Could it Have Been Saved?- Man of Steel and Batman V Superman

Goodness gracious, where to begin? The tone is stone-cold dread, the characters are uninteresting and the camerawork and action are shoddy and incoherent. But this is Batman and Superman. The material is there for something great.

Looking at the implications of a standalone modern Superman film and a Batman versus Superman film, some fans will say that DC is rushing the story, and while that may be true, it does not mean two strong films could not have been made from their concepts. So how could Man of Steel and Batman V Superman have been saved? Let’s start with Man of Steel:

Man of Steel

  1. Make Clark Kent the central protagonist with real stakes and with deliberate choices in the film

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This is screenwriting 101, but was sorely lacking in the film. Basically, Clark Kent has too little to do with the actual narrative of the film. The events of the plot are initiated by his father, his adopted father, Lois Lane and Zod, leaving Clark pretty much as a puppet.

Taking away all the clutter, the narrative should focus on him, his character and his choices and should simply be this: Unsure of who he is, young Clark Kent, brimming with powers beyond his comprehension, wanders the world, searching for purpose, until he discovers a clue to his past that leads him to discover that he is the last descendant of an alien race. Listening to the guidance of the hologram of his father, Clark witnesses for himself firsthand the suffering of man and the need for a savior. He takes it upon himself to serve his adopted homeworld as a symbol of hope against evil.

Many complain about the tone being too dark in the film, and granted, that may indeed be a detriment, but it is not a film-killer. You can have a dark Superman film and have it be good, but you have to handle it well. What Snyder gave us in Man of Steel was simply darkness; you also need the light. You need ying to balance out yang in order to feel anything. Clark should see a world devastated by war and conflict, see people losing hope, and that could inspire him to give his very soul and identity towards a higher goal. That is a powerful sacrifice that should be examined, and it should start with Clark being the center of attention, driving the action and choosing his own destiny.

2. Themes: Establish the Idea of Gods and Make the Villain Essential to the Story

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The theme of Man of Steel is a little murky. Is it that mankind needs a protector (the destruction of Metropolis and Superman stopping Zod)? Is it that violent measures are sometimes necessary in a dangerous world (Superman killing Zod)? Is it that people are wary of a superpowered individual (arresting Superman and gaining the people’s trust)? What is the point of it all?

The focus should be on Superman and his relationship to Earth. Since it is established early on that Clark is an outcast looking to find his way, his quest should be fulfillment, finding a purpose. Everything that influences the plot should reflect that goal of his. For an example, look to the plot of the animated Hercules.

The theme would then be accepting the potential power of yourself to make your world better despite the road that got you there.

In act one, we would meet a young Clark Kent, raised by his parents in Smallville. He begins to show powers beyond what others believe possible, and he feels shunned. His father and mother tell him the truth: they discovered him in a strange ship no one has ever seen before.

At the beginning of act two, we find Clark traveling the world, from Kansas to Brazil to India to Russia, trying to find his place. Every now and then, he is forced to do something extraordinary, such as saving a family from a falling building, but in so doing, he has to keep moving because of other’s fear of him. His exploits draw the attention of a reporter, Lois Lane, who chronicles this “man of steel.” This is pretty similar to the film.

Also on his journey, he learns of the cruelty of man, meeting warlords and terrorists, stopping them when he can. Clark eventually discovers a clue to the Fortress of Solitude where he learns about his true nature and consults the hologram of his father. He wrestles with the realization that he will always be different from everyone else and the loneliness that comes with it, unsure of what to do.

In the background, sinister forces are at work, perhaps led by Lex Luthor with his own subplot. He is representative of the evil that man has in its midst.

At the midpoint, Clark finally meets and falls in love with Lois Lane, never letting on that he is the subject of her journalism piece. When he is forced to save her from something (a drug cartel, terrorists, etc.), he understands his purpose. Even though he is not of man, he is bound to them and will sacrifice his life for them if need be. He dons the cape and becomes Superman.

There are pieces of this sprinkled throughout Man of Steel, but they feel rushed so that the big fight at the end can occur or the excruciatingly long introductory Krypton sequence (all of which can simply go- it is not important to Clark’s journey). The importance is Superman’s journey into discovering his purpose and why he chooses to be that hero.

Once the world discovers him, people may fear him and his powers, unsure what to make of him. Luthor’s scheme of some kind of dastardliness gives Superman the chance to save the day, giving mankind a savior they have not seen in a millenia (there are plenty of Jesus references in the film and that is fine, but they can be less overt).

The biggest problem with Man of Steel is Zod and his entire storyline. Man of Steel never needed huge action set pieces and gigantic space battles. Zod hijacks the story away from Superman and his journey. Clark is trying to find himself, someone so different, the last of his kind, and at the end of the film, he has found himself. Zod as a villain is too complicated, attention-diverting and not a proper villain for an introduction to Superman. Luthor may not even need to be in there as he is also capable of stealing Superman’s thunder. Imagine if Superman simply tried to save the world we have now. Imagine if he tried to defeat terrorists or warlords and tried to give hope in a global sense.

From then, his entrance onto the world stage could invite all sorts of other super-powered individuals such as Wonder Woman, Darkseid and Aquaman. Perhaps Superman’s entrance changes the global dynamics of world power, elevating other superheroes who had been hiding out into the open.

I think Warner Bros. was confused as to how to make a Superman film that would appeal to modern audiences, much more jaded today than they were in the Christopher Reeves-era. They decided to go gritty and edgy and darker. Again, that does not equate a bad film, but they forgot or neglected to include the core of what has made Superman special for over 70 years: as spectators, we marvel at his powers as Superman, but as Clark Kent, we empathize with his inner loneliness. That dichotomy between man of steel and man of fears is endlessly fascinating, how one man so powerful could feel so weak. Man of Steel never attempted to go that deep, substituting action for heart. A laugh in a superhero movie never hurt anyone.

3. Make Everything Coherent and Build to Finale

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One last rebuke of Man of Steel that has somewhat been mentioned is its insistence on grandiose explosions and destruction. Zack Snyder seems to have an explosion fetish of some kind for the last 45 minutes of the film are non-stop action and devastation.

