Tag: Reviews

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-08-18.


Remembrance of the Daleks delivers what it promises: not just Daleks, but also remembrance. The Doctor travels back to 1963, to the same scrapyard where the series started, and throws out a slew of references to the earlier shows (including a delightful, R-rolling impression of Pertwee with "Now you listen to me, Brrrrrigadier! -- I mean, Group Captain.").

But it's less interesting for looking at what came before as what came after: in many ways, this serial is the template for the current series; all the coolest shit from Davies's run has seeds here. The Daleks have gained some rudimentary time-travel capabilities and set their sights on the Time Lords in the hopes of perfecting the technology; meanwhile, their use of humans continues, and their factioning and infighting continues.

But more than that, it's the Doctor's depiction here that leads directly into the 2005 series. When he executes his coup de grace, it's brutal, and he's utterly cold and remorseless. #7 was really the first You Do Not Fuck With the Doctor Doctor, and even though I still haven't read the original Human Nature novel, I have hit a moment of thinking, "Oh, well of course it was originally written for the Seventh Doctor." While the last few Dalek serials were marked with an increasingly annoying reluctance to violence on the Doctor's part, #7 has no such compunctions, and his actions here make it believable that he could bring himself to push that button, to annihilate his own planet and his entire race if that's what it took to destroy the Daleks.

And because of all that, it's quite a neat little serial -- not as good as Genesis or Revelation, but worth the $15 at Amazon (or $20 for the Special Edition, if that's your thing). Not a good one to start off with; it's worth checking out An Unearthly Child, some Third Doctor stuff (Green Death and Inferno, as mentioned earlier, are my favorites), and some other Davros serials (at least Genesis and Revelation) first, and you'll appreciate it more if you've seen the current series too.

Redboxin'

Caught a rather interesting and unlikely pair of movies last night: Beasts of the Southern Wild and Hotel Transylvania.

Beasts isn't like most movies, and it took me awhile to really hit a point where I could describe what I was seeing. But at the point where Hush Puppy finally comes face-to-face with the aurochses, it hit me: a movie about a little girl, with one parent missing and the other suffering from a vague illness, a watery disaster, strange beasts, strange houses, and strange modes of transportation? This is a live-action Miyazaki movie. I don't really give a shit about the Oscars, but it's nice to see this movie nominated for a few because the film, its director, its writers, and its stars deserve the recognition.

Hotel Transylvania is, of course, a thoroughly different animal, but I enjoyed it. The script was decent enough, Sandler and the other SNL vets' hammy performances suited the material, and, most notably, Tartakovsky managed to pull off some cool Tex Avery/Chuck Jones shit that you really don't see in a lot of CG films. It leads me to believe that he's just the right guy to take a stab at the Fleischer style in a Popeye movie.

Skyfallin'

The theme of Skyfall is the conflict between the old and the new. You can tell because every third line of dialogue reminds you of this.

I think the trouble is that the writers and director don't seem quite clear on what that premise actually means.

Spoilers follow.

Does Silver represent the new, because he is a computer hacker and a new kind of enemy? Or does he represent the old, because he's a Cold War-era agent who's gone rogue for reasons that are entirely tied to the way M has run MI6?

There's also the question of the contrast between the original Bond films and the Craig-era ones. This movie makes a big point of bringing back the trappings of the original films -- Moneypenny, Q, a 1960 Aston Marton with machine guns -- but it also makes a big point of how the original movies felt a lot more high-tech and futuristic than the current ones. (The gadgets Q gives Bond are "A radio and a gun -- not exactly Christmas, is it?") So which is the old and which is the new? And that's before you even get into the point that Craig's Bond, and Casino Royale as a whole, are throwbacks to Fleming's novels, the oldest version of Bond there is.

