Tag Archives: fantasy

If you’re planning a Norwegian vacation, beware the trolls

I think the whole found footage think gets unfairly knocked. It’s simply a story-telling device, something that isn’t inherently good or bad. When it’s well used – The Blair Witch Project – you end up with a solid film. When the story is weaker – Cloverfield – you get a final product that isn’t as interesting or compelling.

Enter Troll Hunter, a 2010 Norwegian film. Brief text at the beginning explains that everything shown in the film, as far as the people who found the footage know, is true. We first meet our plucky-if-naive college students, Kalle, Johanna and Thomas. They start out on a lark, looking for a poacher who has been killing bears in the area. After some poking around and a little luck, they come across Hans, a surly, secretive man who lives a nomadic life, sleeps all day and leaves at night, residing in a abnormally smelly camper with an inordinate amount of exterior lighting.

Following some Scooby Doo-like sneaking and shadowing, Hans fesses up: He is a troll hunter, Norway’s only troll hunter. Trolls are allowed to live in isolated parts of the country, but lately, the trolls have been wandering out of their safe habitats and into inhabited areas, leaving a path of destruction and death in their wake. It’s up to Hans to figure out what’s causing this problem, as well as killing any troll who reaches civilization.

At first, the kids think they’ve run into a madman who will make an awesome subject for their documentary. That is, until they are chased by their first troll. Then shit gets real in a hurry.

Troll Hunter‘s strengths are two-fold:

  1. The film plays less like a found-footage horror movie and more like a documentary. The kids get an inside look at troll hunting, the varieties within the species, how they do and don’t act like fairly tales would suggest, the bureaucratic red tape that is involved with each troll death. As the film unfolds, two other interesting stories begin to unfold: The length to which the Norwegian government will go to conceal the existence of trolls, and the toll this life takes on Hans, our titular troll hunter.
  2. Our main man Hans. Played by Otto Jesperson, Hans agrees to show the movie-making trio the troll world because, after years alone hunting them, Hans is tired of the coverup and the secrecy. A former soldier, he has killed these creatures for years, and it clearly haunts him. He has respect for the beasts, and he has had to do horrible things, some to protect humans, some to protect Norway’s business interests, and he wants no more to do with it. Hans is the real star of the show, and Jesperson’s portrayal – and the strong writing and direction of Andre Ovredal – gives Troll Hunter a strong anchor that keeps the film solidly moored in reality as things get more and more fantastic.

If your kids are OK with reading subtitles (I’m not sure whether there’s an English dubbed version), this is a film with some scares that isn’t too scary. And if you’re thinking about a trip to Norway and are a good Christian, you may want to reconsider it. The only thing trolls love more than the fresh, warm blood of a follower of Jesus is a good tire to chew on.

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New ‘Apes’ works for me in ways original movies never did

It's time to call in the cavalry.

It’s time to call in the cavalry.

I’m a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Thematically, both shows were challenging, the core group of actors worked well together and the humor is terrific. I know some folks had problems with the rubber masks, but that never bothered me. Vampires, demons, werewolves, they aren’t real, so if they look a little hokey, I can live with that.

That’s why I never could get into the original Planet of the Apes movies. Apes, monkeys, orangutans, whatever, they are very real and have unique features that distinguish them from each other, as well as from humans. The apes from the old flicks mostly just kind of looked and sounded like humans, except they were wearing bad masks. They were hokey, and every time I tried to watch them, it took me completely out of that world. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.

The new Planet of the Apes films, on the other hand, I find fascinating. The first flick was a nice set-up, a prison escape film that give us an interesting inside perspective on being a wild animal in captivity, as well as the damaging psychological effects on such animals. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes really got me cheering on this series. We watch as the apes sulk and scream in rage, spitting out their animosity at the humans every chance they get. And yet, when the time comes, the apes evolve into scheming, duplicitous, violence-loving bipeds that seem a lot like the people they despise so very much. When Caesar’s death is orchestrated to appear as if it was done by humans instead of his own lieutenants in order to unite the apes against the humans, I thought of the Gulf of Tonkin incident that led up to increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the sinking of the USS Maine that was the preamble to the Spanish-American War.

And I was able to enjoy all of this because I was never taken out of the moment by stiff, rubber-masked pseudo-apes. With my disbelief sufficiently suspended, I could really soak in the story. And I’m left wondering what War of the Planet of the Apes has in store for us next.

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Beware the Bloody Nine

Author Joe Abercrombie deserves credit for two great things when it comes to his fantasy First Law trilogy.

