feeling – baby, I’m not buying,” The bartender leans over the counter, ostensibly to wipe up the spilled drops, but instead keeps pestering Tanim with a grin. “I saw you hit the ceiling. Face it like a grown-up; when are you going to own up that you’ve got it bad?”
“No chance, no way,” Tanim throws up his hand to block the bartender’s obnoxious smile. “I won’t say it.”
“Give up, give in, check the grin,” the other man pulls Tanim’s arm down, “you’re in love.” Tanim yanks his arm free with a scowl, growling, “This scene won’t play.” He swallows down the remains of his drink and shakes his head vehemently. “I won’t say I’m in love.”
“You’re doing flips. Read my lips,” the bartender cups his hands around his mouth like a megaphone, “you’re in love!”
“You’re way off base, I won’t say it,” Seeing the bartender start to open his mouth to reply, Tanim snaps, “Get off my case, I won’t say it!” The bartender chuckles and holds up his hands in mock defeat. They both shut up and glance over as the door opens on a slender man dressed all in black, his white hair sparkling with raindrops. Tanim pales, then blushes profusely and turns away before the man can catch him staring. “Don’t be proud, it’s okay,” the bartender stage-whispers as he pours Tanim another drink, “you’re in love.”
“Oh…” Tanim heaves a weary sigh as he accepts the drink and gives in with the smallest of smiles. He tries his best not to look around for the other man. “At least out loud, I won’t say I’m in… love.”
[ Remember the time I wrote a Tanim/Daren scene using lyrics from a Muppet Treasure Island song? Yeah, had to do another since I’ve been listening to the Hercules soundtrack so much… ]