Monday, January 28, 2013

The WoW Factor or, 'The Hobbit' reviewed

Over on his blog Jamas has just posted his review of the book of The Hobbit, making him (I think) a movie-first, book-second person - although with the full trilogy yet to be completed (let alone finish shooting), that claim could be a little shaky. I am of course book-first all the way, and I believe that adaptation or not, movies should be judged first and foremost by the standards of their own medium. So what did I think of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?

Find out after the jump...

Oaken's Twelve: Dwalin Fundinson

And now here's Dwalin, younger brother of the agreeable and venerable Balin, albeit not quite as agreeable from the beginning. The Hobbit's Dwalin is a rather aloof character, not entirely convinced of Bilbo's credentials, and striking a somewhat haughty tone. Like the other Dwarves he comes around, but typical of the wider Company is given little more description, save for a dark green hood, and a golden belt into which is tucked a long blue beard. A far cry from Graham McTavish's 'badass' Dwalin of An Unexpected Journey, then.

Truth told, this combination of dark green, gold and blue (whatever a blue beard looks like) presented a problem in colour choices here - the green I started with (GW's Dark Angels Green)was chosen to reflect a sort of greenstone/jade aesthetic, but typical of that colour, I just couldn't make it work. It's a sod to blend. So, the olive drab Catachan Green it is, even if it is a green that recurs throughout my painting of the LotR minis (especially with Rohan and the hobbits.) And how do you paint a blue beard? Well I gave it my best shot, using Shadow Grey, Fortress Grey and a wash of blue and black.

The sculpting of the beard itself took three passes, but I'm happy with the result. I even gave him an ear! Being able to do the beard justice was what consigned this model to the back of the queue, as I reasoned that I'd be more enthusiastic about it after I'd got better with putty. I've never been crazy about the model's pose (there's too much cloak, and even front-on that bow intrudes across the model, plus Dwalin's bow hand is wonky), but I do think a larger beard pulls things together a little better.

Finally, I was rather unkind to Dwalin and filed some of his hair off, giving him a bald pate. The sculpt's hair wasn't best rendered (it's also been bulked up with green stuff), and giving him a little more flesh area introduces some variety to the Company's look, as well as complimenting that beard as well.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Stuff I Have Dug Out of My Garden the Sequel (Yes, I Know!)

Yep... The trouble with committing to a close-off point on anything - such as, say, blogging all of the domestic jetsam that becomes flotsam in your garden, is that of course there's never an end to it. I thought there would be - I was pretty much convinced I'd got there. Even when I found stuff later, I slipped some in between postings, pretending that a follow-up was neither necessary nor interesting. Anyway, months on, another garden revamp and tidy plus a holiday and look what turns up: My first ever button discovery! Not a fake find! TWO plastic animals, both of whom were overlooked during excavation but were discovered by accident on separate occasions when the bucket of topsoil had dried and resolved itself - I kid you not. More dead clothes pegs. Oh well.

There's also a strange yellow daisy wheel thing in the top left hand corner, which surely must be related to the one found on a previous dig. God knows what they are, but now I've got two of the things.

Oh, also that white-ish pebble in the bottom left corner?

Turns out it glows in the dark.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Oaken's Twelve: Nori and Dori

The three Dwarves Dori, Nori and Ori are, like Bifur and Bofur, somewhat lacking in the description department for the novel form of The Hobbit. Ori is the stand-out with his grey cloak and future history related in The Fellowship of the Ring, but of the other two we only know that Nori and Dori both wore purple hoods, played the flute, and of the two Dori distinguishes himself for his strength (he acts as 'porter' for Bilio on at least two occasions) and for being, by all accounts quite a reasonable chap. In An Unexpected Journey this translates to Dori losing his strength to the Dwalin, and being interpreted as  something of an effete Mancunian spinster, while the almost silent Nori in the book becomes Jed Brophy's sneaky potential kleptomaniac, with a not-too inconspicuous starfish hairstyle.

The other significant change to Dori, Nori and Ori in the movie is that they are all brothers - Ori's grey hood colouring being markedly tinged with lilac to rein him in with the others. Aside from similar names and hood colours, plus their arriving together there's nothing in the book at deliberately earmarks these three as brothers. True, Fili and Kili would be the nearest comparison for hood/name resemblance, but the oppostie seems true with Bifur and Bofur who wear the same colours and are, as mentioned earlier, cousins. For myself it's not an argument I'm wholly convinced by - every other detail of kinship in the book is specified, but not Dori, Nori and Ori. I'm happy to leave them as they are.