It is unfortunate that action is used to replace drama and heart. The greatest action battles and fight scenes are all pretty meaningless unless they are accompanied by real stakes in the character’s life. When Batman tries to save Gotham at the end of Batman Begins, he is not just trying to save a city, he is staking his ideal of the world, a world that can still be saved, against that of a militant organization. The fact that he was once a member of the same League of Shadows and allowed them to rise up again fuels the rage that drives him to stop Ra’s al Ghul. And the fight at the end lasts at most ten minutes, delivering just what is needed for the emotional punch to land.

Man of Steel on the other hand features Superman trying to save the world against a villain he has never really met. To top it off, he never actually saves any people other than Lois Lane, and their relationship is underdeveloped. To top it off, the battle lasts so long that it is the equivalent of a short bald man driving a fancy car as if to reassure himself that he’s something special, even though just about everyone can see that he’s lacking self-esteem. It’s not the length nor the intensity of fighting and explosions that creates audience empathy but the character’s journey to that point and his or her emotional stakes in the action. Man of Steel flashes brilliant nothingness at us for an obscene amount of time.

The climax should be heartfelt, with Superman’s quest of discovery in the balance, his need to be mankind’s savior the emotional crux. This moment should be built up to to achieve full dramatic value and should only last as long as it needs to.

Really, I could go on and on about everything wrong with Man of Steel because the list is nearly limitless. It is almost a perfect representation of everything wrong with the modern blockbuster. But let’s move on to another mess, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (right from the title, you knew something was wrong).

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

  1. Establish the Protagonist and Whose Story You Want to Tell

batman-v-superman-trailer

Even buddy cop movies have a leading man. There is always a protagonist unless your film is a true-team movie (i.e. “The Battleship Potemkin”, “The Avengers”- though an argument can be made that Tony Stark is still the protagonist of a “The Avengers”). So it is that BvS needs a main character. The question the film never answers is; is it Batman or Superman?

The answer doesn’t come down to screentime or how many fight scenes there are, but to who drives the action of the story and who undergoes the emotional change through the course of the telling. Two characters can have journeys over the course of one story, but one should be the audience’s heart along the way.

But much like Man of Steel, we are left with nothing to really care for during the film. Neither Batman nor Superman is relatable. Neither of them has a true emotional arc. For all the fighting, talking of gods and whatnot, you still need the basic heart of a hero somewhere in here.

I would think that the protagonist would be Batman. Ben Affleck does a fine role as Bruce Wayne (though I can’t look at the screen and see ‘Bruce Wayne’, I see ‘Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne’) and he seems actively concerned about the power of Superman. His desire to keep power in check is admirable and the fact that he is a little crazy (as Batman is) works. So the story should focus on him.

Superman can still be in it, but he should serve as a secondary character, an antagonist to Batman’s goals. Especially with the Man of Steel already having his own film, he could play second-fiddle in the narrative to Bruce Wayne. Bruce would then go through the emotional journey of not trusting Superman, to trusting him to perhaps saving his life at the near-expense of his own at the end. Their relationship can build. The climax should not be Batman V Superman, but it should be the act two climax. The confrontation could leave them both broken in some form (Superman by kryptonite, perhaps Bruce’s suit out of juice and stuck in it). This would then give them the opportunity to bond before saving the world from some other catastrophe (i.e. not Doomsday- that’s a whole other storyline for an entirely different film).

The execution of the relationship between the two characters in the film is pathetic. There needs to be development, they need to go from hating to liking back to hating etc. A good example of how something like this is done would be Toy Story. The foundation between Woody and Buzz starts off rocky, they are forced together towards a common goal, drift apart again and finally gain true friendship. They need to save each other, learn a bit about each other, stick up for one another. It’s development that Batman V Superman is missing, and it should be the heart of the film.

2. Stop With the Sequel-Bait

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Wonder Woman is here. So is Aquaman for a second. Flash? Green Lantern? They might appear at some point. It’s hard to keep track anymore with all the sequel-bait.

It’s become an epidemic in the Hollywood blockbuster. One film is never enough anymore. Each film is a prelude to another film which is a prelude to ten other films. The result are mediocre films bogged down by less dramatic plot points and subplots that do not serve the main story other than to advance a future film down the line (“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is very guilty of this).

Wonder Woman does not need to be in this movie. Nor really does Lex Luthor. Nor any of those other cameos. The story should only have as many characters as necessary to its plot. The Dark Knight Rises has many characters, but they all solve a purpose (mostly). X-Men Origins: Wolverine has many characters, but almost none of them serve a purpose. Batman V Superman has many characters, and most of them serve a purpose, but many don’t, and the film feels less because of it. It’s less impactful because it is cluttered in purpose. Batman should have a storyline. Superman should have a storyline. Characters that contribute to each of their storylines should be included. Anyone else should be excluded.

3. Focus on a Simple Story

batman-v-superman-final-trailer

So now that we’ve cut away all the unnecessary bits and pieces and added an emotional arc between Batman and Superman, all you need now is a simple story to tie them together. It has to be more than Batman hates Superman because he’s dangerous. One of them actually has to be at fault for something so that that person can learn something over the course of the story.

If Batman is your protagonist, perhaps he views Superman as a dangerous weapon, tries to reason with him to no avail, has kryptonite developed just in case, but after repeated efforts, feels he has to take Superman down for the good of the planet. He has to view the situation as any of us would. We would try to handle the situation peacefully, try harder when that doesn’t work and then work towards drastic measures.

Perhaps Superman is recruited by the US government as a pawn to destroy rival governments (as in the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns and this would also carry over themes from Man of Steel) and Batman hates that Superman can be used as a weapon of corrupt government officials. As he himself tries to clean up Gotham using whatever means necessary, it is rumored that the mayor of Gotham may call in Superman to deal with the bat menace. The two heroes can meet and have that pivotal conversation where they let each other know they won’t stop their duty. Perhaps Superman is plagued by self-doubt about confronting his friend Batman. Perhaps Batman feels the same way.

There needs to be something internal between the two characters that makes their choices have greater meaning. Two friends, pitted against each other, against the theme of devotion to the greater cause and godhood in the modern world. If only more of that was imbued into the narrative.

Summary

In conclusion, it’s hard to overstate just how much is wrong with Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. Character over action, internal growth, a commitment to story principles and climaxing drama… All of these things are necessary to create an engaging story. Zack Snyder’s films are superficial, uninteresting and nauseating. Warner Bros. is going down a poor road to generate profit and has sacrificed a great story.

