Magic, Mystery, Mayhem And Murder: It’s Book Review Time.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A NovelTitle: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel
Author: Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Fiction
Available From: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Jonathan Strange is an odd book. Its premise is simple: it’s the early 19th century and the Napoleonic wars are raging in Europe. England, once the proud seat of European magic and magicians, has all but let that history slip into the past. Magic was once an active art, drawing the finest minds in England to its ins and outs; it has now turned into a passive one, one studied endlessly by gentlemen at their leisure and never, ever put into practice (it’s seen as below their station by most of gentle birth).
An ancient prophecy, one that had been all but written off as a childrens’ fairy tale, foretold a resurgence in English magic in the persons of two mysterious gentlemen: one is to be a bookish, learned type, steady and staid and risk-averse, while the other is to be a natural talent, brash and fiery. You can probably guess where this is going: the two titular characters are indeed the foretold pair. Mr. Norrell arrives on the scene first, having amassed England’s (and most likely the world’s) largest collection of tomes on magic and seeking to run each and every last “magician” from England. Viewing the vast majority of England’s gentlemen magicians as shiftless ne’er-do-wells, Norrell devises a series of wagers that eventually lead almost all magicians to resign their craft in shame.
All, save Jonathan Strange and a few other novices. Strange, a natural adept, initially seeks Norrell’s tutelage and, with Norrell’s help, is eventually deployed to Portugal to assist Lord Wellington with his anti-Napoleonic campaign in the Spanish Peninsula. Upon Strange’s return to England, he and Norrell have a falling out. I’ll leave you to read the rest.
Jonathan Strange is a well-written book, rife with humor and twisting plots. It takes a definite dark turn in its last third and its ending leaves the way open for further books. It’s well worth a read, and even a purchase, particularly now that the trade paperback has hit the streets.

