A few weeks ago, in advance of my trip to New Orleans, I took it upon myself to re-watch Live and Let Die, the eighth movie of my problematic fave series, James Bond. I was hoping to get some sort of meta out of it, or at least be able to explain why this franchise is still a fave at all, but no. Instead, I only managed to provide a snarky, feminist recap, because the plot rather spoke for itself.
Now, I have no trip to Khao Phing Kan planned, but I still decided to watch the next Bond in the franchise, The Man with the Golden Gun. This one had to have more merit than the blacksploitation crap-fest that marked Roger Moore’s debut, right?
Uh. No. In fact, maybe just because the racism was so distracting in that movie, I felt the sexism wasn’t *so* bad, but here…holy macaroni. Again, the plot really does speak for itself better than any finely tuned analysis could. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this James Bond classic.
I feel like I should have brushed up on my Bond history before this, but for what seems like a change of pace to me, the pre-title sequence does not include James Bond at all.
No, instead we’re taking to a nice, sandy island where a dude and a girl are sunbathing while a little person in a suit brings a tray full of bottles (and later a small tray containing just Tabasco sauce?). I’ll just start calling him “Nick Nack” now, but I feel it necessary to point out since throughout the movie we’re treated to many jokes about “the midget.” Not to mention how “Nick Nack” is hardly free of any ableism. Oh the 70s.
Anyway, what’s REALLY important is that the dude sunbathing has a third nipple. There’s a close-up and dramatic music and everything.
^Shouldn’t props be able to do a little bit better here?
He’s also Christopher Lee, but I suppose I can call him “Scaramanga.” The woman, played by Maud Adams (no clue what her character name was tbh. Miss Andrews?), seems to be miffed that she isn’t getting his attention so she begins to dry off his feetsies and legs for him. I have a feeling this movie and I will get along!
A random dude shows up, and Nick Nack greets him by suspiciously saying “right this way.” Then this guy just blindly follows him into a room, where Nick Nack gives him a wad of cash. Nick Nack leaves, and the guy pulls out a gun from a little handbag, cocks it, and giggles to himself for a good minute.
Maud Adams stretches and we get more dramatic music.
Anyway, turns out Nick Nack fooled the rando guy, as we see him activate some sort of control panel, which transforms the very ordinary room rando guy was waiting in into some kind of game room.
I think the audience can infer from this that he intends to kill Scaramanga? Who, speaking of, wanders into the game room himself in search of his golden gun, which Nick Nack has hidden behind all the moving mirrors. We’re then treated to a good five minutes of these two men who we don’t know, wander around in a room we don’t understand, for reasons that we were never given, while Nick Nack taunts both of them over a microphone.
In the end, the rando guy clearly fell asleep during his kinematics lesson, because Scaramanga traveling down a straight slope befuddles him. Also Scaramanga picks up his gun and kills him. Then Nick Nack takes the money back. Why did this money exist at all? It really didn’t have to…
Oh, also, Scaramanga has a realistic wax dummy of James Bond in the middle of this room. He shoots off four of his fingers even, despite clearly having to have paid someone a lot of money to make it. How did he even order it? Did he have a photo of a SECRET AGENT on stash? Why Bond? Why not 006?
No time to worry, here’s the title sequence! Featuring sledge-hammery guns = penises imagery and dancers who may have had too much coffee before shooting.
The next scene is Bond getting called into M’s office where he’s asked what he knows about Scaramanga. Apparently everything. Including “he has a third nipple” and is “possibly Cuban.” Okay, pause. Why is a secret agent taking the time to learn everything about random hired assassins that have had nothing to do with his cases so far, and who the hell was this MI6 briefer who was able to nail the guy’s secondary sex organs, but only puts his Cuban heritage at “possibly”?
But whatever, the reason M is asking is that they were sent a golden bullet with “007” carved into it, which is apparently what Scaramanga does for his targets. Who would pay a million dollars a hit for a moron who warns his victims ahead of time?
Bond quips that he doesn’t know who would want to kill him, but M says, and I quote, “jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors. The list is endless.” Yes, Mr. Head of MI6; your man is clearly the mark of a humiliated tailor with a cool million to spare. I feel so good about you leading Great Britain’s secret intelligence agency. I also feel great about an organization that can ID a guy through fingerprints, but has no clue what he looks like.
I guess they all find this very threatening though because they decide to bench Bond. “But I wanted to work on the energy crisis!” he complains. Bet that won’t magically tie into this plotline!
Oh, and apparently this possibly Cuban, faceless assassin that everyone knows has a third nipple also offed 002 a while back, and no one bothered to follow-up on it. So Bond decides he should, because if he is able to find Scaramanga and kill him first, then he’s going to be allowed to work on the energy crisis again! He’s very committed to environmentalism! He has a schmool-proof lead too: 002 had a belly dancing girlfriend in Beirut.
Lucky for Bond, this girlfriend is still in Beirut, this time belly dancing with the bullet that killed 002 in her bellybutton. It’s her “lucky charm” and junk. Why she took it upon herself to obstruct justice for the metal that caused her boyfriend’s death is beyond me, but okay. Do you, belly dancer.
Bond goes backstage after her rocking show, where she proudly admits to stealing the bullet from the crime scene before she says “let’s forget the past!” and starts making out with Bond. I guess she has a type. He then gets the great idea to suck the bullet out of her navel with his mouth, but oh no! Random unarmed henchmen break in and smack him, causing him to swallow it instead!
They then proceed to try and beat him up, while belly dancer girlfriend shrieks about how they’re knocking over her perfume bottles. Bond defends himself with hairspray. Oh, also, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? She doesn’t seem like she knows. We as the audience certainly don’t know.
Whatever, Bond needs to exit through the window because more random henchmen are coming for him. As he’s climbing out, belly dancer girlfriend cries out “I’ve lost my charm!”
“Not from where I’m standing.”
Like a good agent, Bond goes and barfs up the bullet and gets it to Q-branch. Q and some scientist decide to look at it, whole (without taking a cross-section), through a light optical microscope, and are somehow able to determine that the nickel content is “obviously too low” to be from India. I’m quite certain there were SEMs and TEMs in the 70s. I’m also quite certain that the bullet they’re looking at is nowhere near 4.2mm (it’s at least double in width), but whatever. Then the rando scientist and Q deduce that there’s only one custom weapons manufacturer who could have made something so precise. Or rather, they just randomly start shouting “Lazar” at each other, until Bond asks what that is. He’s the “chap who made the bullet.” Lives in Macau.
So Bond pops over to the then Portuguese-controlled Macau (where was Q even? Did he meet Bond in Lebanon? Did Bond fly back to the UK?) where he proceeds to question a family trying to eat their noodles. Lazar pops out from behind a curtain and asks him to stop. Bond introduces himself, and Lazar says “your reputation precedes you.” So is he the absolute worst SECRET AGENT in the world, or just top 5?
Anyway, Lazar shows Bond some of his custom guns, like the one made for a dude with three fingers who still needed to hunt (aim is an inch too low for someone with five fingers cause of the balance). Bond asks if he’s ever designed ammunition with gold, and Lazar confirms he’s done it for a client. Then when Bond name-drops Scaramanga, Lazar gets oddly offended and says his client relationship is strictly confidential. Maybe don’t volunteer special contracts?
Bond decides to threaten him by pointing the three-finger rifle at the guy’s crotch unless he talks. Apparently this has never happened before, despite him working in a gunshop, keeping loading guns around, and selling to unsavory clients. Lazar folds and tells Bond that he’s never met Scaramanga, but he has an order he just completed for immediate delivery. That’s nifty. He’s supposed to drop them off at a casino and get paid.
Rather than like, bug the pack of bullets (disguised as a pack of cigarettes), Bond follows Lazar to a casino where he sees Maud Adams collect them through a not-at-all secure system.
Then he follows her onto a boat that goes in Hong Kong harbor (I guess that’s where they are now ¯\_(シ)_/¯), where we hear a tour guide or something clumsily exposit about the half-sunken ship “Queen Elizabeth.”
They get to the mainland, where Bond hops into a Taxi and tells the driver to follow the Rolls Royce that Maud Adams climbs into. However, he is cut off by the most empowered female character in the history of film, Mary Goodnight.
It’s clear she’s assigned to his detail, apparently because she’s had a two-year posting to Staff Intelligence in Hong Kong. And she at least knew the Rolls belonged to the Peninsula Hotel, so yay? Bond basically pats her cheek and promises they can have dinner later, but first he has a little “official business to attend to.” Goodnight immediately gets jealous because the “official business” is Maud Adams.
“Goodnight, would I do that to you after two years?”
“Yes, you bloody well would!”
Are they like…together?
Anyway, this hotel staff sucks, because all Bond had to do was order a bottle of champagne and they grant him access, even letting him go in by himself because “it’s a surprise.” Also, Bond’s idea of surveillance is to barge into this room, go to the bathroom where Maud Adams is showering, and stand with a fucking smirk on his face because he can see blurry boobs through the glass.
