Archive for The Hobbit

the Force awakens… some memories

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on January 10, 2016 by xi'an

In what may become a family tradition, I managed to accompany my daughter to the movies on the day off she takes just before her medical school finals. After last year catastrophic conclusion to the Hobbit trilogy, we went to watch the new Star Wars on the day it appeared in Paris. (Which involved me going directly to the movie theatre from the airport, on my way back from Warwick.) I am afraid I have to admit I enjoyed the movie a lot, despite my initial misgivings and the blatant shortcomings of this new instalment.

Indeed, it somewhat brought back [to me] the magic of watching the very first Star Wars, in the summer of 1977 and in a theatre located in down-town Birmingham, to make the connection complete! A new generation of (admittedly implausible) heroes takes over with very little help from the (equally implausible) old guys (so far). It is just brilliant to watch the scenario unfold towards the development of those characters and tant pis! if the battle scenes and the fighters and the whole Star Wars universe has not changed that much. While the new director has recovered the pace of the original film, he also builds the relations between most characters towards more depth and ambiguity. Once again, I like very much the way the original characters are treated, with just the right distance and irony, a position that would not have been possible with new actors. And again tant pis! if the new heroes share too much with the central characters of Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. This choice definitely appealed to my daughter, who did not complain in the least about the weaknesses in the scenario and about the very stretched ending. To the point of watching the movie a second time during the X’mas vacations.

The Hobbit (once upon a very long time…)

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on December 25, 2014 by xi'an

“Will you follow me, one last time?”

With my daughter, we completed our Xmas Tolkien cycle by going together to see The battle of the five armies. As several have noted before me, the best thing I can say about this Hobbit series is that it is now… over! Just like the previous two instalments, watching Peter Jackson’s grand finale was mostly enjoyable, but mainly for the same reasons one enjoys visiting a venerable great-aunt once a year around Christmas, namely for bringing back memories of good times and shared laughs. Indeed, Jackson managed to link both sagas through his central character of Gandalf who, while overly fond of raised eyebrows and mischievous eyes, is certainly the most compelling character all over.  While the plot stretched too thinly to keep me enthralled, as I could not remember why the orcs and goblins were converging to Erebor at the same time as the elves and dwarves and men of Dale (unless it was to justify the future name of the battle?!), I soon got battle-weary of the repeated clashes between the various armies which sounded like straight copies from on-line war games and even more of the half-dozen duels, while the rescue of Gandalf from Dol Gurdur is unbearably clumsy, with an apocryphal appearance of the Nazguls. As too often in the story, the giant eagles were so instrumental to victory that one could only wonder why they had not been around from the start.

The comical parts are much sparser here than in the previous movies: hardly any screen time for Radagast’s rabbits, thank Sauron!, or for the jovial Dain with his great Scottish brogue and his war[t]hog opening, or yet for Thranduil’s moose to show its major advantage in battle, a few steps before being shot down, or for the war mountain goats who appeared then vanished at the moment of direst need, or for Bard to find a pre-historical skateboard. I also noted that the [dumb] orgs managed to invent a precursor of Chappe’s telegraph that alas could only transmit one symbol [since it was always taking the same shape!], that Legolas recreated the Matrix by walking on a disintegrating bridge, and that Thorin turned on gravity for a few crucial seconds in a movie where most characters seem to have no issue with falling, jumping or fighting without the slightest consideration for mechanics, with a strong tendency for characters to head-butt into walls…

“What this adaptation of “The Hobbit” can’t avoid by its final instalment is its predictability and hollow foundations.” NYT, Dec. 16, 2014

Other features I did not enjoy much: Thorin sulked way too long, Alferid outlasted its stay on screen by about 144 minutes, only to vanish unexpectedly, Bilbo seemed lost at the margins most of the movie, while the love story between Kili and Tauriel was really one addition too many to Tolkien’s book. The search for variety in the steeds of the various armies made me almost wish for more races on the battle-field as we could then have seen fighters on giant moles or on battle-hens… And everyone could have done without the “Dune moment”, with giant earth-worms breaking tunnels only to return to oblivion. Anyway, we have now been “There and Back Again” and can now settle in our own hobbit-hole to re-read the books and enjoy a certain nostalgia about the days where we could imagine on our own how Bilbo, Gandalf or Thorin would look like, while humming “Song of the Misty Mountains”…