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Predicting the First Round of the NHL Playoffs 2016

Last September, I listed my predictions for the upcoming NHL season. Below are the results:

Atlantic

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning
  2. Detroit Red Wings
  3. Florida Panthers
  4. Montreal Canadiens
  5. Boston Bruins
  6. Ottawa Senators
  7. Buffalo Sabres
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan

  1. Washington Capitals
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins
  3. New York Rangers
  4. Columbus Blue Jackets
  5. Philadelphia Flyers
  6. New York Islanders
  7. New Jersey Devils
  8. Carolina Hurricanes

Central

  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Nashville Predators
  3. Minnesota Wild
  4. Dallas Stars
  5. Chicago Blackhawks
  6. Winnipeg Jets
  7. Colorado Avalanche

Pacific

  1. Anaheim Ducks
  2. Los Angeles Kings
  3. San Jose Sharks
  4. Calgary Flames
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Edmonton Oilers
  7. Arizona Coyotes

*Correctly Predicted In/Out of Playoffs; Incorrect Placement

*Correctly Predicted In/Out of Playoffs; Correct Placement

*Incorrectly Predicted In/Out of Playoffs

So in summary, I predicted 14 of the 16 playoff teams and 8 out of 30 in the correct place in their division. Not great, not terrible. So it goes with predicting the unpredictable.

Which brings us to the first round of the NHL playoffs, beginning Wednesday night. In examining the 8 playoff rounds, the competition between teams is closer than ever. Even a supposed sure thing (Washington vs. Philadelphia) can easily be an upset without much great surprise. Some are pretty much just a flip of a coin (Chicago vs. St Louis). So here it goes:

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild

The Stars have coasted through the regular season with the best offense in the league while the Wild have sputtered with winning streaks followed by losing streaks. I think Dallas’ offense pushes against the Wild’s inconsistency.

  • Dallas in 5

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

The defending Cup champs against a team that must make some noise in the postseason or else risk a break up. This has all the makings of a long, hard-fought series. St. Louis needs to prove that they are a contending team while Chicago will be looking to stake a claim as a modern-day dynasty with their fourth championship in 7 years. It’ll be close, but the Blackhawks want to win, the Blues have to win.

  • St. Louis in 7

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators

The Ducks started the season terribly, but rebounded in the second half as one of the hottest teams. The Predators counter with one of the best defenses in the league and an improved offense with the addition of Ryan Johansen. The Ducks are favored, but the Predators have it all right now and may frustrate the Ducks.

  • Nashville in 7

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

A re-match of the 2014 opening round series (aka the San Jose Sharks epic fail), this series should be full of punishment and intensity. The Sharks will be trying to avenge their loss from two years when they blew a 3-0 series lead and the Kings will be trying to prove that they are the preeminent franchise in the league today. I’d love to pick the Sharks, but the Kings are too deep.

  • Los Angeles in 6

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The Capitals are the President’s Trophy winners, the best team in the league, led by 50-goal scorer Alex Ovechkin, all-time single season wins holder (tied with Martin Brodeur) Brayden Holtby and a smart, active defense. The Flyers are one of the hottest teams entering the playoffs, but this may be the Capitals year.

  • Washington in 6

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers

The Pittsburgh Penguins were the hottest team at the end of the season while the Rangers stumbled into the playoffs with some injuries. It’ll come down to the Penguin’s offense versus the Ranger’s defense. Goaltender Henrk Lundqvist might be the difference-maker.

  • New York in 7

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders

The Panthers are one of the more interesting teams in the league, led by 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr and supported by a bunch of kids. The Islanders counter with star captain John Tavares and a cast that has been through a couple of playoff battles. Look for Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo to backstop the Panthers to the next round.

  • Florida in 6

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings

The Lightning are decimated by injuries. The Red Wings are maddeningly inconsistent. A re-match of last year’s first round series promises to be an interesting affair. Look for Detroit’s inability to score goals to be their downfall.

  • Tampa Bay in 6

 

After filling in the NHL playoffs bracket, I am amending my pre-season projection and predicting a final between the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues, with the Capitals prevailing in 6 games.

Will that happen? Probably not. We will find out in June.

 

 

 

 

“The Force Awakens” solid, if familiar

For storytelling purposes, the “Star Wars” saga should be over. It should have ended with “Return of the Jedi” in 1983. That was a natural conclusion to the story with the destruction of evil, the redemption of a fallen character and the ascension of the hero. There really was no need for additional films.

But “Star Wars” is the most successful film franchise of all-time so the story will not end despite how natural its conclusion may be. There will be more and more. It’s a shame, but audiences are insatiable when it comes to this galaxy far, far away.

First came the prequels. They were awful. They contained everything that is wrong in today’s Hollywood: an overuse of CGI special effects, a lack of storytelling and character development, an assembly-line production that never hints at any goal other than profit.

But fans still went to see them in record droves which only meant that there would be more films. “Star Wars” may have lost its magic in the digital age, but it has not lost its money-making power.

So it is that we receive Episode VII: “The Force Awakens.” Expectations were sky high (which they should not have been after the disaster of the prequels). George Lucas had sidestepped his throne to the next generation, starting with J.J. Abrams, one of the fanboys who fell in love with the original films.

And amazingly the film delivers. Despite the fact that it is not necessary, that expectations are too high, that it is still purely a money-making machine rather than a storytelling experience, the film is an exciting adventure that utilizes character, reverence and nostalgia (though perhaps too much).

Needless to say, there will be more Star Wars films, there will be more toys and promotions and products, there will be more everything. But if the films can continue to reach this level of semi-competence, this level of pop art, it won’t be the end of the world.

Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens-Rey

SPOILERS

“The Force Awakens” takes place 30 years after the events of “Return of the Jedi.” Luke Skywalker is missing and the shards of the old rebellion and the old empire are fighting once again (now called the First Order and the Resistance). It is somewhat confusing who is in charge of what and where everyone is, but that is beside the point. They are fighting, one is evil, one is good, move on.

There is a map to Luke stored on the drive to a BB-8 droid who is left on the planet Jakku after his master Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is captured by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a Sith, and the First Order. The droid befriends young Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger, and they join up with Finn (John Boyega), an ex-stormtrooper. Together, they go to deliver the map to Luke to the Resistance.

