Film #289: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

director: Stanley Kubrick
language: English
length: 137 minutes
watched on: 2 May 2017

I’ve put off watching this movie for a long time – I think I always thought it would be more gruesome or shocking than it ultimately turned out to be. I did the same with films like Se7en, or even Sebastiane. Or The Silence of the Lambs, which I actually have but just haven’t gotten around to yet.

The film was made in the 1970s by Stanley Kubrick – along with Sebastiane, The Devils, and a few others, I borrowed it from my friends. Incidentally, I’m kind of getting used to some of the tropes of 1970s cinema that have died out since, like brightly-coloured credits cards. The film is set in the future, which is interesting to see, because the image of the future from back then is one of brutalism and strange outfits. The main characters in the film speak with this unusual argot, whose apparent purpose is to stop the film from dating badly. At any point, it could potentially be future slang.

It starts with scenes of gruesome violence and rape – and I didn’t know this, but apparently, Kubrick actually pulled it from UK distribution because he didn’t want to influence the youth of the day. But although we’re later invited to sympathize with the main character Alex, and the film takes an ambiguous stand about the violence itself, I did definitely see the satirical blackly comic side of it – especially later on, or in the prison scenes. And there’s a lot of homoeroticism in the movie. It has a lot of layers.

For sure, the famous scene where Alex gets his eyes clamped open in a form of extreme aversion therapy is pretty horrific (apparently Malcolm McDowell’s eyes were actually damaged during the scene), but I didn’t find the rest of it as shocking as I thought, basically. I was more just surprised because I hadn’t realized he had a Yorkshire accent. I think I expected it to be set in America. I can be really ignorant sometimes…

Kubrick’s signature styles, such as being very exacting about the contents of the movie’s frame, are comparable to his other work like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen his other work, so I enjoyed that aspect of the movie. I saw about half of Full Metal Jacket a couple of years ago, so I think I should go back and watch the rest of that. That movie is reflected in the attitudes of the authority figures in the prison scenes.

There’s a debate in the third act of the film, when Alex gets out of prison but now starts to retch and get sick because of the aversion therapy whenever he considers violence or sex, about whether this constitutes a violation of his free will. I thought it was interesting, especially since it’s made clear he doesn’t really know the terms he’s signing up for, but I’m not sure I believed that the aversion therapy would be so successful if it were real.

So I liked it overall. I should have watched it ages ago – that’s my only regret. How about you, what do you think?

Book #61: Jumper (1992)

jumper2author: Steven Gould
language: English
length: 344 pages
finished reading on: 6 June 2014

Yet another book supplied by the Humble Bundle. My kindle actually broke midway through reading this, so I can no longer use it at all (there is some hardware problem with the screen) – and it turns out that sending it back to Amazon in the UK and getting a discount new one would be more expensive than just buying a new one in Japan. I haven’t taken the plunge yet – I’d rather focus on making summer travel plans, buying flights and whatnot to far flung places.

As for the book, I partly read it because I saw the movie six years ago, and had heard this was a better story than that of the movie. It concerns a boy who learns he can teleport, and what he decides to do with the power.

It starts with the big guns of child abuse and attempted rape of the main character within the first few pages, just in case you were under any illusion that this book was actually a science fiction story about a boy who can teleport. Indeed, he learns he can teleport by accidentally escaping both situations, finding himself in the local library, a place he always felt safe. From there, he goes to New York, effortlessly robs a bank and sets himself up with a nice apartment. Then he finds a girlfriend, and meets his mother, who had run away from the abusive father too. She’s then killed by Islamic terrorists (spoiler alert), and he spends the latter half of the novel on a manhunt for them round North Africa.

His teleportation power is limited to places he has already been, and a significant portion of the book is the daily grind of travelling from place to new place and figuring out his power. It’s never explained or explored how he got the power. Like in Groundhog Day, it’s just taken for granted that he has it. In the movie, he meets others like him and even some religious nutjobs out to kill him, to make the story more dramatic, but here he seems to be alone – this matches a major theme of the book.

