Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Massive spoilers for the Hobbit and the new Star Trek movies, and probably anything else that comes into my head

This was not supposed to be the first (and only) post of the day, maybe I'll have the post up tomorrow if I still remember it then.  (You'll know that I did if the next post involves zombie vocalizations.)

The Slacktiverse meetup had all of two members, but that's enough.  At least it is when Lonespark is the other member.

We'll get to railings in a moment.

Now then, I like the Goblin king as a character and one of the things I like about him is how he meets his end.  What looks like it could be a big fight turns out to be quite short when Gandalf surprises him with a staff in the eye and then, when the king is disoriented by that, a sword to the gut.

At this point he's going to die, but not dead.  He's defeated but can still say his famous last words.  He doesn't try some grandiose thing about being avenged or getting revenge in the next life, He doesn't curse Gandalf.  He doesn't do any of the things that would usually be associated with an evil overlord's dying words.  He simply points out, "That'll do it."  He admits defeat and treats Gandalf's mortal wounding of him as a part of the conversation.  An answer to the question of what Gandalf would do next.

He's also got a fair bit of refinement to him, he knows his history, he knows what is worth what.  He knows how to make them talk with the threat of torture instead of torture itself.  He's fun.  After all of the running Gandalf and the dwarves do who do they find waiting for them at the end of their path?  The Goblin king.

He didn't have to chase after them, he outsmarted them, he figured out where they would end up and got there first even though they didn't know where they were going.  He used the terrain and his knowledge of it to his advantage.  He may not have been able to cope with a wizard shoving a staff in his eye, which arguably he should have been able to see the blow coming and block, but up until that point (which left him open and disoriented for long enough that he was doomed no matter what the next move was, even if it had been something other than a sword to the gut) he played everything well.

Ok, so that said, why does the spellchecker recognize Cthulhu but not Gandalf?

Anyway, glowy swords.  In the commentary to, I think it was, The Fellowship of the Ring, they said that the reason they didn't have Gandalf's sword glow when it should have was that they didn't want to have to explain to the viewer that Gandalf has an elvish sword too and yada-yada-yada thus only Sting glows in the movie.

Ok, fine, all is well.  But in this movie three blades are explicitly described as being Elvish (Gandalf's being one) the two ones other than Sting are given names and histories.  A big fracking deal is made of one of them by the Goblins.

And yet... they don't glow.  When they should be glowing, they don't glow.  When they shouldn't be glowing they don't glow either but that's not a problem.

The end result is to make it seem like the whole thing about Elvish blades glowing blue is utter bullshit, instead the truth is that one and only one Elvish blade in the entire history of Elvish blades glows blue.  That blade was given to Bilbo in The Hobbit and Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring.

And if this doesn't set off serious "What the FUCK?" sensors in your brain, there may be something wrong with you.  If Sting is the only blade in the history of blades that glows when orcs and/or goblins are about then how the hell does anyone know to tell its bearer that Sting, being an elvish blade, will glow when orcs and/or goblins are around?

This might be a minor nitpick if not for one of the other swords, thrice identified as an elvish blade, weren't recognized when it was partially drawn and utterly failed to glow when surrounded by goblins in the center of goblin central station of goblin town of WHY THE FUCK ISN'T IT GLOWING????

The Goblin king recognizes it by name, except it can't be that sword because if it were it would be elvish and if it were elvish it would be glowing right fucking now which it is not.  Clearly it is some inferior knock off that just happened to be good enough to fool Gandalf, Elrond, and the Goblin king.  Because if it were the real thing it would glow which it emphatically does not.

It's like saying, "Well if it's really [rare thingy] when we put it in this vial of clear liquid and shake the liquid will turn black," puts it in vial, shakes, the liquid is just as clear and in no way black, "MY GOD! It is the real thing!"

It doesn't work that way.  When something fails the only test you have for whether or not it is real, and fails repeatedly at that, you don't pronounce it real.  It simply doesn't work that way.

Either elvish blades don't glow, and Sting was just a super special prototype of the attempt at glowing that for some reason worked while all other attempts failed, or the swords Gandalf and Thorin son of Thráin found were not elvish.

Personally, I don't give a damn whether the blades are elvish or not, and I don't care that much about continuity between the book and the movie, but if you have a speech saying that elvish blades glow in the presence of goblins in your movie, three speeches saying that the blade in question is elvish, and then have it not glow when surrounded by a horde of goblins... well something went wrong somewhere.

Drop the glowing speech, drop the three speeches saying it's elvish, drop the scene where it makes a giant show of not glowing, or make it do what you told the audience it will do, but don't leave it as the above.

