Fantasy Series- Recommendations

I believe there is a lot of great fantasy books in the world today. As a result I have collected a bunch of my favorites, with this representing the first of two posts. Here are my favorite series, though, in one case, I only like the first book. There are lots of other good books out there (one of my hobby-horses), and these absolutely represent my tastes more than any sort of objective criterion. There are also other series that I think are great and/or read with zeal, and still others that I am sure would appear on many lists of this sort–for instance, Discworld, which I think is merely OK. I have a long to-read list already compiled, but if there are suggestions I will gladly take them.

The Lord of the Rings [plus The Hobbit and The Silmarillion], JRR Tolkien

In many ways this is the Ur-series for the Western fantasy canon, though Tolkien himself was drawing on the Ring Cycle, Beowulf, and a host of other mythological and Romantic influences. Tolkien also set for invention high for all nerds (said affectionately) who built worlds for games, books, or fun. Call them excruciatingly boring, what with the large number of walks taken, and suffering from the drawbacks of the genre such as unnecessary descriptions of stew, there is quite a bit going on in these series. I am of the opinion that recent years have seen a literary-ization of genre fiction that has linked some of the ideas present in the past books with a craft not before seen, but I still love Tolkien for what it was. The world and the series has plenty of issues, including at times blatantly racist overtones and the general (but not complete) absence of strong female characters, but it does have a lot to give back. I also believe that it offers a better entry into this sort of writing for kids than do some of the more complex modern books.

Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan (completed by Brandon Sanderson)

Another series that I have a soft-spot for having starting reading it in elementary school. It too suffers from a lot of flaws, but also did a lot to drive the genre forward, including that Jordan helped launch the careers of other fantasy authors such as the fellow coming up next on this list. The Wheel of Time can be tropetastic, but that is the nature of the beast, particularly in a genre which usually has the paradigm of a few intrepid individuals holding the darkness at bay, and suffers for being such a sprawling epic. The same sprawl meant that things changed quite dramatically from early on, for natural reasons, for inexplicable reasons when he was still feeling things out, and perhaps for reasons whispered about on internet fan forums. In that way, The Wheel of Time was one of the earliest book series to generate dedicated online communities–and, sadly, one of the reasons for the perpetual fears over authors dying without finishing the books. I haven’t really said anything about the series itself, but I do like a lot of the characters, and it was one of the early series to play with gender dynamics in that the most powerful force in the land are women.

The Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin

Or, as it is known, Game of Thrones. Ultimately, a re-envisioning of the War of the Roses in a medieval fantasy world where, as they say, Winter is Coming. The environment of the series flips between long summers and brutally long winters where there is a chance of the White Walkers, and perhaps cold gods awakening. There is a core struggle for the heroes to save the world from utter oblivion, whether using magic swords, blood, or dragons, but Martin’s protagonists are usually too busy playing politics and pretending to be heroes to actually get around to do anything about the encroaching doom. Actually trying to be a hero is the fastest way to die. He has said that there is going to be a bittersweet ending, so we assume that we will see spring, but the question is how will people put aside their squabbles long enough to fight back.

Kingkiller Chronicles, Pat Rothfuss

This is my favorite series right now, though I have heard several viscerally negative reviews of it. The biggest determinant, I think, is how much a reader likes the main character, Kvothe, because this series very much is about him. Functionally, the series is a story within a story, with Kvothe’s life, which has become the stuff of legend, is being narrated over the course of three days. Each day is a book, and the driving question behind the story is how did the legendary individual, whose exploits are known the world over, become an impotent innkeeper in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Rothfuss’ writing is (in my opinion) beautiful, and I also endorse The Small Regard For Silent Things, a novella written about one of the side characters in the main series.

Dune, Frank Herbert

I nearly put Dune on my list of standalone recommendations because I found the first book to be such a revelation and the subsequent books to be such disappointments. Herbert sets up a galactic civil war between the Baron Harkonnen, supported by the Emperor, and House Atreides, which gets trapped on the desert world of Dune. The story is simultaneously intimate and cosmic in scale, with a messianic main character who may accidentally set in motion a military-religious tsunami that will overwhelm the galaxy.

