J.R.R. Tolkien would not enjoy The Rings of Power.
Wait! Before you roll your eyes and seek out a piece with a less whiny opening line, know that this is a generally favorable review of the Amazon series inspired by Tolkien’s creations. Much has been written already about the liberties taken by showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, and sure: there are diversions, detours and a significant condensing of the timeline of Middle-Earth throughout the show’s first season, some of which result in frustrating missed opportunities. Entire diatribes have been dedicated to lamenting the fact that the Rings of Power elves have short hair, or that the Númenóreans should technically be like nine feet tall, or that mithril or the palantíri work very differently here (Erik Kain at Forbes has basically made a career these last few months mewling about what a “betrayal” the series is, at least when he’s not writing hard-hitting articles about Today’s Wordle Hints). So enough has been laid in print already detailing Power‘s departures from Tolkien’s source material, and yes, it’s all technically accurate.
And yet I have a hard time believing Tolkien would really give a shit about that. Before diving into why — and before getting to what the author’s real beef with the show would probably be — we’ll first issue a spoiler warning for The Rings of Power‘s first season.
Continue reading The Rings of Power — Season 1
A lot of what Alan Moore has created is now considered classic. V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, The Killing Joke, his run on Swamp Thing…to say this stuff is at the vanguard of comic-book storytelling is to undermine the fact that this stuff is the vanguard of comic-book storytelling. But it’s important to remember — crucial, actually — that Moore’s never purposefully written a “classic,” meaning his tales are almost exclusively nontraditional narratives that toy with genre and literary consciousness. The writer has a few reasons to despise Hollywood, but the primary point of contention must be that each film adaptation of his comics seems to shove the original tale back into a traditional, classic structure. It happened with From Hell, when Moore’s exploration of evil was spun as a simple murder mystery. It happened with LXG, which discarded crisscrossing episodic adventures in favor of a flat three-act team-up. It happened with V for Vendetta, wherein morally conflicted characters were replaced by obvious Good Guys and Bad Guys. And it happened, to a certain degree, with Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen.
Our Writer Series on Alan Moore typically dives into this abyss between page and screen, sometimes providing side-by-side comparisons of comics panels and film stills in an effort to highlight the divergent artistic choices of Moore and his cinematic adaptors. But Watchmen looks almost exactly the same across both mediums, with Snyder and DP Larry Fong essentially using the graphic novel as their storyboard — reminiscent, a woebegone cynic may claim, of a slacker passing in someone else’s homework:
Continue reading Watchmen (2009)
If 2% of the world’s population — call it roughly 140 million people — suddenly vanished one day, the world would change, right? Everything would be different, right? Religion would be shaken for some, as we saw last season on The Leftovers in the third episode “Two Boats and a Helicopter“. Grief, as a concept, would take on a new complexity as in “Guest“. Heck, even the ATF would necessarily expand to become the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives and Cults (obviously). Three years after the Sudden Departure, Carrie Coon’s Nora Durst lives her life (again, in “Guest”) in what appears to be a normal way: she goes to the grocery store and takes the trash out. But Leftovers unveils something underneath those trips to the grocery store and to the trash barrel, betrays a world changed but changed only beneath the business-as-usual facade.
I expect as much to be the case with Jarden, Texas, a town that miraculously was unaffected by the Departure. All 9,261 citizens of the town were “spared”, turning Jarden into a mecca for those believing it to be the only safe haven on the planet. It’s now billed as Miracle National Park, and tourists flock by the thousands to breathe the air of the place that God saved. The change of location from Mapleton, NY, works on several levels, providing more than fresh faces and fresh challenges. The sparing of Jarden is no more explicable than the Departure everywhere else, and thus we get a fresh take on the world of The Leftovers as well, one where the whole business of “not knowing” is framed as a positive thing instead of a tragic thing. In Mapleton everyone asked what happened, and we talked about how Leftovers will never actually answer that question. Here, in Jarden, whoever asks what happened is met with a chorus of justifications from God saved us to stop asking and just be thankful.