While the prequels are stale and unfeeling, this film is nothing if not packed with emotion. Abrams and everyone in crew obviously love “Star Wars” and have created a film imbued with that love.  There is great attention to detail with many of the side characters, locations and gadgets having complexity and realness beyond the modern movie spectacle. It is a joy to see such adoration in every frame of the film.

However, the story suffers as it is a direct copy of Episode IV: “A New Hope.” Both films follow a young individual on a desert planet who befriends an R2 droid with secret information that needs to be returned to the good guys while the bad guys chase them. They both meet a potential love interest and are chased off the desert planet. They both befriend a scruffy, old, wise mentor from the previous saga (Obi-Wan/Han Solo) who ends up dying at the end of the film at the hand of his former pupil/son over a ravine while the heroes overlook the situation and shoot at the perpetrator. There’s a cantina scene in each where a character looks for a pilot. There’s a menacing creature that the heroes need to escape from (trash compactor creature/ranthars). There’s a confrontation involving X-Wings sent to destroy an evil space station that has already destroyed a planet. There in fact seems to be very little that’s new in the film at all.

Granted, there can be some allusions to the plot of the franchise’s first film to tie everything together, but at a certain point, the repetition gets to be a little too much, especially in regards to the Death Star-esque weapon and confrontation at the film’s conclusion. It would be nice if Episode VIII left the nostalgia at the door and presented a unique, new story, devoid of similar plot references. Otherwise it will feel like just another cashgrab based on nostalgia and sentimentality.

And personally, it would have been nice for few if any of the original characters to make an appearance as Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher all seem a little long in the tooth for this type of movie. Perhaps just the character of Luke Skywalker was all that was needed to tie in this saga with the previous as Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren are all engaging, interesting characters who could have carried the film themselves. All that needed to be mentioned about Han or Leia or R2-D2 is that they lived happily ever after or died in some explosion or something that ended their story so that a new cast of characters could get their narrative without being bogged down by the previous trilogy’s characters.

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So there will be more “Star Wars” films. One every year for the foreseeable future in fact. There will be product tie-ins, film spin-offs, excessive merchandising and a gluttony of fan tributes and speculation. It is the greatest film juggernaut of all-time, seemingly a religion for some people, and though “The Force Awakens” plays it a little too safe, it is fun, it is adventuresome, it avoids so many of the problems that plagued the prequels, and it is far better than many other blockbusters released over the last few years.

If the films can continue to be this engaging, the marketing will be easier to stomach.

Crimson Peak beautiful, predictable, fun

Oftentimes, one’s enjoyment of a film is based on their expectations. If you are expecting greatness, it is hard to reach that mark. If you are expecting slop, even a bit of pleasure can elevate your enjoyment of an otherwise dull film. So it is that Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak will either leave you hot or cold depending on your view going into it.

At times, the film feels strictly like an homage to Gothic romanticism and that it is not meant to be taken seriously. If everything is tongue in cheek and you enter the theater expecting an appreciation of the genre, you are liable to have a good time. If you are looking for an original film that adds something new to horror and generally frightens you, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Our protagonist is Edith (Mia Wasikowska). Edith’s mother dies when she is young, but returns to her as a ghost one night, telling her to beware of Crimson Peak. An aspiring author as she grows up, she meets a young, British businessman, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), looking for financial backing from her father, and she falls for him. After her father’s mysterious death, Edith goes with Thomas to England with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). But the spirits of the mansion do not sleep well and soon begin calling to Edith. That’s when she learns what it is nicknamed: Crimson Peak, for the red clay that the factory underneath it produces.

First off, it is important to commend del Toro and his cinematographer, Dan Laustsen for their beautiful film. Every frame looks like a painting, the colors vibrant and the hues of every shot warm and deep. It really transports you into the world of the story.

Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak
Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak

del Toro’s love of his macabre subject is also evident. The romanticism, the attention to detail, the layering of moodiness and the time given to set up the story show his dedication and appreciation. It is something that draws fans of his work back time and again; he loves what he does and it shows on the screen.

The problem with the film lies in its story. With such high profile talent behind the camera and in front of it (all the actors work very well in their roles), it is a shame that the narrative is rather trite and predictable. Part of that may simply be the joke of the film, that the plot does not really matter and should be treated lightly, but the lack of original narrative, compounded by the fact that it is easy to guess the plot points before they happen, dampens the enjoyment. A script that contained more narrative originality with unpredictable plot points and revelations and more mystery, with the already impressive cast and gorgeous cinematography, would have made Crimson Peak a real winner, but it must settle for just being entertaining.

Yet having said that, the story serves its purpose if only just. The film is fun and engaging, not really a horror film (there are few scares) but more of a romance. The connection between Thomas and Edith and their journey is sweet in that macabre sense and, dare I say, a tad moving at the film’s conclusion. It is a fitting film for a genre that has been so neglected recently, and it may not particularly have an audience, but for those who appreciate dark romanticism, it is worth a viewing.

Many will be confused as to what Crimson Peak actually is: a misplaced horror movie that doesn’t quite deliver or an inside joke that plays on the plot conventions and bursts with admiration for the genre? It is hard to discern the answer and it may entirely depend on the person, but at least it generates some thinking for the viewer, something most modern horror movies refuse to do.

Predicting the NHL Standings

A lot of reporters will be coming out with predictions of the final NHL standings. They will often write things with such confidence. This team will succeed. This one will fail. None of them will be exactly right.

There are always surprise teams for good (Calgary and Ottawa last season) and bad (San Jose and Boston) reasons. A division winner from the season before may struggle to make the playoffs (Pittsburgh). A lottery team may rise to the occasion (Winnipeg). A team that won the Stanley Cup can miss the dance altogether (LA). Teams are so evenly matched nowadays that predicting who will rise and fall is increasingly difficult. Injuries, momentum, team issues and simple bad luck can make or break a season. Even advanced stats are no harbinger of success (Calgary made the playoffs last season with terrible possession numbers while LA with the best did not).