Figure-wise Dori and Nori here have had significant makeovers, with Nori acquiring a green stuff hood (three attempts, thankyou very much) for reasons that will become obvious in a later post, and Dori having some of his cloak cut away, and sculpted to be 'shredded' at its tails, as though by a snapping Warg at the bottom of a pine tree. It's Dori who comes to Bilbo's rescue in the book, allowing the Hobbit to climb to safety. I decided that such bravery had to come at some cost at least. I briefly toyed with the idea of weapon swaps to allow for knives for the pair rather than axes, but considered the change wouldn't be that noticeable in the end. Finally, as purple seems an unlikely colour for a Dwarven cloak, I've adapted it as indeed the movie designers did - a mulberry shade for Nori, and my own addition, something more like indigo for Dori. Matching good colours for Nori without making him look too clown-like in particular took some time and was frustrating, hence the delay with these two.

And that's the end of the double-acts of Oaken's Twelve!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Video Affects - Art Garfunkel: Bright Eyes (1979)

I am nine, and my family have just been to see Watership Down, an animated movie about rabbits which, going by the elegant and haunting music video accompanying its related single Bright Eyes, will be just the sort of wholesome, non-threatening entertainment the three youngest of us (fourteen, twelve and nine) should enjoy. The actual result, if you are unfamiliar with the story of Watership Down, is quite a different thing. I stay through to the end, and bedsheets go unbothered for nights afterward, but even now it’s clear to me that this was probably the first great instance of cinematic trauma I endured in my childhood. Added to the list of shorter snippets from the later Sea Gypsies (a shock shot of a skeleton in an abandoned cabin), the earlier The Mouse and his Child (a living doll decapitated under a cartwheel), Watership Down’s tooth-and-claw lapine warfare, scenes of mauling animals and warren gassing by farmers, plus the nightmarish and ever-present spectre of the Black Rabbit of death are the top of the list, an experience so vivid that even as an adult I recently recall genuinely hovering with hesitation over bargain bins with the DVD among the cheap offers. Google “Watership Down trauma” and you’ll see page after page of the same story. Previous generations may have had Bambi’s mother being shot, and later generations the Hamlet-on-the-veldt of The Lion King, but neither can compare to the relentless wholesale and, above all, matter of fact natural slaughter of the lapine characters of Watership Down.

Revisiting it recently, the music video itself comprises clips from the film, and of them there’s little that’s going to offend – Bigwig’s being caught in a snare, the red-eyed pale gassed rabbit, the warping jagged lines of a rural pylon. What delivers the blow now as much as then is the juxtaposition of expected reactions – as a nine year old, cartoon characters were for the most part wholesome, sympathetic or comic. They didn’t tend to actually die, but stepped away from their cartoon fates blackened with soot, flattened by anvils or crumbling into charcoal only to be reconstituted offscreen. They were immortal, and they didn’t bleed. But Watership’s wide-eyed rabbits like Hazel, Bigwig and Fiver do, as matter of factly as they do in Richard Adams’ novel. And accompanying this, the sleepy, near-pastoral strings and woodwinds of Mike Batt’s musical composition, lulling the unwary viewer like a will-o-wisp. The video as it stands is mostly safe for very young viewers. It is not, however, for grown men.

 I’ve long been puzzled as to why the movie and the song were soon after chosen as ripe for lampoon, and can only conclude that in part satire was a natural reaction for a large adult population stunned or offended by the movie’s shock factor and the incongruous longevity of its otherwise unassuming single. Even today there are plenty around who would dismiss Bright Eyes as ‘that song about cartoon rabbits’. The truth is of course that the song is a mediation on dying, one’s “following the river of death downstream’; a curious subject for a number one single, and the video bears this out too, with its odd combination of family-friendly bunny rabbits and dreamlike bounding shadow of the rabbit spirit. Art Garfunkel’s vocals are distant, offering questions that can never be answered: “is it a kind of a dream?” “a shadow?” And as in life there are no answers: “Nobody seems to know where you go”, a line reworked later, as I hear it, by Coldplay in God Put a Smile on Your Face. There’s spirituality in Richard Adams’ rabbit world, but an animal one – no salvation, no resurrection, just oblivion. The dying rabbit of the video's close leaves his lifeless corpse to join the Black Rabbit of Inle in a flight over the land, one with the 'fog along the horizon', the 'high wind in the trees', and no longer one among the living.