Assassin: A Thriller (Hawke (Pocket Star Paperback))Title: Assassin
Author: Ted Bell
Publisher: Pocket Star
Genre: Thriller
Available From: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Let’s get this out in the open, right at the start: Assassin is a ridiculous book, a thoroughly cliched novel in the vein of every Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy book ever written. It also had me flipping pages to the very end, hoping to discover that A) Ted Bell isn’t the purveyor of some of the most cliched-ridden pap ever written (he’s close) and B) that I was smart enough to outwit him and guess the overarching plot elements and denoument long before Bell’s words led me there (I’d like to think that I had pretty much everything nailed down 75-100 pages in).
The main character, Lord Alexander Hawke, is a direct descendant of the “legendary” British pirate Blackhawke. Born of a British father and American mother, Hawke witnessed their tragic murder at the hands of modern-day pirates at the age of 7 and was taken in and raised by his aging grandfather and kindly butler. Hawke eventually joined the RAF and flew Harrier missions in the first Gulf War, joined the SBS (British version of the SEALs) and, after re-entering private life, dedicated his family’s fortune to helping eradicate evil and international terrorism. If this is sounding like Winston-Churchill-meets-Bruce-Wayne, just wait – it gets better.
Hawke is friends with both the British Prime Minister and the American President, as well as the former lover of the American Secretary of State (a woman named Conchita), all of whom trust him enough to loan him highly-trained personnel from the New Scotland Yard, DSS, CIA, NSA, Navy SEALs, etc., comprising a private army of skilled privateers who make their home on Hawke’s largish yacht. This yacht is equipped with the latest in ship-to-surface cruise missiles and Aegis anti-air technology, capable of months unsupplied at sea and home to Hawke’s self-designed seaplane and host to his 75-year-old parrot “Sniper” that perches on his shoulder and squawks out hoary old pirate cliches and various salty seagoing profanity. Hawke and his band of merry men traipse about the globe, getting into impossible situations and operating outside of all possible laws, all with the implicit-but-never-stated support of the democracies of the West.
Hawke and his fellow travelers have, and I’m not making this up, saved Fidel Castro from an attempted coup by three rebel Cuban generals funded by Colombian drug lords. While in Cuba, Hawke helped to rescue a beautiful American doctor, Victoria, whose saintlike bearing is accentuated by her recent best-selling childrens’ book. Hawke, of course, fell madly in love with the doctor and Assasin opens with Hawke and Victoria’s wedding. All is going well and the ceremony goes without issue, that is until Victoria is gunned down by a sniper’s bullet as she and Hawke exit the wedding chapel.
Hawke is given little time to grieve, though, as American ambassadors have begun dying in highly suspicious fashions worldwide and Hawke and his crew are called in to help the U.S. government track down the perpetrators. The plot is masterminded by, and I’m still not making this up, an Arabic terrorist codenamed “the Dog” who began his career in high yield poaching in Africa and moved subsequently to London real estate, transport of exotic flowers and the international arms trade, all the while dabbling in small-scale homicides to keep his bloodlust up. He is eventually pulled into the employ of a mysterious Emir whose Islamic fundamentalism drives him to attempt to destroy the West and America in particular. The Emir makes the Dog rich beyond his wildest dreams and assists in the construction of (still not making this up) a near-impregnable fortress at 16,000 feet above sea level somewhere on the Asian subcontinent (read: most likely Pakistan or Kashmir), guarded by sophisticated anti-air defenses and manned by a dedicated private army of Islamist troops. The Dog also enjoys the protection of (still 100% serious) four dedicated former sumo wrestlers he personally helped kidnap from their native Japan, which he now employs as bodyguards.
The Dog uses a bevy of beautiful-yet-deadly, highly-skilled female assasins who all take their codenames from various exotic flowers and leave their signature flowers behind at the scene of each of their hits. Each carries out the assasinations of the previously-mentioned American diplomats whose deaths are carefully recorded on video tape and then transmitted back to the Dog for his perverse viewing and pleasure. However, the assasinations are not his primary goal; rather, they serve to disrupt American intelligence networks in advance of a planned mass strike on the American homeland. Plagues, a nuclear holocaust and the utter destruction of America are at stake, should the Dog get his way.
Is your head spinning yet? No? Good.
This book is sheer and utter fluff. It’s a very quick read that only glancingly strikes blows against international terrorism, religious fanatacism, military technology, cloak & dagger black ops and procedural crime dramas while simultaneously using just about every cliche possible in each of those subject matter areas. The dialog is stilted and inauthentic-sounding, the floridly-written sex scenes are mercifully brief, the cursing is bountiful and Bell’s prose is notable for having a character “speak” in one of the worst Ebonics-esque speech patterns I have ever had the displeasure of reading. (From the book’s jacket, Ted Bell looks to be a white male in his late 50’s to early 60’s, so I guess his inability to bring a convincing African American voice to the book isn’t wholly surprising.) It is a cliche of a cliche, stealing the best bits from Clancy, Ludlum, Koontz, et al. and then poorly implementing said bits. It’s almost the literary equivalent of a bizarre fusion of CBS’s “hits” NCIS and The Unit.
In other words, it’s so bad, it’s almost good. It could, quite possibly, be the single best trashy summer novel in years.

Penny Arcade Volume 2: Epic Legends Of The Magic Sword KingsTitle: Penny Arcde Volume 2: Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings
Authors: Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik
Publisher: Dark Horse
Genre: Webcomic compendium
Available From: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Penny Arcade: Volume 2 is upon us and, as was the case with their previous effort, Krahulik and Holkins have succeeded in bringing their fare into an “offline, wireless” tome that is well worth buying. While Vol. 1 covered the first ~2.5 years (1998-2000) of Penny Arcade‘s existence, Vol. 2 covers only a single year (2001). Since their output over the course of a single year is obviously far less than that of the previous two-and-a-half, Tycho and Gabe both contributed to a certain amount of “padding”. Tycho contributes several newsposts, which are interspersed among the comics themselves, while Gabe contributes artwork from the Penny Arcade collectible card game to the back of the book. Additionally, several abandoned Penny Arcade projects (including one Cardboard Tube Samurai story arc and the Over Easy miniseries that Club PA members had access to) are presented in the “Boneyard” section of the book, giving a glimpse into the creative ideas the pair have tossed aside over the years.
The lower number of comics in Vol. 2 is definitely a bit of a disappointment, but the additional bonus content makes this compendium feel a bit more like a “director’s cut” of the year 2001’s comics. The print quality and colors are still of the highest order and I’ve really been impressed with the effort the PA guys obviously put into these first two books. I’d rate this another “definite buy” for Penny Arcade fans. Here’s to hoping Volume 3: The Warsun Prophecies ends up being just as good.