She spots him and clearly thinks he’s some creeper, so she opens the stall, points a gun at him (that she was showering with), and demands a towel. She marches him out and goes to call hotel security for some reason, but Bond manages to disarm her, flip her onto the bed, and pin her arm behind her back. He threatens to break it unless she tells him where the bullets go. She too folds almost immediately, confirming that she takes them to Scaramanga. She says she doesn’t work for him but that “he’s, um… I’m his…” while seeming very uncomfortable. Bond goes, “so he’s a lover too.” “Only before he kills,” Maud Adams confirms, sounding incredibly dismayed.
Pause. It’s very important to establish now that Maud Adams is basically trapped in this relationship that she hates. We get more details later that only further this, but it definitely doesn’t get less uncomfortable. In fact, she kind of reminds me of Myranda for Game of Thrones, in that scene which clearly established her as an abuse victim with no recourse. The Man with the Golden Gun’s narrative at least seems to recognize Maud Adams’s victimization, but it kind of makes their use of her incredibly problematic. It also makes me wish that she were the main character here.
But no, it’s Bond, who proceeds to manhandle her until she tells him that Scaramanga is going to be at the Bottoms Up club, and that he has a third nipple. Let’s focus on that some more. Then Bond tells her to deliver the bullets to Scaramanga and pretend that nothing happened. She asks why he’d trust her, and he points out that if he hears about this exchange, Scaramanga won’t trust her either. Because reasons.
So, yes, Bond uses her own victimization and fear of her abuser against her. Fun!
Outside the strip club, Bond gives Nick Nack an ableist lookover, while in one of the buildings nearby, Maud Adams is in bed with Scaramanga looking horribly uncomfortable. Then she looks outright upset when he tries to use his gun as a fun, phallic object to rub on her.
I’m quite certain this is rape. We learn later that the only reason she’s still with him is because she’s scared he’s going to kill her, and it’s quite clear that she’s in distress. Why is this happening on our screens at all??
Anyway, inside the strip club there’s two dudes talking. One walks outside, and Scaramanga shoots him, though it looks like he was going to shoot Bond for a second. Bond drops to the ground after hearing the shot while Nick Nack walks over for a closer look at the body. Then the police arrive. The Other Dude from the strip club runs out and arrests Bond, flashing some badge. He puts Bond in a car and we’re treated to, I shit you not, five minutes of tense driving music. Next they go on a boat for five minutes of tense boating music.
Bond makes a great escape by throwing a lifebuoy at one of the guards on the boats and then hopping onto the half-sunk Queen Elizabeth (ohhhhhh. That’s why we were given the exposition). However, a friendly British voice comes over a speaker and directs Bond inside, where he’s taken to M. We learn the dude who arrested him is Lieutenant Hip, who also works for MI6. Why didn’t Hip say anything to Bond once they were in the car? Why wasn’t Bond told about the MI6 contact in Hong Kong? ¯\_(シ)_/¯. Their composer must have just been really proud of that tense music, I guess.
Bond tells M that “Scaramanga doesn’t have a contract on me because he had a clear shot and didn’t take it.” However, it turns out the dude he did have a contract on was the “missing solar-energy expert: Gibson.” Oh yes, that energy crisis Bond wanted to work on! Good thing Bond somehow managed to ID the body in-between falling to the pavement and getting arrested.
Apparently M and this rando Professor are only in Hong Kong because of Gibson, who Hip was making contact with. M is really mad at Bond for like, existing, for some reason. I guess because Hip had to take his eyes off of Gibson’s body. Um…shouldn’t that have still been the priority? Bond could have gotten arrested and it probably would have been fine.
We learn from Hip that Gibson wanted to set-up another meeting in Bangkok to hammer out immunity details (idk, just roll with it, but sad for M to book that trip prematurely), because he maybe works for “Hai Fat” of “Hai Fat Enterprises.” And he was going to be bargaining with his invented a solar cell called “the solex agitator” which is 95% efficient. Just to put that in context, at the moment, the world record for efficiency is 46%, achieved in 2014. This is “science” worthy of a Marvel film.
“If he developed a solar cell that efficient, he solved the energy crisis.”
Yeah, no shit. Also didn’t they all know this before the meeting? What did they think they wanted with him exactly?
Then M decides to start randomly listing other energy sources and their flaws, in case we didn’t understand why a 95% efficient solar cell is a good thing. Meanwhile, the professor is all like “this is so exciting! Where is the solex agitator?” That’s when Hip has to sadly reveal that Gibson had put it in his pocket at the bar, but after he was shot, it was missing.
Yup. An energy expert invented a 95% efficient solar cell, and decided it was a great idea to put it in his pocket at a strip club.
M yells and Bond and Hip for dunking this up somehow, because they should have magically known that the dude was going to get shot. Bond then suggests that Hai Fat was clearly the one who hired Scaramanga, because he can afford a million dollars. But…didn’t Gibson…work for him? Bond also goes on to assume that Hai Fat never met Scaramanga personally because *reasons*. So he formulates this great plan to have Q produce a fake nipple that he can stick on himself, and then he’ll go to Hai Fat’s place and pretend to be Scaramanga. Maybe there were other reasons Bond had been taken off the energy crisis case?
Oh. And Bond needs to take Goodnight with him, because “After tonight’s debacle, an efficient liaison officer won’t come amiss.” That’s Goodnight for you!
Anyway, Bond and Hip warp to Bangkok and go to the outskirts of Hai Fat’s mansion, where Bond scales the wall and strolls over to a pool with a naked chick in it. She invites him to take a dip with her…good thing, because he needs to pop that third nipple out. His plan kinda hinged on it. What if there hadn’t been a pool?
Despite Hai Fat’s mansion crawling with guards, Hai Fat himself is the first one to spot Bond creeping on this swimmer and yells at him, until Bond turns around and we get more dramatic nipple music.
Hai Fat address Bond as “Mr. Scaramanga” and then is all like “we promised not to meet!” Oh and remarks on how great third nipples are.
“Some cults consider it a sign of invulnerability and great sexual prowess.”
Bond then takes this opportunity not to poke around about the solex, but to name-drop himself and brag about what a badass he is. He wants to persuade Hai Fat to fund a hit on “Bond.” Um…what is this accomplishing, exactly? He knows he’s not Scaramanga’s target, and MI6’s only interest in Hai Fat is that he may have stolen a 95% efficient solar cell. And what are they even hoping to accomplish, btw? What is this mission? “You don’t get to steal that, only we get to”?
Hai Fat kind of blows off Bond’s bizarre suggestion, but invites “Scaramanga” back for dinner at 9. Once outside, Bond, still in view of the guards, pulls off his fake nipple and tells Hip “he must have found me quite titillating.” Theory: a writer thought of that line and the only reason Scaramanga’s nipple exists was so that they could incorporate it.
Anyway, Bond’s brill plan may have kind of worked, because we see Hai Fat talking to the real Scaramanga, who he’s totally met, and he now wants Bond dead.
Before getting ready for dinner, Bond promises Goodnight that he’ll come home and fuck her, because “a midnight snack might be just the thing.” She tells him she’ll have chilled wine waiting, and he’s like “keep everything else warm heh heh.” However, then she gets angry when Hip picks Bond up in a car, because there’s two obviously underaged girls in the backseat. Goodnight, honey, the mere fact that you think Bond would be willing to commit statutory rape is a wee bit of a red flag.
Turns out the girls are Hip’s nieces, and he offered to “give them a lift” after dropping off the SECRET AGENT to his meeting with a very powerful and dangerous dude.
At Hai Fat’s, his creepy statues have turned into creepy cosplayers, and two now-alive sumo wrestlers try to kill Bond. Did I not mention the creepy statues before? Whoops. Bond defeats one with a massive wedgie, but Nick Nack, dressed up as the devil or something, knocks him out with a trident. He’s about to kill him when Hai Fat bursts out complaining of the mess that would leave. Just “take him to school.” Wait…didn’t he hire Scaramanga to kill him? Was Scaramanga taking a vacation day and wanted Nick Nack to handle this case? What the fuck is happening?
What is happening is that Bond is taken to a martial arts school, where students fucking kill each other in what looks like a normal practice. That makes sense, and is only mildly playing into offensive stereotypes (after Live and Let Die’s “Great Black Consortium” my meter might be broken). This also has to be the dumbest possible way anyone could conceive of to dispose a SECRET AGENT. Like clearly this guy would have martial skills. Here’s an idea: the winner of the swordfight gets to fucking kill Bond. With his sword.
I guess that wouldn’t be honorable, so instead they have a rando challenge Bond to unarmed sparring. Speaking of not honorable, Bond kicks him out cold when he bowed to him. That pisses off the school administration, so they order the dude in black to face bond next. He’s a popular kid, because everyone keeps shouting “Chula! Chula!” However, proving the point that this is the worst possible means of disposing of Bond, he holds his own in the fight, and when he gets a chance, dives out a window without knowing how far the fall was.
And on the other side, just pulling up (wow what timing!), is Hip, nieces still in tow. Were they driving around with him all night looking for Bond? Does he always take family members on government missions?