Tao x3, Wesley Chu

[Lives, Deaths, Afterlives]. Chu’s three book Tao series is an action-romp where the alien Tao and his host Roen Tam try to save the world (and his family) from being turned into a warm primordial soup. I reviewed the first book in the series, and really enjoyed all three. There were times that I thought the later books were sloppier than the first and a little too on the nose about some contemporary issues, but those were slight irritations to what is an incredibly fun set of books that was really easy to blow through.

Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson

When I recommend a Sanderson series, this is the one, in part because it is just a trilogy. There are a lot of things that Sanderson does to tie his entire oeuvre together as part of the larger “Cosmere,” but what is important for this trilogy is that for most people the world consists of endless drudgery, toiling away in factories and farms in a landscape where both urban and rural features are covered in soot, not unlike an extreme version of the industrial revolution. There is also a strict hierarchy between the nobility, who are tall and more athletic and blessed with magic, and the masses, who are stouter, slower, and duller. The entire system is rigidly enforced by the Emperor, who is also the most powerful magic user, and his servants. Yet, Kelsier, a thief, is convinced that he can bring down the Emperor and takes his friends, including the urchin Vin, along for the ride. Except, as you learn, the Emperor is also a lynchpin that holds the system together and the changes were not just arbitrary. Sanderson is particularly known for his magic systems, which, in this case, involves the ingestion and consumption (and other uses) of different metals, each of which corresponds to a particular ability.

The Stormlight Archive, Brandon Sanderson

Tentatively placed here, if you are a reader who likes Sanderson’s other books and Robert Jordan, read this. Sanderson is planning the series more than Jordan did, but his writing is similar and this is in many ways his equivalent set of tomes.

Old Man’s War, John Scalzi

Technically OMW is the first book in a series, so it is included here. Scalzi’s military science fiction series is set in a future where most people on earth live entirely recognizable lives. However, to solve the third-world population crunch, they are allowed to colonize distant planets–no first-worlders need apply. That is, until you get old. Science allows the mapping of minds onto new, genetically enhanced bodies, so the military has taken to recruiting people with an entire lifetime’s experience, giving them enhanced bodies, and sending them off to fight against alien races. Survivors get set up with a new, un-enhanced body and a position in a colony. Each of the books set in the world, including the two collections of serialized stories that I haven’t yet read, are set in this universe, but told from a different point of view. They are well thought out, snappily-written, and action-packed, as one would expect from Scalzi’s work, and well-worth reading.

Sometime later this week I hope to post the list of stand-alone novels in these genres that I really enjoy. In the meantime, I’d be interested to know what you think I am missing.

The Hobbittt [sic]: a review (spoilers)

I saw The Hobbittt for the sake of completion and am writing up my in the same vein, having done so for installment one and two. As was the case last year, I don’t have time to go back and read the relevant passages in the book, but there was a lot of things I found stupid and problematic without it. The list entries include spoilers, but the concluding paragraph does not.

