47 Ronin Movie Review

Going with my decision to write up movie reviews for science fiction and fantasy movies, I feel I must review 47 Ronin. That said, while I enjoyed the movie, I feel a little conflicted. On the one hand, it was enjoyable, in and of itself (a popcorn movie, but fun), in a lot of ways I feel it didn’t do the original story justice.  While I’m not extremely knowledgable about it, I do have at least a passing familiarity with the history as well as the original fictionalization: the Chushingura.  The movie 47 Ronin is loosely based upon actual events that occured in the early 1700’s.  Notice, I said loosely, because in the original story, there is no halfbreed, trolls, monsters, or evil witches.

These things, I feel, were added to make the movie more flashy, and less of a historical drama.  That kind of thing can draw audiences, but the story of the Chushingura is one that, in many ways, can stand by itself without flash (ie, lots of special effects, huge explosions and weird pirate towns).

In 47 Ronin, they went for the flash and, in many ways, they succeeded.  It is a fun movie, with lots of amazing scenes.  There were a few times where I felt like they did a scene just to give it the feeling of a comic book, much like the movie 300.  47 Ronin has a solid story which sticks (mostly) to the original, other than the prementioned additions.  The reasons for those additions are extreme at times, but looking at them from the perspective of a writer, I can see why they made those additions, even if I don’t agree with them.  The additions, at least, are ones which are internally consistant and maintain the flow of the story.

The movie doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t try for a happy ending, which I appreciate.  Though only lightly explained in the movie, the dedication and loyalty of the samurai is there to be seen.  Though I wish there were more characterization of them as individuals, as a whole, they come across as men who follow an iron-bound code of honor in an imperfect world… and they know that sometimes the right decisions are ones which will require sacrifices.  Their unflinching focus on duty that forced them to make those sacrifices is what makes the story so powerful.  Personally, I think it is a story that resonates very well with western cultures, the draw of duty, the necessity of revenge, and the idea of self sacrifice.

The movie captures this, often with small, yet poignant, scenes.  Sometimes those scenes are between the action and sometimes they are right in the middle of it all.  All in all, it was an enjoyable movie with several underlying themes which I appreciated, and it sparked an interesting discussion on the way home from the theater.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Review

This being a SF/Fantasy blog, I thought I should comment on The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.  I’ll preface the review with one minor note.  The Hobbit was the first Fantasy novel I ever read.  In many ways, it set me on my own unexpected journey, and it will always hold a special place for me.  That said, I’m not one of the types of people who requires a movie to be an exact replica of the book it was based upon, so that has also had some effect on how I viewed the movie.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug manages to make a full length movie (very full at over 160 minutes) out of what was a relatively small section of The Hobbit.  They do this through the addition of scenes that were not in the book.  To make this clear, they weren’t in the book, but some of them are referenced in the book or in JRR Tolkien’s notes.  Some of these scenes and even characters are made up for the movie.

They do this to develop the film from an adventure set from Bilbo’s perspective into a much grander thing.  In the book, The Hobbit, we know there is this greater world, of which we only see the smallest portion, and then only through one character’s eyes.  The movie expands upon this, while staying true to Tolkien’s concept of Middle Earth.

All that aside, it was a lot of fun.  I’m not the type to see movies twice in theaters, but I did with this one.  I think that the character development and story arcs are what made the movie so great, for me.  The special effects were nice, and the story was good, but special effects seem to be easy enough, anymore and I already knew what was going to happen, seeing as I read the book and all.  The characters are where the movie makes its money.  The first stirrings of the One Ring’s pull on Bilbo.  Kili’s interaction with Tauriel.  Thorin’s internal conflict between ambition and responsiblity.  Even Gandalf has moments of character development as he is forced to weigh his duties to his companions versus his duties to all of Middle Earth.  These characters are those we come to care about, and makes them far more real, for their conflict, suffering, and hardships.