So they are all educated guesses. And they should be. What fun would an NHL season be if there weren’t a few surprises along the way (as long as the good luck goes with your favorite team). So here are my predictions per division for the upcoming season:

Atlantic Division

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning
  1. Tampa Bay Lightning*
    • The defending Eastern Conference champions should be well motivated to return to the Stanley Cup final. Depending on the contract status of Steven Stamkos, the team is stocked at all areas. With Stamkos, Valterri Filppula, Alex Killorn, the Triplets line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin, goals shouldn’t be a problem. The defense is anchored by stud Victor Hedman and goaltender Ben Bishop is one of the best. You can pencil them in, barring a major meltdown, for the playoffs right now.
  2. Detroit Red Wings*
    • Mike Babcock has left for big bucks in Toronto. That may actually be a good thing when all is said and done. After ten years, it may have been time for a new voice behind the bench, and Jeff Blashill has an impressive resume. With Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall still leading the way and youngsters Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Teemu Pulkinnen upcoming, the dropoff for the Wings will still be a long time away.
  3. Florida Panthers*
    • This is my surprise pick. The team has struggled for years now and for that, they have built up a formidable prospect system. Perhaps this is the season it all comes together. With young stars like Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Erik Gudbranson complemented by veterans Brian Campbell, Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr, this has all the makings of a dangerous team, one that nearly made the playoffs last season. Or they can be their usual non-intimidating self again.
  4. Montreal Canadiens*
    • A team that struggles to score can’t always rely on an all-world goaltender to bail them out again and again. For the Canadiens, it worked last season, but Carey Price may be bound to regress. He can still carry this team to the playoffs, but he will not be as dominant as last season.
  5. Boston Bruins
    • The Bruins suffered from cap mismanagement and spent the summer getting worse which, for a non-playoff team, is not good. Gone are Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton and Reilly Smith, in are Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. They still have supreme forward Patrice Bergeron, pest Brad Marchand, Vezina winner  Tuuka Rask, Norris winner Zdeno Chara and center David Krejci, so the team has the tools to make the playoffs, but an injury to any of them or another down year productively sends the entire team in a tailspin.
  6. Ottawa Senators
    • One of the NHL’s darling teams as they went on a torrid run down the stretch to make the playoffs under goaltender Andrew ‘Hamburglar’ Hammond, the team is bound to take a step back this season. They still have Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson and a forward core that includes Bobby Ryan, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman plus Hammond and Craig Andersson in goal, so they could be competitive, but my money is on other teams in their division.
  7. Buffalo Sabres
    • Are they better? Yes. Are they that much better? No. New faces Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Cody Franson, Jack Eichel, Robin Lehner and coach Dan Bylsma will certainly help the franchise achieve some form of respectability, but it will still be years before the Sabres are able to contend.
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs
    • New coach Mike Babcock promised there’d be pain. Boy, will there ever be. After trading away sniper Phil Kessel, the team is sorely lacking in all areas of the ice. The Leafs are starting from the ground up, and right now, they’re below sea level.

Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals
  1. Washington Capitals*
    • A team that already had Alex Ovechkin, Nik Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Brayden Holtby adds T. J. Oshie and Justin Williams. With another year behind Barry Trotz, the Caps are primed to make a run if they can.
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins*
    • The addition of Phil Kessel makes the Penguin’s offense one of the best in the league. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang driving the bus and another strong season from Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins could make some noise if their defense holds up and they have luck with injuries.
  3. New York Rangers*
    • There’s a lot of wear and tear on the Rangers after consecutive deep playoff runs. This group still has Henrik Lundqvist, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Marc Staal, but fatigue and expectations will hamper them during the regular season. If they make it to the big dance, they can always do damage.
  4. Columbus Blue Jackets*
    • The Blue Jackets were decimated by injuries last season and barring that, look to be a playoff team. With Jack Johnson, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Murray, Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell joined by newcomer Brandon Saad and Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes, the team is formidable.
  5. Philadelphia Flyers
    • Claude Giroux, Jakub Vorachek, Steve Mason and Wayne Simmonds are all still good hockey players, but until the Flyers muster up a stronger defense, making the playoffs will prove difficult. Maybe they bounce back and string a run together, but I’m not sure.
  6. New York Islanders
    • I just got a feeling about the Islanders. You can’t really explain gut feelings and most are considering them a shoo-in for a playoff spot and a team with John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Johnny Boychuk, Jaroslav Halak and Travis Hamonic should make the playofss. But some good teams have to be on the outside, and I’m picking the Islanders to fall back.
  7. New Jersey Devils
    • Another team that needs to start at the bottom in order to build relevance again, the Devils are sorely devoid of high-talent prospects. Patrick Elias, Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson and goaltender Cory Schneider can only handle so much of the load and depth and youth need to be built over the next few years.
  8. Carolina Hurricanes
    • The team situation is muddled with owner Peter Karmanos trying to sell off a portion of ownership while still maintaining control. Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner continue to be the source of trade rumors and the rest of the roster is not much to write home about. Perhaps Jordan Staal, Eddie Lack, Elias Lindholm and Justin Faulk have career years, but Carolina seems to be a team in search of the draft lottery.

Central Division

St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues
  1. St. Louis Blues*
    • The Blues dominate the regular season, but come up empty in the playoffs. That’s what they’ve always done, that’s what they’ll do again. With a lineup that still includes David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brian Elliot, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester and Paul Stastny, the Blues are deep, dangerous and dominant when on their game. Then the postseason comes around.
  2. Nashville Predators*
    • The Predators are one of the best defensive teams in the league with Pekka Rinne in goal and Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Roman Josi on defense. But can they score? Mike Ribeiro had a career year last year and will need to do so again. Filip Forsberg and James Neal are also dangerous, but the Predators will only go as far as Rinne and Weber and their defensive acumen take them.
  3. Minnesota Wild*
    • The Wild survived after a horrendous start to their season on the back of castoff goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Expectations will be sky high for him this season, and it will be a tough test to determine if he is more than just a flash in the pan. With a forward corps of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville and a defense anchored by Ryan Suter, the time for a championship is now in Minnesota.
  4. Dallas Stars*
    • The additions of Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya to a lineup that already includes Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn, star center Tyler Seguin and playmaker Jason Spezza makes the club an early favorite. Whether the defense and goaltending holds up is the question. GM Jim Nill has radically altered the roster he inherited and now it stands a chance of finally flexing its muscles.
  5. Chicago Blackhawks*
    • The mighty will fall. With the gutting of the roster (Patrick Sharp, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya and Brandon Saad all gone) and the distraction of the Patrick Kane rape case, the Blackhawks will struggle to string together wins. They may still be one of the best put together teams in the league with Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and Marian Hossa, but the amount of hockey they’ve played over the past three years and Kane’s situation will leave them scrambling to make the playoffs. I think they’ll make it, but it won’t be pretty.
  6. Winnipeg Jets
    • A surprise playoff berth last season may not be a harbinger of things to come. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec had an outstanding year, but that is more than likely an anomaly rather than the new norm. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler and Tyler Myers give the Jets good players, but they play in the league’s toughest division and someone is doomed to fall back.
  7. Colorado Avalanche
    • Once the cream of the crop two years ago, the Avalanche fell behind the ball early last season and never recovered. They’ve done little to address their deficiencies on defense (the Francois Beauchemin signing is terrible) and are just hoping on continued improvement from young stars Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon and another career year from goaltender Semyon Varlamov. That isn’t likely to happen and head coach Patrick Roy will be left blowing his gasket.