  1. The trope that “bred for war” became. Tolkien did stuff like this, too, but it seemed that every creature that Jackson trotted out on the side of the bad guys was bred for war and some of those were hilariously ineffective. Like the stupid flying bat things. I was half expecting the dwarves and the elves and everything else to be bred for war, too, because while Tolkien’s world-building does create the other races for purposes other than fighting, Jackson’s doesn’t. Even in the first Hobbit film, the Dwarves are all warriors and little else. Along the same lines, the only sequence in any of Jackson’s films that show the breeding of any of these creatures is in Saruman’s betrayal. The rest is just a hinky catchphrase meant to sound ominous and I am going to start using about the squirrels on campus.
  2. I understand cinematic license and one cannot just let the full stretch of a siege play out because most of the audience would be bored, but even old walls should not fall down when hit once. Or when fallen upon. And walls should probably be taller than the things coming to fight against them. I’ve had this complaint with all of Jackson’s LotR films, but it was particularly significant in the Hobbittt, and rendered some of the subsequent dialogue clumsy and moronic.
  3. Legolas and Dain’s stupid fight scenes. This was a problem since this was most of the film. I’m just going to lay down my cards here: I think many of the fight scenes, from the individual heroic duels to the massive battle episodes, in all of Jackson’s films were just dumb. This film was the worst of the lot. Legolas, who didn’t even need to be in this film, encapsulates this where he leaps and jumps and hangs, all in order to appear impressive and break up the monotony of a large melee. Call me jaded, but this was all flash and no substance.
  4. Tauriel is looking for Kili, but runs into a big orc and is in danger! Kili comes to Tauriel’s rescue! Orc handles Kili! Tauriel comes to Kili’s rescue! Orc takes them both! Legolas comes to their rescue and gets lucky in defeating orc. This was one of the dumber sequences.
  5. I didn’t like the purging of Dol Guldur. This is not so much the few heroes sneaking into the lair of the enemy, which is a very Tolkien episode, even if it largely runs against Jackson’s vision. It was just another episode that added to the clutter. When I heard that this part was going to show up in the films, I had defended it, but I also expected for the cleansing of Dol Guldur to take place on the way home from the mountain, with the White Council appearing as a distinct arc where, maybe, the background for the Lord of the Rings would be explained, instead of Legolas being blandly told to go find Strider, who, in the original chronology, is probably a wee lad. Even in Peter Jackson’s original films, I’m not sure Legolas and Aragorn had met when the council met some sixty or so years later…which makes Legolas hilariously inept?
  6. The Hobbittt was too long and a large amount of this time could be recouped if Jackson had eased back on the overly-long sequences of psychological drama. The review I read on astutely observed that, for the most part, Jackson cast excellent actors and then refused to let them actually act by throwing graphics around them to show trauma.
  7. Jackson also did strange things with the chronology, including having people travel long distances in unconscionably short periods of time. Some camera cuts passed days, some moments and it was uneven as to what was what. I was also amazed that there was as much warning as there was for the Dragon arriving at Laketown.
  8. Which leads to another point. The Dragon attack looked catastrophic and it was shocking how many people survived. Then, every time you turned around there were more people of Dale fighting back against the bad people. This was particularly shocking given that the dwarves and elves appeared to die in droves.
  9. Why save the Dragon’s death for this movie? Yes, it added a bit of a prequel so that it wasn’t just battlebattlebattle, but it also added the sense that The Hobbittt was just a mishmash of things.
  10. There were far too many unfulfilled promises in The Hobbittt. Two, in particular, stood out. First, Bilbo showed the acorn that would become the Party Tree, but it was used to try to humanize Thorin. Even though Bilbo comes home in the film, that tree was, sadly, never planted. Second, much was made out of the Arkenstone and how much Thorin wanted it. In the book, Thorin is buried with the stone on his chest. In the film, his death is a tragedy, but I’m pretty sure that Bard still has it in his pocket even as he chastises other people for seeking wealth.

I’ve recently been thinking about Jackson’s tendency to add female characters to Tolkien’s particularly masculine world. For the most part I have not been a fan since it frequently undercuts the original story-lines that I really like. However, I also like what Saladin Ahmed has done for some of the stories he reads to his children, where he simply makes some of the original characters female. I am a purist in most of these representations, but for a largely sexless world that Tolkien creates, I don’t see why this solution wouldn’t work–for instance, if several of the dwarves were women, or Bard. Or in the original Lord of the Rings, why couldn’t Legolas be female? Or both Legolas and Gimli? Or the wizards? Or Borimir? Or Merry and Pippin? Leave Sam and his relationship with Frodo and the love story between him and Rosie alone, as well as the Farimir/Eowyn and Aragorn/Arwen pairings and the ents, but none of the other genders matter. I will most likely do something similar if I get a chance to read these books to children.

The Desolation of Smaug: a review (spoilers)

I had thought to reread the latter portions of Tolkien’s The Hobbit before writing my review of Peter Jackson’s movie, but, as the folks on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast demonstrated this week, no such diligence is needed to completely trash this movie. From what little there I remember of the book, there are a number of truly unnecessary, egregious changes, but I want to focus on some of the broader issues from the movie rather than the picayune, which are frustrating, but, ultimately, not the greatest flaws of the movie.

