The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Saw it today in the Theater.

Not available even for pre-order yet, but you can find a “let you know when it’s available” link here:

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Blu-Ray)

Okay, I can get showing some of the stuff that was alluded to but “off stage” in the original, or alluded to as backstory from the LOTR might be interesting.  I can get that the walking and walking and walking through Mirkwood might not play well on the screen and the reasons for compressing it.  I can even see compressing Bilbo’s three trips down the whole to the Dragon’s lair into one as making a certain cinematic sense.  But where did that romantic subplot come from?

Still and all, I liked this one better than the first.  The two big battles–on the river and under the mountain–weren’t as outrageous as “falling with style” in the first one (if you saw it, you know what I mean), but they were still pretty over the top.  Elves still appear to come from Krypton.  There was a “fuzziness” in the image details of the first one that bothered me and was absent here.

All in all it was a fun way to spend a few hours.

A passion for space

I’m a big proponent of space science, don’t get me wrong, but my major interest in the “space program” when I was younger was the idea that maybe someday I could go, I could walk on the moon or mars or visit, maybe live in, a space colony.  That was what I wanted: “I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom…” and if not Barsoom, then at least the real Mars.

When it became clear that it was never going to happen, a lot of my passion dried up.  Oh, there was still the academic interest in space science, in understanding the sun and the planets, in maybe seeing if there is life on other worlds, in the solar magnetosphere and its motion through interstellar space.

But the passion that used to drive me was gone.

That’s where NASA (and their political masters) dropped the ball, IMO.  While I have nothing against the folk doing Space Science, I really think most of whatever budget they had should have been doing toward “access to space” technology.  Improving rocket reliability.  The strong, yet lightweight structures for flight airframes.  Real hardware rather than whole forests of paper.  Stuff done to bring, and presented as bringing, us closer to the day when you and I can go.  We needed the space equivalent of the NACA cowl and 4 and 5 digit airfoils so that private companies could build private hardware that could carry private, commercial passengers to private space stations.

Instead we got Shuttle, and no new human carrying hardware until, well, nothing yet.  And with Shuttle gone, we’re left with even older technology (Soyuz) to get humans into Space.  I mean that span carried us just about from the Ford Trimotor to the Boeing 707.  Yes, space travel is hard, but more than 30 years after Shuttle’s first flight we don’t have anything better?

That passion got ignited again back on the old electronic service GEnie.  Geoff Landis made the offhand comment that “what we needed was a rocket that individuals could make and that could carry a person up a hundred miles or so.”  I took the idea and ran with it.  Geoff and I did a bunch of back and forth.  Some other people stuck there nickel’s worth in.  And the result was the SpaceCub concept.  We presented it at the NW Space Development conference.  New Scientist included a bit about it.  I was interviewed for an AAAS broadcast (I really wish I could find tape or transcript for that).

For a while there, it looked like I was going to be able to go somewhere with it.  At the college I was attending we had a visiting scientist from Russia.  He put me in contact with his old professor.  The professor put me in contact with someone from Energomach (manufacture of key rocket motors–including the verniers from the RD-107/108 that Geoff and and I were looking at for SpaceCub).  And . . . well, there was no money for any “and” and I had to move on with the task of getting a job and providing for myself.

The real problem, even more than money, was the legal issues.  I looked at the treaties of which the US was a signitory.  I looked at the law, as it existed then.  And, well, it looked pretty bad for anyone wanting to actually try something like SpaceCub.  So, well, my old web page about it is still up, but that’s as afar as it ever went.

But, not long after the X-Prize was announced.  The specs for the prize matched what SpaceCub was intended to do, carry passengers to a height of 100 km (international definition of the beginning of Space) and bring them back to Earth, and do it over and over again with minimal time in between flights.  I spoke to one of the folk there and he swore up and down that they weren’t influenced by SpaceCub but, well, as Geoff said, before we came along nobody was talking about manned suborbital flight.  Then after we started getting some press, suddenly they were.  I don’ t know.  I have my suspicions, but I don’t know.

Apparently the Rutans and Richard Branson think the legal issues can be dealt with since they’re building a business to do what SpaceCub was supposed to do for (admittedly relatively well-heeled) individuals–private, human carrying rocket flights into space.

And so, my hope is back a little bit.  But I’m afraid it’s not hope resided in NASA or the government, but in the Rutans and Bransons of the world.

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

Some years back, I watched the deCappuccino version of The Man in the Iron Mask.  The movie was okay, but one line caught me.  It’s near the end, the second in command of the palace guard points to a dying d’Artagnon (it’s not a spoiler at this late date, is it?) and says, “All my life, all I wanted to be . . . was him.”

Damn . . . that moment.

You see, I grew up with heroes. I grew up with comics during the late Silver Age, Superman was the Big Blue Boyscout, when Batman wasn’t the cowled psychopath, when Robin was starting solo adventures with Batgirl (and while I knew I could never be Batman, I thought maybe Robin was achievable). I wanted to be the hero, dammit, or if not the hero, at least a competent sidekick.

Then I grew up and got “respectable”. But a part of me never quite grew out of that.

And so I like to write about heroes that are really heroes because I figure that there are other people out there, like me, who want to read about them.

I gave up on comic books, not because I outgrew them but because they “outgrew” (if you can call it that) me. In the interests of being “real” and “relevant” and “real” they wanted their heroes to be “flawed” by which they meant “scarcely better than the villains”.

I saw it in prose fiction as well. Bleah people living bleah lives with not a hero to be found.

When I saw the movie, I wrote out an anguished essay on the usenet group “rec.arts.comics” titled “Where have all the heroes gone.” The one line just struck so deeply to the core of my being.

I will never be that hero. I like to think that the dream, however, might make me a better person than I would have been.

And that’s why I love the idea of Human Wave.

And so I leave you with this musical interlude:


Watched Frozen today.

Bottom Line impression:  Wow.  That was awesome.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers here.

Okay, first things first.  This is “based on ‘The Snow Queen’ by Hans Christian Andersen.” Now, I haven’t read the source material yet, but if they go true to form what this actually means is that they made a Disney movie which uses some of the trappings of the “source material.” (Update:  I’ve now read the “source material” and, frankly, the only connection is that there’s a queen who has a connection to ice and snow.  Other than that, nothing whatever to do with the Andersen tale.)

I’m OK with that.  I like “Disney movies”.

The story begins when she who would become the Snow Queen and her sister are little girls.  They are playing, SQ to be is using her magic power over ice and snow to well, create ice and snow.  There’s an accident and the younger sister is hurt.  The parents, the King and Queen, take the girl to the “Trolls” (good people who apparently take the form of rocks when resting or to hide) who are able to “cure” her, but there’s a problem.  The older sister’s power is dangerous and the King and Queen decide she needs to “control” it (by which they meant suppress it) and to keep it secret they cut off contact with the world.  In fact, SQ cuts off all contact with her younger sister and, frankly, this was the first of many “feels” in this movie as my heart just broke for that little girl.

Time passes, the King and Queen go on a journey where they are lost at sea.  The new queen is to be crowned and. . . .

There’s adventure, there’s excitement, there’s betrayal, there’s true love (although not what you might think).

It is PG-13 and there are two places where I see possible problems for younger kids. The giant monster snowman might be a bit scary for some (I’d call it a bit less scary than the bear in Brave as a point of reference). The other point is the climax. If someone hasn’t figured out the real “solution” to the problem (again, trying to avoid spoilers here), that bit at the end can be heartbreakingly scary for a bit.

All in all, I will own this one on Blu-Ray.