Monday, July 25, 2011

Four part Conan movie history on Youtube

Fans (and detractors) of the two 1980s Conan films should find these interesting: A four part history of the movies recently posted to Youtube: (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4)

The presenter is Paul Sammon, author of Conan the Phenomenon, who worked on the sets of both Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer (for the record I love the former and despise the latter. Sammon holds roughly the same views, it appears).

I don't own Phenomenon, but I have Sammon's Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, which is a fantastic work and a must-own for fans of BR. Sammon is a smart guy and a good presenter, and coupled with his insider's view these are well worth watching.

There's a lot of good (and fun) information: Who knew that the vulture on the Tree of Woe was the real thing, albeit dead and stuffed, and reeking? Or that the beheading of Conan's mom was originally shown on screen, but was so bloody it earned the film an X rating and had to be removed? Sammon also reveals that Wilt Chamberlain was a Howard fan.

These clips also include some really cool behind the scenes pics (see the hydraulic fully articulated giant snake, sans skin. Ride the snake!). Sammon presented this at the recent Howard Days in Cross Plains, TX. Wish I could have made it.

Hat tip to the Yahoo group REH Innercircle for posting these links.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Encouraging production video of The Hobbit released

I’m officially Much More Encouraged about The Hobbit now that I’ve seen the latest production video released today. You can view it here on Peter Jackson’s Facebook page.

I’ve long believed that The Hobbit is (or was) a risker film to make than The Lord of the Rings. Not now of course—The Hobbit is all but a guaranteed hit, as most LOTR fans would lap up a Jackson-directed four hour Tom Bombadil Lifetime special. But I think it was a smart move to make The Lord of the Rings first. Even though Rings is five times the length of The Hobbit, features far costlier set pieces, and has a much more complex, sprawling narrative, The Hobbit has its own unique movie-making handicap: Namely, that it’s about a hobbit and 13 dwarves. Hunks like Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen and chicks like Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler are nowhere to be found (though most of these guys are getting cameos, it seems. And Kili is the token heartthrob). A troupe of short, bearded, rotund men is a tougher sell for mass audiences used to handsome stars and starlets.

In perhaps the only serious moment of an otherwise fun, lighthearted clip, Jackson admits as much. “Thirteen dwarves is one of the reasons why I dreaded The Hobbit, and why I really didn’t think I was going to make it for such a long time. But the irony is, it turns out to be one of the joys.”

To read the rest of this post, visit The Black Gate website.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Some recent book finds

Courtesy of a recent town fair, I now have in my possession the following books, each purchased for the princely sum of $1:

Bulfinch's Mythology, a modern abridgment by Edmund Fuller (covers mythology from classical Greece and Rome, as well as Northern Mythology, Arthuriana, and legends of Charlemane and the Middle Ages)

The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, as retold by Joseph Bedier (a retelling of the famous story, free of anachronisms)

The Well of the Unicorn, Fletcher Pratt (I've never read anything by Pratt, though I've read much good written about him).

Imaro, Charles Saunders (I've somehow managed to avoid reading Saunder's epic jungle hero novel, despite all the praise heaped on it by my former Cimmerian comrades. I hope to rectify that soon).

Brak vs. the Sorceress, John Jakes (it will probably suck, but I couldn't resist)

At the Earth's Core, Edgar Rice Burroughs (a recent read of Tarzan fueled this purchase)

Conan the Rebel, Poul Anderson (I'm not much for Conan pastiches, but "woot" because it's Anderson!)

The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (now I get to see what all the fuss is about...)

The Works of Sir Walter Scott, Vol. IX, Ivanhoe (I have a tattered paperback copy of Ivanhoe; this is a nice hardcover, old but date unknown)

Sir Thomas Malory, Tales of King Arthur Illustrated, edited and abridged with an introduction by Michael Senior (I've got the real deal already, but this has some great B&W and full color illustrations).

Now all I need is time...

Monday, July 11, 2011

The day I went a-viking

How many people can say they sailed in a viking ship of their own making?

So what if the mast was made of PVC pipe, and the planking and shields of cardboard. The end product looks pretty good, and it netted us another First Place entry in the Highland Lake Boat Parade in Andover, NH, this past 4th of July weekend.

This was probably our most ambitious pontoon boat project yet. The mast and sail were a pain in the ass. That's a 10 foot piece of 3-inch diameter PVC pipe, seated in a toilet flange, screwed to a piece of thick wood, and spray painted brown. We drilled a hole at the top to accommodate an eight-foot long crossbeam made of 1 1/2 inch PVC. A few guy wires gave it stability. The sail is an old bedsheet. Red spraypaint for the vertical stripes.