Higher Education

Fizzwizzle logoGame: Professor Fizzwizzle
Creators: Grubby Games
Genre: Puzzle/Action
Platform: Windows, Macintosh, Linux
Version Reviewed: Macintosh
I was graciously sent a review copy of Professor Fizzwizzle a few months ago, so this review is roughly (a few – 1) months late in its publication. However, I believe that the game is good enough to warrant the wait.
To call Fizzwizzle a “puzzle game” is to give it entirely too little credit. The gameplay is an odd mixture that defies precise classification – part The Incredible Machine, part Lode Runner, part The Lost Vikings with a little Gyromite thrown in for good measure. You’ll miss that summation if you simply rely upon Grubby Games’ websites’ description of the game:

Professor Fizzwizzle is a fun, mind-expanding puzzle game, where you take control of the diminutive genius, Professor Fizzwizzle. You must help the professor use his brains and his gadgets to solve each exciting level. Do you have what it takes to get past the Rage-Bots and bring the prof back to his lab?

Fizzwizzle screenshot 1Gameplay is, in and of itself, a very simple affair. The goal of each level is to get the Professor to a transporter to exit to the next one. The good Prof. can only run left and right, climb up and down ladders and push items (barrels, crates, magnets, etc.). He cannot jump, nor can he readily defend himself. Between the Prof. and his goal generally lies a series of obstacles, from gaps that must be filled to icy patches that cause him to slip uncontrollably to Rage Bots that pursue him relentlessly to gates and trapdoors that must be activated by remote switches. However, this simplicity of play mechanics leaves open vast opportunities for truly diabolical puzzles. Many of the puzzles require advance setup and placement of props before one activates the whole affair and, in a Rube Goldberg-esque fashion, the path to the exit is cleared. If you get stuck, there’s an option to have the game show you the recommended solution, which you can interrupt at any point, meaning that those who are missing that last little tweak to the puzzle before they can solve it can watch the solution up to the point where they were stuck and then take over the controls from there. Each level can take anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes to play through and the game saves your progress after each level, meaning that those who are free time-deprived can get in a few satisfying levels before moving on to the demands of real life.
Fizzwizzle screenshot 2 There are three different difficulty levels and a fourth set of alphabet-themed levels intended for children, totalling well over 100 levels to play through and, if that weren’t enough, a level editor is included so that you can construct devious puzzles of your own (an active level-building community has developed around Fizzwizzle, so there’s plenty of user-created fun to be had as well).
Taken in total, Professor Fizzwizzle offers a compelling package: it runs on the three main desktop OSes, it’s engaging, addicting, easy to get in to and all for the bargain price of $19.95. I heartily recommend it to any PC gamer with a penchant for puzzle games.

Book Review: Old Man’s War

Old Man\'s WarTitle: Old Man’s War
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Science Fiction
Available From: Barnes & Noble, Amazon
If my blogging has seemed a bit light and/or incoherent this week, it is entirely the fault of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. I lay down Monday night with the intention of reading to the end of a chapter and then falling asleep, only to wind up staying up far into the night and reading the book the rest of the way through.
A quick synopsis: In the not-too-too-distant future, humanity has overpopulated Earth and set forth to colonize other planets as a result. In order to help coordinate and defend the colonies from the various and sundry nasty alien races that also happen to populate the universe, humanity establishes the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF). Earth itself is now a bit of a backwater, purposefully kept in the dark as to what exactly is going on in the rest of the ‘Verse. No Colonial ever sets foot on Earth and little hard news makes its way back from the colonies. However, it’s a well-known fact that the CDF is always on the lookout for good soliders, with a twist: anyone turning 65 is able to go to the closest CDF recruitment office, sign up for duty and then wait for a period of 10 years before being called into service on their 75th birthday. Rumors abound as to why the CDF only recruits the old but most assume that, through some form of genetic therapy or surgery, the old and infirm can be made into fighting machines.
The book is written from the perspective of one John Perry who introduces his story thusly: “I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.” The story takes off from there.
I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed this book greatly. It had been repeatedly recommended by Glenn Reynolds and that, combined with my experience reading Scalzi’s (free!) online book Agent to the Stars convinced me that OMW would be worth picking up.
Scalzi’s prose is light, conversational and easy to read. His characters are all almost immediately likable and accessible, making it easy to get into his writing style and he almost never spirals off into unnecessarily lengthy descriptions, instead using his words to paint only the faintest outlines of a scene, letting his dialogue and his readers’ imaginations fill in the rest. The story itself clips along at a brisk pace, introducing characters (and subsequently killing many of them off) in rapid-fire succession. He imagines a compelling set of technologies, both civilian and military in use, that are extremely plausible extensions of tech that we either posess at the current time or are just around the corner, meaning that relating to the technology described is quite easy and almost akin to reading a current issue of Popular Science. The language is befitting a military setting; in other words, it’s fairly coarse. If your stomach is easily turned by a goodly bit of old-fashioned cussing in a new-fangled setting, you may want to avoid OMW.
If there is one downfall to Old Man’s War, it is one that it shares with Agent to the Stars: the denoument seems a tad rushed and all too brief. I do not know if it is endemic to Scalzi’s writing style (I will have to give his upcoming Ghost Brigades [*cough* *cough* it’s on my Amazon Wish List, should anyone be so inclined…] a read to see if this is indeed the case), but he seems to spend a lot of time setting up the last few scenes of his book, only to have them come to a thunderingly quick conclusion.
Those of my readers that consider themselves fans of good science fiction would do themselves well to pick up a copy of Old Man’s War. Me? I’ve got to catch up on my sleep in preparation for Ghost Brigades

