Concerning Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy

“Just one song? We could do three. Or we could do one long one and split it into three. I’ll tell you what, it’ll be worth it.”

Peter Jackson, Team Ball Player Thing *

When it was announced that The Hobbit was going to be made into a trilogy, I was actually excited. Yes, the stretching out of a children’s book far shorter than even the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings would mean a lot of padding, but I didn’t mind that. I love The Lord of the Rings. I just wanted more in whatever way I could have it. I’m one of those people who could watch the extended versions forever!

And I really liked The Hobbit trilogy – until three quarters of the way through the second film, that is.

The first film, An Unexpected Journey, was brilliant. I have read The Hobbit many times, and seeing the scene with all the dwarves bursting into Bilbo’s cosy hobbit hole brought to life was, for me, exhilarating. And that singing – it gave me the chills! The film continued to be brilliant, even with the introduction of Azog following the party. In fact, the film did a better job of making me care about the characters that weren’t Bilbo than the book ever did.

I simply adored the portrayals of Thorin, Fili, Kili and Balin. Thorin was beautifully deep and brooding. Fili and Kili were more than adequate Merry and Pippin replacements – they were actually given characters, something seriously lacking in the book! And Balin was perfect. As for the other dwarves, there wasn’t much they could have done even with all the padding. Bombur, for example, serves exactly the same function as in the book – he’s the butt of fat jokes.

First Hobbit Hole

Another Hobbit Hole (from my visit to the Hobbiton Movie Set)

The scenes with all the dwarves at Rivendell are wonderfully funny, especially in the extended version. The whole trilogy was far more light-hearted than The Lord of the Rings, which threw a lot of people. I didn’t mind the film’s self-indulgence here in the slightest. Also, I don’t agree with the argument that the White Council scenes were unnecessary. They were in the book; they just happened off-stage. Besides, Gandalf randomly buggers off in the book and doesn’t return for ages – they couldn’t have gotten away with that in a film without showing where he’d gone.

And as for the addition of Radagast, I found that utterly delightful.

Tongariro Crossing

My little sister in Tongariro National Park, a.k.a. Mordor

Now, the bit with the goblins singing… that did feel uncomfortably childish, even more so than that bit with the trolls, but it’s in the book, dammit! Finding the correct balance between the childishness of the book and keeping the film consistent with The Lord of the Rings was always going to be difficult, given the source material, but The Hobbit trilogy… did not find it. Ah well. At least that computer game-like goblin escape was good fun.

Undoubtedly, the best bit of the first film – and, indeed, of the entire trilogy – was the Riddles in the Dark scene. In fact, I’d say the entire trilogy was worth it just for that! Shame it had to be in the first film, really. The second-best scene of the film, I’d say, is what came after: the bit where they all climb the trees on the edge of the cliff to escape from the orcs. That was beautifully done – suitably tense – and the music was amazing. Re-using the Black Riders’ theme from Fellowship to create the mood for Thorin’s charge made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Wellington Airport Eagle Gandalf

Gandalf riding the Lord of the Eagles at Wellington Airport (from my trip to Wellington)

Then the eagles.

Yeah.

The eagles showed up in the book too – they’re not just a deus ex machina exploited by the films. But the thing is they’re actually explained in the book. They can talk. Here’s an extract from The Hobbit book, from after they’ve just been rescued by the eagles and set down:

     It seemed that Bilbo was not going to be eaten after all. The wizard and the eagle-lord appeared to know one another slightly, and even to be on friendly terms. As a matter of fact Gandalf, who had often been in the mountains, had once rendered a service to the eagles and healed their lord from an arrow-wound… He was discussing plans with the Great Eagle for carrying the dwarves and himself and Bilbo far away and setting them down well on their journey across the plains below.

     The Lord of the Eagles would not take them anywhere near where men lived. “They would shoot at us with their great bows of yew,” he said, “for they would think we were after their sheep. And at other times they would be right. No! we are glad to cheat the goblins of their sport, and glad to repay our thanks to you, but we will not risk ourselves for dwarves in the southward plains.”

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki, a.k.a. Long Lake with the Lonely Mountain in the background (from my South Island campervan trip)

I hope that stops a few of you ‘why didn’t the eagles just take them there?’ complainers! I think this should have been the opening of the second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug. It would have provided a useful explanation (for non-readers) for the eagles in The Lord of the Rings too.