Bond shakes himself off, and Hip explains that they knew where he was because “Hai Fat owns this place.” He also is a billionaire running a successful company, I’m pretty sure that list isn’t short. The other school students finally realize that Bond jumped out a fucking window, so a group of the ones who are clearly not the trained masters pour out of the building and encircle Bond, Hip, and the nieces. Bond tells the girls to “stand back,” but they ignore him, jump forward, and begin to start kicking everyone’s ass.
Apparently Hip’s brother [in law?] runs a karate school. Anyway, then the school administration of this school (aka the capable fighters) realize they should fucking do something about what’s happening, so they jump out of the building to give chase. Hip starts the car and begins to drive, yelling and Bond and nieces to get in, but Bond’s chivalry demands that he shuts the car door for the girls. Hip speeds off after he hears the noise, leaving Bond behind.
Moral of the story: chivalry kills.
However, Bond runs about 3 steps and is suddenly right by a bunch of boats. He hops in one and starts the motor, which he pulls out of the water to threaten the school administration with, while saying, and I quote, “What you might call a Mexican screw-up, gentlemen!” Um.
And so begins another thrilling boat-chase scene, because we totally didn’t have our fill of that in Live and Let Die. You know what else we didn’t have our fill of in that film? Sheriff JW Pepper. He’s back, with his comical racism, and now, a comically racist wife! Why is this racist dude from rural Louisiana opting to vacation in Bangkok? That’s anyone’s guess.
Part of this boat-chase includes a little kid who is trying to sell a wooden elephant to tourists on the river. He jumps out of the loaded tour boat (holding JW and wife) after they all refuse to buy it, and hops into Bond’s boat, which slowed to a stop after a few minutes of use. He asks for a decreasing number of bahts in exchange for it, until Bond says “Sonny I’ll give you 20,000 bahts if you can make this heap go any faster.” The little boy flips a switch that does just that. “I’m afraid I’ll have to owe you,” Bond responds, shoving the kid overboard.
Then the focus pivots to JW for some unknown reason, as he is clearly amused with the school administrators failing to catch up with Bond. Because racism. In fact, he even has a new, fun racist term for us all:
“If you got your little pointy heads out of them pajamas, you wouldn’t be late for work!”
And yes, “pointy heads” is a phrase he continues to use throughout this film.
Back at Hai Fat’s, he’s really annoyed about Bond’s escape. So annoyed, that he thinks he has to “lie low” so as not to “jeopardise a project in which I’ve invested half my fortune.” Okay, wait, he funded Gibson? Then why did he kill Gibson for the solex? And if he hadn’t randomly decided that he needed to off a 00-agent, then there’d be no issues? What if he had succeeded in killing Bond? Does he think MI6 wouldn’t have found out?
Either way, he decides to take the solex out of his safe while telling Scaramanga how it’s worth billions. Then he fucking gives it to the guy, because who wouldn’t trust a hired assassin with the key to a renewable future, and tells him “Return it to the plant and don’t leave there without my permission.” Why didn’t he just like…put it there in the first place? Had Gibson stolen it? But he was the one who wanted to meet in Bangkok because he works for Hai Fat, so it’s not like he was trying to avoid him. So…what even is happening?
Then Hai Fat also decides it’s a great idea to start insulting Scaramanga, who he apparently hired as a junior partner?? Scaramanga, solex in hand, assembles his golden gun out of what looks like office supplies and kills Hai Fat. Yeah, dude I might have in that situation. Apparently Hai Fat’s guards are Dornish, because they give no shits that their boss was just shot, even when Scaramanga basically tells them “I killed him and am in charge now.”
Bond, meanwhile, is wining and dining Goodnight with a label called “Phuyuck.” They take a sip and are both disgusted, but Bond says “I approve.”
“Oh, not the wine. Your frock.”
He then goes on to compliment it for being “tight in the right places.” She seems really charmed, especially when he flat out propositions her, but apparently Goodnight once heard of something called “self-respect” and decides to try it out.
Bond blames it on the Phuyuck, but don’t worry, literally less than 10-seconds later, we cut to Bond in his hotel room, where Goodnight turns up going “My hard-to-get act didn’t last very long, did it?” Dude, he propositioned you. What did you think “hard-to-get” was going to accomplish? Then we’re treated to more feminism.
“What made you change your mind?”
They lie down on the bed and are about to get freaky when someone comes in the door. Bond, the SECRET AGENT, decides that Goodnight should hide under the covers.
Turns out, it’s Maud Adams, and now the tables have turned with her being the one to exploit incompetent hotel staffers. “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” Bond says as a greeting, reminding us all of the time he uncomfortably harassed her. They go to sit down on the bed, and Bond tells her that the obviously human-shaped lump is three pillows.
She doesn’t seem to give a shit. She’s busy trying to warn Bond that he’s in danger now because he’s one of Scaramanga’s contracts. Maud Adams then reveals that she hates him and thinks he’s a monster, but is literally terrified for her life so she can’t leave him. She says she needs 007 (I guess we can assume she didn’t know it was him earlier), and that she was the one who sent the bullet to him so that he’d kill Scaramanga. Apparently her abusive dickhead boyfriend is always talking about Bond, and that’s why she thinks he’s the only person who could kill him. Why does a random assassin know about a British 00-Agent? ¯\_(シ)_/¯. His reputation really does precede him.
But whatever, this is the only recourse she sees herself as having, and the lengths she went to and risks she took to bring that about are rather compelling. Maud Adams finally says, “I want him dead. Name your price, anything, I’ll pay it.” Then she throws in the offer of sex too, though she says it with this chilling dispassion that there’s…there’s no way Bond would take her up on this, right? She’s literally trying to escape an abusive relationship where she’s trapped and raped. Like…he knows better, yeah?
Fuck this film. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, but Maud Adams goes to the bathroom to take off some clothes for this charming quid pro quo arrangement, and Bond uses that opportunity to stuff Goodnight into the closet. She looks miffed, but settles down to sleep among the clothing.
Anyway, before schtupping Maud Adams, Bond tells her that she needs to get him the solex agitator, and then he’ll kill Scaramanga for her. She agrees, because it’s not like she has any damn choice. But like, the British government is allowed to just steal someone’s intellectual property? Wasn’t this developed in Hai Fat Enterprises? Which Scaramanga now owns? I’m just not sure this mission makes any sense…
But before we can ponder those pressing questions, we’re treated to a tense scene of Maud Adams returning to Scaramanga, who seems very suspicious of her. She tells him she went to see a double feature.
Back at Bond’s, he opens the door to the closet where Goodnight is while smoking a cigar and joking about the line of duty. She says she’s going to resign in the morning, but he tells her “your turn will come, I promise.” Bond then tells Goodnight about the quid pro quo deal that he struck, and even she seems horrified. However, it’s for the the wrong reasons; she’s just upset because she’s jealous.
Apparently Maud Adams agreed to steal the solex and meet with Bond at a sporting event, because that’s the next scene we get. Bond sits down next to her at a boxing arena, while Goodnight and Hip watch him and communicate on walkie-talkies. Oh and Hip is disguised as a peanut vendor. Maybe he and Goodnight should go for it?
Sadly for all of us, Maud Adams is actually dead. Psyche! She has a bullet wound in her heart, but was still propped upright in her seat. Which raises more than a few questions to mind, like…why did Scaramanga let her steal the solex and let her get this far? Just to see who she was meeting? Why didn’t he wait til after the meeting to kill her because then maybe he’d find out more information?
Anyway, Nick Nack is in the row behind Bond and Corpse Adams, so as Bond begins looking through her purse for the solex, he pulls a gun on him. Scaramanga sits down on Bond’s other side and says that he already checked, and the solex is not there. Apparently he didn’t realize that she might have just like…fucking dropped it on the ground, because it’s literally right under their seats. Which Bond spots. He subtly puts his shoe on it and drags it towards him while Scaramanga exposits about how growing up, his only friend was an elephant.
No really, I have no clue what this story was. Through his love of animals he discovered his love of killing? Bond totally should have asked if Scaramanga was definitively Cuban or not…ya know, flesh out that file. Instead, he orders a bag of peanuts from Hip, and very smoothly passes him the solex agitator. Hip runs out and hands the thing right over to Goodnight, telling her that she’s to keep it and can’t lose it. He has to go help Bond because “there’s a midget with a gun on him.” He also tells Goodnight to call the police.
Meanwhile, Scaramanga tells Bond, “Personally, l have nothing against you, so let’s hope our paths never cross again.” Dude, you’re like, his biggest fan. This is all you wanted out of your interaction? To tell him your elephant story? Apparently so, because he gets up and leaves. Nick Nack leaves too, which takes Bond a minute to realize, before he gets up himself. For some reason, Nick Nack and Scaramanga went in two different directions; Goodnight spots the former. Remembering Hip’s warning, she decides to follow him as he gets into a car. Then she very badly and unsubtly goes to plant a tracker.
Scaramanga walks by just in time to see this, and just tosses her into the trunk all casually. Oh yeah, and the solex agitator is in her purse. However, Scaramanga had no way of knowing this, so had she not inserted herself halfway into his car, was he just going to leave town? Nick Nack certainly seemed to think they were going somewhere. Like, he seriously almost left the key to a clean energy future lying on the floor at a boxing match?