Attack Of The Review Of The Bacon Robots!

Cover to AotBRTitle: Attack of the Bacon Robots (Penny Arcade, Vol. 1) (henceforth AotBR)
Authors: Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Genre: Comic strip collection
Available From: Thinkgeek, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Setup

I’ve been a fan of the Penny Arcade crew since almost the very beginning of the strip and so I was extremely excited upon first hearing the news of a PA compendium. I immediately placed it in my Amazon Wishlist and set about waiting impatiently for the 26th of January (its official release date) to arrive. My gracious and lovely wife preordered it from Amazon for my birthday, so I assumed that I would receive it shortly after the release date. It was not fated to be, however, as Thursday, Friday, and most of Saturday passed without Amazon updating my order page. How it mocked me! The very absence of a shipping confirmation was a canker on my soul. Okay, perhaps that’s a bit errm, overblown… At the very least, I was annoyed.

The Plan

I’m sorry to report that my impatience got the better of me. I strolled into the B&N Saturday afternoon, hoping to find said tome as the filthy bunch of fiends that run the Amazon shipping department had not seen fit to send it on its expected ship date. I headed to the Humor section, traditional repository of illustrated humor and was rebuffed by cold reality. In vain did I search for the book among the Adams, Amends, Larsons and Conleys. I even looked between the detestable Davises and Macgruders, and all was for naught.
Despondent, I hatched a plan, a “Hail Mary” – I would check the “Graphic Novel” section, in case some Philistine in stockboy clothes had decided to drop AotBR amongst the Sin City compendiums and tomes of DC lore, adjacent to every poorly-translated Ranma 1/2 and Dragon Ball manga known to English-speaking audiences. And lo!, my efforts were rewarded, for some charlatan had spirited two copies of AotBR away into a safe hiding spot amogst the X-Men annuals. I briefly considered summoning the local constabulary but quickly realized that others might not take such offense at such wanton disregard for semantic purity. Plus, I don’t think they have a law against violating the Dewey Decimal system here in the Commonwealth.
In any event, I punished such misbehavior in the only fashion I knew how: I bought both copies forthwith. Hah! Now, the sluggards employed by their corporate masters will be forced to lug two additional copies to the floor and place them incorrectly as well. I highly advocate that any and all others that find themselves in an analogous situation do likewise.
Attached is photographic evidence of my grand act of retribution.
Penny Arcade books

The Payoff

The book itself is excellent. The pages are a heavy weight, high gloss paper, giving it a nice heft and the artwork looks clean and crisp (for the most part) on such high quality paper. It starts with an introduction by Bill Amend (of Foxtrot fame) and a brief intro by “Tycho” (Jerry Holkins), after which it jumps right in to the comics themselves. The comics are presented in chronological order and mark off a two-and-a-half year period, from the very beginnings of the site to the end of the year 2000. Each page contains two comics and a brief paragraph or two of color commentary from Tycho which give a sort of “director’s commentary track” feel to the whole affair.
I found the trip down memory lane that the book represents to be highly amusing and I found myself laughing as I read many of the comics anew.
For fans of Penny Arcade, this book is a must-have. For the uninitiated, though, I must warn you: PA is not for the weak-stomached. The language is coarse almost to the point of absurdity, the subject matter routinely juvenile (at best) and crude. If you can get past that, though, you’ll truly have a gem on your hands.
A small note in closing: the cover rather prominently portrays this book as “Volume 1”, hinting at further compendia of Penny Arcade comics whose existence the Thinkgeek product page confirms: “Look out for Penny Arcade Volume Two: Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings, later this year!”. I’m already rubbing my hands in anticipation.