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim Ducks
  1. Anaheim Ducks*
    • The team came within one win of a trip to the Stanley Cup finals and will be one of the favorites to get there this season. With Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Carl Hagelin up front, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm on defense and the one-two punch of Frederik Anderson and Anton Khudobin in goal, the Ducks window to win is now.
  2. Los Angeles Kings*
    • After facing the indignity of missing the playoffs one year after winning the Stanley Cup, expect the Kings to be well-rested and prepared to make amends. A lineup that still includes Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick won’t be so easy to quell again.
  3. San Jose Sharks*
    • Another team that missed the playoffs last season and will be looking for retribution, the Sharks added veterans Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Martin Jones to a roster that still includes Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns. After the internal turmoil of last season and in a weaker division, the Sharks are primed to make it back into the playoffs.
  4. Calgary Flames
    • The Flames surprised many with their determination and strength against advanced analytics. They won’t creep up on anybody this season, but a roster that still boasts Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano and T. J. Brodie, plus newly acquired potential star defenseman Dougie Hamilton has the potential to do some damage. The playoffs may not happen this year, but the Flames are heading in the right direction.
  5. Vancouver Canucks
    • The Canucks went sideways over the summer, losing some okay players and adding some okay players. With the Sedin twins getting older, the window for the Canucks to make any sort of noise may have already closed. Still, the lineup has been through the rigors of the NHL playoffs before so there’s always the chance they surprise some people.
  6. Edmonton Oilers
    • The Oilers made great strides during the off-season, adding new GM Peter Chiarelli, new coach Todd McClellan and next phenom Connor McDavid. They have all the parts necessary to rebuild the organization after years of futility. I just think it’s going to take another year or two before everything comes together for them.
  7. Phoenix Coyotes
    • The Coyotes are in complete rebuild mode. They have some intriguing prospects in Dylan Strome, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair and a goaltender in Mike Smith who, if he regains his form, can carry a team for several wins. But the teams lacks stars, depth and experience. The pieces are there for a turnaround, but there will be pain first.

Who do I see coming out on top? After completing my own bracket based on the above predictions, I predict a Final Four of Tampa Bay, Washington, Anaheim and St. Louis with the Capitals and Ducks making it to the Final. I have the Capitals winning in 7.

Will that come to pass? Maybe. Probably not. It’s all up in the air right now. That’s the joy of wondering about a season that hasn’t happened yet.

Does that seem familiar?: Watching Modern Television

There are some things that are universal: birth, death, love, hate, taxes. There is our first drink, our first sexual experience, weddings, funerals. So when TV writers look into the stream of life for inspiration, there are just some things that are natural to include in their work. And then there is laziness.

So many shows nowadays resort to cliche and convenient tropes to generate plot points. Some of them are so common they hardly surprise anyone anymore, but writers and studios continue to push them forward out of convenience and fear of being different. And looking at these plot points, it is easy to see a hegemony of social norms pushed upon viewers.

Note: This will be focusing on more current TV series as plenty has been written about TV pre-1990.

The Couple Conundrum

  • Guilty Parties: Friends, The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, Cheers, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, That 70s Show, Glee, The Good Wife, Bones, Castle, The X-Files, Private Practice, Firefly, Frasier, Boy Meets World…
Leonard and Penny from The Big Bang Theory
Leonard and Penny from The Big Bang Theory

It is the ultimate question of chick flicks, soaps, domestic dramas and a myriad of other genres: will they get together? The two central characters (Ross and Rachel, Diane and Sam, Luke and Lorelai, Donna and Josh) who may have had an off-again, on-again relationship have sputtered for years and face one ultimate test to see if they will “last forever.”

The problem with the couple conundrum is that viewers just get so fed up with the characters. The couple throw imaginary barriers between them (“we’re not right for each other”, “we were never meant to be together”, “I don’t want to screw up our friendship”). They deny themselves happiness for trivial reasons. They ruin things just as they are about to get together. At the end, the viewer is simply annoyed with them for being so idiotic, and they really doubt that any two people with such baggage could ever hope to have a lasting relationship.

In addition to that, the viewer knows pretty much from the pilot episode that the two characters are “meant” to be together. They usually hook up around halfway through the length of the series after an excruciating series of teases and flirtations, they break up, they have a mini-reconciliation before breaking up again and then they face a “moment of truth” in the series finale.

Ross and Rachel from Friends
Ross and Rachel from Friends

This is also accentuated with a “B” couple, another set of people who go through the same motions though they usually figure it out before the protagonists and often serve as inspiration for them (Chandler and Monica, Frasier and Lylith, Wolowitz and Bernadette, Fez and Jackie).

And pushed along with this coupling notion is a predominant Hollywood interpretation of traditional heterosexual monogamy and destiny. The idea that there is one perfect person out there for everyone (no matter how crazy that notion actually is) is continuously shoved down our throats. It also seems that to be a successful couple, you must be white, straight, good-looking, and eventually career successful (none of the couples at the end of any of their shows is unemployed or at lower standing than when they started off).

It is the most overused, overdone, mind-numbing and predictable television trope of all-time, simply meant to build sexual tension in order to keep you watching.