Bond and Hip realize they need to follow that car (Hip is still walkie-ing with Goodnight), but she also has the keys in her purse. “Women,” Bond says. Then he runs to a car dealership and hops into a car, where none other than JW is waiting for a test-drive. WHY IS HE TEST DRIVING CARS IN BANGKOK? Did he like…move there?
He recognizes Bond from their Live and Let Die fun-times, which even Bond is not happy about:
So then we’re treated to yet another car chase, only this one includes JW shouting things out the window such as “pull your cars over, you little brown pointy-heads!” Did this character test well with target audiences or something?? Why is he here???
Somehow Bond and Scaramanga’s car get separated by a narrow river, so Bond drives his car over a rickety ramp while a comical looping sound-effect plays. Though it actually is vaguely funny when Roger Moore tries to imitate the guy just before it. Still, what a serious movie.
But stunts or not, Scaramanga beats them to this little run-down garage, where he proceeds to attach wings to his car, turning it into an airplane. Of course.
Bond tries to break in while this is happening, but the helpful police Goodnight called pull their guns on Bond to stop him. All this gets interrupted by Scaramanga’s car-plane taking off and everyone staring in amazement.
Goodnight, meanwhile, pries her way out of the trunk, only to discover that she’s 30,000 feet in the air, so she just pops back inside. Oh that reminds me, Scaramanga pushed her in when she was clearly bugging it…he didn’t bother to like, remove that? And again, he had no way of knowing the solex was in her handbag, so his plan was to fly away without it? Or did he only fly away because he figured Goodnight was some sort of bargaining chip? Did he even have a reason to assume Goodnight was connected with Bond? Was this just random abduction?
Some indeterminate amount of time later, we go to some kind of MI6 building, where M is appropriately pissed about all of this. He yells at Bond and Hip until some helpful MI6 workers come over with a map that says “CHINA” in giant letters. They point to some island where they picked up Goodnight’s signal. Oh and since it’s the 70s, this means “Red Chinese waters.” Bond suggests straying “inadvertently into them” by flying under their radar screen. And since the PM would never approve, Bond points out that “officially, you won’t know a thing about it, sir” to M.
Wait…why? What? Because he’s pretending he’s just joy-cruising and stumbles over the border? Is any of this legal?
This entire conversation seems moot because literally the next scene is Bond flying a plane while Chinese forces spot him. They call Scaramanga and ask if he wants them to take action (why are they protecting Scaramanga’s island????) and he tells them no, Bond’s expected, and that he won’t be leaving. Then Roger Moore treats us to some quality “I just landed an airplane” acting:
Anyway, Nick Nack greets Bond with a bottle of champagne, which Scaramanga uncorks via bullet. He at least lampshades this by calling it a “vulgar display,” but he couldn’t help it. He’s also genuinely excited to see Bond. See, this is the Scaramanga I would have expected to have shown up at the boxing match. The fanboy Scaramanga. That wax dummy couldn’t have been cheap!
Apparently he wants to bond with Bond over their “solitary” career choice because they have “so much in common.” What, mutual rape victims?
Speaking of, Bond remembers that maybe he should ask about his coworker who Scaramanga kidnapped.
“By the way, where’s Goodnight?”
“She can’t leave, so she does as she pleases.”
Don’t even bother worrying about those implications!
Scaramanga proceeds to take his new bff on a tour of his home, which is all solar-powered, fueled by the solex agitator. How did he power his home before, exactly? And again, if he hadn’t shoved Goodnight in the trunk then how would any of this be working?
It’s a really thorough tour, too. They go to the “electricity storage room” where there’s GIANT open vats of liquid helium that are cooling “superconductivity coils” (this is not how solar power is generated at all), and then go up to where the solex is housed so that Scaramanga can show him a solar-powered laser…it’s a great time!
All the while, he’s telling Bond his evhul plan: to sell the solex rights to the highest bidder. Bond seems morally outraged, but isn’t this just the free market?? Like, Scaramanga took over Hai Fat Enterprises, which was the company Gibson was working for when he made this, and I’m sure they have the rights. Is the British government seriously just sending agents to steal this? Not to mention, Scaramanga seems really proud of his clean energy; you could easily read this as an environmental advocate who happens to be a very good shot.
Oh, also, I should note that the solex works when its panel pops out of a “mushroom shaped rock” and catches the sun. Why it ever collapses or how anyone considers this “mushroom shaped” is beyond me, but…
Anyway, once Bond and Scaramanga finish trying to wow each other with their very specific scientific knowledge (did you know solar lasers are at least 3500℉? Cause Bond did. Why are two non-Americans using Fahrenheit exactly?), they go to have a nice lunch. Goodnight pops out wearing nothing but a bikini, which Scaramanga says was his doing. Rather than show any concern over her potential mistreatment or rape (he knows Maud Adams thought of him as a “monster” so it’s not like it’s a weird connection to make), Bond quips about how she’s “overdressed.”
Nick Nack decided to serve sautéed mushrooms (how filling), which allows Goodnight to drop some incredibly obvious and at this point, unhelpful, hints about the solex.
Yes Goodnight, I think he’s aware that Scaramanga found the key to a renewable future in your handbag at this point.
Scaramanga then proposes a random toast
to King Tommen because he and Bond are so similar, other than salary. Bond gets offended because he kills “for duty” and only kills killers. Sure, tell yourself that, guy. You’ve never made a mistake in this department. Somehow this entire conversation escalates and they agree to duel each other to the death! Bond will get his PPK with 6 bullets, and Scaramanga will use his golden gun with 1.
Though credit where credit is due. Scaramanga at least admits he could have easily shot Bond down, but he’s always wanted this duel because it will be an “indisputable masterpiece.” For him, this is an artform, killing 007 the SECRET AGENT whose reputation proceeds him. Which yes, is a bit thin, but at least it makes more sense then why Hai Fat stopped Nick Nack from killing Bond on the spot.
Oh, and speaking of Nick Nack, Bond insists on finishing the lunch he so kindly prepared for them.
So they head outside and stand back to back with their guns raised, while Nick Nack goes over the rules. Rules that apparently include a provision for him administering a “coup de grâce” if necessary (that doesn’t defeat the purpose?). He counts to twenty as Bond and Scaramanga walk away from each other, and when the count is reached and Bond whips around, his opponent is already gone.
Then Nick Nack pops up and tells Bond “if you kill him, all this will be mine.” So Bond decides to follow him. Nick Nack directs him through the door to the game room, before running back to his control panel and revving things up again.
I’m not sure what the hot fuck Scaramanga was bothering to do this whole time, since unlike in the opening sequence, he didn’t need to find his gun. But whatever, we’re instead treated to Bond falling for the same traps as the last moop, before he feels his way around mirrors to the edge of the room (it’s apparently a raised stage), which he proceeds to climb down, putting him out of bounds. This also puts him out of view of Nick Nack’s camera, though he loses his gun in the process so…it’s a wash I’d say.
Still, somehow, this gave Bond the time to locate the wax dummy of himself, who was conveniently given a LOADED gun (Scaramanga likes attention to detail?), drag it away, put on its shirt and jacket, and assume the EXACT SAME POSE without either Scaramanga or Nick Nack noticing. And Scaramanga was only like, 10 feet away from this the entire time, because we see him pass it:
And I’m sure Scaramanga’s game room has a very specific aesthetic, but did the guy really not consider how this might confuse him a bit when he was dueling against the ACTUAL JAMES BOND?
Oh well. Bond shoots him in the heart, and gg. How climactic. Does this mean he runs Hai Fat Enterprises now?
By the way, while all this was going on, there was an epic subplot where the dude who sits and monitors the big vats of liquid helium decides to creep on Goodnight. Like really, he keeps giving her shifty looks and then beckons her to follow him whenever he goes somewhere. She eventually “lays him out cold” by knocking him over the head with something metal, and he falls right into the open vat of the helium.
This, of course, immediately leads to an alarm going off and the panel flashing red buttons, because these vats needed to be held at “absolute zero.” Goddamn it, Goodnight, way to muck up this operation that somehow managed to overcome the third law of thermodynamics! Not to mention the set-up that can produce solar energy without the use of photovoltaic cells or steam-turned turbines. Fuck 95% efficiency—this is the real science!
Or maybe not. It’s a highly unstable system because the dude’s body heat is enough to ruin that ~absolute zero~ they totally managed to achieve, which in turn means…explosions. Like, the whole place is going to blow up now. Don’t question it.
Bond finds Goodnight and scolds her when he learns what she did, saying they have exactly five minutes before his body temperature raises the helium “above zero.” Do you mean above ✧✧absolute zero✧✧? Sorry. This does not get less stupid. Even if this was somehow achieved, it would have taken a hell of a lot less than five minutes to disrupt that. Plus the idea it would take a whole five minutes for a body submerged in temperatures like that to give off all its body heat? That thing would be cooled in that time-frame.
No really, don’t question it. Bond and Goodnight race up to where the solex is housed so that they can remove it from its housing before the entire place blows up. Unfortunately, while Bond is working on freeing it, Goodnight’s ass endangers them.