A few of the key complaints laid by PCHH this week:

  1. tDoS basically operates on a single, helter-skelter pace, with just a few brief lulls where people were incapacitated.
  2. tDoS simply begins and ends without much in the way of introduction or conclusion, or even picking up where the last one left off. If the third movie picked up as much removed from the second as the second did from the first, Smaug will likely be dead off camera.
  3. the distinction was drawn between action and spectacle, tDoS clearly being the latter in place of the former instead of the latter supplementing the former.
  4. Not enough Martin Freeman

In addition to these, Linda Holmes made the comment that many of the scenes looked like a high-end video game rather than a movie. I had a similar complaint about tDoS, except that it was not just the visual effect that I had a problem with. I noted last year when I wrote about the first installment that the chase scenes felt like a video game level in that the characters had to hit the right button in order to advance, an unfortunate technique that Jackson expanded upon in this movie. First, while walking through Mirkwood, I had flashbacks to Final Fantasy X and then, in the escape downriver, it felt like a repeat of the escape from the goblin caverns from the first movie–and an easy tie-in for the merchandising department to make a video game level from.

It had troubled me last year that Jackson downplayed Bilbo’s street-cred as a burglar, something that he re-establishes in the waxing moments of the film. In a way I was glad that tDoS reestablished this plot point, but the rapid change between the first installment and the second as to what was worthy of respect in Bilbo’s character was irritating precisely because it should have been unnecessary.

Some issues that bothered me in passing:

  1. One of PJ’s shticks seems to be shoe-horning more elves into every movie he makes and, if possible, to invent or foreground love stories that contribute to the bloat in his movies. It has been a while since I have watched his King Kong movie, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to find an elf or three.
  2. Why was there a huge amount of greenery around the forest until you got down to Lake Town and suddenly there was ice everywhere? This seemed to be an abrupt change because PJ needed to demonstrate how much everyone in Lake Town was suffering, but just sort of came in from left field.
  3. A good chunk of the waning period of the movie (I have no idea how long it was, exactly) involved the dwarves running around their deserted kingdom trying to enact a plan that involves some sort of preset Rube Goldberg machine. Except that it seemed “the plan” involved them all instinctively knowing where to run without ever really explaining what they were doing or what they hoped to accomplish. As it turns out, they didn’t hope to accomplish anything of much significance and the whole episode was just an excuse for flashy CGI.

But one last thing that bothered me in tDoS that seems to be cropping up in a lot of movies these days is unnecessary diversity. Peter Jackson would not go so far as to make any of the hobbits or dwarves a person of color because that does not fit with the story and yet when there are shots of the crowds in Lake Town, particularly when they are there cheering on the declarations of Stephen Fry’s portrayal of a repugnant Master of Lake Town, a sizable percentage of the people look black or Asian.

I have problems with this on two levels. First, other than a few hair color/race issues with the elves, this is the only real artistic license taken with race thus far in the Hobbit films. Tolkien did not make all the people in his world white, but he did draw distinctions about generally who lived where. If one was going to take the other races largely at face value, it seems forced to include this much diversity here, particularly since–and this is the second level– it was still the poor, huddled masses who are black and Asian cheering on (particularly in the PJ version rather than the JRRT one) their oppressive white overlords. [1] I am, generally speaking, a purist when it comes to my preferences in the visual representation and I believe that in the realm of Tolkien-esque fantasy literature, themes of racism are often transposed onto the tensions between the actual races rather than the skin color within a single race. [2] When this is the case, it seems excessive to force diversity into the films.

If one were to claim artistic license in this instance and make the world more colorful than it was in the books, there is a right and a wrong way to do it. What happens in Peter Jackson’s film is what I would call the wrong way–where the people in charge, both good and bad, are white and the under classes are people of color. But why couldn’t the heroic Bard be a person of color? Again, this is not the artistic choice, I would have made and to make the population of Middle Earth more colorful would have changed the overall films and probably made a lot of people really mad, but to force this little bit of diversity in just seemed unnecessary.

