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Tauriel – A Feminist Critique

The Lord of the Rings as a franchise doesn’t age well when subjected to critiques of feminism and racism; it is unfortunate that the original books were a product of a society that was entrenched in some very nasty attitudes towards those who were not eminently respectable white gentlemen. This does not mean that Tolkien and Lord of the Rings are ‘bad’, just that it’s an intensely male and white franchise. It is what it is, and it is as much a period piece as it is a great fantasy work.

So, along comes the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. They are undeniably great films, but have a definite gender problem. Middle Earth is a very male place indeed and there are four named women who hold prominence; Arwen, an elfish princess who is the love interest of Aragorn, Éowyn, a shield maiden of Rohan who is romantically interested in Aragorn and ends up pushed to the side to be with Faramir, Galadriel, who… gives presents and has wise voice overs, and Rosie, who is the love interest of Samwise (much to the disappointment of a generation of young women Tolkien could never have predicted). Can you see what the problem is here? Saving Galadriel, who barely features in the second and third films, the women have a function as love interests to men. And while I think Éowyn is an outstanding character, and she serves a vital function in the destruction of Sauron, she does get shoved off to Faramir right at the end. It’s as if the giant misogynistic finger of God descended from the heavens, pointed at poor old Miranda Otto in her battle gear, and loudly proclaimed for all to hear, ‘Well done, you have killed the Witch King in order to defy the boundaries of your patriarchal society. Now you can settle into babies and retirement with this man that you barely know. I hope you like beards!’.

Now, I know you’ll be saying that this is a silly criticism to make. The films were written by a predominately female writing team, can’t I be happy with that? And it’s not like Peter Jackson can just insert a female character just to fulfil your silly girly fantasies of riding around Middle Earth without washing and not having to settle for the first man that is free. They are a fairly accurate and loving adaptation of Tolkien’s epic trilogy, and the women can only perform the role proscribed by the canon text.

Aha. Aha.

When it came to making The Hobbit into a film, the Jackson writing team decided that they would turn it into three films. There are plenty of pros and cons of that decision, but the team decided that a major problem was a lack of female representation. They could bring in Galadriel, as they adapted parts of The Silmarillion in order to make the films serve as a direct prequel to the original trilogy, but The Hobbit is a 100% sausage fest. It was absolutely unacceptable that there would be a three film series with only one named woman of importance. The question was, were would the original female character be inserted? The Mirkwood elves were the best choice, seeing as they play an important role in the second and third films, and expansions could be easily made. Enter Tauriel, the female captain of the guard, and an absolutely guaranteed ass kicker. Evangeline Lily took the role on the promise that her character would not be involved into overly complicated romance plots; after all, she was well known for playing Kate on the show Lost and was unfortunately despised for her boomeranging between Sawyer and Jack. Tauriel was going to be exciting and wonderful and remind all us twenty something female fans of the moment when we saw Éowyn or Arwen swing their swords and for a precious moment knew that strength, nobility, and courage does not solely come in a male package.

I sat anxiously on opening night, with my box of popcorn and my packet of Minstrels, and… well, Tauriel certainly does kick a lot of orc backside, but she unfortunately falls right into Beaton syndrome. What is Beaton syndrome? Kate Beaton, the artist and writer behind Hark A Vagrant!, identified that ‘strong’ women in films (‘strong’ being a synonym for ‘I may be a sexy [insert job here] but I can also kill a lot of things with my pinky finger’) often invariably get pushed into a relationship with one of the convenient men around her for no apparent reason. A woman’s existence must be vindicated by her connection to a male character, and love is an appropriate avenue.

Tauriel, for all that she is captain of the guard, falls squarely into ‘love interest’ territory. Not only is she the token woman on display – where are the elves of Mirkwood hiding all their other women, I wonder? – but she is double the amount of love interest. Tauriel, despite the promises Peter Jackson made to Lily, is the focus of a love triangle. The Prince of Mirkwood has feelings for a lowly, common elf, while she finds herself attracted to the bad boy dwarf prince. This is the kind of cliché I cut my teeth on as a fiction writer, and has all the bad smell of studio hacks all over it. After all, love triangles produce huge box office returns; the despised Twilight ‘saga’ brought in the big bucks with their ridiculous ‘Teams’, and the Hunger Games is marketed to teenage girls as being the intense struggle Katniss has between Peeta and Gale. If you want to bring in an audience of teenage girls, who have lots of money to spend, then you must include this latest market fad.