Yup. Her butt hits a button that causes the solar panel to pop out of the “mushroom shaped rock,” which in turn makes that laser beam light again, nearly killing Bond. He yells at her to hit the very clearly labeled “manual override switch,” but she’s too stoopid with her womanly brain to comprehend what he’s saying.
So he speaks to her very slowly to get her to understand.
“Now listen carefully. There’s a console up there. Now, there must be a scanner interlock button on it. Push it!”
“Computer interlock,” she answers, “ls that it?”
A conveniently timed cloud passes by while Goodnight fails to press the clearly labeled button, which stops the laser. Bond praises her on being a “good girl,” and continues his work to free the solex. He gets it in the nick of time before the cloud passes, making this entire sequence just a tad pointless.
But before you can accuse this movie of sexism, Goodnight knows where Scaramanga’s sex boat is! Feminism! They run to it as the entire island explodes.
I guess Goodnight got over her being-stuffed-in-the-closet anger, as well as any potential abuse, because the next scene is them getting ready to pork. However, unfortunately for them, Nick Nack snuck on-board the boat and springs down on them with a knife. Whether this is because he had loyalty to Scaramanga or because Bond blew up his dream home is anyone’s guess.
After a fight where Nick Nack throws countless wine bottles at Bond, who smashes them mid-air with part of a chair (scattering glass everywhere), Bond removes a suitcase from the closet and traps Nick Nack inside. I think we’re supposed to find this funny?
He carries him above deck, and when he comes back, Goodnight has magically cleaned up the thousands of glass shards already. She expresses her disgust at the idea that Bond dumped Nick Nack overboard, but don’t worry, we find out later that he just strung him up in the crow’s nest.
Then they get back to having sex, but they’re interrupted when Bond gets a phone-call from his boss. Which he proceeds to ignore. So he can have the sex.
Yup, that’s it.
The only saving grace of this film is the potential to fanfic from Maud Adam’s point-of-view. And even there, canon-divergent fanfic is strongly recommended, please. Otherwise, this is a movie that is practically defined by its misogyny and cheap attempts to tap into the success of Bruce Lee films. Maud Adams and Christopher Lee deserved better. Good thing they both found it, right?
Images courtesy of United Artists
Marvel Drops a Threatening New Infinity War Trailer
For just a second there, my excitement for this movie ebbed away. News about the completely uninteresting Black Widow/Hulk romance having a place in the movie made me wonder if Marvel was perhaps going to misstep with their biggest movie yet. Could Infinity War actually end up sucking like Age of Ultron did (in this one writer’s humble opinion)?
Let’s just say my worries vanished somewhere between Wakandan forces riding out to war, Captain America trying to hold Thanos off, and Spider-Man swinging through wreckage in the sky in ways I never imagined I’d see on screen when I was a little kid reading Spidey comics.
Infinity War is going to be massive, the culmination of ten years of the MCU. This trailer tries to establish the stakes of losing to Thanos here. For those who don’t know, Gamora isn’t exaggerating in this trailer. Thanos can literally snap half of existence out of existence with the power of all the Infinity Stones. He’s the kind of villain you need all hands on deck to beat. The entire Avengers team won’t beat him. Somewhere between Thor screaming in pain and Captain America trying to restrain Thanos’s hand, I think this trailer established the threat he poses.
This is a villain built up for a decade, and Infinity War looks poised to deliver on that scope.
It’s almost here, everyone. Who will live? Who will die? What will the MCU look like in the aftermath? Well, we probably have to wait for part two to know the answers to that. You better believe Marvel is looking to make an impact here. Maybe Infinity War won’t be the best movie of the MCU. You better believe it will be the biggest and best event, though.
Best buy your tickets now if you plan on seeing Infinity War when it releases on April 27th.
Images and Video Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Key & Peele To Reunite, Voice Hellish Brothers in Wendell & Wilde
Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key have spent the last couple years doing their own things. Key has been working on television while Peele has been working on little independent movies like Get Out. But the now-Oscar winner Peele is reuniting with his long-time partner in a new animated film from stop-motion master Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline). The film, Wendell & Wilde, is being produced for Netflix.
The film will follow a pair of demonic brothers, played by Key & Peele, as they square off with their arch-enemy in order to escape hell. Peele will also be bringing his Oscar-winning pen into the writer’s room: he’s assisting Selick and author Clay Mcleod Chapman in writing the film’s script. The art direction for the film is being handled by Pablo Lobato, an Argentinian artist known for his colorful portraits of celebrities and politicians.
Since the end of Key & Peele, the two actors have largely forged separate paths in Hollywood. Keegan Michael Key has been working as a supporting actor in films like Storks and Why Him and television shows like Archer and Friends From College. He’s appeared in a previous Netflix production, 2017’s Win It All. Jordan Peele has famously moved behind the camera, writing and directing the smash-hit horror film Get Out and starting production on adaptations of horror film Abruptio and crime flick Black Klansman, which will also be a Spike Lee Joint. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also adapting Matt Ruff’s supernatural/gothic horror novel Lovecraft Country with Misha Green (Underground).
Wendell & Wilde will be Key & Peele’s second collaboration since their Peabody-winning Comedy Central sketch show ended in 2015. Their last film, Keanu, was a critical and financial success. The film will also be Henry Selick’s first film released since Coraline in 2009. Netflix has not announced a release date for Wendell & Wilde.
Image via Warner Bro. Pictures
Dissecting The Hobbit in Preparation for Amazon’s New Tolkien Series
I was eleven when Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy was released. I, like the millions of others who saw it, was immediately swept away into a secondary world that would take hold of me and never let go. These stories spoke to me like nothing I had ever heard. They were my favorite things. My mother, who had read the books when she was in college, said she’d be happy to lend me her copy of the trilogy, but suggested I start with something a bit simpler (I was eleven and a very mediocre reader) like The Hobbit. She explained to me how the story took place sixty years prior to the events of The Lord of the Rings and was actually written as a stand-alone novel before the trilogy was ever conceived. It’s the tale of Frodo’s uncle Bilbo and his adventure to reclaim a dwarven kingdom that’s been commandeered by a ferocious dragon. Count me in.
So not so unexpectedly The Hobbit, Or: There and Back Again became one of my most cherished worldly possessions and helped shape the person I am today.
Fast forward to November 2017 when Amazon announced that it would be making a “Lord of the Rings prequel series,” I wanted so badly to be filled with excitement when it was announced. After all, more Tolkien is good Tolkien, right? But why did I have such a bitter, hesitant feeling about new content being created? There is so much material created in the Middle Earth legendarium that spans far and wide from the content in the Lord of the Rings. Content that could be beautifully retold if it were in the hands of the right storytellers. I mean sure, there will be hiccups and cause for concern as far as keeping the integrity of the Tolkien estate unspoiled, especially with Christopher Tolkien announcing his retirement. But taking ideas and narratives and trying to sell them to a consuming public is not inherently a bad thing, and I’d like to think I look at the availability of more Tolkien stories as a potentially good thing…
That’s when it all started flooding back to me: we’ve been down this road before, haven’t we? We’ve seen what can go wrong when a giant studio conglomerate decides to capitalize on popular narrative trends and ends up butchering a folktale beloved by millions in order to pump out blockbuster numbers. I thought I blocked all that out, what was it, four, five, six years ago respectively? Perhaps my optimism for more Tolkien content is just naïveté in disguise.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Trilogy
I’m talking of course about The Hobbit. This three-part CGI fest, bought and paid for by Warner Bros made its way into existence and caused an absolute uproar with Tolkien fans and filmgoers everywhere. From the beginning it seemed doomed, or at the very least polarizing: Del Toro dropped the project, leaving the production team to scramble and revamp their entire vision, and when Peter Jackson moved from Executive Producer to Director, he made the choice to turn the 270 page folktale into an epic trilogy, shooting it with new 48 frames-per-second technology.
With the hype surrounding the project due to the success of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit was sure to be a massive undertaking that would require the utmost care and respect in terms of its presentation. But that’s not what fans were given. In its entirety, The Hobbit Trilogy became the messy, shallow spectacle that every self-identified member of a fandom dreads.
Was this all just a perfect storm of bad timing and poor decisions? Maybe. Are these films just more glaring evidence to why “prequel trilogies” and “extended film universes” are a terrible idea? Perhaps, but there are plenty of arguments against that. One thing is for sure though, much like Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy, The Hobbit was at the forefront of a film industry crossroad. Technology had made exciting and groundbreaking strides that enable stunning visuals and thrilling modern tools to aid in their story telling. Peter Jackson & Co are known for constantly pushing boundaries and playing with new tricks, but when it comes to making spur-of-the-moment experiments done at the behest of the Middle-Earth Universe—a universe which they had a major role in shaping, by the way—they were bound to piss some people off.
So, my dear Bagginses and Boffins, what exactly went wrong with the Hobbit Trilogy? What went right? Let’s dive into The Hobbit’s first installment, An Unexpected Journey in this three-part essay that examines the films. In the back of our minds we can hope that while Amazon creates their new Tolkien content, they will learn from the mistakes, and hopefully capitalize on the successes of their predecessors by exploring new, exciting ways to tell stories while (hopefully) being respectful to its source material.
