books into movies

Thoughts on The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

As a huge fan of the Peter Jackson et al movies set in Middle Earth, I once again rocked up to the latest installment of The Hobbit hoping it would be wonderful.

Once again I enjoyed the movie —  the lavish and dedicated depiction of Tolkien’s fantastical world, the rousing adventure, the eye candy in the form of Legolas and Kili… But once again I can’t help comparing it with the Lord of the Rings movies and came away wishing it had managed to be more.

And in this case I think less would have yielded more. (Mild spoilers follow…)

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The Desolation of Smaug picks up more or less where An Unexpected Journey left off. Like the first movie, the second also follows the book reasonably faithfully in terms of major events — the meeting with Beorn, the giant spiders of Mirkwood, capture by the elves of Mirkwood, escape via the barrels down the river to Laketown, arrival at the Lonely Mountain… However, after mining as much of the book as possible for kernels from which to seed subplots, the writers did invent a fair bit of content to bulk out the movie.

Legolas! As soon as I heard they were filming The Hobbit years ago, I hoped they would bring Legolas (Orlando Bloom) into it. In LOTR Legolas was always the son of Thranduil, King of the Elves in Mirkwood (his father having sent him to the Council of Elrond), and it made perfect sense to me that if Thorin’s party of dwarves encountered the elves of Mirkwood then Legolas would be there. It doesn’t matter to me that his character isn’t mentioned in the book. Since they’re embellishing the story, they might as well centre it on Legolas – yes!

The Legolas scenes are lots of fun — especially when he gets to kill orcs with those fabulous acrobatic-athletic moves. The dwarves-in-barrels escape scene is a great action scene. In the book it’s all rather mundane, but in the movie there are elves chasing dwarves, then orcs chasing dwarves, then elves chasing orcs… (Legolas balancing on dwarves’ heads as they float in barrels…) Arrows and axes flying everywhere. Awesome stuff.

Interestingly, the portrayal of Legolas in this film is much more hard-edged and flinty than in LOTR. He’s suspicious and rather more ruthless. I’m wondering what’s going to happen to soften him before his appearance in Fellowship…

I love Legolas.

If you’ve seen the movie trailers, you’ll know they’ve added a token ‘she-elf’ (urgh) too. I guess the sentiment is good, because there are few other women in the film anywhere. Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is a captain in the Elf King’s guard, and is also a fearsome warrior. She develops a connection with Kili (Aidan Turner aka the hot dwarf), and already has the eye of Legolas, so there’s a little bit of a love triangle happening. Will be interesting to see where that goes.

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The other major character introduced is a barge man from Laketown called Bard (Luke Evans). He helps smuggle the dwarves into Laketown (for a price), but has his own history and agenda. He’s presented as a fairly significant character in the film, and we sense he’s going to have a role to play — as are Legolas and Tauriel. (Turns out he comes into the book later on…)

However, ALL these additional plot lines jangle a bit awkwardly together and slow the pace of the movie down. To me it seemed a fairly clumsy attempt to pad out the movie to nearly three hours — all part of the artificial stretch of a simple children’s book into three long films.

After all, normally when books are made into films, the writers have to decide what to leave out, and come up with creative ways of incorporating as much as possible. The Hobbit movies have the reverse problem, with every nugget of book squeezed out until it’s completely dry — and then they make extra stuff up. (One aspect of the plot that is tightened is the time over which everything happens. Tolkien’s characters are notorious for hanging about for days and weeks in the one place, whether relaxing or hiding. There’s none of that happening here!)

On the other hand, I did rather like Gandalf’s (fabricated for the film) side journey to the abandoned tombs of the nine ring wraiths, and subsequent visit to the ruined citadel of the necromancer, where he learns of Sauron’s return. Although this is a blatant attempt to link The Hobbit more strongly to events in LOTR, I felt it worked — even if it renders Gandalf’s ignorance at the beginning of Fellowship a little odd. 

I also really liked the way Bilbo is a lot more hesitant to use the ring in the movie than in the book. One suspects Tolkien had no notion of how evil the ring was when he wrote The Hobbit… Bilbo slips it on and off at will, with no repercussions. Not so in the movie, where he definitely feels a sense of foreboding just holding it.

Martin Freeman is once again a highlight as Bilbo. He really is perfectly cast. The film remains loosely centred around him, although less than the first film, I think. Nonetheless, he gets his big chance to shine when he sneaks into the dragon’s lair and confronts Smaug the dragon. This is a great scene, although I confess I couldn’t sense much of Benedict Cumberbatch in Smaug.

