How “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” marked the end of Star Wars as we know it

*The following contains spoilers for all films in the Star Wars franchise, including Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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The release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in theatres worldwide marks the eighth installment in the blockbuster franchise, which arguably stands at nine if you include the standalone flick Rogue One: A Star Wars Story from 2016. But while the exploits of Felicity Jones and crew will be remembered as a fan-fuelled deviation in the Star Wars universe, both in terms of tone and of purpose, The Last Jedi will surely endure somewhat fittingly as the last moments of the old storyline as we know it.

When it was announced in 2012 that a Lucas-free Star Wars sequel was in the works, fans were perhaps right to be skeptical about where Disney and its shiny new team of creators would take their childhood heroes. Afterall, Return of the Jedi, albeit a film still maligned by part of the fan basis, did manage to tie up most of the loose ends, with Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO, and friends gathered in rejoice as beyond, the ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda and Anakin Skywalker (ughh look, they cut in Hayden Christensen) watched on in peace. That cathartic curtain close brought a John Williamsesque symphonic climax to Star Wars which, even with the prequels and the full scope of Darth Vader’s story added, remains a satisfying conclusion to a near-perfect tale. Importantly, Disney wasn’t the first to flirt with the idea of peeking backstage after the show. Indeed, Lucas toyed with the idea of a film VII-IX long before he sold all rights to ever be involved. The temptation towards the dark side was strong. Perhaps dreaming of sequels is the ultimate curse of the creator, a phenomenon made all the worse by the insatiable hunger of cult following. Tolkien once entertained the idea of returning to Middle-earth, though perhaps thankfully the project never came to fruition. J.K. Rowling, on the other hand, seems to be afflicted with the opposite issue, as staring into the Mirror of Erised on some weird corner of Twitter she continues to celebrate the birthdays of characters long-dead. Ultimately, however, Star Wars fell into the trap of neither in The Force Awakens, with the major consensus being the long-awaited seventh film successfully bridged the gap into new territory, even if at times this came at the cost of borrowing plot threads entire sequences from A New Hope. On the surface, the movie seemed landmark, with a diverse cast of characters and new villains to boot. In retrospect though, The Force Awakens was only ever as bold as our collective interpretation of Star Wars allowed. The film relied heavily on emotionally-charged glimpses of friends-of-star-wars-past, with very few actual elements of the new trilogy offered up in what was essentially a movie for fans.

As a result, we all kinda stepped somewhat tentatively into cinemas this week to see The Last Jedi, almost terrified to our main reactors by the fact that there was simply no way they could re-make A New Hope, or worse again Empire Strikes Back, and think we wouldn’t notice. Indeed, much of the talk in the build-up to December 14th focused on Director Rian Johnson who, unlike J.J. Abrams, seemed fully intent on breaking the death star-shaped mould we’d become used to.

To paraphrase, “We had a bad feeling about this.”

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What becomes apparent in the first few opening scenes of The Last Jedi is that Johnson has made good on his promise. When Rey hands Luke his lightsaber on the remote planet of Ahch-To (Go on Ireland!), and the once farmboy simply chucks it away, he might as well have thrown all our preconceptions as to what Star Wars was away too. Sure, some critics might argue that like Empire, we again see the resistance fleeing their discovered base, or watch AT-AT walkers crawl across a white expansive landscape (Ooh salt, not snow), or see a new Jedi learn the force from a hesitant master. Sure, fans might say that like Darth Vader, Kylo Ren threatens to destroy our hero, only to turn against and then destroy an evil master at the last second. But while parallels can always be made (especially in a franchise this large), The Last Jedi is the most unique Star Wars experience we’ve had to date. This is perhaps highlighted by the currently very mixed reviews fans have given the film, with hashtags across the twitterverse citing the movie as awful. Conversely, the movie by and large is enjoying critical acclaim, which in some ways points to The Last Jedi‘s individuality better than I ever could. Notably, a Star Wars film has not enjoyed the favour of critics this much since the wholly flawless Empire Strikes Back stole hearts almost four decades ago. What exactly then makes The Last Jedi so controversial?