The big reveal on Smaug was excellent, though at times, with the vast scale of the dragon and his domain, it is difficult to put him to scale to a man, dwarf, or even hobbit.  I left knowing he was big, really big, but somewhat uncertain as to relative sizes.  My only complaint, about Smaug, is not the graphics, or the sound of his voice, or any of that.  Smaug seems a little to much the cliche villian, given to long, profound monologues while he lets heroes get away.  Maybe it’s just me, but he seemed far more clever and conniving when he and Bilbo had their battle of wits in the novel.

All in all, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

Free Stuff: Preview from Echo of the High Kings, Part 3

A third installment from Echo of the High Kings.  The section covers a skirmish between Lady Katarina’s followers and some of Duke Hector’s men.

Aerion set his back against the tree and took a deep breath.  Through the trees, the squeal of pigs and the rumble of wagons carried.  He listened to that sound, and he waited.  For a moment, he remembered his home.  Aerion remembered Old Taggart’s voice, rough and low, filled with caution, as if every word were some precious coin to spend.  He remembered the smell of his mother’s apron, the scent of stew and bread, and of smoke from the wood fireplace in the inn. 

And then he remembered the fire, and the screams.

At that moment, a clear trumpet clarion sounded as Gerlin signaled the attack.

Aerion leaped from behind his tree, and immediately spotted the wagons, only thirty feet away.  He ran forward, hands clenched on the greatsword.  One of the guards on foot, raised a drawn bow, arrow pointed at Aerion.  The guard released just as Aerion stumbled.  Aerion felt the arrow’s fletching kiss his neck.

The guard reached for another arrow.  Aerion felt his world narrow, as everything but that guard and his bow vanished.  He felt his legs pump him forward.  His heart raced, a steady drumbeat that drowned all else out.  Aerion felt a cry of rage and fear open his mouth, but he couldn’t hear it, couldn’t hear anything.

The guard, knocked another arrow.  The mercenary seemed to move in slow motion.  He raised the bow, drew it back.

And then Aerion had closed the distance.  He swung the sword downward, all memory of his training lost, he swung the four foot blade like an axe.

The sword struck the mercenary between his right shoulder and his neck.  The blade chopped down through his simple leather armor, and a fountain of blood erupted.

Aerion stumbled back, spitting blood and suddenly sickened.  He had to tug hard, foot pressed against the corpse to pull his sword free.  Some motion sensed as much as seen caused him to turn.  He ducked under a spear thrust and caught the shaft just behind the barbed head.  Aerion pulled hard, and suddenly stood, face to face with a blonde bearded mercenary, his eyes wide, pupils dilated.

Aerion saw him release the spear, hands going for a dagger at his waist.  He brought the pommel of his sword up into his opponent’s face.   The mercenary stumbled back with a cry.

A shout made him turn, and he saw one of the Jasen on the ground, a brutish looking warrior above him with an axe.  Aerion lunged forward, sword extended.

The iron tip of his sword skidded off of the axeman’s chainmail.  Aerion continued his move and slammed his shoulder into the larger man’s back.  The axeman stumbled away, and Aerion stumbled back.

Another man, his face drawn in a rictus of hate, swung a sword at him.  Aerion brought up his sword to parry, and a shock went down his arm.  The beserk warrior swung again, and again Aerion blocked.  He kicked out, desperate to get some room to move, but his opponent caught the blow on his shield and continued his wild attack.

Again and again the madman battered at him, Aerion desperately swung his larger sword to block blow after blow.  He backed away, tried to gain some space, but his attacker didn’t slow his own pace, and continued to press him.

His feet caught on something.  Aerion fell back over a still body.  Aerion hit the hardpacked road on the flat of his back.  The impact drove all the air out of his lungs.  Aerion brought his sword up to block as his opponent swung a powerful overhand blow. 

The sword struck just inches above the crossguard with a sound like a hammer striking glass, the brittle iron of his sword snapped.

Aerion held the stump of his blade up in shock as the berserk warrior above him raised his own blade for the finishing blow.  Aerion kicked out hard.  His leg struck his attacker’s knee, which bent backwards with a horrific crackle.