Now then, I said I'd get back to railings, and here we are:


There are many places in The Hobbit with many bridges.  For example: the dwarvish kingdom shown in the beginning that the quest seeks to reclaim, Rivendell, the goblin kingdom under the mountain.

I myself am well acquainted with bridges.  And one thing that a person begins to notice about bridges, be they foot bridges or the type one might drive a car/wagon over, is that they tend to have these sort of rail things, on the sides, which are commonly referred to as railings.

The purpose of these is to prevent people and things from falling off.  The dwarvish kingdom has many bridges, nary a railing in sight.  Perhaps they believe that those who fall off bridges are weak and do not deserve to live.

Rivendell has lots of bridges, none of them with railings.  But they are not without railing technology.  When one sees riders cross the railingless bridge one can see railinged balconies behind the railinged stairway across the railingless bridge.  The meeting room where the actor who plays Saruman, and the writer or writers who wrote him, did an excellent job of making him obviously evil in hindsight but not so obviously evil that the characters in the scene (who lack the benefit of hindsight) did not look foolish for not recognizing him as evil is surrounded with railings, as well as gaps in the railings so that, for example, one might step out on bit of rock that juts out over the abyss and looks ready to snap off at any moment.  (Characters in the movie are fond of standing in such places.)

Clearly Rivendell has railing technology and isn't afraid to use it, but they don't use it for bridges.  And in one scene, in the background, there is some kind of long stairway with a railing on one side and a drop off to certain death on the other.  (Heading up, the left side would be the railinged side, the right the certain death side.)

What is it that stops these people from putting railings on bridges?  Is there some passage in the bible of middle earth forbidding all people to put railings on bridges?

Perhaps, because when we meet the evil people, the presumably godless goblins under the mountain, you know what they have?  Railings on bridges.

Except... not railings on all bridges, just some bridges, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to which is which.  You may push a goblin off off the unrailinged bridge you stand upon only to have them land on top of a goblin on the railinged bridge below which is identical in construction in all ways except the railings to the one upon which you stand.

Or perhaps, still on the unrailinged bridge, you look up to see a goblin archer aiming at you from a railinged bridge above.

In an interesting moment the heroes of the movie use the inconsistency of the goblin safety inspectors to their advantage.  Most Goblin railings are made of rope, but some are made of wood.  By cutting off a section of wood railing and bringing it to bear on an adjacent section of railingless bridge, they were able to simply sweep goblins off the bridge.  With no railing there to stop them they fell into the darkness below.

One wonders how the goblins decided, "This bridge will have railings, that one won't, here we'll use wooden ones, here we'll stick with rope."

But it isn't just the goblin architects one has to wonder at.

What about those charged with making topographic maps of the region where the mountains fight?  How many times a year do you think they have to go out and resurvey the mountain?  And how much do you think they get paid?  There hasn't been an official government in power since Isildur, this seems like a government job and their wages probably haven't been adjusted for inflation.  Every time there's a damn rock giant mountain battle they have to go out with their surveying equipment and see how the lay of the land has changed, determine which paths are still passible, redraw the contour lines on the map, so on, so forth.

And it's not just that that you have to wonder about:
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Five Rings for whom it is not known,
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne.

Seriously, who got the five rings?

One ring to rule them all
Three rings to the elves
Seven to the dwarves
Nine to the men.


Something is missing here.

On the fifth day of Christmas did Sauron give his true love five golden rings?

This is a natural progression of odd numbers, someone had to get five rings, otherwise nothing else makes sense, so who got the five fracking rings?  Was it the Ents?  Did Treebeard get a ring?

Where is the five?  You don't count 1,3,7,9.  You just don't.  If the sequence begins with 1,3 and ends with 7,9 then in between them is a "5".  That's how these things work.

I'm guessing it wasn't Hobbits who got the five, I'm further guessing that evil races weren't considered, so I'm going with either Ents or Sauron gave his true love five golden rings on the fifth day of Christmas.

What I'm less clear on is how he was able to give ten lords a leaping as by all accounts he only ever netted nine lords.  Perhaps he himself was the tenth lord, and that was the wedding day with the pipers piping and the drums in the deep being post-wedding celebrations.

The five rings being gifts from Sauron to his true love would explain why they were all golden, it was to match his own ring.  Presumably if provided with sufficient heat they reveal love poetry.

Very, very bad love poetry.


More seriously, I do recommend The Hobbit.  Also, the problem with modern 3-d technology is that since it is polarization based if you tilt your head too far it stops working.  This can be somewhat irritating for head tilters such as myself.  It's not a serious problem, and did not detract from my enjoyment more than a negligible amount, but it is easily fixed.