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In a positive sense, the film invests hugely in the developments of its characters, even in those who have been defined before. Luke, a whiny-teenager-turned-brooding-Jedi-Knight, takes on a whole new layer as a wizened yet crippled recluse, a galactic hero whose only wish now it to die with his shame. Leia Organa, played for the last time by the fierce and ever-present late actress Carrie Fisher (for whom the movie is dedicated), evolves her role as general of the rebel forces. In one of Fisher’s best reprisals of the character, she lends an air of experience onto a cast that in many are still trying to figure themselves out. Only newcomers a movie ago, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) deliver momentous performances, with some of their interactions among the best-acted scenes in Star Wars to date. A real gem exclusive to this film was Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), whose strength and grace on screen made her sacrifice in the second act surprisingly poignant. Beyond the human sphere, The Last Jedi exploited the many riches current technology has to offer, providing us with immersive planet settings and fighter chases born to take your breath away. Indeed it was the attention to detail in many other areas—costume, sound, editing, cinematography—which likely tipped the balance in the eyes of critics. From a fan’s perspective, the film was laden with action, humour, canon and the fitting farewell Luke Skywalker has earned. Where it did not press on emotional scars, the movie certainly set out to create new ones.

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On the flip side, at least empirically, the film left a lot to be desired. Though many characters resonated, it could be argued that C3PO, R2D2, and Chewbacca went to waste, while the enigmatic Poe Dameron strayed from bad-boy anti-hero into straight up unlikeable. The performances of John Boyega (Finn) and Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) also felt at times forced, with many overstuffed interactions pumped with all the subtlety and emotional stakes of turn-it-off-primetime-television. Admittedly though, their characters were tasked with the most distracting and futile arc of the story, trekking halfway across the galaxy to find not-Benicio-Del-Toro in essentially Caesar’s Palace. When Boyega and Tran were back on board the rebel command ship, however, gravity took hold again, and the pair show promise for episode IX. The character of Snoke, alongside many of his minions, also went underutilized, written out at the first convenient moment. It was hard not to feel the hive mind of Disney at play here, with all the backstory we deserve surely kept stuffed away for a dozen spin-off comics or novels. At some point, we might also get an explanation for the entire second act, which like the fuel-scarce ship it centered around, simply dragged across the galaxy at nobody’s pace. Were it not for the strong finale, The Last Jedi would surely go down as the most potential lost since the death of Boba Fett.

As it stands, The Last Jedi will likely only garner the praise it deserves once the trilogy is complete. It is too soon yet to tell whether shaking off the skeleton was the right move for Johnson to make. This character-driven, force-heavy turn could be the start of something special, of a branch of Star Wars that can thrill and wound at the same time. Should episode IX return to the familiar formula, however, The Last Jedi will stand as a jarring, wandering middle to a trio of films whose plots seem to set out to do nothing, and perhaps sadly achieve it.

 

Logan: Breaking the Superhero Wheel

I arrived in the door five minutes ago after seeing Logan. Before I took off my coat, before I set down my keys, I ran to my laptop and pressed hard on the power button. I didn’t want to let myself not write this blog.

Now, for those who frequent this small corner of the internet often, you’ll know me for my love of fantasy. All the same, the genre has run parallel to the superhero film since the early 2000s, making fans of one essentially fans of the other. And after a decade of what I always considered “Post Dark Knight angst”, it seems superhero films are finally set to become grounded in something substantial again. Something worth buying a ticket for.

When Deadpool stole our hearts last year with its shoot-from-the-hip, salacious style, the fifth gear the superhero movie was cruise controlling in started to wobble. It’s been long overdue of course. Quite frankly, I can’t sit through another ten years (in which time I could be helping to bring children into the world) of watered-down, emotionally empty films where an ever-expanding motley crew chase after aliens with their pew-pew guns and make “off-the-cuff” jokes because hey, killing bad guys is super chill, amirite?

I have sat through the Avenger movies, and the Spiderman reboots and the myriad of other characters Marvel are packaging into solo films so fast we honestly can’t remember their names. I blink and Marvel births six Thor movies. I go to the bathroom and Captain America lands himself another sequel. The wheel had to stop turning. The wheel had to be broken.

So it came as little surprise really that it fell to Hugh Jackman and Wolverine to haul us all out of the complacent coma we’d allowed ourselves sink into. Logan, an X-men spinoff I could honestly see on a Best Picture list, shook me from the word go and didn’t let me rest until the credits rolled up and the lights came on for a stunned audience. With its unapologetic level of violence, you could be excused for thinking this was just another body-count movie, a comfortable 120 minutes of nada. Instead, Logan managed to unearth more deep-rooted emotion than any superhero movie has ever dug for, let alone found.