There's another conflict between the old and the not-quite-so-old: the last two Bond films seemed intent on introducing Quantum as the new, non-infringing version of SPECTRE, a shadowy organization that would pose a recurring threat through the rebooted franchise. And then, in Skyfall? No trace of Quantum at all. We're back to isolated, one-off villains -- perhaps because someone at the recovering-from-bankruptcy MGM realized that self-contained movies without recurring villains just make more sense for the film franchise. (Hell, even when the old films were using Blofeld as their go-to villain, they still had a different actor in the role every time; it may as well have been a different character.)

On the whole, though, it all hung together pretty well; I thoroughly enjoyed the first and third act. (The second act was stupid and had Magic Computers. I don't know where the writer picked up the phrase "security through obscurity", but apparently he missed the part where it is not an expression any security professional would ever use without sneering. The less said about the movie's idea of data encryption and depiction of code as a stupid-looking early-1990's wireframe screensaver the better.) But nonetheless, perfectly decent. Though I'm kinda glad I waited to see it at the cheap theater.

Doctor Who: Mark of the Rani

Originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2009-01-11, following up on my preceding review of Revelation of the Daleks:


You know, I thought Revelation of the Daleks was pretty good -- good enough that it makes me want to check out more Sixth Doctor episodes, which I hear is an emotion most people rarely feel.

Aaaaand Mark of the Rani has cured me of it.

The setting is interesting, and it's got the Master, and the Rani is a character with potential, but...it's pretty much terrible. At this point I want to punch Peri in the mouth every time she opens it (though this actually makes me kind of want to check out Trial of a Time Lord just to see her die).

The fact that this is regarded as one of the better Sixth Doctor serials goes a long way toward explaining why everyone hates the Sixth Doctor. Not worth buying, not worth renting, not even worth watching while drunk.

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks

Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2009-01-06.


You know, I thought Revelation of the Daleks was pretty good -- good enough that it makes me want to check out more Sixth Doctor episodes, which I hear is an emotion most people rarely feel.

Probably the most interesting thing about it is that at this point the show had abandoned all pretense of being a kids' show -- while it doesn't have as high a bodycount as the previous Dalek arc, it's probably more violent, dark, and disturbing all around, with the most memorable scene being a woman searching for her father in a Ubik-like cryo-preservation center and finding his mutated head inside a Dalek armor. (Yeah, we've got Davros mutating humans into Daleks here -- a precursor to The Parting of the Ways.) That and every shot of Nicola Bryant's stockings or cleavage tend to prove the show was trying desperately to keep a now-teenage audience rather than acquire new viewers -- there's some parallel to be drawn between this and my frequent "How the comic industry is fucking itself" musings.

It veers off-course in places, with the first ep's cliffhanger resembling a game of Xanatos Roulette (even with cameras all over the place tracking the Doctor's every move, it's hard to figure how Davros knew Peri would see the Dalek and follow it to the Doctor's fake memorial), and the Doctor's broken pocketwatch feels a lot like an unfired Chekhov's Gun -- maybe it's covered in Trial of a Time Lord (I have very little interest in finding out; if Douglas Adams and Tom Baker couldn't get me to watch a season-long arc, I really don't see doing it for one that everybody seems to hate), or maybe it's just a way of destroying a deus ex machina like they did with the Sonic Screwdriver during the Davison era.

The biggest problem with the serial was the same as in the only other Sixth Doctor serial I've seen to date, Vengeance on Varos: the Doctor and Peri don't really do anything, and the story would transpire pretty much the same without them. Peri's got a good emotional moment in the first ep that is largely ruined by her "Where the fuck is she supposed to be from?" accent; she sounds more like a real person in the second half but overacts to the point of obnoxiousness. #6 has a few good lines and makes me want to see more of him, but again, he doesn't really do anything.