The Baby

  • Guilty parties: Friends, Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, One Tree Hill, Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Angel, Cheers, Once Upon a Time, Scrubs, Dexter, Frasier…
Jay, a pregnant Gloria and Manny from Modern Family
Jay, a pregnant Gloria and Manny from Modern Family

I’m pretty sure there’s a sticky note taped up on the walls of TV writers everywhere that reads, “When in doubt, throw a baby in the script.”

It has become almost laughable how many babies are used for plot points in shows nowadays.

Typically, the baby is used to show how a couple are maturing (usually it’s the B couple from the Couple Conundrum). The characters have to show responsibility and are given an arc. Which works once. Not fifteen times.

Friends is the guiltiest party by having, not one, not two, not three, but four children birthed by their leading ladies, plus another two adopted children, plus storylines involving trying to get pregnant, having a pregnant sister and lesbians being pregnant.

Friends is also guilty of the “twins” syndrome. Twins are not that common in the modern world, but that hasn’t stopped characters from Friends, The West Wing, and Gilmore Girls from having them.

A pregnant Lane from Gilmore Girls
A pregnant Lane from Gilmore Girls

And through all of this baby love plot device is a lot of actual baby love. The idea is always thrust out that children are this essential form of happiness. You can not be a successful person unless you have offspring. It’s amazing how this notion is still perpetuated even though more and more young adults are deciding to postpone or even not have children.

But the baby love continues. And whenever a team of writers needs to show their character “maturing” there is inevitably going to be baby popping up next season.

Talking One’s Thoughts

  • Guilty parties: Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, House, Grey’s Anatomy, House of Cards, Dexter, Once Upon a Time, Glee, The Good Wife, Bones, Brothers and Sisters, Private Practice, Six Feet Under…

House-of-Cards1

It’s time for a heart to heart. And in TV, heart to hearts are prevalent, awkward and incredibly personal.

Voiceover is usually sloppy writing and that has gotten around. So now, instead of having characters tell the audience what they’re thinking over voiceover, they tell another character (usually a best friend or a partner) their innermost fears and desires.

It’s amazing how open so many characters are nowadays with their emotions. They will tell this special person everything about how their parents abused them and that’s why they have commitment issues or how they secretly fell in love with their sister’s husband or how their experience in Afghanistan has made them emotionally distant. These conversations usually take place at the end of episodes and serve as a sort of theme for the previous hour.

Annalise Keating from How to Get Away With Murder
Annalise Keating from How to Get Away With Murder

In line with this also is the belief that honesty above all else is the ultimate boon. We must be honest with each other even if it hurts because secrets are evil and will destroy us. Not that that isn’t necessarily true, but that also implies that each and every one of us has a similar conscience when that just isn’t the case.

Shonda Rhimes shows are especially guilty of this, and it leads to great overtheatrics. Everyone is attuned to their psychology and to psychology in general, and the outer monologue therapy session has worn out its welcome. There are other ways to write it out and the outer monologue is just a convenience.

The Bromance and the Girlfriends

  • Guilty parties: Friends, One Tree Hill, House, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Private Practice, Bones, Frasier, Scrubs, Entourage, Seinfeld…
Bros from Entourage
Bros from Entourage

If you don’t have a significant other or an active love life, that’s okay; you can have a best friend you can relate everything to. They can live with you, they can be from childhood, you can be totally opposite, it doesn’t matter. The best friend is there for you in thick and thin.

While best friends certainly do exist, in television, it’s amazing how close they actually become to each other. The only thing they lack is physical intimacy and even that is up for debate in some cases.

Christopher Turk and J. D. Dorian from Scrubs
Christopher Turk and J. D. Dorian from Scrubs

The best friend is really just there for the previous bullet point: voicing a character’s thoughts out loud. They are a sounding board more often than not, someone for the protagonist to complain to about their love life usually. And hey, if your love life is going down the tubes, at least you have a bro or a girlfriend to put it all in perspective for you. That is their only real purpose.

Sex and Murder Rule

  • Guilty parties: Friends, One Tree Hill, The Big Bang Theory, House of Cards, Bones, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, That 70s Show, Glee, Once Upon a Time, Game of Thrones, 24, House, Sleepy Hollow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Battlestar Galactica, Seinfeld…
Glee
Glee

The things that people gravitate towards more than anything else are sex and violence. And with that, TV writers have come to the conclusion that they are a big deal and should be treated as such.

But it has gotten a little out of control. Who knew that sex carries so many complications in the TV world? There is the possibility of love, children, abortion, pregnancy deficiencies, marital problems, prostitution, unrequited love, requited love, love with and without attachments, a farewell sendoff, crossing the first threshold, power dominance, infidelity, marriage relations, swinging, friendship rekindling, revenge, romance, backstabbing, drunken mistakes, just another night on the town, hiding from stress, conquest, breaking your solemn rule, passionate lust, alibi-making and attention-getting just to name a few. Normal people seldom have sexual lives so complicated or messy, but in TV, it is apparently all that anyone does and it can mean so many things.

Is there another way to show some of these things without simply stating or showing sexual intercourse? Assuredly, but it grabs viewer’s attention and is an easy out for the writer.

In the case of violence, it is similarly a big deal, but it is almost always negative. Those who commit violence are evil more often than not and when heroes do it, it weighs on them. It again ties back to that very similar conscience we all have.

For TV, murder is a step over a line. When a character does something that violent, they are tainted, almost to the point where they can’t come back. They often become addicted to it and lose their moral grounds in other ways (fidelity, financials, drugs). It is the ultimate crime that leads to the end of everything. One need only to graze through the mystery section to see that murder is the primary crime needing to be solved. It’s irreversibility intrigues us.

Huck in Scandal
Huck in Scandal

And TV has gotten the idea that everyone who commits murder is tainted at the core, needs to be saved or is evil. It is never an accident. It is never a tragedy. The course of action from murder is almost always the same: those who feel guilty about it (even if the person they killed was dangerous or had it coming) recover from its moral depravity and those who don’t become villains. Murderers are therefore good if they repent (Jack Bauer, Angel, Jake Ballard) and evil if they don’t (Frank Underwood, Mr. Gold, Cersei Lannister).