 Batt’s lyrics reflected the death of his father from cancer, supposedly the starting point for the song. The composition would be covered by others later to varying degrees – one of the more affecting I’ve come across is a self-conscious solo with guitar by James Dean Bradfield on the nights of Richey James’ last ever appearances with Manic Street Preachers. At the time the song was dedicated to the band’s late manager Phillip Hall, but naturally grew in fans’ minds to take in a broader picture. But for a nine year old me in a darkened cinema, the world of Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig was a very small thing indeed, subject to the cruelty and injustice of the wilds, occasionally visited by the brutal hands of men. You age and mature, and life’s lessons and lack of fairness become less surprising, some you can even prepare for. But life’s final phase, unseen, little-expected, unfamiliar and unyielding is still a mystery.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Oaken's Twelve: Fili and Kili

Fili and Kili are the sons of Dis, Thorin’s younger sister (there is another brother whom Rateliff assumes is younger still, but remains undescribed and is possibly deceased). As Thorin’s ‘sister-sons’ the brothers therefore fulfil a similar role to Eomer in The Lord of the Rings- as natural male successors to an uncle (in Eomer’s case Theoden, whose son Theodred is of course slain offscreen), and a powerful one at that. Thorin’s demise in his victory might have had them would-be Kings Under the Mountain at the end of The Hobbit, but for their own deaths in defending their kinsman, marking the end of Thorin’s line and the completion of his tragedy. It’s not an aspect which is greatly fed in the book, and their deaths somehow seem more sudden and shocking for that reason; it’ll be interesting to see how the movie will cover this – whether the brothers’ deaths will be similarly unanticipated, or whether we’ll see their doom prefigured heavily in Hollywood-style.


Visually Fili and Kili are hard to distinguish – Tolkien describes both as being the youngest of the Company (a note which seems to have evaded the film-makers, see my note on Ori), with yellow beards and blue hoods. Indeed, both are taken pretty much as a unit, even in official glossaries (although earlier drafts would have had more for them to do, which might have helped distinguish them) In the end Fili is the younger and has a long nose. Both act as look-outs, having keen eyesight (Balin does this too, which either suggests that such a skill does not diminish with age in Dwarves, or that Thorin and Co found a way to keep their eldest member out from under their feet. - discuss), but it’s only in Mirkwood that the two become better distinguished: Fili becomes so tangled in spider web that most of his beard had to be shaved off, and used his better eyesight and throwing skill to land a hook and rope into a handy boat with which the Company cross the Forest River. The grappling hook, we are told, is an improvised tool, made of available rope and some packing hooks from the Dwarves’ gear, and so the hook I made there is an attempt to reflect this. The rope at its end is twist-tie wire braided as best I could and painted accordingly; given the original sculpt is charging with two hand axes, the posture is a tad awkward, admittedly.  I also wasn’t half as bold as I’d have liked to have been to make a green stuff nose extension for Fili, so a slight highlight in paint will have to do. Finally, both have a little embellishment in gold and blue on their sidebags, to mark them out in a small way as being a little 'old money'.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

For All Your Land Raiding Needs...

Time for another toy from the vaults, and this one's pretty commonplace. Hands up who can name this?

Yep, it's the Matchbox Adventure 2000 Raider Command model, or as 2000AD readers of the time may have known it, Judge Dredd's Land-Raider from Pat Mills' first great Dredd epic The Cursed Earth, itself a Dreddworld riff on Damnation Alley.

The toy was a deliberate tie-in, the first and only one I can think of with 2000AD. Yes, there was at least one serialised video game comic ad in the 90s, but this one is a legit 'canon' appearance, and boy did Judges Dredd, Jack and press-ganged biker punk Spikes Harvey Rotten make good use of the Land-Raider's various features, including of course its unique ability to shoot the raider vehicle from the Command Module or, as it was dubbed in the strip in typical Mills patois, the Killdozer.

"The Killdozer links up with the Land-Raider to form a MODULAR FIGHTING UNIT - capable of covering any terrain and giving battle under all combat conditions. Ooh! I get all EXCITED just looking at its Multi-Level Kill Power!" 

"Calm down, McArthur. This is unseemly behaviour for a Judge... 
and kindly remove your hand from my uniform."

My friend Derek and I certainly made good use of ours, as the wear and tear above shows (the fact that you could launch the Raider off any elevated surface may have contributed to that), although the years have been a little unkind to the model. I've lost all the rockets and the spring-loaded missile launcher may have seized up.

Gone too are the three-man crew in grey plastic. But, miraculously, both tracks on the Command Module survive and are in pretty god nick, having not been left to perish in the sun. And I think I could restore most of it to its former glory. And I might do it - after all, it's collectible, but not in a collect-able condition. There are plenty around, as seen on other, better blogs here and here. One modeller even started making a larger one to scale with his Dredd figures.