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Hugh Jackman, delivering a performance that will surely rank as one his more memorable, brought out the vulnerability of the Wolverine character as though it was the one side of him he was destined to portray. Patrick Stewart, on the other hand, reprising his role as Professor X, delivered a side of the character we perhaps weren’t expecting. Here Professor X had more bite, less art, a reflection of the later years of a man working his entire life for those around him. But perhaps both will admit they acted in the shadow of Dafne Keen, a young actress who brought to life a whole new character in her first flurry on the big screen. Rather than succumb to what I call “Carrrrll”, where young actors essentially get in the way of any meaningful plot, Keen drove the story forward, standing as tall as her co-stars by the time the 141 minutes adrenaline rush had collapsed over the finish line.

Fans of both the comic books and previous films will find plenty to play with, and such is the nuance of many of the scenes, even those who would normally gloss over a superhero blockbuster will pause in the quieter moments of the film and reflect on what a genre such as this can achieve when handled with such care.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for this viewer was to see how wide-eyed political the film turned out. Essentially a movie about innocent, predominantly Black/Hispanic pre-teens running from the U.S. government towards the “You’re-welcome-here, ey” Canadian border, Logan managed to stick a middle finger up to the Trump administration somewhere in the throes of its action. And by God did the movie deliver on that front. Refusing to shy away from blood, death, sickness, Logan‘s punch-by-punch action shots dove at you two claws extended, impaling you with a message that characters here aren’t oh-so-safe as we have come to expect from the Marvel production line.

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All in all, this movie will be remembered as the best X-Men had to offer, perhaps even the best the genre has given us too.

Because in a state-of-play where Marvel are happy to knock you over the head for two hours with clichéd plots and woeful dialogue, Logan is as raw as we’ve ever had it.

This was two and a bit hours of primal Hugh Jackman screaming at Hollywood, at viewers, at the genre and at the world.

And by fuck do I hope we’re listening.

Rise of Empire-Fantasy made economic once more

It’s been an interesting week in reading.

Just 3 days ago, I published a review of The Three Musketeers, which if you read, detailed how the book was a long, tedious and overall underwhelming read. And so it is funny, that just 72 hours later, I get to write a review that claims exactly the opposite.

It took me just one long weekend to rip through “Rise of Empire”, which comes as Sullivan’s sequel to his successful debut fantasy novel “A Theft of Swords”. Both these books were originally self published, and are each split into two parts. However here, for simplicity’s sake, I will consider them in their commercial format only.

Theft of Swords was actually the novel I dubbed my “book of the year” in 2015, when after receiving it as a gift, I was pleasantly surprised by the simple yet gripping fantasy tale I found within. Sullivan is a master of what I call “Economic Fantasy” (a term I believe I’ve invented). It’s not a ubiquitous skill by any means. Many well-regarded fantasy authors get caught up in complex plot devices, sprawling countries and a list of characters that runs right off the page. Sullivan circumvents this; pushing his plot forward so fast that it is impossible for it to gather dust. He trims everywhere, and keeps only the characters and locations that are absolutely necessary.

And now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say his worldbuilding is simple. Quite the opposite actually. The world laid out before us seems minute in his first installment, where literally one half of the book takes place on what you could call “one set”. But where Theft of Swords is condensed, Rise of Empire is like an explosion. Whole sections of the realm Sullivan creates become focal to the plot. What is perhaps more impressive again is how they are accessed. Travel in any fantasy novel that can stagnate a plot if it is not dealt with carefully. Here, Sullivan wisely blends the plot and the travel seemlessly, so much so that our protagonists Royce and Hadrian cross half the known world without it feeling laborious or drawn out.