Far and away my favorite part is the utterly nonsensical and downright surreal appearance of comedian Alexei Sayle as the DJ (everyone, including the supposedly-American Peri, pronounces his name that way, with the accent on the "J"). He has fuck-all to do with the story, and shows up a few times in the first ep to speckle the fourth wall and impersonate Elvis; in the second ep, he kills several Daleks with a beam of pure rock'n'roll. It's a very clear example of a celebrity guest star awkwardly shoehorned into a script, yet as far as I'm concerned, the result is completely awesome.

Other thoughts: the Daleks do not actually seem like a race that would have courts and trials. (This plays into the opening of the 1996 TV movie, which piles on the additional questions of what the Master was doing there, why the Time Lords apparently sanctioned the Daleks' brand of justice, and why the Daleks let the Doctor show up on Skaro to collect the remains.)

Anyway! Best Dalek story I've seen in a long time, better than Resurrection, Destiny, or either of their very bad appearances in the past two years. I'd say it's worth a rental, but it's not that damn much more to buy it -- nobody loves the Sixth Doctor.

Backing Up Wii Data -- All of It

So I've been having problems with my Wii. It's stopped running discs entirely -- I put one in, it spits it right back out. I suspect the spindle motor, and I'm going to try fixing it myself with a little help from the guides and parts at Console Zombie -- but before I go taking my Wii apart and poking around in its innards, I figure I should probably back all my shit up.

Course, as you may know, the Wii doesn't allow you to back up everything onto an SD card. Certain downloads and save files are copy-protected. This is what is known, amongst technical people such as myself, as a bunch of stupid fucking bullshit.

See, the way I see it, I should be able to back up my saves in case my console gives up the ghost. Or, say, go over to my brother-in-law's house and have access to every course on Mario Kart without having to unlock them all again in fucking single-player mode.

So I did a bit of reading up and found a utility called Savegame Extractor. It requires installation of the Homebrew Channel.

I have an old Wii and the latest version of the Wii System Menu (4.3U). After some reading, I found that the appropriate utility for my system was LetterBomb, and there are installation instructions at wiibrew.org.

It was about as simple and painless as root tools come. Select your firmware version and input your MAC address, then download the LetterBomb zipfile. Rename the private folder on your SD card, copy the boot.elf file and private directory from the zip to the root. Put it in the Wii, power it up, open up the messageboard, and click on the LetterBomb icon. From there I installed the Homebrew Channel, and installed BootMii as boot2 (apparently on recent Wii revisions you can only install as IOS, ie overwriting the Wii firmware).

Once you boot up again, you'll need to use either a GameCube controller or the buttons on the Wii face (Power to move the cursor, Reset to select an option) on the bootscreen. You should back up your NAND memory (provided you've got 512MB free on the card; it's under the gears icon, then the icon with the arrow pointing from the chip to the SD card).

Next thing: install the Homebrew Browser.

Create an apps directory on the root of your SD card. Download the Homebrew Browser, extract it, and copy the homebrew_browser subdirectory to apps. Once it's on the SD card, you can load it from the Homebrew Channel; from there -- well, from there I got a stack dump and had to reload it. But I reloaded it, and from there you can download all sorts of useful apps -- including Savegame Extractor.

In fact, there are a few variations on it -- there's Savegame Manager, which combines Savegame Extractor with Savegame Installer, and which also just flat-out stack-dumped every time I tried to use it -- but there's a fork called SaveGame Manager EX, which works great, comes with a GUI that mimics the Wii's, and has a nice batch option to extract everything from the Wii at one go, eliminating all that tedious clicking on each individual file and then selecting Copy. (And, okay, also copying over some other shit that you don't really need to expend the space on backing up, like the Netflix Channel. But hey, still.)

Soapbox time: I'm not doing this to play pirated games. I'm not doing this to cheat at online games. (I'm not doing it to cheat at offline games, either, but if I were, that would be none of anybody's goddamn business but my own.)

I'm doing this to access my data, the games I bought and paid for (and, all right, one that Brent got me for my birthday), the saves I slogged through hours of stupid bullshit single-player Mario Kart to get.

