Friday, December 19, 2014

An Obsession with Epic

   People don't like to be bored. They just don't. And with the invention of the laptops, iPhones, films, and (of course) the internet, people never have to be.
   At first, people were fine with small movies. Things didn't have to be great and grand, as long as they told a good story. Then movies like Star Wars came along. Everyone realized just how big, how grand films could become. Filmmakers could show entire planets explode and a whole new universe of possibilities entered into their minds. Problem was that people didn't just take this new realm and tell good stories. That's too risky. Instead, it was easier to copy things people already liked. Thus, we ended up with Star Wars ripoffs; a few good, original ideas; and book adaptations. That's how we got the Lord of the Rings movies.
   The first trilogy of movies was good. It took the story of the books and transferred its themes to the screen. There were minor changes, which some hate and some like, but overall the films were well received. Then came the Hobbit trilogy. The problem with the Hobbit (the book) is that it was written before the Lord of the Rings. It's not so much a prequel as a fairy-tale, with little of the darkness and grand scope of the follow books. However, since the Lord of the Rings movies are already out, people expect a similar production from the Hobbit.
   Thus the filmmakers are left with a tough decision. Do they make the Hobbit like the book: a lighter, smaller, more 'fun' story? Or do they make what everyone is expecting: a huge, epic tale of armies and rings and sorcery? The filmmakers chose to do what they thought they could pull off: a Lord of the Rings prequel, rather than a direct Hobbit-to-screen transfer.
   With that preamble, how does that tie me into the movie I am actually reviewing? Well, I feel that the problem with the movie was exactly that: it was too epic. There were too many orcs, too many elves, too many narrow escapes and explosions. Some I liked, but when I backed up and looked around, I was stuck wondering: why aren't they all dead? If this were real life they'd all be dead.
   Of course, I thought the same thing about the Lord of the Rings movies. I wondered how everyone survived even though thousands of others didn't, given that most of the main characters put themselves in the most dangerous parts of battle. Still, when you look at the scale of the attacks (at Helm's Deep, Saruman sent 10,000 orcs), and see Gimli and Legolas fighting over which slew 42 orcs, the odds don't seem so impossible. But when you see the hundreds of orcs each character would have had to slay in the Hobbit movies, it all feels a little too fantastical.
   That's what I didn't like. What did I like? I felt that the portrayal of the dragon-sickness was very good. The acting was pretty good overall, but I felt Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage were especially good. Ken Stott as Balin I also enjoyed, especially in scenes between him and Bilbo. Actually, the film had some good things to say about greed, loyalty, courage, even loving your enemies (as strange as that seems in a movie where lots of people kill each other).
   So, overall, what did I think of the movie? I thought it was okay, but stuck too much to amazing cinematography and fight scenes, while forgetting about telling a good story. A rating out of 10? I would say somewhere around 6.

   What about you? Did you watch The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies? Did you like it, hate it? What about this blog post: do you agree that American movies may have an obsession with epic? Feel free to comment below!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Hanging Tree of Panem

   Recently, I went to watch Mockingjay Part 1. It was quite a strange experience, actually, because I watched it Saturday afternoon and then preached a sermon the next morning (which can be found here if you're interested).
   The movie was quite good. It was a well portrayed example of what war is. It tells of how an oppressed people can change a corrupted government. It shows how people can band together to get justice even against near impossible odds.
   That's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the song. You know the song, the one Katniss sings which is then scored over one of the propos. The song which has been cycling through my head for the last week. My theory is that this song reflects the point of Mockingjay, Part 1 and part 2. 
(Beware, possible spoilers ahead!)

   The song Katniss sings (The Hanging Tree) is a disturbing song. (Lyrics can be found here.) The first verse talks of a man who was hanged for the supposed murder of three. Then it says that strange things happened at this place, but those strange things are no stranger than what would happen if the listener were to come to meet the singer in the tree. Who is the singer? Perhaps later verses will tell.
   The second verse repeats the question of the first, asking if the listener will come to the hanging tree. This verse is different, it tells that while the 'murderer' was being hanged, he called out for his lover to flee. The third verse reveals something startling: the dead man is the singer. The listener, in the story of the song, is the love of the dead man. The fourth verse wraps it all up. The dead man, in calling his lover to flee to the tree, tells her to hang herself. That is the only way that she can be free.
   How does this reflect the theme of Mockingjay? This song presents a terrible situation. There's a man being hanged for murder, whether or not he did it (the song doesn't say), and he calls out for his lover to run. However, he's not calling for her to just flee, he wants her to avoid the 'government' the only way she can: death.
   Katniss, too, is in a terrible situation. She is a part of the Rebellion, but knows that they don't have much of a chance. She knows that statistically she should be dead already. But when she goes out and sees the destruction that Snow has created, she understands that inaction is not an option. Mere evacuation is not an option. Instead, she flees to the hanging tree. She goes into the very heart of battle and calls everyone else to join her likewise. The noose is around her neck and she is calling for everyone else to line up beside her.
   The funny thing is that the Capitol speaks the exact same message. It calls for its children to strike against the rebellion, and the Rebels call to strike against the Capitol. In this violence and bloodshed, what happens? Both the dead man and the lover will be hanged. They'll find freedom, but only in death. Finnick Odair actually states this outright in the film when he says, "I wish we had all died and no one was in this situation. I wish we were all dead."
   The funny thing is, while the Capitol is calling for their followers to fight and Katniss calls for the oppressed to strike back, Peeta is the lone voice of sanity. He calls for the laying down of arms. The Capitol thinks this is a way to get the rebels to calm down. Peeta knows better. He knows that resistance does not have to be violent to make things change. He seems to know that if one violent government is overthrown another will take its place. Instead, Peeta calls for a different way. He calls for a way of resistance which doesn't end in the elimination of the human race (violence), but ends in reconciliation.

   What did you think of Mockingjay Part 1? Did you enjoy it? Hate it? Comment below!