The warrior dropped with a scream, and Aerion stood, still clutching the stump of a sword.  The beserker still swung his sword at Aerion.  He crawled towards him, maimed leg dragging.  Aerion saw Jasen, a bloody gash down the side of his face, drive a spear down into the beserker from behind.

“Grab his sword, boy!” Jasen shouted.  He pointed over Aerion’s shoulder.  “There’s more of them, ancestors know where they came from, but they’re attacking lady Katarina!”

Aerion felt a jolt of ice water pump through his veins.  He looked over, just in time to see eight horsemen push through a cluster of fighting.

He saw her then.  She stood in the middle of the road, only twenty feet away.  She had her sword in her left hand, something else in her right.  She looked like a scene from a story.  She stood like a savage warrior princess, her dark hair back in a braid, her chain shirt spattered with blood.

Aerion blindly reached down.  His fingers found the hilt of the sword that had nearly taken his life.  He charged forward.  Jasen had already run ahead, but Aerion’s longer legs easily outpaced him.

He sprinted past Lady Katarina, just as she raised her right hand.  He heard her shout something as he raced past.  He couldn’t hear her words over the roaring in his ears and his own labored breathing.

One of the horsemen reared before him, and swung down with a blade.

Aerion ducked under the horse’s head, then thrust up on the horseman’s left side.  He felt the lighter blade skitter off the horseman’s greaves, then catch and plunge up under his breastplate.

The horseman sagged, just as the frightened horse sidestepped.

Aerion jerked the blade free and turned, just in time to see two more behind him.  Time slowed again as he saw the nearest had his hammer raised, about to descend upon Aerion.  Aerion tried to force his body to move out of the path, but he didn’t have time.

He heard Lady Katarina shout something, her high, clear voice cut through the shouts and screams.

Aerion watched the hammer descend, saw his death in that swing, with no time to move out of the way or block it.

Then the world flared white.

Kal’s New Year of Writing

So, this is more of an update on my current writing schedule than anything else.  I’m a bit behind on getting things out (for which I deeply apologize).  On the other hand, I have the minor disclaimer that life has been extremely busy, between me transitioning from one duty station to another in the Army, getting married, the honeymoon, and a variety of other things.  Frankly, I’ve had to prioritize, and since my wife is very well armed and knows how to handle knives, swords, guns, and other dangerous items, naturally, my priorities have focused on the wedding and honeymoon planning.

Thankfully, she also reads science fiction and fantasy, so she’s understanding and tolerant of my writing.

That said, here’s what I’m working on, and my best guess as to when I’ll have it out, as far as I can see over the next year.

Renegades: Ghost Story is the fourth novella of the Renegades series.  I should have that out in early January.  Right now I’m waiting on a cover from the awesome Robert Brockman, who somehow finds time for that kind of thing on top of his normal job.

Echo of the High Kings is an epic fantasy novel, set on the world of Eoriel.  I’m doing the final(ish) rewrites on it right now.  My goal is to release that in February.  As something of an experiment, I’ll enroll it in one of Amazon’s programs and do a free release, so if you’re looking for an epic fantasy to get your teeth into, well, it’s hard to beat free, right?

The Fallen Race is the science fiction novel set in the same universe as The Renegades.  I’ll be releasing it once I complete the final edits, hopefully in the next month, possibly as early as mid January.

I’m also working a compendium of the Renegades novellas, complete with some additional content which I’d like to release sometime in February.  This will include the first four Renegades Novellas as well as three new short stories (to include one set from the perspective of Anubus) and will be released as paperback and ebook.

The next novella in the series, currently titled “Renegades: A Murder of Crowe’s” will be out not long after that.

The next three Renegades Novellas after that aren’t written yet, but they are outlined as “Out of the Cold”, “Assassin”, and “Privateer” and will be arriving between March and August of 2014.

I’ve projected the novel Fenris Unchained for a summer release, though that may shift dependent upon the rewriting I’ve got to do on that.

The sequels for Echo of the High Kings and the Fallen Race will finish up the year, and if I find the time, some additional Renegades novellas.

So, that’s what I’m up to.  Along the way, I’ll be moving, transitioning to yet another job in the Army, and generally trying to balance everything.