And I shouldn't fucking have to install a bunch of hacks to do this.

I like my Wii. Rather a lot. I mean, Jesus Christ, look at how much effort I've gone to to keep all the stuff I've got on it, and that's before I've even started taking it apart.

But Nintendo is completely fucking ass-backwards in its approach to modern technology in general and network play in particular. Its "safeguards" are asinine and poorly-thought-out. They won't stop some guy with an Action Replay from unlocking all the karts on Mario Kart or all the fighters on Smash Bros and then going online (and hey, Nintendo? Maybe if you didn't make it impossible to unlock anything on multiplayer in Mario Kart, and a pain in the ass to unlock everything on multiplayer in Smash Bros, people wouldn't be tempted to cheat to do it?). They just put up barriers to prevent people with broken consoles from getting their data off. Which, again, includes games they paid for.

...and frankly they're not very good barriers. This was really a breeze. I'd like to thank the developers of all the various tools I've mentioned, and the writers of the walkthroughs on how to set them up. Because this was pretty damn painless, and to be frank I enjoyed doing it.

Tune in next time to see how I do at taking my Wii apart and seeing if I can fix it.

If I even get that far. I don't have a tri-wing screwdriver onhand, so I'm going to see if I can get the screws out with a small flathead. If not, well, tri-wings are like $5 on Amazon.

Insufferable is Awesome

I got a Nexus 7 for Christmas. As you might expect, the first thing I did was root it. The second was to get all my usual apps -- E-Mail, RSS, emulators -- set up and working. The ones I'm used to from my phone.

But the third thing? Comics.

I've been very excited about Mark Waid's digital comics endeavors for years now. He gets it. Release your books in DRM-free standard formats, and treat pirates like they're potential customers instead of treating your customers like they're potential pirates.

In a nutshell, I'd been waiting to get a tablet just for the opportunity to see what it was Waid was up to.

Well, for starters, his books up on thrillbent.com are just straight-up free downloads.

Want to download all of Thrillbent's marquee book, Insufferable, by Waid and artist Peter Krause, for free? (Hint: yes. Yes you do.) Here's a simple, handy bash script to do it:

for((i = 1; i <= 9; i++)); do wget http://www.thrillbent.com/cbz/insufferable/Insufferable_0$i\_Mark_Waid_2012.cbz; done for((i = 10; i <= 34; i++)); do wget http://www.thrillbent.com/cbz/insufferable/Insufferable_$i\_Mark_Waid_2012.cbz; done

And presumably next week #35 will be out with a "2013" in place of that "2012" in the filename and it'll go on from there.

From a nuts-and-bolts storytelling perspective, Insufferable is a perfectly compelling superhero book. It's a Batman pastiche, but I happen to like Batman pastiches. (I often say that my all-time favorite Batman comic is Astro City: Confession.) The setup here is, loosely: What if Nightwing was a total douchebag?

It follows that moment of the sidekick -- named Galahad, in this case -- striking off on his own, no longer able to work with his mentor (Nocturnus). And Galahad isn't the class act that Dick Grayson is -- he's an insecure, spoiled celebrity. Nocturnus, meanwhile, has seen better days; he's something of a has-been and is now superheroing on a budget.

That, by itself, is enough for an intriguing, human superhero yarn. Insufferable would be a thoroughly enjoyable book on the strength of good old-fashioned traditional comic book storytelling.

But instead, it innovates. Waid and Krause make a point of doing things with a digital comic that can't be done on paper. Frames appear one swipe at a time; characters' facial expressions change. In one case, Nocturnus does the classic Batman entrance -- in one panel, the room is empty; swipe your finger and suddenly he's just there. As Galahad rides off after the bad guy, he receives a tweet making fun of him. Swipe and a few retweets appear over the scene; swipe again and the screen starts to fill with them.