So, readers - should I restore this beauty or keep it with its battle scars?

[BTW, I swiped the strip pic from the rather splendid page on Cyber-Wizard's blog, which has more of the beauties)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Oaken's Twelve: Bifur and Bofur

Inspiration can sometimes come at the eleventh hour. Bifur and Bofur are the first of three pairings in Thorin's Company who barely distinguish their individual personalities. The others - Dori and Nori, are almost as bad if not worse, while brothers Fili and Kili fare better, with a larger story behind and ahead of them, not to mention some individual traits. Bifur and Bofur, cousins, sound similar, are dressed in the same yellow cloaks, and do little in the book of The Hobbit to justify their being there in the first place. At least their brother/cousin Bombur is a little more distinctive and memorable (which is why he's not included in this post.)

The interesting thing about Bifur and Bofur is that they are Dwarves who clearly suffer from early authorial editing. In John Rateliff's history of The Hobbit, the author identifies an early instance (the so-called 'Bladorthin manuscript') where Bifur, Bofur and Bombur are described as Thorin Oakenshield's "attendants", which Rateliff infers to mean either courtiers or armed retinue. Perhaps it's from this reading that The Hobbit's screenwriters  have elevated Bifur to a position as chief 'tank' - though why they chose to 'bifurcate' his forehead with an orc axe and render him almost speechless as a result smacks to me of stretching two jokes a little far. That's not the direction I've gone in, and because I don't have to provide any dialogue, Bifur and Bofur's near-identical characteristics are less of a problem. So then, yellow cloaks as described in the book, plus some patterns around the cloak bottoms referencing in part the colours of the cloak inners. 

The major addition to these sculpts is a weapon swap, informed once again by some edited text from an early draft of the novel revealed in a re-read of Rateliff's book this week. Upon their arrival at Bag End (again, personally accompanying Thorin), Bifur and Bofur unwrap a bundle of walking sticks which seemingly turn into clarinets on which they play with the other Dwarves' various instruments. The magical nature of the instruments isn't solely seen with Bifur and Bofur - the other Dwarves seem to bring their instruments out of thin air (or the next best thing), and the instruments probably don't make the trip to the Lonely Mountain with their players (a clue: Balin's instrument is a cello), but the temptation to make some rather special walking sticks the weapons of Bifur and Bofur was great enough for me to give it a go, and so the sculpts' original axes have been cut and shaved away and some quarterstaff walking sticks (made from toothpicks and green stuff) added. I think it works, and I hope the models are better for their addition. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Oaken's Twelve: Oin Groinson

Time to introduce Oin, older brother of Gloin and uncle to The Lord of the Rings' Gimli.

Like Gloin, we don't have much to go on in the original text to describe Oin; there's the description above of course, plus his 'brown' hood and tinderbox, which I've made from green stuff as I did with Gloin, customising it with a Dwarf "O" rune. In fact, this is the second attempt at a tinderbox for Oin, as the first stuck out a little too far. Oin too is an expert firestarter, of course, and once again this sculpt was chosen for the space it affords the addition of a tinderbox. Aside from the tinderbox and evening out the neckpiece of Oin's hood, there's been no great change to the original sculpt this time.

As with Gloin there's been no attempt on my part to make Oin resemble the movie's Gimli who, for all we know, inherited his mother's features and lustrous beard. The two brothers quarrel in the book - nothing major, in fact many of the Dwarf siblings in The Hobbit are at loggerheads during the story and in times of stress. Oin is also the third and last member of Thorin's Company to have journeyed to Moria to reclaim its halls and paid dearly for the attempt. That said, however, I do find it curious both in The Fellowship of the Ring and in the movie adaptation thereof, that Gimli instantly expresses his shock and sorrow at the fall of Balin and the failure of his mission, but not the death of his uncle Oin at the many limbs of the Water in the Water, a sorry end related in the Book of Marzabul. The answer might be found in another - crucial, nephew-uncle relationship from the Company, which I'll come to soon.

Paint-wise I've also made some recent revisions to Oin's colour scheme. Given that he's the older son of Groin* I've aged him a little with some whitening of the beard and hair, and a lighter brown to his outer cloak. The cloak inner and red areas reference Oin's firemaking skills, as does his brother's red inner clothing. And that's about it, really.

*You really need an accent function to properly render Dwarf names here - suffice it to say, Groin isn't pronounced as at appears, and is probably closer to Grow-in.