MCqMC 2014 [day #4]

Posted in pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by xi'an

Leuven7

I hesitated in changing the above title for “MCqMSmaug” as the plenary talk I attended this morning was given by Wenzel Jakob, who uses Markov chain Monte Carlo methods in image rendering and light simulation. The talk was low-tech’, with plenty of pictures and animations (incl. excerpts from recent blockbusters!), but it stressed how much proper rending relies on powerful MCMC techniques. One point particularly attracted my attention, namely the notion of manifold exploration as it seemed related to my zero measure recent post. (A related video is available on Jakob’s webpage.) You may then wonder where the connection with Smaug could be found: Wenzel Jakob is listed in the credits of both Hobbit movies for his contributions to the visual effects! (Hey, MCMC made Smaug [visual effects the way they are], a cool argument for selling your next MCMC course! I will for sure include a picture of Smaug in my next R class presentation…) The next sessions of the morning opposed Sobol’s memorial to more technical light rendering and I chose Sobol, esp. because I had missed Art Owen’s tutorial on Sunday, as he gave a short presentation on using Sobol’s criteria to identify variables contributing the most to the variability or extreme values of a function, an extreme value kind of ANOVA, most interesting if far from my simulation area… The afternoon sessions saw MCMC talks by Luke Bornn and Scott Schmidler, both having connection with the Wang-Landau algorithm. Actually, Scott’s talk was the one generating the most animated discussion among all those I attended in MCqMC! (To the point of the chairman getting rather rudely making faces…)

The Hobbit (a Smaug screen)

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2013 by xi'an

In what seems to become a X’mas tradition, I went back to see a Hobbit movie with my kids. (If not in a Norman theatre, which permitted us to hear the original soundtrack.) And once more, we came out of the movie theatre with different reactions. Both my son and I thought it was better than the (very boring) first instalment. My daughter did not buy the dragon part (which is indeed difficult to buy!) and complained about the lack of depth and of this feeling of history and tradition that should come with elves. I completely agree with her analysis on this second part. The movie is too centred on action scenes—the park-ridesque escape from the Halls of Thranduil and the pursuit by the orcs, themselves pursued by the elves Legolas and Tauriel are definitely lacking in subtlety!—to spend time on the history of the land, and on the reasons for the behaviour of the elves towards the dwarves, or on the past glory of Dale… The New-Zealand mountain landscapes are as beautiful as ever, but lack in bringing strength to the story, a band of orgs on wargs against a thin ridge in the rising sun replacing a company of dwarves on a moor against a beautiful sunset in the mountains in the previous film. Smaug is also a delicate topic: it is beautifully played by Cumberbatch, who gave more than his voice to the dragon. (And the irony of having Smaug getting the higher ground in his conversation with Bilbo, just like Holmes getting the better of Watson in the BBC series!) Nonetheless, the last third of the film when the dwarves face him is altogether unconvincing, missing the subtle and hypnotic features of dragons and somehow making Smaug appear more like the dragon in Shrek… The trick of the final scene eventually worked out for me, but the preliminaries were so unconvincing. Having Smaug playing hide and seek with the group of dwarves, while destroying the halls of Erebor, is contradicting the reputation for deep cunning (Μῆτις) of the dragons! The last point I want to make is somehow of lesser importance: Peter Jackson chose to move away from the book in many more ways in this second film, when compared with the first one. This is not an issue in that no movie can reproduce the most notable features of the book, so changes would be welcomed had they brought a more epic tone to the Quest. Alas, this is not the case and the scenes of Gandalf in dol Guldur make him sound like an incompetent beginner, while the inclusions of Tauriel and of the corrupted Master of Laketown branch off the main theme with a superfluous love triangle and with an unnecessary depiction of greed, once again taking some precious time off from setting the journey more safely into its epic dimension. Not too mention the additional tension created by the orcish pursuit. All in all, not an unpleasant film, but much lighter than it could have been…