Waid discusses these techniques in a recent Robot 6 interview. He cites the master, Bernie Krigstein, as his greatest inspiration in thinking of panel composition as a tool for pacing.

Waid's got the right idea, and it almost always works. As I read Insufferable I keep thinking of how smart he and Krause are in their use of these techniques, how they're not flashy and they're not there just for the sake of Doing Something Different; they actually serve the story in a way that -- while original -- has its roots in decades of traditional comics.

For my money, there is one example where it doesn't quite work: repeating the same panel exactly. I get what they're trying to do -- hell, where would Bendis be without that technique? -- but while you can repeat a panel exactly on paper as a pacing tool, it throws me to see it in a digital comic. There's a simple UI design reason for this: when a user interacts with a program, the program is supposed to do something. If I swipe a page, I can't tell the difference between "the same panel repeats" and "nothing happens". My first thought isn't "Oh, that's a beat", it's "Did I not press hard enough?"

There's a simple solution -- just change something, anything, in the panel. Make somebody blink, or change a facial expression slightly -- anything at all to give the user some sort of feedback that yes you turned the page and now this is the next image.

But you know, the occasional false note is the price of innovation. Yes, I found something small that, in my opinion, doesn't quite work in Waid and Krause's book. But there's so damn much that does work, and works astonishingly well.

I've said before that now is the best time to be a comics fan. Insufferable is one more example of why. Go give it a read -- it won't cost you anything and I think you'll be glad you did.

I haven't gotten around to the other Thrillbent books yet, but I intend to. But first -- well, it's Wednesday. I've got some traditional, paper-and-toner-and-staples comics to go pick up.

Wreck-It Ralph: Fuck the Haters

Finally got around to seeing Wreck-It Ralph today. And I must say, it was great; one of my favorites of the year.

I'd braced myself, based on reviews, for a movie that went off the rails after the first act and descended into poop jokes, product placement, and a completely different character's arc -- and an ending with a lousy message. But that's not how I read it at all; spoilers follow.

I'll grant that there was product placement -- hell, the climax revolved around Mentos. And there were poop jokes -- because it's a kids' movie with Sarah Silverman.

And the ending -- Ralph goes back to being a bad guy but now he enjoys it? I guess I can see how some people thought that betrayed the story's premise. Hell, I'd have figured they'd go the route of Ralph's clear inspiration, Donkey Kong, and make him a hero in a sequel.

But you know, there is something to be said for the message: you may have a lousy job, but you can find ways to make it better. There's a bit of Camus's Myth of Sisyphus to it; Sisyphus may not have a choice in how he lives, but he does have the freedom to feel however the hell he wants about it. (And it doesn't hurt that Ralph's coworkers finally start treating him right.)

I'll also grant that the movie spends an awfully long time in Sugar Rush, but the game proves to have a pretty rich set of environs after all. Indeed, it almost feels like they cheat a little bit, like there's a whole lot of stuff in there that doesn't belong in a racing game.

Then again, maybe it's a franchise. Maybe it's like in Mario Kart 64 where you can go off the track and ride right up to the castle from Super Mario 64. Maybe Sugar Rush is just one piece of a larger world. Don't know -- but it's even fun thinking of examples of games that make this idea make sense.

And as for Mario Kart, the racing sequence really does a wonderful job of evoking it. The tracks have a lovely design, familiar but different, and beautifully realized.

For all that, I'd almost grant that the movie peaks early, in its opening act -- except that my favorite part was the credits.

On the whole, sure, it's not perfect -- it's probably not even my favorite animated movie of the year. (Maybe my third, after Pirates! and ParaNorman. Yes, before Brave -- though Brave would be #4.) But you know, it's a movie that steps into the shared-franchise space of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Toy Story and actually manages to be a worthy entry -- maybe not as good as those two, but that it can even stand in the same league as those giants says a lot.

Razors Reviewed, Revised

I previously posted of my experience with a variety pack of double-edged razors I bought from Amazon. I divided them into two simple categories, good and bad.