When 3-d glasses were cheap disposable items there wasn't much one could do with them, but now that they're theater property, collected, sanitized, and reused there's room for improvement because the added expense is one time only, not a constant hike.  Clearly what is needed is for the lenses to be circular with weights at the bottom and connected to the bottom via tracks.  That way, no matter how one might orient their head, the lenses would always remain correctly rotated and the 3-d would never get borked.

I've solved the problem for you in theory, now you just need to implement it in practice.  Get to it.

Wait, I was supposed to be more serious.


Saw a preview for the new Star Trek movie.  Managed to make me say something along the lines of, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever seen," or perhaps, "No, just no," before I even knew it was the new Star Trek movie.  Perhaps Lonespark remembers my exact words.

Floating cars and paved roads don't go together.  The point of paving a road is that it has to be paved because something will be in contact with it.  The point of a floating car is that it will not be in contact with the road.  See the problem here?  If you have paved roads, and they are a sufficient means of transportation for you, then you neither want nor need floating cars.  Floating cars might be useful off road, where you can't be sure what dangerous or difficult objects might be on the ground, or even that the ground will support the pressure exerted by tires, but on road they're naught but a massive waste of energy.  You'd be better off dropping wheels and driving the old fashioned way.

The point of a floating car is that you don't need paved roads.  The point of a flying car is that you don't need any roads.  The point of cars that don't touch the ground is that you get to do away with all or part of roads. If they merely float a given distance off the ground then you eliminate the need to pave.  Instead you can simply mow every so often to make sure no saplings sprout up in the way.  If they fly, well if they fly then you never need a road again.

If you're using floating cars on paved roads you're wasting energy on a Neronian level.  Don't be surprised if your eventual death comes by suicide following the words, "What an artist the world loses in me."  Because you've surpassed the actual Nero in conspicuous consumption and reached the level of the myth of Nero.  I'm betting if you see a city on fire you grab your fiddle and sing The Fall of Troy to accompany your playing.

But let's be clear about something here floating car on paved road user: You're not Johnny.  Your story doesn't end with, "I told you once you son of a bitch, I'm the best there's ever been."

You've already got your shiny fiddle made of gold, it's a floating car on a paved fucking road.  You'll have to pay for it later.  You'll have to pay because stories like yours, stories of people who don't give a shit about the waste they bring to the world and leave it all to the lesser beings to suffer for their misdeeds, can only end one way.  You.  Don't.  Get.  To.  Win.

In the end you will lose.  You will lose because the first shall be last and the high brought low.  You will lose because the first history, the work on which the word "history" is itself based is about stories of how those who were once great became insignificant and how the weak were made strong.  (Herodotus, Histories, Book One, look it up you floating car on paved road driving ass.)  Even if you think you can somehow outrun your fate in this story, in this life, you won't escape.  An afterlife will be invented, assuming one doesn't already exist, just so that you can get what's coming to you.

You may think that you're something special driving your floating car over your well paved road, but you're a sign of the waste that gnaws away at the inside of your society, and you will be brought down.

The point of a car that doesn't touch the ground has always been the same dream: Roads?  Where we're going we don't need roads.  That's the point.  To lessen the impact, to lessen the waste.  What you're doing is wasting as much as possible.



Now eventually it would become clear that this was a preview for the new Star Trek movie and two things were immediately apparent: The new Kirk is stupider than the old Kirk.  The new Spock is stupider than the old Spock.  Both by wide margins.

Neither of those things has to be gotten into in any detail.

Most of the characters appearing on screen didn't seem to matter, just Kirk and Spock.  I feel sorry for the actor who plays Uhura, I've seen her in other things and she can be damn good given half a chance (for that matter Pine wasn't bad in Unstoppable), but if the preview is any indication she's going to be entirely defined by the men around her, two in particular, the stupidest of the lot.  Just like last movie, but more so.  Based on the preview at least.

The Enterprise doesn't get to be underwater.  Sorry, but no.  Not that one.  One of the later ones, maybe.  The Delta Flyer, yes.  Voyager, given sufficient time, ok.  The original Enterprise, no, just no.  If they wanted Seaquest they should have gotten the rights to Seaquest, bet you almost anything that they're cheaper than the rights to Star Trek.

The person standing inside a volcano trying to stop it from erupting in order to save a group of people so that the planet's entire history will be irrevocably altered does not get to be all high and mighty about the Prime Directive.  Completely rewriting the natural course of a people's fate to suit your whims, as Spock is doing in the preview, is much more against the Prime Directive than anything Kirk could possibly do.  And that includes Kirk setting himself up as a god and forcing them to do whatever he wants at the point of a knife.  (Or a phaser.)