Although the child abuse parts were sensitively handled and explored in due course, a lot of the story felt a bit flimsy. The mother’s death comes out of nowhere, although it’s interesting to see that the panic about plane hijackers existed well before 9/11. Some parts of the book go into too much detail about relatively insignificant things – conservation of detail is not an issue here.

That said, even those parts are written well, and there was some quality to the writing which made it addictive. I finished it even though I had to use the Kindle app on my phone’s tiny screen. It’s good to see an author fully explore a superhuman power and also include hard-hitting issues and portray quite a realistic teenager character. Plus I would quite like that superpower, even though I’m not so much up for the child abuse or terrorist hunting.

As for continuing the series, it’s a possibility, but I have what feels like a million others to finish first, so it’ll have to wait. And don’t let the movie put you off. This is indeed way better.

Book #58: On a Pale Horse (1983)

300x300author: Piers Anthony
language: English
length: 716 minutes (11 hours 56 minutes)
finished listening on: 18 May 2014

This was the next thing I delved into from the Humble Bundle. It’s quite long, as audiobooks go, but that’s not the reason it took me over a month to finish it (I’ve finished longer books in much less time!). I plain didn’t like it after a while. It starts out well, but gets boring and became a chore to continue.

The premise should be exciting: the main character tries to commit suicide after a series of things go wrong for him, but freaks out and shoots Death in the face instead. Thus he himself becomes Death himself, and meets a variety of other “incarnations of immortality” (also the name of the series that this book is the first episode of) including Time, Fate, War, and so on. Satan and God also put their nose in. It’s set in a parallel universe where magic and technology co-exist, which presumably explains the physical existence of these incarnations, and also allows such things as dragons. If it wasn’t written over thirty years ago I’d say it was copying Harry Potter.

Indeed, I was interested for the first few chapters, but it turned into a strange kind of philosophical treatise about the nature of religion and sin. Anthony’s personal philosophy about how sin works is, apparently, that people’s good deeds and bad deeds are literally weighed up on some kind of scales, and if they’re unbalanced, the person will go straight to heaven or hell, and if they’re balanced almost exactly, Death has to step in and personally judge the person’s soul. And if Death’s not sure, they will have to stay in purgatory, and personally complete a sick parody of a tax return to work it all out.

It gets complicated when Christian mythology is referenced. It’s implied that the incarnations are what they are (ie, straight out of Revelations) because Christianity is the dominant religion – sure, in the West! What about all the other big religions? Christianity isn’t dominant for two thirds of the world’s population, after all. It also ignores the messiah part – like, the central part – of Christian doctrine entirely (Jesus is never mentioned, that is), which would kind of negates the whole idea of good deeds and bad deeds being weighed up. The disconnect became clear when I listened to a bit of the author’s note at the end that Anthony actually doesn’t believe in God himself, but then it entirely calls into question his treatment of the atheist character, whose soul simply dissolves into dust and who is outwardly referred to as “strange” by Death. That was a more offputting section than the others because I felt like I was being personally attacked for holding no belief in God.

But that wasn’t the place where Anthony crossed the line; far from it. He crossed the line in his treatment of rape and his idea of what constitutes it. In his world, babies born out of rape inherit the sin of the rape, and are born impure, and have to be reaped by Death instead of going straight to heaven, like the good pure babies. That’s a bit of an ugly idea in itself, but the moment where I almost threw down my iPhone in disgust was when a ten year old kid was impure because he’d been having sexual relations with a grown woman, and the author literally muses that if it’d been a man raping a girl, it would be unambiguously the man committing the sin and the girl would remain free of sin, but the other way round, the woman is doing a favour to the young boy. As if he’s asking, what young boy wouldn’t want to be raped by an older woman? For fuck’s sake.

It’s also just boring, and badly written. The next book in the series is on the next Humble Bundle, which I’ve bought now, but I think I’m just going to skip over it. Don’t read this.