Now that I've used them all (except the Merkur) a little bit more, I have some revisions to offer.

Merkur

Previous Verdict: Nice Clean Shave

Revised: No revision; I only had one Merkur blade. Standing by the original review; it was a nice clean shave.

Blue bird

Previous Verdict: Nice Clean Shave

Revised: My second experience with the Blue bird wasn't as good. Some skin irritation. Not bad, but not as good as the first time around.

Bic

Previous Verdict: Nice Clean Shave

Revised: My opinion is unchanged. Bic is the best of the lot. The way things stand now, when I run out of all these razors I want to buy a bulk pack of Bic.

Astra

Previous Verdict: Nice Clean Shave

Revised: Round two with the Astra wasn't bad, but I'm going to have to revise the "nice clean shave" claim. In fact I'd say it's the least close shave out of all seven razors; I spent twice as much time going over my face several extra times to get rid of my stubble. On the plus side, it didn't irritate my skin; it's not a bad razor but it's not great, either.

Shark

Previous Verdict: Cut the Hell Out My Face

Revised: Oh my, no. Shark remains, far and away, the worst of the seven; as its name implies, it is a savage, bloodthirsty monster that will rip your flesh to shreds. When it wasn't making me bleed, it was raising bumps all over my face from irritation and ingrown hairs.

Gillette

Previous Verdict: Cut the Hell Out My Face

Revised: Not so bad the second time around. Not as smooth an experience as Bic, but pretty good; definitely a better razor than I gave it credit for the first time.

Feather

Previous Verdict: Cut the Hell Out My Face

Revised: I have nicked my skin more with the Feather than most of the others, but on the other hand it feels smoother and shaves closer. On the whole I guess it's the opposite problem from the Astra.

Summary

Interestingly enough, on further review my Best and Worst razor remained the same, while all the others sort of converged toward the middle. A median with a couple of outliers -- the statistician in me is pleased.

Concerning Hobbits

Well, I really liked The Hobbit. Though I'm a Tolkien geek (let's go through the list: read all the appendices in LotR, read The Silmarillion twice, Unfinished Tales, both volumes of The Book of Lost Tales, and The Lays of Beleriand; I've got a couple more books in the set that I haven't gotten around to because you can only read so many different versions of The Children of Húrin before you need a break) and I can understand the mixed reviews from people whose hearts aren't filled with joy at hearing Gandalf's semantic deconstruction of the phrase "Good morning."

Let me start off by saying, I saw the IMAX 3D version, but not the HFR version -- my local IMAX is still equipped with a film projector, no digital. (As such I didn't see the Star Trek feature or any trailers, either.) So I can't speak to HFR. The comments I've heard from family who have range from "It didn't make much difference" to "It gave me a headache, and the CG characters looked great but the human actors looked terrible."

All that said: there are plenty of other eccentricities to the film, and while I think they all come out okay, I can see why there's disagreement.

(Spoilers follow. Though I think they're pretty minor, all things considered.)

Foremost, It's the first of three three-hour movies adapted from a book that could be comfortably translated to 90 minutes.

And, related, it achieves that length by padding it out with tonally-inconsistent material from other books.

Much of which includes appearances by characters who aren't in the book, most of them from the LotR films.

Truth be told, I'm okay with all those things.

First: the reality is, while The Hobbit the book is a standalone novel which was published prior to Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit the films are prequels to an already-successful movie trilogy. There are different expectations here -- and for continuity's sake, the audience wants to see familiar actors reprising their roles.

That said, none of it felt tacked-on to me. Even the framing sequence with Ian Holm and Elijah Wood -- well, okay, so it seems to imply that Bilbo wrote the whole book in a single day and that seems pretty nutty, but aside from that, it provides a sense of continuity with the LotR films, and also allows Holm to narrate the Dwarves' backstory.