Now that I have spent over a thousand words trashing the movie, I want to close with something I like. It remains the case from last year that I am intrigued with what PJ decided to do by filling out the details of a slim children’s story in order to make it a true prequel to the Lord of the Rings movies that he already did. I may be in the minority, but one of my favorite things about fantasy stories is the pageantry of world-building and so I usually don’t mind getting to see more of the world. The problem with this movie is not necessarily with concept, it is with execution. This movie was painfully bloated, with jarring transitions, painfully wasted acting talent, and is more designed to show off the technical wizardry than tell the story. [3] There are plenty of other ways in which PJ’s choices in directly the dramatically alter the morals found in The Hobbit, but I have already gone on too long. In the end, tDoS is simply not a good movie.[4]

[1] And, surprise, they will also get to cheer on their white liberator in the next movie.
[2] These are also worlds where true evil exists and they should not be cleared of all racist implications since the black skinned people, whether the Haradrim of Tolkien or the Drow and Duergar of Dungeons and Dragons, are far more likely to be black skinned, while the white skinned folk may be either good or evil.
[3] In this way it seems like the same critiques that were so devastatingly leveled at George Lucas in the transition from Episodes 4-6 to Episodes 1-3.
[4] I will likely see the final installment of PJ’s Hobbit movies, if only for completion’s sake, but tDoS mostly served to redouble my conviction that I am done with movies made out of books I like.

The Hobbit: a review (Spoilers for both movie and book)

Perhaps I am reaching a point in my life when a simple chase scene no longer appeals to me, but one of the starkest thoughts I had while watching Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was “wow. Those goblins have some impressive logistical ability; why can’t the dwarves recognize that infrastructure?” I had this thought just after the dwarves had been captured by goblins in the Misty Mountains. They had been taken before the large goblin in a massive open cavern lit by hundreds of torches and some chandeliers of torches suspended from the top of the cave, hung over several stories of pit. Of course, it was all for visual effect and I am sure that Jackson gave no thought to the logistics of the undertaking on a regular basis–the torches only had to be lit for the shoot…unless they were CGI.1 Nonetheless, I was curious. But more on that scene later.

Overall, Jackson did a remarkably thorough job at capturing the bulk of the Hobbit, the accumulated mythology of Middle Earth as created by Tolkien, and matching the story with his Lord of the Rings movies. Admittedly, though, these multiple threads made for a rather different movie than the original book. I had minor qualms with the movie, but unlike with the Fellowship movie where I had very specific issues and solutions, in the Hobbit I could only shrug at the issues and concede that I had no feasible or readily available solution.2 The deviation from the book tended to be in the hope of simplification or, often, because Jackson stitched together so many disparate parts and needed a way to compress and unify the story into one narrative–or several narratives closely enough aligned that they could fit into the same movie. In light of this, I found surprisingly little Peter Jackson bloat–scenes that served little narrative purpose (though there were certainly some that could be been compressed). yes, the complaint may be made that while everyone enjoys walking about in New Zealand, there is only so much that one can take. I may be a wanderer (peregrinans) at heart, but I thought there was only one truly excessive walking scene. The others were just transition scenes and fit the actual story well enough. The three hour time –and even the three movies–actually fits what Jackson is doing, that is, using the extra material provided by Tolkien to give a prequel to the Lord of the Rings in its fullest sense. Thus, he makes little distinction between the rise of Sauron at Dol Guldor, the quest of Thorin Oakenshield to rid the Lonely Mountain of Smaug and the in-fighting of the White Council, while using the story of the Hobbit as a narrative backbone for the larger tale–not unlike what Tolkien did. So far, the movie itself may not measure up to the first three, but it is more thorough and thus (in some ways) more satisfactory.

There were issues, though. Specifically, I had problems with one fight scene, two chase scenes, and one hazardous mountain pass. I will not bother with what I described above as efforts to stitch the stories together, though I will also note several lapses that might have been worth including.

One of the ways that Tolkien sets the stage for his story is that the dwarves each are wearing distinctively colored cloaks when they arrive at Bag End and all are without weapon. Jackson likewise sets his story by their arrival, though most of his dwarves are armed. One reviewere lamented that this undercut the original story by making the dwarves into stalwart warriors. While I do feel this change (and lack of cloaks) diminished the story just a bit, it also served to alert the viewer that this story is a legitimate prequel to the Lord of the Rings, so, of course they would be armed. Jackson did also pay homage to this by drawing distinction between the several warriors in the party while drawing attention to the motley nature of the rest of the dwarves.