Film #51: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

20120507-012258.jpgDirected by: David Fincher
Language: English with some background Swedish
Length: 158 minutes
Watched on: 15 Feb 2012

Having spent my first few weeks in Japan seeing the posters for this film everywhere I decided that I would go to see it at the cinema. There are a couple of things that are worth noting about Japanese cinemas. Firstly, as with this particular film, the Japanese seem to get films months after we do; I think in the UK it was out before Christmas, yet I went to see it in February. Secondly, just going by the exchange rate, they’re really expensive at ¥1800, which is like £16. I keep telling myself I have to stop converting, especially now that I’m being paid in yen, but it’s difficult to stop when the conversion is as easy as lopping off two zeroes from the yen price and rounding down a little. Anyway, they also get really busy; the cinema was packed when I went.

I have written at length about the Millennium trilogy books and the Swedish films before. To summarise, I liked them, and they were the last proper page-turning books that I read. And I love Noomi Rapace as Salander.

So I was a bit put out when I heard that they were remaking it to put it in the English language for a “wider audience”. Oh, for heaven’s sakes… people are idiots. I also had a bit of trepidation because I’m not much of a fan of Daniel Craig and I couldn’t see how Rooney Mara could live up to Rapace’s performance (plus she looked silly on the posters).

Of course, some of my fears were perfectly reasonable. For example, the language thing becomes a logical inconsistency because the main dialogue is in English but background noises and signs are in Swedish, as you’d expect for a film set in Sweden. You get some actors putting on Swedish accents (Mara affects some kind of Poirot-esque speech by greeting people in a very Swedish way), while others, like Craig, don’t even try.

Comparing it to the Swedish version, the main difference between the two is undoubtedly budget; because the Swedish film was a TV project, it shows sometimes. This film starts with a completely unnecessary flashy CGI credit sequence and goes from there. Yet some of the sets look like they could have been lifted straight out of the Swedish film, as if they’ve actually just gone and used the same locations… at which point I just turn around and think, “why did they bother making it, in that case?”

As for the rapist (oops, spoiler!), I felt he looked a lot more threatening in the Swedish movie; here he comes across as rather jolly and avuncular at first, and only threatening later once you realize that’s what he’s going to do. Perhaps that’s a good point to be made there, that rapists could look like anything, and perhaps someone might find it even more shocking if someone who doesn’t “look threatening” turns out to be threatening, but this is a movie we’re watching, and generally, movies have a sort of visual convention of how people are presented, and it just comes across as jarring when that’s broken.

But all that aside, Rooney Mara’s performance as Salander was truly formidable, and she really sank into the role. I’m not sure I’d say she brought anything new to the role, but I think she’s a really competent actress, especially considering that the only other thing I’ve seen her in is as a preppy love interest in the film about Mark Zuckerberg, and how completely and utterly different she looks and acts in each film. As I mentioned, she affects some kind of Poirot speak at a few points during the movie – she’ll greet or thank people in Swedish – but it was done just subtly enough that it really made me believe that she was actually a Swedish woman who just happened to be speaking English for the sake of the movie. And that can only be a good thing.

Other than that, there are only a few minor differences here and there between this film and the original one; in the end probably not enough to justify making it, despite the good performances. Perhaps this film is more true to the book in some ways – for instance, Salander doesn’t give herself away to Blomkvist as she did in the Swedish film. And one particular part near the climax is more coherently executed. But as with the original movie, the postclimactic ending is poorly executed, although this is a consequence of the book’s Return of the King Ending Syndrome. As I mentioned in my previous review, this was one of the worst things about the book itself too, although it’s easier to get away with it in a book than it is in a film.

Anyway, I still really enjoyed the film, as it’s ultimately an engrossing story, whatever form it’s in. And I suppose if it does accomplish the goal of getting more people aware of the story, then that’s good (most Japanese that I’ve talked to haven’t heard of the Swedish movie, but have heard of this one). But I think anglophones need to quit with the whining about subtitles. After all, I watched this film in a cinema packed with Japanese people, and they didn’t seem to have any trouble with the subtitles.