Unpacking the Prologue: My Dear Frodo
Having an expositional prologue to an epic trilogy isn’t a terrible idea on paper. It gives us viewers a chance to ease into the experience and informs us on key plot points/names that are going to continuously pop up. But The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (AUJ) in particular has extra weight already attached, that is, to reintroduce us to the already beloved Middle Earth Universe. When AUJ begins, we are immediately given recognizable music cues and the comforting voice of Ian Holmes as Bilbo. The choice is clear: these films will not only be of the same vision and universe as the Ring’s films, but will act as a compendium, a bridge between themselves and the films that came before them.
The choice to begin the films as a meta-narrative though, is more distracting than it is helpful. It’s fine to use the same actors, sets, styles, etc. within The Hobbit narrative (Gandalf, Elrond, etc.) because the stories obviously belong together. But, to contrive a scene that takes place in the time of Frodo and the Ring of power is tacky, and the constant insistence to call back to The Lord of the Rings only serves to hurt the story you are trying to tell. The mantra of “you can’t really compare The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings,” flies out the window when you begin your entire story as a HOMAGE TO THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
So, we revisit Bag End and the Shire, but it’s not the Shire we left at the end of Return of the King, nor is it the Shire we were introduced to in Fellowship— it’s unfamiliar to the senses. This goes back to the advancement in technology and the decision by Jackson & Co. to shoot The Hobbit in 48fps rather than film. The coloring is saturated, the details are crisp and polished rather than weathered and mysterious, and—not that they can do anything about it, but—it’s so obvious that both Ian Holmes and Ian McKellen have aged a decade. No amount of makeup and 3D magic can hide this.
But could the film have started any other way? What other options were there to set the scene? Could we really have been thrown into the same (stylistically) beloved version of Middle-Earth without acknowledging the giants of which these films are standing upon?
In my mind, this could be an obvious answer to why Del Toro dropped the project. Imagine creating a film based upon a beloved novel that is also living in the shadow of the most successful fantasy film franchise to date. Imagine wanting to have a creative vision, but the studio heads and executive producer are constantly adding things and pushing deadlines and reminding you of the fact that in all honesty, these will never be your films, they’ll just be an extension of Jackson’s Middle Earth Film Universe. It’s unsurprising that Peter Jackson was the only one capable of taking on these films, unsurprising that he wanted to make them a trilogy, unsurprising that he’d want to connect them into the same film franchise he’s already made, and unsurprising why the first 13 minutes of the film amount to an over-indulgent spectacle oozing with nostalgia (and the extended version is even longer!).
So what other options were there? Let’s muse.
- Jump right in and omit the prologue altogether. Begin the way the novel does—the way your first delightful scene with McKellen and Freeman begins—by dropping Gandalf and 13 dwarves right at our doorstep, and revealing exposition as the plot progresses. Sweep through Bag End with the familiar fiddle-and-flute sounds we know and love, perhaps following Freeman through the house and out the door as he stuffs his pipe full of tobacco before he is joined by the wizard.
- In The Fellowship of the Ring, the prologue is narrated by Galadriel, a seemingly omniscient narrator setting the scene, until we reconnect with her in Lothlorian and the audience gets this wonderful realization that she has laid out the narrative in character, and we realize that she’s introduced us to the shire because she knows that hobbits will soon “shape the fortunes of us all.” Why not have her character introduce The Hobbit narrative in the very same way, since we will be seeing her in Rivendell at the white council? This would avoid the meta-narrative trope of “older Bilbo” while still giving us the information we need on Smaug, Erebor, Thorin, etc…
- Tell the prologue from a dwarf’s perspective—mainly Thorin, or Balin, or even Ori, who was the last dwarf to make record in the Book of Mazarbul, and could very easily be recording events with Balin on their journey to Hobbiton. You could even bring that into the narrative later as a character moment and make a connection with Bilbo, who will of course be recounting his own tale as “There and Back Again.”
- Gandalf narrates while he recounts the events on his way to Hobbiton.
- Frodo narrates the prologue (we got Elijah on board!), reading through his Uncle’s notes like a kid peeking at Christmas presents. He finishes just in time for Uncle Bilbo to tell him to “get his sticky paws off.”
- Martin Freeman as Bilbo pours over maps and his contract with the dwarves in Bag End. He’s going over the plot points with the audience as he debates whether or not to join the company. When the subject of Gandalf arises, that leads into his recalling of the opening “Good Morning!” scene. The plot then catches up as we see Bilbo running out the door after “Misty Mountains Cold” is sung.
Each of these concepts would pose their own set of problems. Introducing the narrative through the eyes of the dwarves, for instance, would rob the main character of ownership to the story. But the route Jackson & Co have chosen, having two different actors play the same character, poses 2 glaring issues. The first is that it disconnects us emotionally and visually from the character when you split him up, because Ian Holmes’s Bilbo already has his own separate narrative apart from Martin Freeman’s. The second issue is that wherever and whenever the story ends, we know we’ll have to revisit this established scene as the other bookend to the narrative. And it’s not that this storytelling aspect can’t and hasn’t worked before, it’s that the meta-narrative concept is completely dropped until the very end of the last film, so it feels disconnected. Ian Holmes doesn’t check in with us for 9 hours. Not once.
The best solution to not having the first half of this film slog therefore, are to either 1.) omit the prologue altogether, or 2.) have Ian Holmes continue the narration throughout the entire trilogy. Option 2 certainly wouldn’t give us the same tone of Rings, but I’d argue that as a good thing. Having an omniscient narrator we know and love come along the journey with us and making comments in all the right moments would deliver a lighter, more whimsical tone closer to the way Tolkien wrote the novel in the first place—probably the same way Bilbo might have told it—with joyful wit and authority.
Now, we finally get to have that chance, but it’s not treated as a full-on meta narrative because Ian Holmes disappears, and AUJ makes the grave error of assuming you already know and care about his character. And let me be clear, I do care very much about Bilbo Baggins in every form he has taken, but this decision doesn’t aid in the storytelling at all, it only hinders it. What it ultimately does is prolong the actual narrative in an effort to force these films at all cost, and sometimes undeservedly so, to sit beside your box set of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, even though the original Hobbit narrative was never meant to live up to such a task.
There Are Far Too Many Dwarves in My Dining Room!
So the actual narrative begins after 13 long, expensive, rather over-stimulating minutes of dragon fire and dwarven lineages and armies and Elijah Wood cameos. Martin and McKellen have wonderful chemistry in their first encounter together (good morning!) and the scene is a joy to watch. The dialogue kept very close to the cheeky and whimsical source material, and the actors gave us a stellar opening to our story. Freeman could not have been more perfectly cast as our hobbit, and I fell in love with Bilbo almost immediately.
In fact, the casting as a whole throughout the entirety of the Tolkien Universe has been marvelous, and though I’m always nervous about the politics of television and actors and contract lengths etc, I’m sure Amazon has clout enough to wrangle up the proper talent for a series based on JRR Tolkien’s work. If not, I’m certainly available for casting.
Speaking of casting, when we get to meet our large cast of dwarves, the segment is rather like the source material, so it flows with a certain organic rhythm.
The Dwarves’ entire character development throughout the rest of the trilogy, however, can be summed up in their entrances (quite like the novel) to Bag End: Balin, Dwalin, Kili, Fili, Thorin (later) and…the rest just fall on top of one another in an unrecognizable blur of prosthetics and fake hair. Okay so Bofer has plenty of wonderful character moments, as do many of them, but having this many members of the party to keep track of poses a challenge to the film-maker and viewer alike. I’m the type of fan who already could name all 13 dwarves off the top of his head, plus had done speculative research about which actors were playing which dwarves, what types of weaponry would they use, and what their designs would be like. But not every person viewing these films is going to want to get on my level.
At the end of the day there is only one major question you need to ask yourself in order to determine whether or not there were too many dwarves to keep track of: what did they want? On an individual level, what did each of these characters want? The only answer to be found across the board for all 13 companions: they want to reclaim Erebor. We are given hardly any individual motives, nothing that might get in a particular character’s way. No disagreements, no hiccups (other than getting there, of course, and battling Smaug when they arrive), so they are all one unit, and that never really changes.
In Fellowship, companions come together from very different backgrounds in order to aid the Ring Bearer on his quest. They all have different ideas of how to get where they are going. They all have different motives as to why they joined the fellowship. Most importantly for the viewers sake, they learn to work as a team along the way and grow together after suffering great loss through conflict. It’s these things that invoke the suspense, drama, and emotion that make Tolkien stories so wonderful to experience.
And yes, The Hobbit, a folktale written for JRR Tolkien’s ten-year-old son as a bedtime story is not going to have near enough emotional complexity as that, but you’ve (addressing Jackson & Co now) elected to “darken up” The Hobbit and draw us back into your complex film universe filled with danger and evil and excitement and political complexity and racial tension. You have a responsibility to create a main cast (other than Bilbo and Gandalf) made of more than just cardboard.
Nobody Tosses The Dwarf!