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Interestingly, I noticed several direct reflections of the LOTR movies in The Desolation of Smaug:

  • When Kili is suffering from a wound from a morgul shaft, those tending him call for the athelas plant (kingsfoil) only to be told it’s a weed. (Same thing happens in Fellowship when Frodo gets stabbed.)
  • Gandalf spends time imprisoned high up in an enemy fortress watching the enemy prepare for war. (Same thing happens in Fellowship when he’s imprisoned by Saruman.)
  • The journey through Mirkwood seemed very similar to the journey through Moria, with gnarly trees replacing caves.
  • Thorin’s lust for the arkenstone was starting to affect him something like the one ring affects its bearers.

I’m sure there are more parallels, and I’m not sure whether I liked them or not. The Hobbit is a different story, and I don’t think there’s a need for all the clumsy tie-ins.

Overall I think I liked The Desolation of Smaug about the same amount as An Unexpected Journey. Both are enjoyable returns to Middle Earth, but simply can’t live up to the LOTR movies. As I said in my post on An Unexpected Journey a year ago, the source material just isn’t there.

On second thoughts, maybe I liked The Desolation of Smaug a bit better… you know, Legolas. Heh.

If you’ve seen The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug, I’d love you to share your thoughts here in the comments.

 

My thoughts on Catching Fire

catching fireI loved Catching Fire, the movie. A lot more than I did the book. Which is unusual.

My major complaint with the book was that it seemed to repeat the same story and themes as the Hunger Games (the first book in the trilogy). It suffered from a lack in progression of the overall story arc. Katniss goes back into the arena to fight for her life. Yeah, whatever.

The movie sticks really close to the novel as I remember it — except for some reason I liked it a whole heap more. Maybe this was because I already knew what the story was and had accepted it. Or maybe it’s because the movie highlighted all the differences really well. Not sure.

For those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet, I’ll summarise the basic plot:

It’s set in the future dystopian nation of Panem, which comprises 12 oppressed ‘districts’ and a central dissipated ‘capital’. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Malark, winners of the recent Hunger Games (a barbaric reality TV show in which children from each district are annually forced to fight each other to the death), are trying to integrate back into their lives in district 12. But Katniss has attracted the attention of the not-so-nice President Snow, who sees her as a trouble-maker, and resolves to eradicate her and other past winners by sending them back into the arena…

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is fabulous. The rest of the cast is great too, but she truly shines — no surprises she’s one of the youngest ever Oscar winners (for Silver Linings Playbook earlier this year). 

Whereas The Hunger Games introduces you to this horrible world, Catching Fire does a lot more to show the brutality and oppression of the districts, thereby paving the way for the rebellion that is to follow. Because the movie broadens the viewpoint (the book is limited to Katniss’s first person narrative), the viewer is granted a deal more insight into the overall situation — especially President Snow’s scheming and the desperate plotting of a small rebel group. Somehow the ins and outs of the plot are a whole lot clearer in the movie.

The movie is beautiful to look at and exciting. The costumes are vivid (and they wear some truly wacky outfits in the capital), and each of Katniss’s show costumes are stunning (after all, it is a reality TV show!). Definitely many thumbs up from me!

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Today’s blog theme is ‘which holiday movie do you love this year and why’. Catching Fire is the only recent film I’ve seen, so it’s a good thing I loved it! I’ll post links to other contributions as they come up.

Also, check out this far more thorough (and a little spoilerific) post from Siri Paulson on Catching Fire – book versus movie.

Friday with Friends: Julie Kenner/ J.K. Beck

Today I’m absolutely stoked to have best-selling author Julie Kenner (who also publishes as J.K. Beck) as my ‘Friday friend’. Julie is perhaps best known for her Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series, the first of which, Carpe Demon, is currently being made into a movie. (See below for her full bio.)

Julie shares some of her career insights with us — and methinks I’d better take heed of her writerly advice at the bottom 🙂

What’s your most recent published work, and what are you currently working on?

Thanks for having me here today!

Let’s see…most recently, I’ve had two short releases. One was a fun romantic novella in Holiday Hideout with Jill Shalvis and Vicki Lewis Thompson. As you can guess, it was holiday themed – I did New Year’s Eve. It was a “cabin romance” between two people who’d been madly in love in college, separated by life, and who made a promise to reunite five years later. It was a lot of fun to write!

I also have an e-original out. Shadow Keepers: Midnight is a  novella (though it’s listed on Amazon and B&N as a short story—I don’t know why!) in my J.K. Beck Shadow Keepers series. I was really excited about that one because I wanted to write a story to not only fill the gap between books 3 and 4, but also because I thought that the backstory for the two characters – Caris and Tiberius – deserved to have its own story.

It’s the first historical I’ve done, and I really enjoyed writing it. The characters are both strong and I loved putting in a tinge of Romeo and Juliet. I hope readers of the series don’t miss it, as I think it really adds a lot to Caris and Tiberius’s backstory (they’re the couple in the 4th book coming soon).