Which I suppose brings me to the point of extraneous material: while this film pads out The Hobbit with material from other books (mostly Unfinished Tales), it adapts that material faithfully. There are some liberties here and there (like the White Council meeting in Rivendell instead of Lothlórien), but on the whole it's true to the backstory that Tolkien wrote.

And the thing is, considering The Hobbit as prequel instead of a standalone work, it's important to include the portions of the story that lead into Lord of the Rings. The Necromancer in Dol Guldur? Not only does that story lay the groundwork for LotR, it's also central to Gandalf's motivation. Why is the world's greatest wizard interested in thirteen Dwarves' quest to slay a dragon? Because he doesn't want Sauron to have a dragon. In The Hobbit as a standalone work, that's not really important -- Gandalf's just a mysterious and eccentric old wizard -- but coming from Lord of the Rings first, people are bound to wonder just what he's doing with Thorin's company, and where he's going all those times he wanders off. (And I'm hoping the sequels delve a little deeper into his meeting with Thráin.)

And to that end, bringing in Galadriel and Saruman for a powwow isn't just a tacked-on scene -- it's part of Gandalf's story. And moving it from Lothlórien to Rivendell makes good narrative sense. Plus it gives the movie a chance to depict Elrond in a way that's more consistent with Lord of the Rings -- because let's be honest here, in the books Elrond in The Hobbit and Elrond in LotR may as well be different characters.

(Poor old Christopher Lee, by the way -- he's really not looking so good. And am I correct in thinking he was green-screened in and wasn't even filmed in the same room with the other three actors? Nevertheless, it was good to see him and I'm glad he was in good enough health to shoot the scene.)

The downside, I suppose, is that it does bring in those tonal inconsistencies I mentioned. The Hobbit is a children's fairytale, while Lord of the Rings is an epic myth. They're very different books, written for different audiences -- and the movie version of The Hobbit tries to be both.

Personally I think it succeeds -- I think it does a great job of mixing the light elements of the Bilbo story with the darker ones of Gandalf's, and the Dwarves' backstory -- but I'll acknowledge there's something regrettable about a Hobbit movie that you wouldn't want to take your kids to see, lest the on-screen decapitation of Thrór give them nightmares.

That said, I'm perfectly all right with the trolls resembling the Three Stooges and the Great Goblin being a disgusting, bullfrog-throated wretch played by Barry "Dame Edna" Humphries. There may be some fans (casual or Serious) who don't care for those depictions, but I think they fit the story just fine.

And then there's Radagast. His part of the story is probably the biggest departure from Tolkien's work, but, perhaps not coincidentally, was my favorite. Sylvester McCoy plays him as a wonderfully batty character who is nonetheless wise and compassionate -- not to mention a damn fine wizard. And Gandalf's respect for him, and Saruman's lack thereof, perfectly encapsulate the difference between those two characters: Gandalf sees the value in those who seem humble, meek, weak, or just plain weird, while Saruman's arrogance blinds him to the nature of true power. It's the same mistake he makes in judging Hobbits (though that's got the added dash of hypocrisy that he's quite happy to drink their wine and smoke their pipe-weed).

Which I suppose brings me to another criticism: We've seen this all before. Bilbo's opening narration about the fall of Erebor mirrors Galadriel's narration about the fall of Sauron in Fellowship of the Ring; the battle outside the gates of Moria looks an awful lot like that battle, too. (An aside: nice touch having Balin tell the story of the Dwarves' attempt to recapture Moria. I'm guessing most of the audience won't make the connection to Balin's Tomb in Fellowship, but it's a good bit for the fans.) The escape from Goblin Town is like the escape from Khazad-Dûm re-staged as a comedy. Hell, they even work Weathertop in there.

So, for all of that, I can see how this movie can feel like more of the same -- redundant, maybe even unnecessary.

But for my part, it didn't seem that way -- in fact, I'd say I really enjoyed the hell out of it.