Dwarf Statue

One of the dwarven statues on display at Auckland International Airport

So anyway – the first Hobbit film – VERY GOOD. The second film is where things get iffy. I was still onboard for it. The only thing I really didn’t like was the just-too-ridiculous action scene at the end, when the dwarves flush the dragon out of the mountain. You know, the whole molten gold bit. I was onboard for Legolas. (He would have been there.) I was onboard for the barrel ride. (Over-the-top, but FUN.) I was onboard for Stephen Fry in Lake-town. (It was Stephen Fry!) I was even onboard for the unnecessary addition of Tauriel. (The inclusion of a bad-ass elf chick – or even any female character at all – was most welcome.)

As for the Tauriel-Kili flirtation, I was fine with it. It was funny. It developed their characters. Kili’s character needed developing. (His death in the book is literally just ‘oh, and by the way, Kili and Fili died too’.) Even when the flirtation developed into a somewhat forced love story, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I would wait to see how it turned out in the next film before I would condemn it. Maybe it would even make the audience care about Kili’s death. (Never mind Fili, eh?)

The Wizard's Vale

They’re taking the hobbits to… guess where (from my South Island campervan trip)

But then came the third film. The Tauriel-Kili love story was AWFUL. If anything, it detracted from the emotional impact of Kili’s death. It would have been far better to show Fili and Kili fall defending Thorin ‘with shield and body’. Instead, we got those nauseating lines delivered by Tauriel and Thranduil. For me, four words destroyed the entire film: “Because it was real.” UCK. SPLURG. ICK. In the cinema, I was left wanting to shout, “I GAVE YOU THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT, DAMMIT! THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT!

Not the actual hobbit hiding place, but close

Not actually where the hobbits hid from the Black Rider, but close (from my trip to Wellington)

I mean the third film did have some fine moments. The surprise Billy Connolly cameo, for example, was a stroke of genius, but where THE FUCK did those giant goats come from? And why THE FUCK does the CGI look worse than it does in The Lord of the Rings, which came out over ten years before The Battle of the Five Armies? It makes the film look – ironically – rushed.

At the end of the day, though, the entire Hobbit trilogy is beautiful. Every shot looks like a painting. It’s artfully acted, (if not always artfully written,) and it really delves into the wider world of Middle-earth. And even The Battle of the Five Armies is a lot better than some of the movies that come out today. I just hope that people watch The Lord of the Rings first. The Hobbit is a bit of beautiful fun; The Lord of the Rings is a towering landmark in the history of cinema. (And both are very expensive New Zealand tourism commercials.)

* Team Ball Player Thing is a New Zealand charity/All Blacks support music video in which many local celebrities make fun of themselves. Watch it here for a great example of Kiwi humour:

 

The Problem with Possums

Welcome to New Zealand, where killing small, furry animals is a sign of patriotism! Especially possums. Possums are evil, habitat-destroying, bird-eating, Australian bastards. If you see a possum on the road, you run the little f***er over. If you see one in the bush, you get your gun and you turn it into nipple warmers.

Possum fur nipple warmers are a big thing in New Zealand. They’re in all the souvenir shops, along with possum fur scarves and gloves and the like. My little sister bought a cuddly possum made with real possum fur. (Not just a stuffed possum – that would be creepy, even for her.) She used to love stroking it.

Possum fur is unbelievably soft. I had a friend who’d go out hunting possums with his dad, and they used to get quite a bit of money from the fur. The trick, he told me, was to pull it all off whilst the body was still warm. They’d get bags of it. He asked me if I wanted to come along once. I declined. Not that I’m against hunting possums. If there’s such a thing as ethical fur, it’s possum fur.

possum-246778_640Possums really are a menace to New Zealand’s native flora and fauna. Some European idiots brought them over from Australia in 1837, to establish a fur trade, and they quickly multiplied at the expense of the existing creatures. Not only do they eat the leaves, buds, fruit and bark of trees, decimating canopies and depriving endangered birds of food, they eat the eggs and chicks of those birds too.

New Zealand’s native birds evolved in an environment devoid of mammals. (The only native New Zealand land mammals are bats.) The introduction of possums and other mammals such as rats, stoats, dogs and cats was something they simply weren’t equipped to deal with. Possums have been seen actually flushing kiwi birds out of their burrows in order to feast on the contents of their nests.

It’s no wonder they’re so hated. In New Zealand, small, furry animals are bad; small, feathery animals are good. Still, the national enthusiasm for running possums over is one of the things that shocked me when I first arrived here, aged ten. I remember shaking my head, incredulous at the sheer number of flattened possums on the road into our town. People actually swerve to hit them.

possum

The flattened possum with a tyre track across it is one of the many symbols of New Zealand. I have met one Kiwi, though, who couldn’t understand the possum-hate. (I’m talking about the human inhabitants of New Zealand now, not the iconic birds.) She was an old cat lady, only one of her cats… wasn’t a cat.