Oh yeah, I’ve just remembered the other annoying thing that the Japanese do with films… the sex scene was pixellated. I bet it wasn’t even explicit. It’s rather funny, then, that the rape scene actually left less to the imagination with this cut of the film…

Millennium Trilogy 2 & 3

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden)
Book #18
written by: Stieg Larsson
released in: 2006
original language: Swedish
length: 569 pages
finished reading on: 22 August
Film #26
directed by: Daniel Alfredson
released in: 2009
language: Swedish
length: 124 minutes
watched on: 23 August
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes)
Book #19
written by: Stieg Larsson
released in: 2007
original language: Swedish
length: 743 pages
finished reading on: 6 September
Film #28
directed by: Daniel Alfredson
released in: 2009
language: Swedish
length: 140 minutes
watched on: 12 September

Millennium is the second long trilogy I’ve managed to eat my way through this year (the first was the Red Mars trilogy)… these are incredibly engrossing books. I’m reviewing these two books (and their corresponding films) together mainly because they fit together as a coherent tale, while the first book stood very much alone.

The tale gets a lot more involved specifically with our heroine Lisbeth Salander than the first book (the first book concentrated a lot more than these did on the male protagonist Mikael Blomkvist, who is pretty much based directly on the author himself), and aspects of her past and private lives. It opens, first of all, with a creepy fragment of what we can only assume is paedophilic sexual abuse, upon a victim that is probably Salander – its context will be returned to later in the book. Then it goes into a slightly surreal sequence where Salander is trapped in a hurricane in Grenada, of all places; she falls in love with a teenage boy and carries out a bit of vigilantism against a man she hears abusing his wife. The entire sequence, which was simply cut out of the film, doesn’t really do much to further the plot; it seems to serve the purpose of developing her character, but not much more than that. It’s somewhat symptomatic of Larsson’s writing: while generally good, it’s very bulky and padded, and could do with a bit of ruthless editing to cut out the parts that aren’t needed. I think it could have easily cut this section out and got the ball rolling a lot quicker than it did.

The plot of the second book is great: we get a mystery hook early on in the book, and implicate a major character in a crime, and this basically draws out the plot of the rest of the book, and the whole of the third one, as things are later brought to trial. The ancilliary mysteries about Salander’s past life then open up, and we’re led on a hunt for an enigmatic man named Zala, and get to see people kicking ass.

It wasn’t so obvious, however, where the third book was headed. The plot was mainly drawn out surrounding a court case, and there were whole pages that I felt like skipping because they were talking about Swedish constitutional law and parts of modern Swedish political history that I’m simply not familiar with – unlike the other books, the volume of such insider information gets so great that the translators actually included a glossary of names at the back of the book. Like the first two books, it gets going eventually, as we discover a conspiracy, hinted about in the second book, and a B-plot where the character of Erika Berger is harrassed and stalked.

It can’t have been that bad, though, because the third book was significantly longer than the second, and I finished it in about half the time. I think this may have simply been because I was already in my stride by that point.

There are a couple of general points I do quite want to bring out. The first point actually applies to all three books, and I forgot to mention it for the first book in my previous review. Basically, Larsson has a habit of inserting real things, and real brands, and occasionally real people, into his work. I just have to say I find this strange. It sort of lends credence to the work, reminding you that it’s set in the real world, but then you worry that he’s been paid by these brands to put them in his book, which I doubt (of course, that probably is true in the case of the films!).

But the other thing it does, and I’m reminded of when Hergé put Tintin in brown jeans when he wrote Tintin and the Picaros in the 1970s, is to date the work terribly. When you have a named brand, you get a certain level of technology. Salander loves to use her state-of-the-art Powerbook, but as any Apple afficionado will tell you, the latest model is the Macbook, and Powerbooks are hopelessly out-of-date. Books can’t keep up with technology, essentially. The film updates some of the technology and makes it up-to-date and simpler, sometimes. A very complicated subplot in the book where Blomkvist wants to get a hospital-ridden Salander communicating with him online – involving a smuggled Palm handheld computer, a mobile phone to connect it to the internet and about five different accomplices – could be simplified in the film to one accomplice, the doctor who comes and secretly hands Salander a Blackberry (I have to say, I found it a bit comedic).

There’s also a weird part where he writes the apparently not fictional at all boxer Paulo Roberto into the second book. Roberto even comes and plays himself in the film. It’s kind of mystifying to me why Larsson did this… I have read that he essentially wrote for pleasure and didn’t necessarily plan to have his books published, so it’s maybe simply that he couldn’t be bothered thinking up a fictional boxer, as one would normally do in such circumstances.