That is what Tauriel feels like. She feels like the creation of network executives. She has a love triangle. She is another archer, in a market where archery is very popular. She can be sold as a toy to both boys and girls, making the most profit the company can get from the great Tolkien cash cow. She is vaguely conflicted. Tauriel feels like something created by a group of men ticking boxes for maximum demographic appeal.

It is noticeable in a year where Bryan Fuller, the noted cult TV writer, has created a new adaptation of Thomas Harris’s ‘Hannibal’ novels. The Harris books, similar to the works of Tolkien, reflect the attitudes and society of the age in which they were written – in this case, the world of law enforcement in the 1980s. Fuller knew that the Hannibal books are not diverse to successfully reflect the modern world, and genders and ethnicities of characters have been changed. It makes not a lick of difference to the show, other than to highlight what other franchises are getting wrong.

This is a tragedy to what could have been a stunning achievement as a character. Tauriel, when taken away from the love aspect of her subplot, is an elf who dreams of seeing beyond the confines of her forest home. She wants to experience a whole new world. She knows the rank hypocrisy of the system that holds her up and yet would refuse to aid those who do not conform. Like the greatest of Tolkien’s characters, she looks beyond herself to fight against evil. In the film, her feelings about the evil that is spreading across Middle Earth must be related to how it impacts on the men in her life, not upon her own instincts. All that she does must be joined with a thick line to a man, denying her any agency of her own. She does not achieve the noble aim of diversifying Middle Earth.

However, this does not mean that I dislike Tauriel as a character. Yes. I know. That does sound massively contradictory considering I’ve spent over a thousand words summarising why she fails under a feminist critique. But there is something in my gut that means I cannot dislike a woman working and striving to achieve something in a masculine world that attempts to deny her presence. As soon as I saw her, kicking orc arse and being a general badass, I liked Tauriel. She is a lone woman surviving in a world that does not accept the different. She is a woman struggling with the pain of letting down those she cares about. She finds the token that humanises a creature she despises, and makes her turn away from an age-old animosity between races. She finds herself connected to someone she might lose because of old and powerful evil that she cannot fight against alone. Evangeline Lily is an immensely talented actress, and makes a part that feels so small and so proscribed so utterly real. Despite myself, I found myself believing in the connection that she made with Kili. To tell the truth, even though it was riddled with problems and felt like the decision of a network board, I found it utterly adorable. There is nothing like impossible, difficult, tragic love to melt my bitter heart.
No matter her faults under a feminist critique, Tauriel embodies the best traits of Tolkien’s characters; compassion, courage, a willingness to express and feel love, and the determination to fight for what she knows is right, no matter what the personal cost may be. When my young niece is old enough to watch these films with me, I will not be upset or angry if she wishes to be like Tauriel. I would only wish that she would take those values, and demand more from the unequal world around her.

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The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Official Trailer

Hot on the heels of the first poster for the second part of Peter Jackon’s Hobbit trilogy comes the trailer for The Desolation of Smaug. This two minute trailer gives us all a first look at some important characters. We have Lee Pace as Thranduil, the father of Legolas and the Eleven King, doing something other than riding an elk. We have Evangeline Lily as Tauriel, a female elf who has been added into the film and has already been stirring up controversy, with fans fearing that she may be inserted purely to add in some romance. The trailer shows her firmly as a fighter but offers no clues on her actual character. And the trailer ends with a shot of the titular dragon himself, with Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins facing up to the terror that is Cumberbatch’s Smaug…

Well, I’m excited.

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Hobbit Headshots

Turns out the head-shots of The Hobbit‘s characters have been released.  The costume work seems, as ever, to be immaculate.

Awesome.

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Third Hobbit Film Confirmed

It’s been coming.  It’s been talked about.  Now it’s been confirmed: there will be a third Hobbit film.  It appears Jackson et al. wish to ‘flesh out’ the story with additional materials to make it more ‘complete’.

Cash grab?  Or an excellent creative move?

Titles have already been speculated, and it seems a few domain names have been registered as possibilities in the last few days including The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: Riddles in the Dark.

Press Release 

BURBANK, CA, JULY 30, 2012 — Peter Jackson will make a third film in his upcoming adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, it was jointly announced today by Toby Emmerich, President and Chief Operating Officer, New Line Cinema, Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officers, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Group.