So they’re making your best-selling novel Carpe Demon into a movie… (how exciting!). How will you feel if they tear out the guts of your plot and make up their own story with your premise and characters (as they do with so many books made into movies these days)? What do you think of this practice? Do you have any input to the script?

Honestly, I’m certain that things will change in the translation to the screen, but I’ve been nothing but impressed with the folks at 1492, who genuinely love Kate. They’ve recently hired director Andre Overdal to work on the script, too, and I was fortunate enough to chat with him a bit recently, and I know that he’s a fan of Kate as well. So I feel that overall her story is in good hands.  The truth is, though, that my books are my books and the movie is a different animal. I feel blessed that Kate has a shot at getting on the big screen (and that means I have a shot at buying that ever-important dress for the premier), but I don’t expect a page for page translation. I’m just excited to see how it does play out!

Do I have input? No, not really. My undergrad degree is in film, and I do write screenplays (I have one that I wrote with a partner knocking around Hollywood right now), but back when Demon was originally optioned, it didn’t even occur to me to ask. I was a relatively new mom, still working full time as a lawyer and writing about three books a year. Now, I’m glad it’s not on my plate. It keeps my head in the world of the books, and I can go watch the story on the big screen and munch my popcorn (in my fabulous dress!). Will they show me the script once the new version is done? I imagine so, and I’m sure I’ll give notes (it’s the lawyer in my; I can’t read something without a red pencil) but I’m not the filmmaker, so they can ignore me if they want!

Do you know who’s playing your main character, Kate Connor? Who would you like to play her?

I know who used to be attached, but since she’s no longer, I don’t feel comfortable shouting it out there. I was thinking about who could play Kate recently, though (I don’t usually “cast” my books, but when there’s a movie possibility it’s hard not to). I actually really like Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Garner. They both have the ability to do the physical part of the role, while still seeming down to earth. As for Allie, Kate’s teenage daughter, if Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly) could still play a 14 year old, I think she’d be awesome.

You’re currently juggling two identities: How are you finding that? Is there much crossover of fans?

There is a lot of crossover, which is great. What I’m always fascinated by are the folks who have no idea I’ve got the other identity. Since it’s such an integral part of my life now, I just assume everyone knows!

It’s getting easier. I’ve recently consolidated my websites so as to have a Julie Kenner/J.K. Beck site, and I’ve moved my J.K. Beck Facebook page under my Julie Kenner profile. The end result of that is that I can post J.K. Beck stuff from my phone. Before, it was a different log in, and the poor JK Facebook profile wasn’t getting attention. Of course, folks still need to migrate over to the page… (folks! If you’re reading, migrate! Migrate!). And if anyone wants to Like either Julie Kenner’s or J.K. Beck’s pages, the links are in the sidebar of my website, http://www.juliekenner.com (ok, commercial is now over!)

What’s the best feedback you’ve had from a reader/fan? Which of your personas gets more fan mail?

Julie Kenner gets more fan mail, but she’s had over 30 books, and of J.K.’s, only 3.25 have hit the shelves (3 novels, one novella). The best story? I received several emails after 9/11 from people personally impacted by the tragedy who said how much they appreciated being able to lose themselves in a story. That was really powerful. I also wrote an essay in Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Judy Blume about a relatively rare autoimmune disorder that I dealt with as a teen and young adult, and I received a very sweet letter from a young woman who was thanking me for writing about it, and about how she appreciated not feeling alone with her diagnosis.  That also really struck a chord with me.

What has been your biggest break as an author?

Other than that all important first sale, I’d have to say the movie option. As a result of that deal, I was able to move up my timeline and quit my day job and write full time.

What’s your number one tip for writers still working towards publication?

WRITE. Don’t keep editing the same chapter over and over again. Experiment. Write more stuff. Finish a book. Put it away and start another one. And then write some more.

About Julie Kenner

Praised by Publishers Weekly as an author with a “flair for dialogue and eccentric characterizations,” bestselling author Julie Kenner’s books have hit lists as varied as USA Today, Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, and Locus Magazine. Julie is also a two-time RITA finalist, the winner of Romantic Times’ Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Contemporary Paranormal of 2001, the winner of the Reviewers International Organization’s award for best romantic suspense of 2004 and best paranormal of 2005, and the winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award for best mainstream book of 2005. She writes a range of stories including sexy and quirky romances, young adult novels, chick lit suspense and paranormal mommy lit.

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Thanks so much, Julie, for visiting today!

What do you all think about books being made into movies? I’ve seen some terrible adaptations recently. But there are some good ones. Where do you think film-makers should draw the line?