These two characters, who form “Riyria”, after which the series takes its name, are perhaps the most enjoyable part of the tale. Characterisation can often be undercooked in plot-driven novels, but Sullivan refuses to let this be an issue. Instead, his main duo almost leap off the page, so much so that a master swordsman and an elven thief can almost be related to. Sullivan leaned his first novel heavily on the quick wit, action sequences and fascinating adventures of his protagonist pair, but in Rise of Empire his cast of characters begins to flush out. Added to the foreground are Princess Arista (given far more scope than the first novel), Modina (originally Thrace in the first installment) and Amilia, who only appears in this book. I’m not often one to point such nuances out, but it is key that each of these characters are female. Up until the last decade, nearly all fantasy novels revolved solely around men. Significant steps have been made since then, but a large amount of these belong to the Katniss Everdeens of the urban fantasy world. High fantasy is still awash with male characters, and so having three well-written female characters is a breath of fresh air. In fantasy, women are often painted as either damsels in distress or super killers without any faults. It is hard to understand how so many great fantasy writers can create whole worlds out of nothing, but find the notion of creating a believable female character impossible. Sullivan shoulders this responsibility well. Arista is endearing, strong, learned and brave, and it is clear the author has moulded her with as much care as he has Hadrian and Royce.

Sullivan treats romance with similar deftness. He achieves a fine balance between the non-existent and the overdone, and has the motivations of love and friendship cleverly intertwined with the traits of his characters.

Action is rife in the series, and where Theft of Swords was brimming, Rise of Empire is drowning. Some may argue it swamps the characters, but with the story driving onwards at such a high pace, the action always dances to the beat and never feels out of place. It is wild at times, but so too are our characters, and though they always seem to escape danger with relative ease, a shadow still hangs over the cast that feels very Game of Thrones-esque. Characters seem safe, but every so often we get the subtle reminder they are not, and as the story progresses this threat only ever looms larger.

The plot centres on the kingdom of Melengar, of which Arista is Princess and our main characters royal protectors, fighting against the newly formed empire. This takes us to the south, where Nationalists are battling the same foe, but not yet in one alliance. Arista’s goal is to unite their forces, but even as they do so, the world at large seems to shrink and more enemies come into play.

It’s intrigue at it’s best, and with so many revelations popping up as the story progresses, the stage is set for the climactic “Heir of Novron”, which should finish this trilogy with the storm it deserves!

 

The road goes ever on and on-Things I liked about the last Hobbit film [SPOILERS]

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I’ve waited until now to make my judgement on the last Hobbit film (well, at least the written version of it). Overall, it wasn’t particularly easy. I liked the first Hobbit film, and I disliked the second one. The third movie, called “The Battle of the five armies” was kind of like a mix of the two. So, to keep this short….er, and to make it easy for myself, I’m gonna tackle the good things in this post, and then we’ll look at what went wrong after.

1. The acting

Some moments of the Hobbit films have been guilty of the worst acting in the entire Middle Earth franchise. Mostly this has been down to a bad script, and a lot of the rest of it is either poor casting choices (Billy Connolly? Stephen Fry??) or working the plot wrong. Even so, it’s actually been overwhelmingly positive. In the battle of the five armies (BOTFA), Martin Freeman (Bilbo) and Ian McKellen (Gandalf) give their usual five star performances, and it’s safe to say there will NEVER be another Gandalf quite like Ian.

Richard Armitage performs consistently as the dark and vengeful Thorin Oakenshield, who spends most of the movie lusting after the Arkenstone (or king’s jewel). Aidan Turner (Kili) and Ken Stott (Balin) play their respective role as dwarves in the company very well, and are given lots of screen time in this installment. Aidan Turner in particular has went from strength to strength with each movie, and he even somehow manages to improve on the overall feel of the elf/dwarf romance that is Tauriel and Kili. Himself and Richard Armitage stand out in the action scenes, with Graham McTavish (Dwalin) also good in this respect.

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I think one of the most memorable performances in the franchise is given by Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman, who is blessed with the liberty of far more to do than his paperback compatriot. His nemesis Smaug, who is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is also wonderfully portrayed, which brings me to my next point…

2. That first 40 or so minutes

It wasn’t until the second watch that I truly appreciated it, but the first half an hour/forty minutes of this film is actually well up there as a contender for the best portion of the trilogy, and even has a Lord of the Rings kinda flavour to it that has been so glaringly missing from these three movies.