Okay, if we’re talking Tolkien’s dwarves in the order of their integral plot function in the novel, AUJ goes along pretty well with it: Thorin, Fili, Kili, Balin then the rest…maybe Bomber in the book. But the film obviously can’t hide behind the alliteration and rhyming schemes that group them together, so they needed to flesh out thirteen different heroes and make them all unique, distinguishable, and functional. They all need backstory and relationship dynamics, otherwise the audience won’t want to spend time with them. Yikes that’s an undertaking. And while I appreciate the fun superficial details they added for all 13 dwarves such as Bifer speaking Kaza-dun and Gloin using the same type of weaponry as Gimli… I’d so much rather have sacrificed some number of dwarves in order to streamline the story and lesson the dwarf-recognition-fatigue and over stimulation that so many casual viewers (“we call you normies”) experienced. I know, I know, Tolkien purists everywhere just gasped, but let’s have another thought experiment:
Can we eliminate some of these dwarves based on a super scientific method I used throughout the trilogy I like to call the Scarlett O’Hara experiment? This referring to a quote from George R.R. Martin’s “Not a blog” where he uses Gone with the Wind as an example to address his fans’ concerns about the omission of characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
“How many children did Scarlett O’Hara have? Three, in the novel. One, in the movie. None, in real life: she was a fictional character, she never existed.”
So, based on how many lines each dwarf had, how many close-up reaction shots, overall importance to the plot, plus also whether or not they were cool, useful party members, killed baddies, and, if we gave a shit about their struggle throughout the trilogy, we can make a pretty decent judge of which characters… get the axe.
Here is our Company of Dwarves sans Bilbo and Gandalf…who are not dwarves.
- Thorin: Heir to the throne of Erebor. Leader of the Company. Warrior
- Balin: Wisest in the group and closest confidant to Thorin. Warrior
- Kili: Last in line of Durin. Youngster. Heart throb with impulsive nature. Archer
- Dwalin: Strong leadership qualities but heavyhearted and quick tempered. Tank.
- Fili: First in line after Thorin. Youngster. “gun enthusiast” of the group. Warrior.
- Bofer: Jester with a heart of gold. Comic relief. Minor.
- Oin: Eldest in the group. Healer.
- Dori: Sensitive and thoughtful. The group’s lighthearted moral compass. Dandy.
- Ori: Baby of the group. Useful for jokes, also carried the journal found in the mines of Moria.
- Gloin: Father to Gimli… the “hoarder” of the crew. Warrior.
- Bomber: Fat jokes. Fun ways to play with action sequences. Tinker.
- Nori: Adept at breaking into things and has a cool beard. Lockpick.
- Bifer: Doesn’t speak common tongue, has an axe protruding from his skull. Warrior.
Let me reiterate that I personally don’t find it necessary to cut the company down if you were going to conceptualize them as interesting individuals. However, Jackson & Co elected not to film all the intriguing character backgrounds their actors created for themselves. So let’s say all those below the line, let’s call it the Line of Durin (ha) would be omitted from the film; tossed out of the company. Gloin you say? Gimli’s father? You ruthless braggart, how dare you! Okay, so I wouldn’t cut the character all together, I’d combine aspects of Oin and Gloin into one dwarf and double the moments of John Callen’s enjoyable performance recast as Gloin.
The rest of the dwarves, though they add enjoyable moments and plenty of personality to the story, are superfluous to the plot of the film, and like with Oin and Gloin, their character traits and moments could be divided up amongst the rest of the gang. Maybe you make Dori, who the actor proclaims as the dandy of the group, and also possess Bomber’s hobbit-like appetite, since that’s a direct quote from the book.
“Just when a wizard would have been most useful, too,” groaned Dori and Nori (who shared the hobbit’s views about regular meals, plenty and often).
-The Hobbit p. 30
Maybe Ori, the quiet, bookish dwarve can also speak several languages such as Kaza-dun, which would theoretically serve them well when they are in Goblin Town. 9 dwarves with tons of interesting quirks, skills, and moments over a period of 3 epic adventure films would be a much more manageable party, and would enable us to delve into who each of these characters are other than just their names and which weapon they carry. They’d be more than just walking personality traits, and the script would have more time for Bilbo to uncover their backstories, ideals, inner conflicts, motives, quarrels amongst one another–you know, things that make the fantasy characters we love interesting.
All Good Stories Deserve Embellishment
We also have two complete musical numbers which, Amazon, if you are listening, is SO important in Tolkien storytelling:
There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.
-“The Music of the Ainur,” The Silmarillion
According to Tolkien, there was God, then the offspring of God, then song. So, you know, let’s have as much music as we can to aid in our storytelling. Jackson & Co have always been good about that.
We probably could have forgone the ridiculous CGI piling of dishes in “Blunt the Knives,” but overall it was fun and silly and worked well to juxtapose the grim mood set by Oakenshield’s arrival. This is followed by one of the most iconic “nerd hymnals” of the last decade second only to the lyricless Game of Thrones theme: The Misty Mountain Hop–errrr–the Misty Mountains Cold. Tolkien describes the song as “deep-throated singing of the dwarves in the deep places of their ancient homes;” which is hit perfectly on the head with Armitage’s low baritone voice. Not only is the scene and song moving, but it introduces us to a musical cue that will follow us throughout our journey. In the novel, it’s the song itself that awakens “The Took” inside Bilbo and his thirst for adventure, and personally I think it’s one of the most powerful moments in the Middle Earth Universe.
I Think I’m Quite Ready For Another Adventure.
So the adventure itself finally begins at the 43:30 mark—the length of an entire pilot episode—and ignoring the sluggish pacing, they have accomplished their goal of (re)introducing us back into the Middle Earth universe. They’ve painted thorough circumstances and laid out necessary plot points. They’ve given us good character repartee with Bilbo and Gandalf, and given some recognizable traits to our main dwarves (Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili) and also introduced us to some important items like the key to Erebor and the Arkenstone.
All the while, Martin Freeman is just absolutely killing it as Bilbo. Our titular character is charming and affable and over-polite, but it’s all really only to mask his neurosis about being left the hell alone. He’s already a layered and conflicted character, and he hasn’t even stepped out his front door. If only this tale hadn’t taken so long to get going. I’m ready for a pee break already and we’re still in the Shire. Oh well, we’re finally ready for an adventu–
BUT WAIT. We haven’t had enough exposition, you say? Well how about another super melodramatic expository cut scene to introduce Azog—the big, uninteresting CGI baddy! Let it not be said that Jackson doesn’t “show” rather than “tell.” Actually he does both. Ad nauseum. So Bilbo, Fili, and Kili are told the backstory of Thorin’s relationship with Azog (because Fili and Kili don’t know their own family history?), who murdered his grandfather. This film is PLAGUED with so much exposition that it’s insulting to the words “adventure” and “journey.”
Yes, Radagast is important to Gandalf’s quest later, yes, Azog is important to Thorin’s character in a cliche sense, but piling it all on top of us right now is just too much. We already have the centralized evil of the plot: Smaug. Azog and the Necromancer are delightful appendices, but it’s all just more gravy slowing this film down. The only thing I can say that’s at all interesting is the fact that the orcs speak Black Speech, the language of Mordor. That’s an immersion we can well appreciate and a storytelling detail that’s well placed. In the first hour of the film though, all they’ve really managed to give us (after much delay) is an empathetic main character, a beautiful song, and exhausting CGI homework.
After the campfire and another unnecessary call to action (“There is one I could call king”), they set off for their journey to–
BUT WAIT. We abandon our quest and introduce a separate character, Radagast the Brown, doing a separate thing that deals with a separate evil. Oy. Couldn’t this have waited? Couldn’t we have eliminated the first Radagast scene? Couldn’t we have combined the Azog intro/campfire scene with roast mutton? Couldn’t the sound they heard, what they thought to have been orcs, have been the trolls? Balin says “Thorin has cause more than most to hate orcs,” and we let that just exist on its own for the audience to muse over and then the dwarves realize that the ponies have run off (they all run off in the next segment anyway)? Have the company send Fili, Kili, and Bilbo to go after the ponies and stumble into the troll’s campfire immediately. Done. I just shaved off like 20 extra minutes instead of sitting through another indulgent battle sequence starring characters we don’t care about yet. Get this fucking story moving.
To give this context, my copy of The Hobbit has Roast Mutton on page 27. Chapter II. And when it finally arrives in the film, it’s fantastic. It’s funny and exciting and imaginative and things are, you know, happening to our cast of characters. Again they play it close to the original text and, to nobody’s surprise, it works very well. It’s almost like there’s a pattern here. Now, I’m not a Tolkien purist by any means because I can understand that a director doesn’t just want to be pigeon-holed into word-for-word interpretations whilst working in a completely different medium. But it’s no coincidence that when you stick close to material presented in a literary classic, it translates well.
When Jackson & Co. took creative liberties in the Rings trilogy, it was to condense and aid the main narrative that was already presented. In AUJ, wonderful Segments like “Roast Mutton,” “Riddles in the Dark,” and “A Short Rest,” segments that exhibit Jackson’s imaginative personality in his film-making, have to battle through all this extra weight that don’t add to Bilbo’s story. So instead of the source material in AUJ being augmented and elevated, these great segments stand out in spite of all the film’s meandering fluff.
“Why The Halfling?”…“The Who? Oh Yeah, Him!”