My second point that I wanted to muse on for a few seconds was that Blomkvist and Salander hardly speak at all during these books. She’s all in a huff with him because of some trumped-up reason, and they end up only communicating via online methods, where they’re just snarky with each other, and actually meeting, in both books, only right at the end. I can kind of understand it a bit better for the second book, but the interaction between the two characters was one of the best parts about the first book, I felt, and I was sort of expecting, via some sort of narrative causality, that they would actually spend time together during the third book.

The last point is that in exactly the same way as the first book, the third book seems to wrap up all of its plot points almost as an afterthought, and it suffers somewhat from ending fatigue. In particular, there was one important character, Niedermann, whose story Larsson really must have forgotten to sort out, because he only returns in an epilogue.

As for the films, they’re cool. I still think Noomi Rapace is utterly brilliant as Salander. But they’re a little bit short, and the third one, especially, really has to get out the hedge trimmers, and all that’s left is pretty much the bare minimum – and yet even then there are some confusing changes to bits of the plot, such as Niedermann tracking Salander to her hospital and becoming the big bad of the film (his story is more effectively interspersed in the film, rather than showing up only at the end as an afterthought, as I mentioned). Evidently, an extended edition of each was also shown on Swedish TV as a miniseries, although even then it’s not exactly long enough to fit everything in. But, as with the first book, I definitely enjoyed the enhanced experience of watching it straight after reading the book, because that way I can remember more effectively what’s been missed out and what hasn’t.

Anyway, overall, I’d say I enjoyed the second book more than the third, but both were equally engrossing. If they suffer any problems, they’re probably also present in the first book, or I’ve outlined them here. I’d definitely recommend them.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Book #15
written by: Stieg Larsson
released in: 2005
original language: Swedish
length: 533 pages
finished reading on: 22 July
Film #22
directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
released in: 2009
language: Swedish
length: 152 minutes
watched on: 23 July

aka: Män som hatar kvinnor (“Men who hate women”)

Thought I might try a new layout for this one, seeing as otherwise there’s masses of white space. So the astute among you may notice that I finished reading this book and watched the film adaptation the day after. And the even more astute might then infer that this means that I quite liked the thing. And yeah, it’d be fair to say you’re right. I’ll concentrate on the book first, though.

No, actually, I’ll concentrate on that damn title, which is the biggest amount of bile that I’ll fling at the thing so I may as well get it over early. I don’t fucking blame the author’s widow for hating the fact that the title of the book was changed from the rather imposing “Men who hate women”, which one can only say is unambiguous as to its subject matter, to the infernal English title, which I can only describe as wishy-washy, and liable, importantly, to get mixed up with The Girl with the Pearl Earring – which is a painting and a Colin Firth film… and rather not like this one. So you’ve got people like me at one end, avoiding it because they don’t like that sort of stuff, and you’ve got Colin Firth fans at the other, probably, thinking they’ll get some kind of -ahem- romance. Yeah, right. Basically, I had to be bought the book for Christmas and have it sit on my shelf for six months before I bothered to actually try it. Where am I going with this rant again? Oh yeah, the title of a work is important, people!

I can’t really see why they changed it. It seems to upgrade Lisbeth Salander to unambiguous heroine character rather than one of two main protagonists in this book – and I’d argue that the other one, Mikael Blomkvist, gets a much bigger role in the first book. It upgrades an aspect of her description to something much more important-seeming; in the book it’s a small dragon, and one of many tattoos, while in the film, possibly to keep better with the adopted title, it becomes a veritable work of art covering her back. I can possibly see where they got the idea for the title, because the Swedish title of the sequel The Girl Who Played with Fire really does translate literally as just that, and themed naming seems to be popular with publishers for some very annoying reason (for another international look at this, the German versions are Verblendung, Verdammnis and Vergebung – fucked if I know what they mean, but they’re obviously named on a theme). Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself massively. Back to the first book…

So it’s a crime novel set in Sweden. A crime novel which paints a very realistic world around itself, presumably a portrait of a sadistic Sweden that Larsson knew; rather different, perhaps, from other portrayals of the country, such as Pippi Longstocking or Abba…

Now, if the original title doesn’t give it away (of course, English speakers don’t get that luxury), the statistics about violence against women in Sweden printed before each chapter will probably give you a bit of a sense of foreboding. Yep, it’s a violent book alright, and it comes to a head with a particularly gruesome scene in which our heroine is raped about halfway through the book – although if you didn’t know that already, you’re probably living under a rock or something. She manages to pull a level in badassity in the subsequent scene in which she makes the sadistic bastard pay, however.