I’m Not The Only One!

I’ve been a bit put off by the generally positive reviews of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by other Christian bloggers, thinking that perhaps I was too harsh on the movie. However, having stumbled across Steven Greydanus’ review, I feel vindicated.
To quote from Greydanus’ review:

Other changes are even more ill-advised, and sap Lewis’s story of much of its underlying meaning and thematic richness. Most seriously, Aslan, the great and terrible Lion, is robbed of much of his awe-inspiring majesty — not by inherent limitations in translating the story to the screen, but by specific alterations in the screenplay that consistently eliminate references to Aslan’s power and his effect on others.
No longer do the children and the Beavers speak tremulously at the Beaver lodge about how intimidating it will be to meet a Lion, or hang back at Aslan’s camp before approaching him, nudging one another and trying not to be the first to step forward. No longer does Mr. Beaver utter what is arguably the single greatest, most resonant line in the entire book: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.” (The “But he’s good” bit is revisited at the end in connection with Tumnus’s line about Aslan not being “like a tame lion,” but the crucial notion of Aslan not being “safe” has been jettisoned.)
No longer does the Witch find the mere mention of Aslan’s name unendurable and threaten to kill anyone who uses it. Nor do Aslan’s enemies repeatedly balk in terror before venturing to bind, muzzle and shave him at the Stone Table.
The screenplay systematically elevates the role of the children and the Witch herself at Aslan’s expense. In the book, when Father Christmas arrived, he said, “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” In the film, a curiously un-festive, brown-clad Father Christmas (James Cosmo) offers a contrary explanation, attributing his arrival to the Pevensies rather than to Aslan: “The hope brought by Your Majesties is starting to weaken the Witch’s power.”
Perhaps the single gravest change to the story is one that greatly empowers the Witch at Aslan’s expense. It is simply the eradication of the whole motif of the Witch’s overt fear of Aslan. This is absolutely crucial to the book’s emphasis on the utter lack of parity between the omnipotent Aslan and the powerful but limited Witch. The whole vision of good and evil at work in the story turns on the fact that the Witch is never even close to being a rival or threat to Aslan, any more than Lucifer to Christ himself.
The filmmakers, perhaps motivated by a misguided dramatic notion of needing the villain to be a credible threat to the hero, eliminate practically every indication of the Witch’s fear of Aslan from the story — in the process jettisoning much of the point Lewis was making about the nature and relationship of good and evil.

Skipping a bit:

Perhaps most inexplicable is the film’s half-hearted approach to the reanimation of the enchanted statues in the Witch’s courtyard. So vividly does Lewis describe this scene that the last time I read the book to my kids, I actually had to interrupt the reading to take them outside and set fire to some crinkled-up newspaper to show them what it looked like (to see why, see this review of the 1988 BBC version of the story, which quotes the relevant passage). This is precisely the kind of scene for which God created special effects. One can hardly imagine a filmmaker coming across that scene and not yearning to linger over all those statues gradually coming to life. Why, then, does Adamson give us only one token onscreen reanimation, and consign the rest to off-camera action? What was he thinking?
These aren’t the objections of a purist unwilling to accept departures from the text. The problem is not the filmmakers’ depatures from the letter of the book, but their insensitivity to its spirit, not to mention the sometimes slapdash quality of their storytelling even on its own terms. I don’t mind early scenes establishing Lucy’s apprehension regarding the unseen Professor at whose country estate the children are staying. Yet, having established that dramatic tension, shouldn’t the film have somewhere to go with it? Didn’t anyone notice that it makes no sense to introduce the Professor by having Lucy actually cling to him for comfort during a quarrel with her siblings?
All these missteps add up to the difference between what could easily have been one of the greatest family films of all time, and what is, instead, merely a good one. Though the film misses greatness, even in this diminished form Lewis’s story is still well worth seeing, and the film adds enough to the experience to keep things fresh.

Thank goodness I’m not the only one that was so bothered.

Aslan Is On The Move, But, You Know, Who REALLY Cares?

As I noted yesterday, I went to an advance screening of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe put on by my church last night. In brief, here’s my one sentence review: I don’t know how it’s possible, but I both loved and hated it simultaneously.