There are many bad ways to start a film (or end it a la Desolation of Smaug), but BOTFA has to be an example of how to do the exact opposite. It opens with the imminent attack of Smaug on Laketown, which (and I rarely say this) is VISUALLY AMAZING. That’s right. These scenes was so well done that I couldn’t help but notice. The sequence is a bit marred by Stephen Fry, but other than that it is perfectly constructed. The interplay between Smaug and Bard gives the dragon the hubristic tone seen widely in the novel, and though in large sections of the trilogy the heroes seem impervious to danger, with these scenes there really is a constant threat raging amid the dragon fire. After the death of Smaug, we get a fitting introduction to Thorin’s lust and greed, and then it is off to Dol Guldur where in the second movie we saw Gandalf captured by the now revealed Sauron. The sudden arrival of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) sets up what is uncharted-but-touched-on territory in Tolkien’s work, with the concept of the White Council banishing Sauron being very real, but the execution of the scene obviously fabricated by Jackson et al. It turns out quite well on screen, outside of the epileptic inducing Sauron that has become a stereotype of this trilogy.

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3. location, location, location

It normally goes without saying that Middle Earth is beautifully represented by the New Zealand landscape, but hell, I’m gonna say it anyway. It is noticeable that there is far more CGI work in the landscape, yet even so, the city of Dale has an Osgiliath ruins-like feel to it, while Erebor itself is one of most vividly created parts of all six movies. Gundabad has a nice Cirith Ungol look to it, which for many LOTR fans was one of the best settings in the original films.  Dol Guldur is unique as compared to some of the other locations, and its effect is mirrored onto Mirkwood well to show the spread of Sauron’s sickness.

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4. Some of the action scenes

Although as a movie, there is way too much of a reliance on CGI, some of the action scenes do still have that LOTR effect. In particular Tauriel’s scene on Ravenhill was well constructed, and Thorin vs Azog on the sheet of ice was a great way to lead up to the finish. I think the most obvious reason the look of the battles (as well as their credibility) has improved is that Jackson cannot escape the ending of the book. It is inevitable that Kili, Fili and Thorin had to die, and so in the latter part of the movie there was more of a desperate feel in the battles with Azog and Bolg. Bard’s fight scenes alongside the other men of Laketown were reasonably well done, so that in the end they were not dissimilar from the Siege of Gondor fights in Return of the King. It was the “setup” parts of most battles that stood out, but once the armies engaged it was a little hard to keep track. Still, the battles hugely improved on Desolation of Smaug.

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5. The ending

The first time I watched this movie, I was really unhappy with the ending. I know people go on and on about the last LOTR film dragging on, but this ending felt like a purposeful attempt to do the opposite. The second time, it still is obvious the ending could use work. The resolution after Thorin’s death is far too quick, and much of the cast is just kind of rushed off screen. There is no real finishing of the Bard, Thranduil or Dain storyline. Saying all that, I think Bilbo and Thorin’s last scene was really well done, as was Gandalf’s goodbye to Bilbo. Including the auction when Bilbo arrived home was a definite boost for the “there and back” theme of the whole thing. The final scene, which is one of the opening scenes of the Fellowship of the Ring looked at from within Bilbo’s house, was a touching (albeit slightly cheesy) note to end on. It was not a bad way to end it, and they did provide the link between the trilogies they wanted.

Next time, I’ll look at all the bad things, which is likely gonna be a much longer blog with far less structure. Until then.

World War Z without Brad Pitt

It’s very rare in the modern day to be able to read a book, watch it’s film adaptation, and still find no faults between them. Very rare. But here, after ploughing through an entire series of The Walking Dead books, the faults of which I outlined before both as a novel and as an on-screen version, I found a winner.

The above is actually incorrect, that is, in phrasing of course. I’d actually seen Max Brooks’ novel in the film version six months ago, long before Waterstones got paid a holiday visit from Kyle and his gift card. So when a quick google search informed me the movie and book were pretty much different in all but name, I wasn’t sure what I had got myself into.

The film World War Z stars Brad Pitt, who in the midst of a zombie pandemic finds himself shuffled into the deck of the world’s rescue team, which also features a globally renowned expert in viruses et al as well as the standard motley crew of army companions. Their mission is to go deep behind the enemy lines, to find patient zero and investigate how the infection operates. The journey takes them across countries which overall does try to encompass excerpts from the novel in as dramatic a fashion as possible. The portrayal of Israel is a good example that readers of the book could find a good parallel in. After that though, the similarities dwindle out. Most of the latter part of the movie centres on a World Health Organisation facility, where a plan for a cure begins to unravel. The climax is tense and overall as a narrative the movie successfully breaks into the ranks of respectable zombie films. This review will tend to focus more on the book though, as that’s probably where the real credit should go.