Jackson, the Academy Award®-winning filmmaker behind the blockbuster “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, recently wrapped principal photography on what he originally planned to be a two-film adaptation of The Hobbit, which is set in Middle-earth 60 years before The Lord of the Rings.

Jackson stated, “Upon recently viewing a cut of the first film, and a chunk of the second, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and I were very pleased with the way the story was coming together. We recognized that the richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, gave rise to a simple question: do we tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as filmmakers and fans was an unreserved ‘yes.’ We know the strength of our cast and of the characters they have brought to life.  We know creatively how compelling and engaging the story can be and—lastly, and most importantly—we know how much of the tale of Bilbo Baggins, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur would remain untold if we did not fully realize this complex and wonderful adventure. I’m delighted that New Line, MGM and Warner Bros. are equally enthusiastic about bringing fans this expansive tale across three films.”

Emmerich stated, “We completely support Peter and his vision for bringing this grand adventure to the screen over the course of three films. Peter, Fran and Philippa’s reverence for the material and understanding of these characters ensure an exciting and expanded journey that is bound to please fans around the world.”

“With the abundance of rich material, we fully endorse the decision to further develop what Peter, Fran and Philippa have already begun. We are confident that, with the great care the filmmakers have taken to faithfully bring this journey to the screen, the film will be welcomed by the legions of fans across the globe,” said Barber and Birnbaum.

Robinov added, “Peter, Fran and Philippa have lived in this world and understand more than anyone its tremendous breadth and scope, and the relationships that bind it together.  We strongly support their vision to bring this great work fully to life.”

The first film in the trilogy, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” will be released December 14, 2012, with the second film releasing on December 13, 2013, and the third film slated for summer 2014. All three films will be released in 3D and 2D in select theatres and IMAX

From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes three films based on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The trilogy of films are set in Middle-earth 60 years before “The Lord of the Rings,” which Jackson and his filmmaking team brought to the big screen in the blockbuster trilogy that culminated with the Oscar®-winning “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey, the character he played in “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, with Martin Freeman in the central role of Bilbo Baggins, and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield.  Returning cast members from “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy also include Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, and Andy Serkis as “Gollum.”  The international ensemble cast also includes (in alphabetical order) John Bell, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Billy Connolly, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Barry Humphries, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Evangeline Lilly, Sylvester McCoy, Bret McKenzie, Graham McTavish, Mike Mizrahi, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Lee Pace, Mikael Persbrandt, Conan Stevens, Ken Stott, Jeffrey Thomas, and Aidan Turner.

The screenplay for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro.  Jackson is also producing the film, together with Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner and Fran Walsh. The executive producers are Alan Horn, Toby Emmerich, Ken Kamins and Carolyn Blackwood, with Boyens and Eileen Moran serving as co-producers.

Under Jackson’s direction, all three movies are being shot in digital 3D using the latest camera and stereo technology. Additional filming, as with principal photography, is taking place at Stone Street Studios, Wellington, and on location around New Zealand.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and its successive installments are productions of New Line Cinema and MGM, with New Line managing production. Warner Bros. Pictures is handling worldwide theatrical distribution, with select international territories as well as all international television licensing, being handled by MGM.

 

The Geek’s Wedding Guide

I’ve recently started planning my wedding to a fellow sci-fi/fantasy geek, whom I’ve shared the past seven wonderful years with (Happy Anniversary, sweetie!).  We certainly intend on making certain elements of the blessed event geek-tastic, but it got me thinking: how far do some die hard fans take it?  I decided to investigate.

Geeky Wedding Ceremonies:

The possibilities are virtually endless.  Typing “geeky weddings” into Google image search brought up thousands of terrific results from the special days of geeks around the world.  From a lightsaber salute honoring the bride and groom, to “I do”s by your nearest ordained Klingon, themed wedding ceremonies seemed to be a classic sci-fi staple for geeky couples.

The most interesting example I found was a hardcore Star Wars wedding.  The groom was fully dedicated to being Admiral Ackbar, complete with mask, the couple was married by Slave Leia, and most of the wedding party were dressed in some kind of far, far away galaxy garb.  And check out that epically cool cake!

Geeky Wedding Cakes:

The sugary, delicious confection that takes center stage at most weddings can now be designed to the strictest of specifications.  Most brides still go with the traditional ivory tiered cake, but the bells and whistles are just a bit fancier.  Geeks have a whole new range to think about when it comes to designing their wedding cake.  Maybe a diorama of the original Enterprise, or the One Up mushrooms from Mario.  There are plenty of ideas to be had, as well as a variety of action figure cake toppers.