The Good

Let’s start with the good first so as to avoid drifting into sheer and utter cynicism and downheartedness. First off, the visual effects were (mostly) some of the best I’ve seen in a film. Weta Digital has really set the bar extremely high for rendering on-screen animals – the CGI’d animals were virtually indistinguishable from their real life counterparts. The opening of the film, which I will not spoil for you, is an addition to the story and helps to set the stage quite effectively for those who may be unfamiliar with what was going on in Britain during The Blitz. The acting ranged from good to passable, with the Pevensie children being played almost perfectly by the actors chosen to represent them. I was a tad unsure of the lad they chose to portray Mr. Tumnus at first, but his turn as the Faun eventually won me over. I also came into the film worried at how the Professor would be presented, but left pleased – he was treated as a kindly old man with a keen sense of wonder and knowledge of Narnia with a soft spot in his heart for children, precisely how Lewis made him out to be. The White Witch, on the other hand, was nowhere near what I was hoping for. She was portrayed as having no real motivation for her evil and at her most intense, she seemed more “pissy” than “dread-inducing”. The voice actors, however, were routinely excellent, with Liam Neeson sounding grander than ever before as Aslan, although it was a bit off-putting to have the single Americanized accent in the film coming from Maugrim the Wolf. The two actors tasked with portraying Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are spot-on and one of the brightest facets of the movie. There was a distinctive lack of blood, which seems appropriate for a movie based on a children’s fairy tale book, which is nice to see in this day and age.

The Bad

Now, on to the negatives. They’re filled with spoilers, so I’m going to hide them with the <spoiler> tags. If you’ve seen the movie, or if you don’t care about me spoiling the movie, feel free to click below.

I have no idea how the producers managed to pull it off, but the movie felt rushed. If a ~350 page Tolkein novel can be made into a 2.5 hour movie and still retain a sense of pacing, why can’t a ~180 page Lewis book be made into a 2 hour one? Though the actual pacing of the events in the film plodded along, critical portions of the story were glossed over or simply left out entirely. Gone is the merry Christmas banquet frozen by the Queen, although it is touched on obliquely, as is the “hunt” for stone Narnians through the halls of the Witch’s castle, meaning that both Rumblebuffin and the second lion are left out of the story with the exception of two brief on-screen moments for each, which leaves me to wonder if there won’t be screentime for the two of them in some “director’s cut” DVD edition. Tumnus’ recounting of the tale of the White Stag to Lucy is dropped (it is conveyed visually and briefly in a CGI flame), meaning that the hunt for the actual stag at the end of the movie is given precious little context and ends up being more than a little confusing.
The film features extended battle scenes, which are as notable for their Jackson’s-take-on-Tolkein flavor as they are for their lack of bloodshed. Disney seemingly desired a Battle of Pellenor Fields of their own and attempted to craft Peter and Edmund’s battle into such a beast. Also added are a scene in the Witch’s dungeon between Edmund and Tumnus and a “Faramir-takes-Frodo-to-Minas-Tirith” moment in which Peter, Susan and Lucy track Edmund directly to the Witch’s doorstep, a simply unconscionable addition to the film, as it further degrades the dread one is supposed to feel about the Witch herself. How sovereignly evil can a dictator be when she cannot detect the presence of shouting children at her very doorstep? A chase scene involving wolves and a melting river is also thrown in for good measure
All of these flaws pale in comparison to the film’s portrayal of Aslan. Simply put, they neutered him. He is made to seem a very powerful lion and is described as the King of Narnia, but no one in the film seems to treat him with the full measure of respect such a status would necessarily require. Gone is the following exchange:

Is — is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

…And with it, much of the awe that is due Aslan. This lack of awe of Aslan, I think, is the film’s single greatest failing, followed shortly by its mirror image, the lack of dread conveyed by the Witch.
Also gone is any discussion of Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. Aslan, in his post-resurrection conversation with Lucy and Susan, credits his miraculous return to life to a misinterpretation of the Deep Magic on the part of the White Witch. This betrays a critical portion of Lewis’ narrative, namely that Aslan died to fulfil the requirements of the Deep Magic (the Law) but was raised because of the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. This turns Aslan’s sacrifice into a simple legalistic act, instead of one of extreme sacrifice and majesty. Thus, I believe that the movie adaptation of Lewis’ work effectively neuters a goodly portion of Lewis’ original message and thus ceases to be essentially a Christian story. If that was what Disney was aiming for, then they’ve succeeded, and the whole affair is the worse for it, in my opinion.