The most observable difference seen in the first few pages of the book on comparison to the film is the existence of the slow-type zombie rather than the fast-moving monster that is rampant in Brad Pitt’s world. Other than that readers would be surprised to see the book actually comprises a series of interviews, each skipping to different parts of the world and effectively examining the fallout of the “war” for people of all manner of class, gender, economic background and professional status. Even I thought this wasn’t going to work, with the skill needed to write a convincing novel made up only of interviews very hard to come by. But to Brooks’ credit, he whisks you right into the story from the beginning. The interviewer only intervenes to a point, giving the book room to flow, and so the pace isn’t hurt at all as mostly those being questioned are left free to describe first-hand what occurred to them during the apocalypse. However, if this was the only feature alone that Brooks employed, I’d leave the book thinking it was a solid shot at trying to convince the reader this had actually happened. What’s scary more than impressive, is that the author goes much, much further.

What’s immediately evident is the writer sticks to a set time pattern, with the novel’s early interviews revolving around the breakout of the virus, progressing eventually through survivor stories and the resulting fight back by the humans remaining.

The first twenty pages are an eerie look at just how terrifying it would be to come upon what seem like gruesome murders or abstract infections, the tone set by those interviewed (which of course the author controls) that all authority were completely incompetent, bewildered or out to cover up the true nature of what was going on. The writer breathes intelligence in every interview as he comes up with clever ways to get the virus on the move, such as cross-continent organ transplants or smugglers helping people out of quarantine zones. This helps quash the disbelief we all would have of “how exactly does this take over the world?”

Some of the best work is evident in the Israel/Palestine story. Of course, pre-war, this has its own political and social upheavals, so the virus only adds to the pool of problems the Middle East faces, with religion and military powers now coming into play as well. This is told from both sides of the Gaza strip, and from those both in power and those on the ground.

Once the plague begins to go global, the interviews shift to where the blame lies. At first we get glimpses of government officials discussing cover-up operations and attempts to avoid panic, but this also expands to give us a look at more interesting and obscure topics such as failed vaccine attempts and the embers of human-zombie contact on American soil.

The Great Panic spans a large chunk of the novel, and importantly deals with how humans became the losing side; a factor left out by most zombie movies where viewers are landed into the situation already after the government/society has collapsed. The tone here darkens significantly, and for the first time we begin to see the psychological implications of an undead world. Survivor stories feature a deranged woman, the fall of the army and the Russian side of the conflict.

After that we see just how big the fallout is, with stories of cannibalism and humans gone insane, either imitating zombies to their own demise or forming wild groups in the urban jungles. The book then takes the survivor cases in two groups-those still living in America and those located on other continents. Some pieces even go so far as to deal with life on the international space station, or life for a Japanese computer kid who is so hooked he fails to notice his parents gone for several days.

WordPress doesn’t have enough blog space to go into detail on all of the fascinating stories the author explores. As a result, I’ll focus finally on the last portion of the book, where I think the author succeeds to give the novel a lasting legacy. Here, during the human fight-back, we are painted a portrait of every aspect of the front line, whether it’s underwater, in cities, in Parisian catacombs or across the American Great Plains. Comprehensive would be insulting as a description, such is the extent to which it falls short in showing just how far the author’s research has prevailed. The ending is bitter sweet in most respects, with a lot of the earlier interviewees revisited to examine the aftershock. Realistically, if you took out the world zombie here and there, it really feels like the novel could have been the aftermath of any natural disaster. It’s less of a novel about zombies thriving, and more of a novel about humans clinging on, whatever for, and even then, remaining uncertain.

I would certainly recommend this on any summer reading list, if only for its merits in writing alone. Outside of that, the research, detail and difference in style the author brings to the table are commendable and go far beyond whatever Pitt and his friends were ever likely to achieve.

How The Walking Dead handles the move to a novel format

It’s been about a year since I took a gamble on following my interest in the ABC show “The Walking Dead” to the point where I purchased and read the spin-off novel; The Rise of the Governor. Mapped out by Robert Kirkman (the mastermind behind the original comic series) and pulled together by thriller writer Jay Bonansinga, the novel focuses on the back story of one of the most recognised and revered characters in the Walking Dead universe; Brian Blake (known widely as The Governor across all the aforementioned media). As my last review highlighted, the book overall pleased me, though it was not without its obvious drawbacks. Now nearly a fortnight into summer holidays, I’ve respectably flicked my way through the remaining three books in the series (though at two hundred and fifty-ish pages each, nobody is calling these a modern day War and Peace).