That was really the moment that the book really gripped me and wouldn’t let me put it down. Before that, it had been building up very slowly; when Blomkvist was told that he was to investigate the murder and disappearance of the niece of the obsessive businessman Vanger, I knew it was probably going to get good, but I didn’t quite know how much, and it still hadn’t gripped me properly. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but what with all the hype about it, you’d expect to be gripped on page 1, but it wasn’t like that for me; it was more like page 200 – still half the book to go, but it could have come earlier.

The plot itself is a reasonably standard closed-group crime-scene affair; anyone who could have committed the crime was by a fairly contrived coincidence on the island of Hedeby on the day that it was committed, and because there was a festival, there was plenty of photographic evidence, which is scoured over in detail in the book. Mainly I view it as a contrivance (an exciting contrivance, nonetheless) to bring together the characters of Blomkvist and Salander and get them copulating. And to explore some issues like violence against women and touch on the issue of trafficking of prostitutes (expounded on in greater detail in the sequel), without seeming too preachy, something that the book does very well.

Salander’s own backstory provides plenty of room to explore similar issues – there is of course the scene where she’s “taken advantage of”, but despite the book not giving away very much about her backstory (again, expounded upon in book two), it does paint a picture of a young women very much let down by society and placed into the care of bad men. Evidently, Larsson witnessed a rape of a girl as a teenager, and a lot of the book, and the way he writes Salander, is about his guilt that he never did anything about it.

As for the other characters, I thought they were all brilliant. I loved the way that little details about the background of Salander’s boss Armansky, a fairly minor character, were described fully and without abbreviation. It was things like that that really made the book come alive for me. But, and it’s a fairly big but, there were masses and masses of characters, and I’m a great fan of keeping things simple. This was perhaps compounded by the fact that half of the characters in this book were Vangers. They could be called by their first names, but it did start getting confusing after a while. Helpfully, however, a family tree was provided at the beginning of the book. At the same time, it was only a few characters like Armansky who got a full lowdown by the book, and some other names, particularly of Blomkvist’s colleagues, were mentioned once and then brought back up in more detail many chapters later, leaving me going “who?” a couple of times.

The structure of the book was in parts, which seemed to work for the most part, but the narrative kind of breaks down towards the end, because the main storyline is finished, but there are still loose ends from the beginning of the book to tie up – a story for the magazine that Blomkvist needed to write and Salander was to research for him. It makes for interesting reading, and it was nice to focus on Blomkvist’s magazine Millennium, which had been in the sidelines for most of the book and becomes more important again in the sequel, and it wouldn’t have fit into the second book, but it makes the book suffer from a massive case of Lord of the Rings-style ending fatigue. It’s kind of as if Larsson had forgotten about the plot elements he introduced in the first few chapters and had gone back to them last minute to tie them up again, when he could have just left them out and it’d have worked OK.

Now, the other thing I’m going to complain about in the book’s case is the translation. Apart from the title change, it gets sloppy in places. Presumably to try and create a sense of Swedish atmosphere, it never translates any names out of Swedish. So you get lines such as “at Svenska bork bork bork, the Swedish national television station” rather than just “at the Swedish national television station”. Perhaps it can’t be avoided – in this particular example, it probably had to introduce the acronym or something, which is fair enough. But it manages to wildly fuck up at various other points, like using “Goteborg” instead of the Swedish “Göteborg” or traditional English “Gothenburg”, or in one particularly infuriating example, “the village had a road running through the centre of it, which was naturally called __”, __ being what I presume is the Swedish word for “Main St” or something. I think the translators need to sit back and remind themselves that they have this job to do because we don’t understand Swedish.

Anyway, aside from the assorted complaints, brilliant book which should be read by everyone. Now onto the film… I’ll try and keep it short!