I set the wife and kids to work making shields--a total of 13, including 6 per side and one for the mast. They did some awesome work. The shield bosses are tinfoil. They probably wouldn't stop a longsword or spear thrust, but they look the part.

The coup-de-grace came courtesy of my uncle. My original plan was to have the cardboard at the front taper to a whimpy point; he suggested constructing a huge prow to give our very square pontoon boat more of a sweeping longship appearance. We nailed together a few pieces of wood to frame the prow, ran a rope from the sail to the point to give it a little more lift, and voila! My uncle is a (literal) engineer, I couldn't have done it myself.

For those wondering (I know you are), the dragon head/tail are built using two pieces of styrofoam packing from an empty TV box. The head is an empty 18-pack of Coors Light. We spray painted the whole thing green. A styrofoam ball cut in half serves as the eyes and a pair of styrofoam cones are the horns.

At the conclusion of the parade we gave our ship a proper viking funeral: All but the styrofoam was burned in a pyre on the beach as the fireworks burst overhead. Much beer was consumed.

All in all it was an awesome event. My plastic axe was hungry and I was sorely tempted to pillage and plunder a few shoreside cottages but my wife had her hand on the tiller. And my 86-year-old grandmother would have none of it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Those dwarf pictures…

…I must say my reaction is a mixed bag, a fair bit of “meh,” to be honest.

First what I like.

The proportions seem great. The faces, excellent. The hair and beards, well done (if a little too neat and/or wind-swept).

Now what I don’t like.

The 3E D&D straps and buckles/black leathery appearance of their gauntlets and armor. This is radically different from what we see in the books, which are cloaks and brightly colored belts and hoods. And later, coats of fine, shining mail studded with bright gems from Smaug’s horde. Also, their weapons are rather too bulky and built for style and appearance, not war.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A (very) guilty pleasure: Dennis McKiernan’s The Iron Tower Trilogy

The publication of Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara in 1977 was a watershed moment in fantasy literature. The success of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings left fans clamoring for more epic, secondary world fantasy with maps, and with The Sword of Shannara Brooks delivered. Its publication began a trend of Tolkien-inspired fantasy that deeply marked (marred, others might say) the genre thereafter.

But the ensuing years haven’t been kind to Brooks. Lin Carter, editor of the acclaimed Ballantine Adult fantasy series, said of The Sword of Shannara ,” [it’s]the single most cold-blooded, complete rip-off of another book that I have ever read”. Despite the commercial success of Shannara and its sequels, its now widely considered to be the poster child for Biggest Tolkien Ripoff.

But, prevailing claims to the contrary, The Sword of Shannara is not even close to that moniker. The championship belt for most slavish LOTR imitation (that I have read, at least) hangs proudly about the waist of Dennis McKiernan’s The Iron Tower Trilogy. In comparison to The Dark Tide, Shadows of Doom, and The Darkest Day, Shannara is a veritable bastion of originality sprung whole and entire from the forehead of Zeus. The Iron Tower Trilogy is, in fact, The Lord of the Rings with the serial numbers filed off. Crudely. Anyone who possesses even a passing familiarity with Tolkien’s masterwork should stand aghast at the “similarities.”

To read the rest of this post, visit The Black Gate website.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Johann Hari—hypocrite

The same brilliant award-winning young journalist who once demonized J.R.R. Tolkien for daring to oppose unbridled modernity has since turned his attention to writing pieces like these:

How to survive the age of distraction

Has the internet brought us together or driven us apart

The deal we dare not turn down

2010--The year zombies came for our brains

In these pieces you’ll find him railing against internet culture and the accompanying rise of pornography and short attention spans in the age of Facebook and Twitter; bemoaning the decline and impending death of paper books and sustained, deep reading; expressing bitterness at omnipresent advertising and consumer culture, and lecturing us soberly on the decay of the environment.

Symptoms of unbridled modernity.

Which Tolkien warned us about.

In The Lord of the Rings.

I guess the message here is that the progress wrought by modernity is all good--when it’s Hari’s kind of progress, like the cosmopolitan city. But when it results in consequences with which he doesn’t align himself--like teh evil internets--it’s bad.

Rich, isn’t it?

What a fucking hypocrite. Not to mention a slack-jawed reader of Tolkien.


Yes, I'm back from vacation! More light-hearted stuff to come soon.