It’s not that sex and violence are not big deals, but their inflation in TV has led to their overprominence in culture. Television logic states that sex is extremely complicated and can mean dozens of different things and can be wrong if done for the wrong reasons and that violence and murder are always wrong unless the character repents. If that sounds like church for you, it’s because that methodology is still deeply ingrained in storytelling today.

Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey

Doubtless there are many other tropes that continue to percolate among TV today that are sloppy, easy for the writer and imbued with out-of-date societal norms. And this is not to say that the shows listed above are by any means bad, just that there are instances where the writers took a cheap way out. For viewers searching for something a little fresher and in line with the times, look at things like Orange is the New Black, The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Downton Abbey, Transparent, Mad Men, shows that aren’t afraid to play around with the standard formula, shows that don’t try to impose a specific doctrine of morality, shows with storylines that don’t look at things so black and white and whose protagonists are as much a mystery to themselves as they are to us.

Walter White from Breaking Bad
Walter White from Breaking Bad

We are in a golden age of television, but writers and producers need to stop closing themselves off from more than one idea and one standard of storytelling. There are so many different points of view and different ways of telling stories that we should never have to deal with another forced bromance or over-dramatized exposition. The world is far more complicated than that.

Could it have been saved?- The Hobbit Trilogy

Peter Jackson’s sequel trilogy to his now-classic The Lord of the Rings had so many problems: it was too long, unfocused, relied too heavily on CGI, had random subplots that did not add to the story. It is quite hard to fathom just how wrong things went. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, which you could lay at the feet of George Lucas being out of the filmmaking business for so long, Peter Jackson is still a filmmaker at the top of his game. He has a deep love of Tolkien and accomplished a monumental feat with the previous trilogy that few thought possible just a few years ago. So, what exactly did go wrong?

We’ll never know for sure. Hubris, studio involvement and too much attachment to the original may have contributed. But could it have been saved?

Gandalf
Gandalf

Let’s start off by acknowledging that The Hobbit trilogy are not bad films. They are simply misguided. The filmmakers were so enamored with what they had achieved with The Lord of the Rings that they did not want to stray too far away from that formula. The problem is that The Lord of the Rings is about a band of individuals with one hope to save the world. The Hobbit is about a troop trying to slay a dragon and reclaim their home. It is far more fantasy than the real-world parallel that The Lord of the Rings has with modern day wars and conflicts. It is the adolescent to the adult novel. So tying it in to the first trilogy is inherently problematic because you suddenly have scenes with trolls trying to make dwarves into chili and characters riding down lakes in barrels in a world where people are brutally decapitated and mass genocide is taking place. It just doesn’t mix.

This is one instance where a new director with a new vision may have really improved the dynamics. For awhile, Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct the films. His unique approach to storytelling may have really added a contrasting design that still fit in with the universe. Instead, Jackson stuck to the tone that was successful for him in the past, but inappropriate for the current story.

Then comes the problem of Bilbo Baggins. In the novel, he is often just carting around with the dwarfs, seldomly driving the plot. That is a major problem in a motion picture. The protagonist needs to initiate the action. He needs to be actively involved with the outcome of the film. He is the vessel we feel emotions through (so something better happen to him), and he is our view into the world. Martin Freeman is an excellent Bilbo, but he is very underutilized. The best moments of the trilogy are when he has his confrontation with Gollum or saves the dwarfs with the barrels or meets Smaug. We relate to the story through him through these circumstances. We feel his apprehension, his relief and his desire. When the film pivots away from that interaction with him, we are left emotionally distant. More time is focused on Thorin and Gandalf, but their journeys are less defined and less empathetic. Bilbo is our vessel and for far too much of the story, he is unavailable to us.

Bilbo
Bilbo

Thorin and Gandalf’s narratives should have been told through Bilbo. Thorin can be unsure of Bilbo in the beginning, come to regard him as a friend, break away from him as Bilbo realizes his dissent into madness only to have Bilbo save him from his sickness and regain his trust. With Gandalf, there should have been some tension. He recruits him to join the adventure, Bilbo resents him for it when things get dangerous, Gandalf convinces him of the necessity of living one’s life and not lounging around at home all day, they get separated, get back together and on. Some of this happens in the film, but it is separated by hours of subplots and universe-building so its effects are nullified.

In short, Bilbo needs to be in just about every scene. We should see all the events through his eyes. He should build up relationships with each of the dwarves (some he trusts, some he doesn’t) and all of the characters. And through it all, he learns about the need to fight for one’s home and help his friends. The films greatly struggles with why Bilbo should even care about the dwarf’s plight since he has no personal stake in the outcome. Only through a strong emotional arc about living adventure and helping your friends can we understand why Bilbo acts the way he does. In the trilogy, we are given just about nothing.

Bilbo’s journey is muted primarily because of a strange insistence on the part of the filmmakers to overcrowd the film with secondary characters. It almost seems as if they were afraid to focus on a singular protagonist and needed to built up a supporting entourage of storylines similar to The Lord of the Rings, but those storylines diverged on one single goal: helping Frodo destroy the ring to save the world. Now there are storylines about Legolas and his relationship with his father, a romance between a she-elf and a dwarf, Gandalf discovering Sauron is still alive and Azog trying to murder Thorin. None of these exactly go together, and they clutter up the films. The overarching goal, just like the first trilogy, should be simple: Find the gold and defeat the dragon to reclaim their home. Anything outside of that endgame should be left out of the film.

An unnecessary subplot
An unnecessary subplot

This necessitates another drastic change to the story: abandon the idea of a trilogy. The subplots add extra weight to the films which can easily be cut down to two or even just one movie. Multiple films could have been used if there had been natural ending notes, but there are not. In The Lord of the Rings, the first film ends with the fellowship breaking. The second ends with a climactic battle and the gaining of the appropriate courage to finish the journey. There are no such breaks in the much shorter Hobbit source material. A single film would really focus on Bilbo and his plight, his relationship with Thorin and Gandalf and the overall lesson about friendship and adventure. This is what fans deserved.

The rest of the issues hurting the value of The Hobbit trilogy are trite in comparison. Fans can complain about the overuse of CGI or the portrayal of characters, but those points are moot if the final product had been great. The Hobbit is simply too long, too convoluted and too distracted with itself to be a worthy followup to The Lord of the Rings. A different approach was needed. Fans are just left wanting.

gollum_angry

Understanding films from all angles