As I mentioned earlier, I watched this straight after reading the book, so I got a fairly good impression of all the bits they’d cut out – quite a lot, with a dense book like this. Essentially, it was pared down to the basic plot of the murder mystery and the various plotlines involving Salander; the fact that Blomkvist goes to prison, which is a big deal in the book, and the epilogue section where they tie up all the loose ends, and his magazine job and lover Erika Berger, are now mere footnotes. They still solve the mystery, but by a less convoluted route.

I thought they did a very good job, all things considered. The book is dense, but not nearly as dense as the later ones. Noomi Rapace is pretty much perfect as Salander – she carries herself in exactly the right way and has that petite look which is appropriate for the character, while Blomkvist’s actor is evidently a very famous man in Sweden and gets all the major acting jobs like this one – and he’s quite deserving of it, too.

The details beyond that would be nitpicking and it’s been a while since I watched the movie, so I can’t add much more than that. However, I will say that I did get very pissed off at it when it gave away what was essentially a spoiler for the second book near the end. It is a spoiler, about Salander’s mercilessly hidden backstory, that gets revealed fairly early in the second book, but a spoiler nonetheless. Grr.

But again, worth watching, and worth reading. Definitely worth it.

Film #16: Watchmen (2009)

director: Zack Snyder
language: English
length: 155 minutes (2:35)
watched on: 25 Jun

I think this was quite a good adaptation work. It seemed to get all the characters looking right, and I couldn’t think of any gaping plot holes that it had left – indeed, I’d probably say that it managed to pare down the plot of the book to a good extent, because the book was chock-full of stuff that wasn’t quite relevant to the plot and was more to give flavour of the world which the characters inhabit.

Of course, I’m no comic book fan, and I’m sure there are plenty of them out there decrying the film – it’s rule #1 of adaptations, after all. I enjoyed it, anyway.

Just a couple of complaints: it’s a bit long for essentially an action film, although it’s obviously based on the comic book and there’s not much they can do about the volume of material in the book even when they cut bits out.

Then there’s the Bad Guy character – I just felt a slight annoyance when there was a throwaway visual gag that implied he was gay, and it was almost as if they meant to emasculate him by doing it. (I think it was implied in the book too, but more subtly)

Any other complaints I had about the film will be ones that I had about the book, too; I think the major one for me again was Mars, where they look up into the sky to see the very picturesque scene of Phobos and Deimos hanging in the sky like our very own moon, big enough to see and with phases and everything – whereas in real life, they would look like tiny stars racing across the sky. And Phobos would be going backwards. Kinda hit my suspension of disbelief somewhat.

Also, that entire sequence is a bit annoying; I don’t really get the Dr Manhattan character – I can very well believe that he’s the supernatural equivalent of autistic, but he’s supposed to be able to see into the future. That said, the story does have some kind of midichlorians or something to make him unable to see the future. I didn’t quite get that, either… it was always a bit too much techno mumbo jumbo.

Anyway, good adaptation. Not sure what else to say about it really.

Book #7: Watchmen (1986)

authors: Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
language: English
length: like 400 pages or something
finished on: 7/2
book coverIt’s time for me to play that old game of Catch Up on Reading Those Classics You Never Got Around To, once again, this time in the form of influential 1980s comic books. I’ve been intending on reading this for a while now and only recently realised that I can actually request books from other libraries in the city, which is good considering that the local library doesn’t stock it…

Anyway, the first thing I’ll say is that the book is very thick and complex. It constructs a parallel world in the Cold War era inhabited by superheroes, each with their own fully-fleshed out backstory. That alone is going to bring you a very complex story. Yet it’s also very regimentedly structured, each chapter predictable in its rough length and bookended by a full colour plate and a two page spread of some kind of article from the superheroes’ world. This structure comes right down to the framing, which I found a bit too rigid for my liking, as it’s generally a 9×9 set on each page, meaning that most frames are in portrait. I haven’t really read many American-style comics (or many comics other than Tintin, where the framing’s generally landscape-oriented and not at all rigid in the size of each frame), so I’m not sure if this is a common theme among these books, or if it’s just a feature of this particular book. It certainly displays the authors’ bias towards character-driven plots quite well. The way that the chapters often introduce quite a dramatic shift in the focus of the plot (often focussing on a new character in each new chapter) certainly betray the book’s origins as a serial comic, too.