The idea that Spock can even bring himself to talk about the Prime Directive in anything other than, "Well I guess we don't have to worry about that anymore given we've crossed so far over the line we can't even see it from here with a telephoto lens and photo enhancement software beyond the magic used on CSI," tones implies that he has deluded himself so completely he might as well be talking about how he's a pureblood Hobbit.  Yes, I know there are no Hobbits in Star Trek, that's kind of the point.  This is a person more out of touch with reality than any documented case of actual delusions in all of history.

It took way too long to answer the question of what would happen if the positions were reversed.  Someone doesn't even need to be a fan to be able to answer more quickly than the character on screen.  It might as well be written in giant neon letters.  Why it took so long I can't begin to imagine, but it wasn't dramatic, it was silly.

Actually, that could save everything.

If the entire point of everything in the preview was to be silly.  If the movie turns out to be a comedy along the lines of Airplane, Airplane II, and Top Secret! where absurdity is piled on top of absurdity, then everything in the preview could work, because there was almost nothing on that screen less absurd than this:

So, maybe the new movie will work.


So now let us talk about the first of the new Star Trek movies.

I didn't like it.  I didn't like it because the entire universe was twisted into knot around Kirk in a way the old stuff never was.  In old-Kirk's first episode he escaped with his life but failed at pretty much everything he set out to do including but not limited to saving either the life or the soul of his best friend.  And that set the standard.  Kirk will escape with his life, beyond that nothing is certain.

He gets kicked when he's down all the time and many times he doesn't get back up again.  There was no pithy quip after he was forced not just to watch as his Twu Luv was killed in a senseless car accident but instead actively stop someone from saving her lest the Nazis take over the world because time travel.  Kirk was down, Kirk was kicked.  That's what the original series was like.

In another episode Kirk had to watch as his old friend went from a gentle pacifist to a revenge seeking warmonger because powers beyond his friend's comprehension had decided this peaceful little planet would be a nice place for a proxy war and Kirk was in no small part to blame for the change in his friend, he'd been trying to bring about a similar change, just without the pain the eventually caused it, for fear that otherwise friend would die.

The episode ended with Kirk, not explicitly a Christian but deeply familiar with a Christian mindset and mythology, coming to the realization that he was no better than the Devil.  There was no redemption.  Just realization.  And pain.

In the new thing rather than being introduced to Kirk by seeing him beaten down and kicked (emotionally and literally) while there only to escape with his life and little more, as was the introduction to old Kirk, we're introduced to someone who the universe (past, present, and future) will twist and contort in every possible way to please him and the only way people ever get a leg up on him is if it leads to them crashing down all the harder in the end.

Annoy him?  Your entire planet will be destroyed.  Your mother will die right in front of your eyes.

Try to strand him on a planet?  Your future self will get him back on the ship and coach him on how to cause you to have an emotional breakdown in front of the entire senior staff, and your father, so severe that even you agree you're unfit for command, thus leaving Kirk in charge.

Don't like calling him "captain" in a simulated war game?  A hole in the fabric of the universe with an interesting connection to his own past will cause him to sneak, with the help of his one friend, onto the ship you had to fight to be assigned to only to become the actual captain of it through a combination of kidnapping, attrition, your boyfriend having an emotional breakdown, and who the previous captain wrote his senior thesis on.  Except the attrition came first.  But other than that ... yeah.

The only bone the filmmakers throw to the viewer is that everyone recognizes that new-Kirk is an asshole.  But new-Kirk doesn't care.  So it's no loss to him.

Having an entire movie based around the idea that the universe will contort to let an asshole get whatever he wants and bring down whoever annoys him (however justified their reason for annoying him might have been) does not interest me much.  I'm more interested in people who have to work to get what they want.  I'm also more interested in people who are not assholes.


Lastly, for the moment at any rate, I don't think new-Enterprise has aged well.  It didn't look futuristic at the time, it looked more like an Apple commercial, but now even Apple has moved passed that aesthetic and it just feels dated.


Not lastly after all, I remembered some major points, and then forgot almost all of them.  But there is this:

It's middle earth.  Or Middle Earth, if you prefer.  To be "Middle" anything one must be between two things. Now I've heard all about how cool place with the gods who screw everything up lies to the west, but what lies to the east?  Something must, otherwise it can't be Middle Earth.  It would be East Earth.

To be Middle Earth there must be something on the opposite side.