The first scene that felt distinctly out of place (and one of the few that did) was a scene where Gandalf uses the excuse of being chased by Wargs to trick Thorin into going to Rivendell. From a broad scope of the revised narrative it did offer a chance to make Thorin and the party chased from the beginning, but it was also drawn out (including (in my opinion) gratuitous scenes of Radagast and his ridiculous bunny-sleigh). Still, I don’t really have an alternative solution…it just seemed wrong.

The second scene, that of the storm giants, was one of the few bloated scenes that went from a minor passage in the book to an exciting scene fraught with danger. This one felt like Jackson had a new toy and wanted to make use of it. Certainly, it was a nice inclusion since it covers about a page in the book, but to make such a big deal out of it was overkill.

The second chase that bothered me was the escape from the goblin cave. In the book it is a frenetic escape in the dark through cut caves. In the movie those hundreds of torches suspended above scaffolding provide more opportunities for cinematography, but I felt as though I was watching a video game level where you have to hit the right levers as you run through it. Yes, Tolkien could do as an author many things that Jackson can’t as a director, but this scene felt overdone to the point of cheesiness.

Before pointing out the climactic scene that bothered me, let me say that Jackson missed an opportunity after that chase. He has Thorin go on a rant about the useless hobbit only to have Bilbo step out and shame him. In the book, though, the dwarves are amazed that Bilbo is alive and gain respect for his as a burglar when he explains how he got past the goblins. The movie worked well enough, but it took another act for Thorin to truly appreciate him. That last act brings me to the final scene that bothered me. In the book, the dwarves, Gandalf, and Bilbo are chased up trees (okay, so far, so good), only to have the goblins attempt to burn them out and a rescue by eagles. But, in the movie, there had to be another fight scene, so when the party is chased up the trees, they throw lit pine cones at the wargs and then, seemingly as a last resort, Thorin goes out to confront his nemesis, only to be saved by…Bilbo? Bilbo’s bravery is what endears him to Thorin. As before, this scene felt unnecessary–as though there needed to be a climax to set us up for part two. This also took something away from Bilbo the burglar, but , once again, the scene was not so much dissonant with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit as with Tolkien’s original.

On the whole the movie was enjoyable and no less because I needed an afternoon distraction when I watched it. My biggest problem with it is a problem with the medium more than with this particular movie. Peter Jackson did a pretty good job with the Hobbit both as a film and a dedication to Tolkien’s original, but it was still a collaboration of Jackson, the actors, etc, interacting with and putting on an interpretation of Tolkien’s world, after which it is relayed to the rest of the world for our consumption. The viewers of the film have little interaction with the story besides being passive recipients. When I read The Hobbit as a book and then seek out the additional material it becomes an interaction between me as the reader and the world created by Tolkien. To a great extent, it is the same reason that I dislike the Game of Thrones tv show–and why I have decided that I will not see any more movies made out of books I like. To put out a viable movie or tv show based on a book is to corrupt that book. Peter Jackson did a good job with his interpretation, but, at the end of the day, I feel as a viewer and as a reader that, somehow, I should have been more involved in conjuring up the story.

1 In Tolkien’s version, the scene takes place in a much more dimly lit cavern and most of the subsequent chase takes place in the dark.
2In part, though, I know the story less well.

Why I Hate Hollywood III, are you not entertained?

My third installment of thoughts on why I dislike most movies.

Over the last few days there has been some news about The Hobbit film(s) directed by Peter Jackson. The plan had been to make two films out of the book, but now there will be three. I have seen some speculation about what, exactly, the films will portray and how the narrative will work (see, for example, Tim Burke’s thoughts), and at least one person has mentioned his concern with Peter Jackson getting too epic-y (particularly after the adventure with Godzilla), quipping that Jackson needs to learn how to edit. These are valid questions and concerns (as is his development of a female lead for the Hobbit, but I am a stickler for detail), but I do not care that much about the films. I will see the films, but had considered not doing so on the grounds that I have been disappointed by every film or movie created about a book series I like–including Lord of the Rings.1 My resignation and disgust about splitting the film further has little to do with Peter Jackson, though, since it feels to me like a move designed by the studio in order to get people to go see the story in three parts, rather than two. This, then, is another reminder that filmmakers are only beholden to the audience so much. The higher up the corporate ladder the calculation goes, the more this is true.