Continue reading The Leftovers 2.1 – “Axis Mundi”
Alongside the sixth episode “Guest”, “Two Boats and a Helicopter” provides the most effective hour of character drama in the stellar first season of The Leftovers. The first episode to zoom in on a single character depicts the sad struggle of Reverend Matt Jamison, portrayed with suitable passion by Christopher Eccleston, in the wake of the mysterious Departure. The first and second hours showed glimpses of Matt, passing out flyers at a rally that damn the Departed rather than deify them. “It was not the Rapture!” maintains Matt. In “Two Boats and a Helicopter”, he reveals what he thinks the Departure actually was: a test.
And his sister Nora sums up one side of the episode with perfect succinctness: “if it was a test, I think you might be failing it.” Thus is his post-non-Rapture existence a continuous test of faith wherein Matt attempts to hold onto his beliefs in the face of that unthinkable and impossible event. Matt’s story keeps turning in on itself, offering hope in one instant and ripping it away just as quickly. It’s a cruel-seeming existence, one that forces Matt to eventually view the smallest of occurrences as a direct sign from God. After a certain point, the letdowns are more or less inevitable.
Continue reading The Leftovers 1.3 – “Two Boats and a Helicopter”
“There are two wolves,” says Casey of Tomorrowland. “One represents darkness and despair, the other light and hope. Which one survives?” To be sure, the philosophizing throughout Brad Bird’s latest film is never any more subtle than this (or less). Casey, optimist to such a ridiculous degree that we learn that about her before we even learn her name, disregards any need for subtext and instead just states the thing itself: “I’m an optimist”. She answers the wolves question in a similarly matter-of-fact manner. Which one survives? “The one you feed.”
Happily, we put this very quote to work in our review of an episode of The Red Road called “The Wolf and the Dog“. It’s much less of a stretch here in Tomorrowland, and again, you don’t really have to stretch at all. It’s plainly clear that the vast majority of today’s storytelling is geared towards the grim, towards the harrowing action-filled future, towards the Cormac McCarthy-style doom and gloom. This is true of almost every medium and almost every target audience, but since Tomorrowland is so much in line with the present Young Adult craze (and because Casey is a teenager) we’ll deal in that genre. The examples should leap readily to mind: Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Giver, Divergent, The Mortal Instruments and Ender’s Game are all youthful dystopias with damn similar plots and damn similar everything else. Even Harry Potter, while not dystopian in any way, was a kid’s story turned dark and brooding on screen (see: everything after Daniel Radcliffe grew up).
Continue reading Tomorrowland (2015)
The Leftovers isn’t easy watching. The premise is a tough one: roughly two percent of the world’s population suddenly vanishes one October day, leaving the other ninety-eight percent to agonize over where they went, why they went, and what the hell actually happened. Three years on, the weight of the uncertainty left in the wake of the event is so fresh that it might have happened just yesterday. Justin Theroux stars as Kevin Garvey, Chief of Police in smalltown Mapleton, New York, and in the pilot episode it’s already clear what kind of devastating effect the disappearance has had on Mapleton and on Kevin.
Damon Lindelof is a major player here, the writer behind such other head-scratchers as Lost and Prometheus, and his stroke is evident in the first hour of Leftovers. This is one reason why the show likely defies those happening upon it as they lounge on the couch and flip through channels until they hit HBO – The Leftovers isn’t at all a casual watch. Lindelof shares creator credit with Tom Perrotta, who wrote and published Leftovers as a novel before turning it to the small screen, and it appears they’ve both adopted the “mystery box” theory posed once by J.J. Abrams. The Leftovers shows us the box, shows the top and bottom and sides and practically makes us beg to see what’s inside it – and Lindelof and Co. are aware that that mystery itself is more compelling than actually opening the box. The main box – containing the answer to the question where did the departed go, and why were they taken? – is the framework for the entire show.
Continue reading The Leftovers 1.1 – “Pilot”