Now she was a lovely lady, and I fully walked into the conversation about all the cats she’d ever owned, having fully accepted the fact that I am, myself, a crazy cat lady and destined to die surrounded by them. I don’t think I’ll ever cover my entire lounge in pictures of them, however. I don’t think I’ll ever have cat cushions and cat throws and cat tea trays. It was like a cat cyclone!

The walls and mantelpiece were covered in pictures of long-dead cats and, as I sat stroking a live one, I noticed that one of the pictures was different. I had to ask her if it was real. Oh yes, she said, it was real. It had even appeared in the local paper back in – I think – the 1970’s. I asked if I could take a photo of the photo. She was happy to let me and this is that photo:

Pet Possum

Just in case you don’t believe your eyes, that is a possum sitting in a highchair with a bib around its neck, eating its food from a bowl with a spoon like a human. She trained it to do that. It would sit on the couch like a human, too, when it wasn’t curled up on her lap like a cat. They make fantastic pets, she told me. She simply couldn’t see why people wanted to kill them.

Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten most of the details of the story, (I know – I should have written it down at the time!) but there’s one detail I’ll remember ’til I die: she castrated the possum herself. She sat him down on her lap, lulled him into a false sense of security and snap went the rubber band. At first he was too shocked to do anything, but then he began to shake and whimper.

I laughed in sympathy as the old woman did her impression of the traumatised possum. I wish I could do it for you now. Apparently, he didn’t run away; just sat there shaking and whimpering for a very long time. Imagine the awful, confused sense of betrayal he must have felt! He was completely fine afterwards, though.

I googled “pet possum New Zealand” earlier, but couldn’t find any trace of this woman’s story – it must be too old. Most of the results seemed to be along the lines of using possums as pet food. I did find this cute story, though: http://www.3news.co.nz/nznews/its-possible-to-love-a-possum-2015052518#axzz3mLKGmyXD… and this, uh, not so cute one:

I don’t know – is getting a load of children to dress up a series of dead possums really that bad? Is it any worse than turning them into pet food, nipple warmers and cuddly toy versions of themselves? Possums have been demonised in New Zealand, but for good reason. They’re not just pests; they threaten the very survival of what makes New Zealand environmentally unique.

Yet it’s not their fault.

Read: Fantastic New Zealand Beasts and Where to Find Them

The New Zealand Identity Crisis

What is a New Zealander?

Warning SheepAccording to the television, it’s a tough, stubby-wearing, beer-swilling, rugby-mad sheep farmer with the emotional capacity of a teaspoon, (except in the event of All Black victory/defeat,) that subsists on Weet-Bix, Wattie’s, pies and Pineapple Lumps.

New Zealand television is scary. I don’t know about other countries – not even England, as I was ten years old when I left – but, in New Zealand, a great deal of advertising seems to be along the lines of ‘you’re not a true Kiwi if you don’t consume this product’.

The news is no better. We’re constantly being told what we should be, as though there’s a national identity paranoia. You’re unpatriotic if you’re not passionate about rugby. If you’re a girl, you have to play netball.

mountain-310155_640Certain enforced stereotypes do hold true. Lots of Kiwis are, for example, friendly and laidback. Kiwis love the great outdoors because, let’s be honest, the great outdoors is the best thing New Zealand’s got going for it. As for the rest, it’s hard to find someone who actually fits this supposed ideal.

It’s scary that such an ‘unintellectual’ image is constantly put forward as the paragon to aspire to. It makes people afraid of standing out. Fourteen years of living here has made me fearful, in certain situations, of enunciating words properly! (There’s a danger of people thinking that you think you’re better them. This danger is made more dangerous by having an English accent.)

new-zealand-654980_640Why am I rambling about this now? The flag, of course! The bloody farce that is the ongoing saga of New Zealand’s new flag vote. Debates on the nature of the New Zealand identity are raging, and what’s become clear is that the rugby-mad sheep farmer is no longer in vogue, except for comedy purposes.

Yet a completely democratic panel, from the thousands of flag designs submitted, came up with a final four that included three silver ferns, (two exactly the same except for a different colour in one of the panels,) and a koru that, instead of looking like the Maori symbol of new life that it’s supposed to be, resembles a sinister, hypnotic spiral. Kiwi actor Sam Neill, (the main guy from Jurassic Park,) tweeted, “New NZ flag designs? Three look like logos for a new sportswear franchise. And one – a tidal wave of despair. Let’s just forget it now…”

Pretty much sums up my entire Facebook wall.