  1. The Bloody Nine. Logen Ninefingers, so known because one of his digits was excised during many one of his personal and/or tribal battles, is a simple dude. He really just wants to live in peace with his family. The problem is, his family is dead, and Logen is one of the most feared and hated warriors of the North, known as The Bloody Nine to both enemies and allies. There is no peace for Logen, who survives to trudge from fight to fight, questioning more and more his destructive path as the years and fighting drag on. But when the fighting is fiercest, when the heat is truly, Logen evolves from a relatively nice guy trying to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation into The Bloody Nine, a sociopathic and vile beast who relishes delivering pain and death to all around him, and not necessarily just his enemies. The Bloody Nine is an alternate personality, appearing only in the most dire of situations, and always to the dread of Logen. When The Bloody Nine first truly makes an appearance in The Blade Itself, that is when the tone starts to turn from that of a normal, adult, fantasy tale to truly dark, and a shadow is cast over the next two books that never disappears. For a simple dude, Logen turns out to be a singularly complex and compelling character in a book full of personalities with depth and interesting back stories.
  2. War is hell. Yes, a lot of the fantasy genre covers this, from Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones. But in the second and third books of the First Law series – Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings – Abercrombie really sinks down into the morass. What is the point of all of this violence? What does it solve? The arguments of kings are born on the backs of soldiers and the people, not the men who start the fights. Limbs and lives are lost, cities and towns destroyed, and for what? Honor? Glory? Logen asks these questions, repeatedly – and isn’t the only one – but can never seem to break away from the cycle of death and war. Many of the characters – from career soldier and war hero Collem West to once-the-tortured-now-the-torturer Sand dan Glokta to Dogman, a Northman and running buddy of Logen – come back to this, over and over, never really able to answer their own questions to their satisfaction. Even as our heroes’ fortunes turn and they appear to be winning the fight, the cost is never ignored. Many fantasy books have no problem with the battles and blood, but gloss over the impact with tales of honor and bravery. In the First Law trilogy, the honor and bravery are there, but the end result of all of this warring is never buried. It makes for a grim tale, but one worth telling.
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Five musings about Season 5 of ‘Game of Thrones’

In case you're wondering, this is what a moron looks like.

In case you’re wondering, this is what a moron looks like.

Die, Stannis, Die! I knew Stannis Baratheon was a pretender to the throne (‘Game of Thrones’ pays off, sometimes despite itself). Granted, I was hoping Davos would off both him and the Red Witch, but I’ll take an embarrassing, historic military loss instead of betrayal by his ally. Stannis was the face of religious zealotry, and like all such fools, was burned … unfortunately, not literally, like his poor, trusting daughter.

Cersei gets hers. Speaking of religious zealotry, how’d that little game you were running with the dirty priest work out for you, Cersei? Did Ms. Lannister learn nothing from her dad? You can’t empower those thirsting for power unless you have something to hold over them, or you will get fucked. Period. Interesting that Olenna Tyrell figured out immediately what the holy man was, while Cersei had to end up in the dungeon before she realized who she was messing with. I found this to be the most interesting storyline of the season and am interested to see where it leads. My suspicion is that, while Round One went to the holy man, Cersei will even up the balance sheet at some point.

Arya, the only Stark without a self-destructive streak and a tin ear when it comes to the politics of Westeros.

Arya, the only Stark without a self-destructive streak and a tin ear when it comes to the politics of Westeros.

Only one trustworthy Stark. Well, I’d hoped for more from Sansa (Long game starting to come together on ‘Game of Thrones’), as it seemed like at the end of Season 4 she was finally ready to be proactive. But she just went along with Baelish, not really thinking ahead, and that did not work out so well for her. When Theon Greyjoy is your knight in shining armor, you have seriously gone off the rails. Thankfully, Arya keeps getting smarter, the only Stark worth her weight in something other than cow dung. I continue to think, at some point, the north is going to rally behind her, but her time with “the man” could spin her in other directions.

John Snow nearly pulled off the impossible.

John Snow nearly pulled off the impossible.

Speaking of Stark-like behavior. John Snow, rest in peace (unless, as every headline on the Internet suggests, he is not dead, which would just be stupid). Snow’s problem was he tried two strategies that couldn’t work together. On the one hand, making Alliser Thorne his second-in-command was a stroke of brilliance. Single handedly, Snow brought his biggest enemy into the fold and honored his abilities, very publicly. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” On the other hand, Snow also tried to take a huge leap that was never, at least in the early stages, going to have broad support among the Crows. To pull off something as crazy as bringing years-long enemies such as the Wildings in as allies, you need a second-in-command that is completely loyal and is going to back your play. Snow took a huge risk that he knew probably wasn’t going to work and sabotaged himself in the process. It could have come together as he envisioned, but he didn’t quite have the chops to pull it off. Still, Snow, so far, has accomplished more than any other spawn of Ned Stark.