We arrive in Rivendell. It’s as beautiful as we remember it, and it doesn’t feel as jarring and strange when recreated the way the Shire felt. This is perhaps because we are now in the seperate narrative that we’ve been intending to tell, so it ought to feel different in the context of a company of dwarves. And if returning to the elven haven wasn’t enough nostalgia for you, then get a load of this reunion:
The decision is made to have the White Council while in Rivendell, because this film is just moving way too fast. While the White Council is important as far as Tolkien lore is concerned, and does make perfect sense to add into these films, giving us another planning scene with heavy exposition, even with Blanchett, Lee, and Weaving, is just exhausting at this point. In Tolkien’s appendices, we know that the White Council does occur in the time of The Hobbit, but it was meant to happen when Gandalf abandons the party at the edge of Mirkwood. It’s an obvious and interesting adventure for Mithrandir for certain, and one Tolkien intended on expanding on, but the White Council is yet another instance where the greater War of the Ring narrative swallows up poor Bilbo and his story.
Could we not have saved this scene for a later time? Could we maybe establish a trust between the elves and Gandalf that will lead to the White Council, but focus in on our main cast of characters instead? Again Jackson & Co are banking that you’ve already seen the previous installments of the films that actually bothered to engage in character building and action. Within the framework of the film, the story has now become about Gandalf plotting several different schemes in order to protect the realm from the threat of Sauron…but then who is this Bilbo fellow and why is he worth diddly?
The Bilbo we know and love is, has been, and always will be fascinated by elven culture. The dwarves in turn are filled with resentment, or at the very least prejudice towards this particular race. I would have loved to have seen a glimpse of those themes explored deeper than just “their food and music are both dry.” We need to know how Bilbo feels about certain things in order for us to see a deeper connections with the many dwarves we know barely anything about.
Instead, Bilbo takes a backseat to his own story, being referenced to or talked about, rather than experiencing and building relationships. Like in the scene between Galadriel and Gandalf, one of the more touching parts of the film, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the “why the halfling,” line was completely contrived. Bilbo and Galadriel never say a word to each other throughout the entire film, nor do Gandalf and Galadriel go over any plans about Bilbo’s burglar role…so why would she feel the need to ask Gandalf about the halfling? The obvious answer is to fit that lovely moment into the story…but unfortunately for us, the quote comes off as nothing more than a sentimental platitude as it’s drowned out by a lack of substance within the framing of the actual film.
What is Gandalf afraid of? What deeds has Bilbo done to have given Gandalf such swelling inspiration? What adversity has been thrown at them for the audience to relate to other than a “looming threat”? It boils down to this: unless you’ve seen Jackson’s previous Rings trilogy, these scenes carry very little weight.
What Are You Going To Do Now, Wizard?
When the company leaves Rivendell, we get a touching scene with Bilbo and Bofur and I’m wishing so badly that we had more scenes with our dwarves and less “Necromancer Hype.” There’s a wonderful folktale in here somewhere, I know there is! But then we make it to Goblin Town. This could have been a dark and daring escape sequence, heart-pounding and haunting. After all, they’ve decided to give their film a more ominous, gritty feel in order to liken it to the Ring’s trilogy.
Instead, they film the entire sequence behind a green screen and, rather than paralleling Bilbo’s terrifying encounter with Gollum—the highlight of the film—with a daring escape of their own, they juxtapose “Riddles in the Dark” with a mindless, tensionless CGI set piece. The goblins aren’t frightening, threatening, or interesting on any level. They move awkwardly and they feel weightless when they are beat around by the epic dwarf warriors in our suddenly impenetrable company.
Escape from Goblin Town, although fun to view in the same way a Michael Bay film is fun to view, has no risk and no reward. One frame shows a horde of goblins approaching, the next frame presents a solution. Repeat. While, again, it is sort of visually enjoyable to watch and imagine all the fun Jackson & Co had coming up with different ways to kill goblins, it falls flat when compared to Fellowship’s high-stakes, emotional escape through the mines. It comes off as insulting and indulgent when you trap your heroes just for a quick joke and a jab. It gets to the point where Dwalin says “There’s too many of them, we can’t fight them all,” I think to myself, really? You seem to be doing well thus far.
The Goblin Town segment would all be forgivable, excusable, downright enjoyable if it weren’t such a brazen betrayal of a direct quote from Gandalf not twenty minutes earlier in the film:
“True courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one…”
It’s best summed up and articulated thusly:
“If Jackson meant for Gandalf’s comment to highlight Tolkien’s nonviolent ethic… the rest of his film undercuts it—and, indeed, almost parodies it. The scene where Bilbo spares Gollum in the movie comes immediately after an extended, jovially bloody battle between dwarves and goblins, larded with visual jokes involving decapitation, disembowelment, and baddies crushed by rolling rocks. The sequence is more like a bodycount video game than like anything in the sedate novel, where battles are confused and brief and frightening, rather than exuberant eye-candy ballet.”
So the choice to make Goblin Town a virtual theme park ride completely undercuts the value of Bilbo saving Gollum’s life, and renders Gandalf’s quote meaningless. All they had to do was take themselves seriously and that scene with Bilbo hopping over Gollum would have crushed me like…well like the Goblin King crushed the party of dwarves. Create a sense of peril, a sense of risk and remorse when you are in the throes of battle and then those “cool stunt moments” will actually pay off rather than be cause for eye-rolling. The dramatic moments with Bilbo are well produced and well acted, but ultimately betrayed by the need to indulge in violent spectacle.
By making the choice to have all CGI baddies chasing your CGI rendered heroes through a CGI backdrop, you quite literally dehumanize everything and enter the realm of farcical. You might as well have given Howard Shore a break on this and just dubbed Yakety Sax over the scene…oh wait…SOMEONE ALREADY DID THAT. Thanks for making my point for me, internet.
And it seems a waste of such a talent like Barry Humphries when you pretty much insert his character as a visual gag:
“What are you going to do now Wizard?” exclaims the Goblin King. *Gandalf rolls a nat. 20 and slices his stomach open easily.*
“He’s Been Lost Since He Left Home.” Yeah, Same…
Despite its bloated run time and contradicting themes, the film does end on a high note, managing to pull off an exciting and emotional battle sequence in “Out of the Frying Pan.” But it’s by the skin of its teeth. This story’s climax needed to be about Bilbo solving problems in an unconventional, hobbit-like way (*cough* like in the book *cough*) in order to prove his worth to the company. Instead, while we continue our theme of sacrificing subtlety in exchange for pageantry, Bilbo is given this grandiose moment of charging head on, taking on big bad Azog all by his lonesome, and being the hero that literally any of the other dwarves were capable of being because they charged in right after our suddenly fearless hobbit did.
There’s nothing wrong with having an arc where your character is a coward and he learns to be a brave warrior in the face of adversity, but that wasn’t the character you presented us with Bilbo. The real conflict lies between Bilbo and Thorin, and Thorin convincing himself that Bilbo is useless and slow and won’t serve a purpose in the company. And yes, we do get that moment at the end where Thorin accepts him into the company, and yes it is rewarding and emotional and well acted, but it’s slightly unsatisfying to have Bilbo earn his keep in such an un-hobbit-like way.
Like Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread.
At this point, I’m aware that I’m being pretty muddled with my criticisms. But I think that speaks to the overall conflict surrounding these films. I want to love these films as a Tolkien fan, and there are things to love about AUJ in particular, but there are just too many glaring structural issues with these films for them to be considered well done interpretations of Tolkien.
There is also an entire army of stubborn Jackson fanatics that are downright delusional when it comes to The Hobbit Trilogy, and hail AUJ in particular as an undeniable triumph. I sometimes share that same sentiment when it comes to Jackson’s original Rings trilogy (Don’t you DARE try to point out the obvious and tell me Return of the King has too many endings, you monster!) because, well, they’re my favorite films. I love Peter Jackson. I owe him much, as we all do, when it comes to my love for fantasy and taste for modern cinema. But Jackson & Co made a mediocre film with AUJ, and it was overall met with (deserved) middling results. Much of it was out of their hands, yes, but so much of these bad film making decisions could have been avoided by taking a more minimalist approach and just focusing on the story Tolkien was trying to tell.
Looking back on this Trilogy, the biggest compliment you can give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that when compared to the next two installments, it isn’t that terrible. It’s a film that can be fun at times, but ultimately gets crushed under the needless attempt to be compared to its predecessors. Themes like “home” and “fitting in” and “compassion over violence” are touched upon but never explored more than a convenient monologue to transition into a new segment.
For lighter fans of Tolkien, this film is a fun romp that will at times put a smile on your face. For obsessive Tolkien buffs, it’s a grave insult. But this film made a shit ton of money—like, a whole troll chest full of it—and as far as Amazon making more Tolkien content, I’m a bit worried they’ll put profit before all else. See because this movie, while thematically flawed, and weighed down with gratuitous exposition, does still possess the same entertainment factor found in many of its kind of pop-culture blockbusters, and so people indulge, enjoy, and defend its right to take the paperback it claims to base itself upon and dial it up to 11.
But strap in, because AUJ only covers chapters 1-7 in the books.
To be continued in part II…