The second book in the series is titled “The road to Woodbury”, but rather than picking up where we left off with the Governors seizing of Woodbury’s power network, here we are thrust into the world of a separate character; Lily Caul (who is all but absent from the TV adaptation, but shows up as a regular at points in the comics). This installment starts as gripping and enthralling as that of the first, with Lily and her companions constantly facing human and zombie dangers alike. Being on the road, the pace ticks rapidly forward, never giving the reader or our protagonists a moment’s rest; a feature of Bonansinga’s writing that he might call a signature move. The inclusion of a female protagonist is a welcome sight, with Lily standing apart from previous male bravado-type characters and seeming far more human in what seems an increasingly unrealistic world of human responses to apocalyptic life. Josh and the remaining plot characters are written well enough that the story doesn’t suffer (at least not in that department), and by the halfway point there is a genuine desire on the part of the reader to want to see them safe. A huge plot shift occurs on arrival to the eponymous Woodbury. Rather than providing the overwhelming political and interpersonal tension that is characteristic of post-apocalyptic settlements, the novel seems to slip into a coma at this point; the new dangers of avoiding the town’s uglier denizens not living up to the perils seen on the run for our characters. By the end point the Governor is armed with enough psychotic intentions that the climax comes booming from the pages, but not without a splash of melodramatic flavouring.

The Fall of the Governor is split up into two identically sized pieces; its blurb reminding us that at this point characters made popular by the on-screen version are set to make an entrance into the series. Here Lily Caul again features as a viewpoint, a notion now so familiar the reader could wonder whether the Governor ever was supposed to stand out in this trilogy. Luckily this time even though we again find ourselves rooted in Woodbury, the tension is dialed up a notch, with Kirkman edging the Governor further over the edge in his actions, to the point where some of the residents question where the real problem lies-outside with the undead or inside with the living. Characters such as Martinez and Doc Stevens get more explored roles, with the Governor’s own henchmen also featuring to act as antagonists. By the time Glenn, Rick and Michonne arrive (their names so synonymous with the series it does jolt the reader back awake), the plot opens out into a much larger sweeping narrative, with multiple points of view becoming the norm, and short snappy scenes quashing the previous longer internal monologues. Austin arrives as a character throughout this final piece in the series, and immediately bolsters the ranks, with the Woodbury day-to-day life having diminished our pool of characters originally seen in book two. Once the narrative shifts to the prison, the challenge of trying to bring all the pieces into play at the right time really shows up in the pace of the story; the writer now clearly focusing on what is an inevitable outcome rather than giving the series the ending it deserves. The character of Michonne just gets annoying by now, her over the top displays in the field nothing short of laughable, a problem also seen in the TV show, which is no doubt always stemming from Kirkman himself. Lily Caul on the other hand goes from strength to strength, nearly reaching a point where the reader wishes a Woodbury victory over the memorable TV protagonists. Books three and four are swamped in tragedy, their tones far darker than those of the first two. The brutality now is relished by the characters not just thrust upon them.

On a whole the series succeeds in its mission to capture many of the elements of the other formats while giving a good account of the stories of the main characters. It’s a page turner and there’s no doubting it; the evidence of Bonansinga’s thriller writing experience present throughout. When it’s on the road, the novels are tense, gripping and highly engaging. Once it settles into a standstill, the ability of the book to hold the reader falters a little, but not to the point that you will lose faith. The series oozes action scenes, something any interested reader came in expecting, and so there’s no disappointment there. Where the books really fall down is the writing. It’s a lucky thing I came in wanting a theme more than some great novel. Because the latter can never be found. The writing is at best page-turning, at worst it’s enough to make you cringe and wonder did the author’s nine year old daughter step in for a chapter or two. Over description of the most mundane details is widespread. The writer clearly tries to convey some deep knowledge of biology at any possible moment, though having studied basic physiology I could give him a few pointers. Characters become stereotyped the second time we meet them, words are used to the point of outrage (apparently you can just about ‘thumb’ anything) and the phrase ‘nobody notices’ may as well comprise half the series for all its usage. It’s enough at times that the writing is what really is going bump in the night; the danger of drowning in sea of zombies nowhere near as close to that of suffocating beneath an onrush of unnecessary jargon. That being said, not all is at a loss.