I am reminded of a blog post that John Scalzi wrote wrote on Whatever in 2006, wherein he annoyed a number of people by saying that Star Wars is not so much entertainment as “George Lucas masturbating to a picture of Joseph Campbell and conning millions of people into watching the money shot.” Lucas created a mythology and then put it on film and licensed it out so that a whole bunch of other people had an opportunity to play in that mythology. I enjoy Star Wars tremendously, and somewhat disagree with Scalzi about its entertainment value,2 but I agree with him in the sense that a lot of people mistake what Star Wars is. It is George Lucas’ playground that he merely licenses out to the rest of us. The entertainment value of Star Wars is an unintentional byproduct of the creation process.

Then there is the issue of rebooting series. A blog post on the economist suggested that the rumors about a new Batman series already in the works is a response to Christopher Nolan’s infidelity to the Batman comic books in his own reboot of the earlier movies. While there may be some truth to that underlying rationale with the people pitching scripts and plotlines, and in how the studio will publicly justify the reboot, and there may evern be some truth to that rationale as to why people would go see another Batman film, I suspect that the studio is planning another reboot of the Batman film because the last one was spectacularly successful and there is money to be made from such a venture. It is the same reason that a studio purchased the rights to 50 Shades of Grey and there is a plan in the works to re-do the Twilight films.

Yes, some films are excellent for their plotting, their acting, and the overall appearance, but far more make (or try to make) money based on other charms, sexual or otherwise. The basic fact is that most of the movies that come out are bad, but for one reason or another they appeal to an audience and people go fill the seats. Certainly, not everyone is as mercenary as I am describing, but more often than not I feel that what is put on the screen is a noxious attempt to make money rather than to create any legitimate artistic entertainment. This does not mean that I require every film produced to be high-brow entertainment, but there does need to be some sort of readjustment as to what we consider entertainment.

To start, I would prefer that people just stop attempting to recreate written stories when those stories are already available for people to read, but I understand that that is not likely to happen any time soon. Surely there are other stories to tell, and stories that are better suited to a visual medium. After that, there is a difference between providing a smart product and a high-brow product. For example, I would not consider the sitcom How I Met Your Mother particularly highbrow, but it does attempt to give actual story lines between the jokes. A comparable example in film might actually be the new Batman films, which I believe bring in a lot of different thematic and narrative elements and are well acted, but still having a lot of violence, explosions, and, at the end of the day, a guy who runs around in a cape beating people up. Part of the problem here is that there is often no attempt for movies to appeal to anything but the lowest common denominator, which is basically a pair of tits and some explosions, or some fast cars and a sex scene or three. I like action and adventure films, but, most of the time, those, films aren’t entertaining. Distracting, perhaps, but not entertaining.

The idea that movies are inherently meant as entertainment bothers me because I don’t believe it to be true, at least not now that they are ubiquitous almost to the point of being obsolete. Once upon a time, perhaps, movies had an inherent novelty and therefore were entertaining in and of themselves, but no longer. No, the job of the filmmakers is to get people to pay to watch whatever they put on the screen. I won’t go so far as to say that the entertainment and artistry of film is an accidental effect of this process, but it is close. Screenwriters, directors, actors, and producers probably do care about their product, but, ultimately, the film itself is a commodity that the industry wants people to purchase and nothing more. As it so often seems (particularly with books, and not that this is anything new), there is more profit to be had by catering exclusively to ratings and rankings rather than the quality of the product in question. These are not always mutually exclusive, but there does seem to be a growing gulf between them. My frustration is that more and more I get the impression that films serve no purpose but to scam me and everyone else out of our money rather than showing us a story we can actually enjoy.

1The films were pretty good, but I had significant problems with them. I believe that it is impossible to get the level of accuracy in film that I desire and it makes more sense for me to avoid seeing the movies. I will be happier as a result, my imagination works plenty well, thank you very much.
2Then again, when I am reading a book set anywhere other than earth, I look first and foremost to the world created by the author and have been known to overlook other literary flaws if the world pulls me in. Star Wars is a perfect trap for me.