The Conclusion

So, when all is said and done, I think the question of whether you will truly enjoy this movie depends on a few simple factors:

  1. Are you a Lewis purist? Do you hate it when a movie deviates from its source book? You will have problems with this movie.
  2. Are you a Christian who was hoping to see an essential recreation of Christ’s story of sacrifice in a fantasy setting? I believe you’ll be disappointed in this movie.
  3. Are you a moviegoer looking for a movie in the vein of the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series? You will likely enjoy this movie, although you may end up confused at points, given the fact that many events aren’t given their proper context.
  4. Are you a parent looking for family-friendly fare at the movies this Christmas? You will like this movie, although the battle scenes may warrant some eye/ear coverage.

Ultimately, my opinion doesn’t matter all that much for Disney’s bottom line, but if anyone at the Mouse is listening, please consider this Lewis fandisappointed in the movie adaptation of TL, TW & TW. And if anyone from Weta is reading this, good on ya’. Excellent work on the fur, lads.

American Edited

Dean Gray Tuesday
I pretty much knew this was going to happen: Warner Brothers Records has C&D’d the wonderful American Edit mashup I mentioned a couple of days ago. All hope is not lost for those who neglected to grab it while it was online, however. Enterprising fans of mashups/bootlegs have organized Dean Gray Tuesday, a virtual replay of the Grey Tuesday protest organized around DJ Danger Mouse’s remix of Jay Z’s “Black Album”. December 13th, volunteers from all over the Internet[s] will be hosting complete copies of Dean Gray’s American Edit to protest the illegitimate legal action WBR has taken (in short: since “Dean Gray” was making no profit off of the enterprise and Green Day couldn’t conceivably be deprived of album sales, the mashup should be considered Fair Use).
On a more positive note, may I direct your attention to the Chemical Brothers’ Flip the Switch and Prodigy’s Always Outsiders, Never Outdone? I am unsure as to the “official” status of either of those album-length remix compilations, but both appear to have at least a partial artists’ imprimatur (I get the feeling that these remixes aren’t sanctioned by the artists’ respective labels, but the artists themselves encourage such action). Both are very listenable and well worth a download or three.
Finally, may DJ Earworm fall into a vat of honey at a convention of irate grizzly bears, for lo!, he hath wrought a remix, born in the firey furnaces of Hades itself, combining the loathsome Kelly Clarkson with those progenitors of electronic pop, Depeche Mode. Verily, the result actually doth make me respect Ms. Clarkson’s vocals, at least when de-coupled from her accompaniment and placed with real musicians. (Direct link to the .mp3 here, if you’re intrigued.)

Ong Bak: Thai For “Holy Crap, That HAS To Hurt!”

Ong BakMartial arts fans, have you seen Ong Bak? If not, Netflix it, grab it from Blockbuster, do whatever you have to do in order to see this movie.
I won’t bore you with the details of the “plot”, such as it is. However, the fight scenes are some of the most vicious I’ve ever seen in a martial arts flick. The Muay Thai/Tae Kwon Do hybrid style employed by its star, Tony Jaa, is a sight to behold. Ong Bak mixes a bit of Jackie Chan-esque chase scenes with the fight scenes for a bit of variety, including the requisite tuk-tuk chase through the streets of Bangkok.
If you’ve an ounce of interest in martial arts films, run, don’t walk to your local video distribution outlet and grab Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior.

High Praise For Serenity From A Sci-Fi Luminary

SciFi buffs will most likely be familiar with the name “Orson Scott Card” – yes, that Orson Scott Card. He’s written up a very, very positive review of Serenity. Dig it:

It’s great.
I’m not going to say it’s the best science fiction movie, ever.
Oh, wait. Yes I am.
Let me put this another way. Those of you who know my work at all know about Ender’s Game. I jealously protected the movie rights to Ender’s Game so that it would not be filmed until it could be done right. I knew what kind of movie it had to be, and I tried to keep it away from directors, writers, and studios who would try to turn it into the kind of movie they think of as “sci-fi.”

Go ye and read the whole thing, for it is good.

Yet Another Few Serenity Reviews

I know, I know, but bear with me. It’s opening weekend, after all.

And, since most of the diehards have most likely seen the movie already, I think it’s safe to finally reveal River’s dark secret: she is, in fact, made entirely of chocolate [WARNING: Naughty language, as per Penny Arcade standards, contained in that link. Proceed at your own risk. -ed.]