If it is Middle Earth because of the mystical lands to the west, then there must likewise be lands to the east.  If it is Middle Earth because there was something before then there must likewise be something after.  If it was Middle Earth because there is something above then there must likewise be something below.  If it is Middle Earth because there is something to [Vector] then there must also be something to [inverse vector].

It is Middle Earth.  That means there are at least two other Earths.  Could be more, can't be less.  We only ever hear about one.  The one to the West.  What about the other one (or others if there are more than one)?

"Middle" means "Central element of a set of three or more" so there are at least two others.  What are they?  Because if I assume that the mystical land to the west is one then that still leaves me one short, and if I don't make that assumption then I'm two short.

And don't you dare say "Middle" is just there because of Midgard.  (For one thing I already know that.)  I want a within the myth explanation. Drawing on other mythologies will not avail you, flame of Udûn.


Oh yeah, another thing, Bilbo really seems more like Sam than Frodo to me.  His interest in the elves, his speech about having a home, his general demeanor, just seemed very Samwise to me.

Also, when the dwarves came and he drew his dressing gown tight around himself, definitely Arthur Dent.  I don't think it has to do so much with the actor (although, yes, I know... now) as the character and characterization.  In fact, if anything, I think that Bilbo, especially in those early scenes, made a better Arthur Dent than movie-Arthur Dent.

Ok, been writing a while now, probably time to stop, or sleep, or both.


  1. People in the moth-hosted open thread at Ana's place were discussing The Hobbit (while we were watching it), and the railing issue specifically. Apparently I am not the only person obsessed with this.

  2. Seriously, who got the five rings?

    This is just to let you know that I read this post just before going to bed last night. And I had no answer, because it had never occurred to me to wonder.

    Seriously, who got the five rings?

    But I woke up wondering, and I wonder now.

    Surely, Sauron was his own true love; maybe he gave the rings to himself, and then destroyed them in a fit of pique at the failure of some evil plot.

    If Ents got them, then I bet it was the Entwives (a usage I hate, but that's Tolkien for you). They used the rings to help establish agriculture in Middle Earth, with all those farms and gardens of theirs. And the rings were destroyed in the same holocaust that ended the Entwives.

    The five rings weren't memorialized in verse, because, after all, who cares about a bunch of women making gardens?

    If it is Middle Earth because of the mystical lands to the west, then there must likewise be lands to the east.

    Aslan's Country? ... no, maybe not. But I'd have to check the Silmarillion to remind myself of what's the origin point for Arda.

  3. Hm.

    If you look at the quickly-sketched map of the entire world that Tolkien made and his son published posthumously (book IV of History of Middle-Earth), you'll notice that there actually is another continent to the east of Middle-Earth. At least, there was before the Fall of Numenor changed the world from round to flat; maybe it's still there or maybe they just kept the old name. (And that's another thing that I keep marveling at: it changed from round to flat. How does that work? Without even flooding the harbors of Mithlond and Pelargir? Well, all we know is that this's the one known time Eru Himself intervened in the world... apparently, He can do things like that.)

  4. It is, to be the most nitpicky, Middle-earth, with just one capital and a hyphen. The central point that it's in the middle of the earth, I think, remains solid. So we've got the ocean to the west, and Valinor if you're an elf, and to the east, we have the vaguely defined region of Rhûn, land of skeevy racial generalisations.

    There are also Southrons, and I think the north is mostly humans and dwarves related to the Middle-earth populations but largely unaligned to their causes.

  5. [is jealous of Slacktimeeting]

    Um... there's no five in the verse Tolkien wrote! Are you saying they've changed that for this film? The verse as given in Chapter 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring is:

    Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
    Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
    Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
    One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

    One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to find them,
    One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

    1. No, I'm just misunderstanding you. That's OK then. I think Tolkien thought that five was an insufficiently mythically-significant number - fine in Japan, not so much in the West - and he'd probably have been happier without the nine as well, but he had to put in something...

    2. Nonono, you cannot be writing any Anglo-Saxony mythical stuff and not have nine as a significant number.

    3. Well you've got the five elements of the Greeks (Earth, air, fire, water, aether) with the fifth being the most awesomest of all (hence "quintessential") but Aristotle might have been too Mediterranean for Tolkien to consider his work a ring-worthy influence.

      I still maintain that things appearing in numbers of 1,3,7, and 9 force the question, "Where did the five go?"

  6. Pretty sure Sauron's True Love Forever is Morgoth. I guess you could also make arguments for the Nazgul, or at least Angmar as Emergency Backup Boyfriends.

  7. To tie the two threads together, I had a serious issue with the lack of railings in the Romulan spaceship. Because you're just asking to fall off of something if you built narrow catwalks everywhere without railings.

    1. Star Wars has a lot to answer for.