There’s so much attention to detail by the artist, Gibbons, that I don’t even know where to begin. It’s just things like the way you can always spot little things in the background that are obviously afforded some significance, or the way that when you read the pirate comic story that’s interwoven with some of the main narrative, it’s shown in that old newspaper print colouring, with slightly faded colours, as if you’re reading it off a page straight from this other world. In a kind of alternate-history joke, Americans never get into superheroes in a world actually inhabited by them, and end up reading pirate stories instead, which I found amusing. But at the same time, I found it confusing when the pirate story was interwoven with the main narrative, because the way it jumped back and forth between the two was usually very disorientating, and I found that in certain places, I had to read through the pirate story first and then read through the main story just so that I could keep track.

This form of interruption in the story kept happening quite a lot in the book, and I started to get annoyed with it after a while. The other main form of interruption was the sections of three or four pages of prose between each chapter, which I found difficult to adjust back to reading. Some were easier than others, but there was at least one that I read kind of half-heartedly and went “what the fuck?” afterwards. To be fair, there were a couple of sections of graphic storytelling that made me WTF too, but that’s the one that sticks out in my memory. I just found that the prose sections were the biggest thing that interrupted the flow. But I guess that’s one of those things that happens with serial storytelling; the flow can be interrupted quite easily.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed most of the rest; characters were good (all with their own flaws, of course), plot was fascinating… I guess there was a bit too much obvious attempts at philosophy, which kind of made me glaze over a bit, but meh. The Cold War theme was also obvious and present throughout, playing off real public fears of the time that I guess are a bit lost on me. The story explores how the presence of the

Now what I think I’m going to do is what’s fast becoming one of my favourite hobbies: complaining about artistic renditions of planetary bodies. Specifically Mars, since that’s the planet that Dr Manhattan (the blue superhuman guy who’s the only one with real superpowers and arguably the point of divergence with the real timeline, since he introduces a lot of environmentally-friendly technology and wins Vietnam for America) goes to when he decides that he doesn’t like humanity anymore (or something, anyway).

We see Mars in two chapters; in the first, it appears to be night-time, but several references are made in Manhattan’s monologue that the sun is shining. What bothered me about this chapter is the pinkness of Mars… now, I know we know it as the Red Planet, but if you actually look at a photo of Mars, it’s a kind of orange-brown desert colour… not pink. It could even be described as purple here. OK, so, benefit of the doubt, it could actually be like that at night. In the second chapter when he teleports his girlfriend to Mars with him, it becomes daytime, and it looks more like how I’ve seen Mars depicted in the past, with an orange sky and beautiful cliffs.

But then they seem to make what to me now seems like an error of geography. One minute they’re in their floating castle above the south pole, and in the time they take to have a conversation they’re approaching Olympus Mons, which is in the northern hemisphere. I know that they haven’t teleported, because she didn’t want to be teleported, so his flying machine must be going awfully fast to travel that distance. That aside, Olympus Mons isn’t depicted quite how it would be in real life… now, I don’t know how much of this they would have known in 1986, but Olympus has a really shallow gradient and is 1000 or so km across. It wouldn’t fit onto a horizon, or indeed really look much like a mountain to a casual observer, more like a massive cliff at the bottom and quite flat for someone on it. And then they seem to turn a corner and reach the Valles Marineris – not so fast, there are three other massive shield volcanos between Olympus and there.

Anyway, I should probably stop bitching about bits like this that don’t even matter that much. It’s just so… satisfying! But while I’m at it, I guess I might add that there’s a very poetic-sounding speech from Manhattan which uses the simile “rarer than a quark”. You know, rarer than one of the universe’s most common particles? Kinda loses its ring, doesn’t it? Anyway, all that aside, I enjoyed the book thoroughly and would recommend it.

(I’m also now dreaming of going to Mars after reading about it on Wikipedia and seeing images like this one:
Martian sunset Excuse me while I shed a tear for my inevitably earth-bound existence.)