Not one hour ago, I switched the TV to Film 4, and seeing that “The Wedding Planner” was just starting, I shrugged and sank back in my chair. It’s a very dull rom-com starring Jennifer Lopez and a boyish looking Matthew McConaughey. Having racked up a meager 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, it leaves a lot to be desired, but there I sat, watching it at my leisure, completely aware of what I was getting into. And perhaps that’s where the Walking Dead books triumph. For all their faults, they give us, the enthused, exactly what we wanted. Seeing that Kirkman has ordered Bonansinga to hammer out another four novels (starting with “The Descent” in October 14), I’ll remain quietly hopeful of a revamp of the series. Let’s not forget, Matthew himself would have laughed on the set of the Wedding Planner if you told he would hold up an oscar for Best Actor not two decades later…

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Reaction to “The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug” official trailer

Just seen it. Admittedly I thought it was something from a couple months back I’ve already seen. But this was all different. Good different…….? I’m not so sure. I’m a big Tolkien fan. Honestly it was the movies that got me into it. Realistically how many eight year olds dive into a book that big anyway. By big I mean The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is actually a pretty easy read. So when I saw the ad and decided that perhaps it was new and deserved two minutes of my time, it’s fair to say I was still somewhat excited (even if it was the old trailer). Afterwards I had mixed emotions. On the whole it looks more of the same from last year, which in general was “Well that is a fun,not-too-ridiculous adaption of a good Tolkien novel”. That being said the movie last year got away with a lot of stuff that fans were happy to brush over in favour of seeing big screen versions of their favourite books. But with the series already coming under heavy criticism for running into three monumental sized pieces, this time the producers could be less lucky.

Even from the first few seconds the massive excitement comes from hearing Martin Freeman coolly act out more of the lines of Bilbo Baggins. Playing the lead in the series, Freeman made much of the first movie better than it probably was. He’s got a certain connection to his character that makes Ian Mckellen seem to be in two places at once. But the excitement soon starts drowning in a couple of “really…..that?”. The first big thing the movie could flop in is TOO MUCH ELVES. My god, anybody who reads the book is like “why is Legolas here?” Granted the choice isn’t too farfetched with the storyline and serves to bring in more fans, but the fact that he features so much in even two minutes has me worried. There seems to be a lot of elves fighting orcs, elves discussing the plot, and elves in love interests with elves. I’m all for examining more of Tolkien’s favourite characters, but at the moment it looks like it could venture over the top. Evangeline Lily is a fairly talented actress. She was quite convincing as Kate in Lost. But having her in there as a token just seems like the movie is lowering its standards so the masses have something to jump in for. Some may say Arwen had a similar makeover for LOTR, moving up from her (I think) two lines in the book to having significant screen time. Even so, at least she was an original character, not just some idle flick of a film maker’s wand hoping to cast a female friendly aura over Tolkien’s work. An adaption shouldn’t have to dot hat. Take what’s there or go elsewhere.

The same applies for the evidence of a ridiculous amount of fight scenes. When this franchise stretched into three bits, I knew Peter Jackson was gonna have to invent a large amount of unscripted action just to keep us entertained. I was right. The whole thing seems to be full of orcs grappling with elves or dwarves escaping in arrow ridden barrels. Seriously, it takes from the plot to have it dumbed down to nothing more than a middle earth die hard.

The only extra that seems completely justifiable is the inclusion of the appendices reference to the necromancer. If Jackson wanted to help keep this tying up well to LOTR, he was right to throw this in. With like nine hours of film, why not? It happened and it’s a nice addition for real enthusiasts. Gandalf has delivered in all four films so far so having more of him may help move the whole thing along much smoother.

The section with the spiders looks like it could be well done, and the part at the lonely mountain seems worthwhile. I’ll be interested to see where they cut off and how Jackson delivers in his last installment. Until then, I’ll tell the purely fan side of me to shut up and enjoy the fact that a great story like this has come to light in such a way that a movie is there at all. An adaption can succeed in change if the change turns out good. In fact, without Jackson and all his little twitches of the tale, would I even be here at all as a massive fan?