Daenerys’s dynasty. It was frustrating to watch Daenerys spin her wheels on the other side of the sea throughout Season 5. That said, the lessons she’s learned and the allies she now has position her better than anyone still living in Westeros to take the reins of the kingdom. The wild cards are the dragons … they could be very useful, even just as intimidating symbols. But how much control does Daenerys have of those flaming-breathing beasts? Guess we’ll find out …

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‘Game of Thrones’ pays off, sometimes despite itself

Why, exactly, am I supposed to care about Theon Greyjoy?

Why, exactly, am I supposed to care about Theon Greyjoy?

After mentioning to a buddy of mine about how much I was enjoying Game of Thrones despite certain reservations I was having, he went off on a rant about the general lack of quality in the fantasy arena, whether on the page or on-screen, how mature consumers of fantasy were too often out of luck, forced to read books for kids or seek satisfaction in other genres. As he wound down and admitted my concerns about Game of Thrones were valid, he asked me to name one other fantasy franchise that is doing it better.

He had me stumped on that one.

Because when Game of Thrones is on its game, it’s a whole lotta fun. The general antics of the Lannister family, particularly Tyrion, are a wonderful representation of the incestuous courts of Europe of previous centuries, a constant whirl of gossip, lies and back-stabbing – with the occasional bloody, out-and-out front-stabbing as well – that is the real war behind the grand battles fought in fields and keeps. Arya Stark’s journey from eager kid to burgeoning revolutionary has been well mapped, and she is a survivor in a family that has done its best to get itself killed off. And, best of all, the messianic rise of Daenerys Targaryen from an afterthought in a royal family in exile to the mother of dragons, freer of the slaves and leader of what is about to become the most terrifying and dominating army in Westeros (at this point, I should probably note I’m only at the end of season 3, so season 4 is not in play for this piece).

The problem is all of the boring bullshit you have to put up with to get to the good stuff. Sansa Stark is never interesting on her own, occasionally becoming a worthy diversion when she is swept into someone else’s drama, such as her marriage to Tyrion. Yes, she represents the royal child raised to marry into a match that will serve some political scheme, which makes her important as a symbol, but it also makes her wholly uninteresting as a character. I have a hard time caring about Stannis Baratheon’s storyline, in large part because it’s mostly him acting inconsistently while the red witch and his right-hand man bicker like a couple of girls in the junior high bathroom. Plus, I honestly don’t believe he’ll rise to power, so it’s increasingly difficult to care what schemes the Plankton of Westeros has going on. I cheered during the “Red Wedding” because now I never have to hear Rob Stark whine, grouse and pout again. Rob was dull and managed to make the wrong, most self-destructive decision nearly every time, and it’s a shame his head wasn’t chopped of instead of his daddy’s. And why, God, why am I still forced to watch the misadventures of Theon Greyjoy? So far, all he has contributed to the show is the supposed death of the youngest Stark boys and that “Dude, it’s your sister” moment when he feels up Yara. My time is being wasted whenever the story focuses on him.

But in the end, the big-picture payoff continues to be worth it, even if the journey sometimes gets in the way. So I am hitched to the fate of Westeros, for good or ill.

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‘Wytchfire’ a worthy jumping off point for Dragonkin trilogy

Do you have what it takes to carry Knightswrath?

Do you have what it takes to carry Knightswrath?

What I didn’t like: That list is fairly short. I’d have preferred to speed up the earlier parts and get to Lyos, the city that is the main setting for the latter half of Wytchfire and one of the key cities in the land of Ruun, but I’m not the author and it doesn’t hurt the narrative. My only real concern is that the dialogue seems a bit too Midwestern, which you’d expect from a guy that grew up in Iowa. Not a huge beef, admittedly.

What I liked: I thought Michael Meyerhofer did a nice job of both adhering to the familiar tropes of fantasy while creating his own realm and mythology. Including the Codus Lotius – one of the seminal texts of the Isle Knights – as an appendix was a nice touch (“He who waits for the gods to tell him to move will, in time, grow roots”) and helps give context for what the Knights should be aspiring to achieve. The She’lai, a group of mutated magical beings sprung from the race of Sylvs, may be his best creation. A group of the She’lai internalized the magical power of extinct dragons in an effort to prepare for the battle to control Ruun. One such She’lai, affectionately know as “The Nightmare,” singlehandedly brings down the walls of city after city before a siege can ever be conceived, a group of twelve She’lai surrounding it to magically harness its power at all times during battle. Meyerhofer’s nicest trick, though, may have been occasional references to a race known as the Olgryms, monstrous, gigantic creatures that don’t show up until the epilogue, but who will clearly be players in the battle for Ruun. Wytchfire is a solid jumping-off point, and I look forward to seeing where Meyerhofer goes from here.

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