I’m not actually against a flag change. But not like this. Not like this.

kiwi-309620_640Kiwis are about more than just rugby, something that the media and the Prime Minister apparently fail to grasp. I mean yes, when I first moved to New Zealand I was shocked at just how much of a national obsession rugby is, but just because someone loves a sport, that doesn’t have to be their defining characteristic.

The New Zealand character is diverse. We have Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Island, British, Indian, Chinese, South African – people and cultures from all over the world. We aren’t just sheep farmers, we’re dairy farmers too!

big-wave-helloBut seriously.

I think my point is that we shouldn’t let the media, or John Key, tell us who we should be. We should be who we want to be and – who knows? – maybe New Zealand will forge new symbols of collective identity.

10 Things I Don’t Miss About Britain

Living in New Zealand, there are lots of things I miss about Britain. This sort of thing, for example:

RocheAbbey

Roche Abbey, near my childhood home

New Zealand doesn’t have anything like that.

Expat bloggers always write about what they miss from their home countries. (Here’s an article I wrote called Top 20 Things a Brit in New Zealand Misses.) But what about the things we DON’T miss?

Below, I’ve compiled a list of ten things I don’t miss about Britain. See what you think.

1) Stinging nettles

stinging-nettle-141508_640My British childhood was blighted by these buggers. The alley behind our house was overgrown with them. You often had to sidle along the wall with your stomach drawn in to avoid their touch. Then there was that time when I was three years old, riding my bike and wearing nothing but a thin leotard, (because it was summer and I was on my way to a dancing lesson,) and next-door’s enormous dog chased me and knocked me off into a towering patch of them! Every inch of my skin was stung!

When I was seventeen, when I’d been living in New Zealand for seven years, I went on a school trip back to England with some Kiwi classmates. One girl, who’d never seen a stinging nettle before, brushed past a clump thinking they were ordinary plants… I was too late to warn her and could only watch in horror. Unfortunately, I’d been away from England long enough to forget what dock leaves looked like, so I couldn’t do anything to help the pain. I remembered rubbing a dock leaf on my stung knee many golden summers ago, just like my friend Becky showed me…

2) The rain

rain-122691_640Obviously. It rains a lot in New Zealand too, but really not as much. And it’s not the grey, relentless, oppressive rain you get in Britain. And I haven’t experienced any sleet since moving to New Zealand. Or had to wade through any of that awful, brown slush you get up the streets in winter. New Zealand’s weather is just better.

3) Dog shit

There’s hardly any on the streets in New Zealand. When I went back to Britain last year, I had to re-train myself to watch out for it.

4) Chavs

CHAVEverywhere has groups of young people from rough backgrounds trying to have a good time in ways that many would perceive as misguided, and New Zealand is no exception. The Kiwi equivalent of the British chav – the bogan – seems nowhere near as crass, however. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that New Zealanders as a whole are more laidback than Brits.

5) Everyone moaning all the time

complaining-154204_640It’s common for Brits to communicate in complaints. The shared sense of disgruntlement creates a warm camaraderie that other nationalities often don’t quite understand. It can be difficult to take when you’re not used to it. When I went back to Britain last year, after thirteen years of living in New Zealand, I actually felt a bit oppressed by the constant moaning. Everyone was bringing everything down all the time. I mean can’t you just appreciate the good things and not let the bad things worry you? They’re not that important anyway. That’s the Kiwi way – the “she’ll be right” attitude – and to those that criticize it for creating a nation of complacent people, I say it’s better than the miserable alternative. No wonder Kiwis call us ‘whinging poms’!

6) The traffic

Only Auckland’s traffic comes close to the nightmare that is Britain’s. You actually can’t blame ’em for complaining about that.

7) Those trashy tabloid newspapers

yyycatch-people-biz-male-sadNew Zealand has a few fatuous celebrity gossip magazines, but it doesn’t have anything like The Sun or the Daily Mirror! Returning to Britain last year and having endless headlines like ‘ROYAL SEX SCANDAL SCOOP’ and ‘CELEBRITY SNORTS COCAINE OFF OWN TITS’ blasted in my face really made me despair for the state of the nation.

8) People so xenophobic they won’t even try spaghetti Bolognese

Perhaps because New Zealand is a country of immigrants, everyone’s just more open-minded.

9) Tories

Not even Tories, just snobbishness in general. New Zealand has more of an egalitarian attitude than Britain does.

10) Pavements black with chewing gum

You get splotches of gum on the pavement in New Zealand too, but it wasn’t until I went back to Britain that I realised just how bad British streets are. In the centre of my home town, there was more gum than pavement! It was revolting. (Chewing gum’s just one of my pet hates. Grr.)

Any fellow British expats have anything to add? What about my readers currently living in Britain – what wouldn’t you miss about it?