I personally like this Stargate cake topper.  I just don’t see enough of those.

Geeky Wedding Rings:

It’s now possible to display your eternal geeky love on your sacred fingers with themed wedding sets.  In my search, I came across rings featuring USB ports, binary, and my favorite, elvish.  The beautiful scrawling script on the “One Ring” is now available on many rings for purchase for that special day.  I happen to find elvish very pleasing to the eye, and since it’s actually a real language, you can inscribe whatever loving phrase your heart desires.

Anyone else getting married soon? Are you keeping the geek in your nuptials? I wonder how many Avatar themed weddings will pop up this year… lets just hope the blue body paint doesn’t get out of hand.

Real Estate Look: Middle Earth

At one point, we’ve all been totally immersed in that far off place of geeky wonder. It’s a world described in the pages of our favorite book, or brought to life so vividly with cinema magic. Tolkien gave us such a place with his beloved book series Lord of the Rings and its descriptive Middle Earth. Who can deny a longing to live among the elves of Rivendell, or eat second breakfast with the Hobbits of the Shire? Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation made the dream a little more tangible, but what if it were possible to actually live in Middle Earth? There are certainly good reasons to look at its land as prime real estate: the plentiful fields of Hobbiton, the beautiful Misty Mountains, and the exciting Mines of Moria. Oh, wait…sore subject.

Here are some things to keep in mind before settling down in Middle Earth.

The Eye of Sauron is a Peeping Tom

Yep, the big bad. The head hancho. The big eye in the sky. All that Sauron left behind sits atop Mordor, surveying the goings-on of Middle Earth. As a potential resident, you should be aware that Sauron gets a little bored with his immediate surroundings. Can you blame him? I wouldn’t want to stare at a bunch of sweaty Orcs all day, either. So don’t be surprised if he shows up in your bathroom mirror or the water in your kitchen sink. He’s just curious.

Height Rules in the Shire
It’s well established by now that Hobbits are a bit vertically challenged. If you go visit the Shire, you may stick out like a sore thumb…or a giant. And giants are way more powerful than a bunch of little guys. Even if they banded together, they’re pretty much only at knee level: perfect for kicking or smacking on top the head if they get out of hand. No one is condoning the enslavement of the peaceful Hobbits, but a hostile height take over might just be the kind of buyers incentive you’re looking for.

Gollum is your Bi-Polar Neighbor
Whenever you move to a new neighborhood, there’s always a part of you that’s worried about who’s living there already. Middle Earth has a variety of kindly folks. The Baggins have a long family history; the Elves have been around, well, forever, and you might want to avoid the Urak-Hai all together. If luck would have that you move in next to a balding guy in a loincloth, then things might get a little unpredictable. Gollum, or Smeagol depending on the day, talks a lot about losing something precious. He gurgles a lot, too. He may come over to offer you some freshly caught fish and get to chatting, but you’ll notice that most of the conversation is with himself. In fact, you might feel like he’s plotting to kill you most of the time. Word to the wise: don’t wear any gold jewelry around him, or things might get ugly.

The Hunt For Gollum – Fan Film Trailer

Now, this looks stunning.  Absolutely stunning.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an independent fan film with such stunning production values, and some of the recent things I’ve seen have been pretty darned impressive.

This is even better.  Check this out.  And it’s being released for free.

Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, this 40-minute independent feature will be released for free online. 

Wow.

The Hobbit to be made into two movies

image According to Guillermo Del Toro, the new plan for himself and Peter Jackson is to make their Hobbit movie adaptation span two films rather than one.

Speaking to Empire magazine, he wrote:

We’ve decided to have The Hobbit span the two movies, including the White Council and the comings and goings of Gandalf to Dol Guldur.

What this means for the other ‘bridge’ movie – filling the gap between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring – is unclear at the moment.

Thanks for SlashFilm for the scoop.

Peter Jackson To Direct The Hobbit

Peter Jackson To Direct “The Hobbit”

NEW YORK – Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema have reached agreement to make J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” a planned prequel to the blockbuster trilogy “The Lord of the Rings.”

Relations between Jackson and New Line had soured after the enormous success of “Rings,” but Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) helped the two sides reach agreement. MGM and New Line will split the film 50/50, a spokesman for MGM said.

“I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to put our differences behind us, so that we may begin a new chapter with our old friends at New Line,” Jackson said in a statement.