Friday, December 13, 2013

Myth Campaign: October 5 through 10, 166 Sword Age

The Road to Ywrmasr

[Update: Blogger tried to eat this post, so I had to republish it. This was originally posted yesterday, before the Desolation of Smaug review.]

Myth, The Shield Age: A dramatic synopsis of the tabletop RPG campaign I'm currently leading my friends through. It's a variation on GURPS, built up from and inspired by the excellent computer game Myth. In it, the player characters begin as a selection of relatively ordinary folk in an unremarkable town. Their adventures grow, the dangers swarm, and the PCs? They pretty much just have to deal with it without serious power progression. It's gritty, it's deadly, it's fantasy with a political and social edge and an emotional timbre: it's Myth: The Shield Age.

Last time I introduced the plot of my GURPS Myth campaign. Today's entry is going to continue Alrid Hock's account of the events at the beginning of the adventure. One of the really fun things about (some) tabletop RPGs that you can't get from a video game is dramatically emergent gameplay. This is purely a function of the interaction of the game and the improvisation of the GM, and in this write-up the improvisation allowed the players to take the reins of the quest and do it on their own terms in a way that genuinely surprised me.

Now as a GM you might be tempted to view this in an adversarial way, like the players are out to destroy your plans. Don't. View this as an opportunity to expand the story to encompass your players' goals. Then twist and corrupt those plans with the harsh reality of consequence and adaptive antagonists. Or use it as a way to create an endearing, tragic NPC that the players not only welcome into their party, but also protect diligently.

Note: This segment begins with a pretty awful implication as the party finds Giselbert about to be set upon by the leader of her captors. This part is very important and also a pretty delicate topic. The threat of sexual assault here was something I carefully weighed against my group's love for Rob Roy, Braveheart, Game of Thrones, etc. where such deplorable acts are inciting plot events. The players' actions in quickly finding Giselbert that night, however, allowed them to prevent the worst of it.

Even so, Danlyra's player's first reaction was "Oh, maybe I don't have what it takes to play a woman in this setting afterall..."

In addition to being a non-traditional and emotional start to a fantasy RPG campaign, this session set up a tenuous balance where the characters constantly abuse their despicable prisoner even as they have to take him in for justice. That's a huge running theme throughout the first leg of this campaign.

A man was in the cave partition with Giselbert. Tall, hale, and dark of skin, this man looked like a Gowern by Ten Green Gem Vine's estimation. He sneered at the intruding blacksmith and Heron Guard, even with his armor and sword set aside. Giselbert had clear been abused.

The brigand went for his sword, a curved eastern blade, and drew it on the two men in a flash. But the young Heron's blooded fangs struck out, one carving into the man's forearm whilst the other divested him of his weapon. Keagan's hammer fist struck out and bandied the villain about the head. The fight done and out of him, the man surrendered to the tips of Ten Green Gem Vine's swords.

With boot and gauntlet, they got a name from him--Guy, if his blood-bubbling words could be believed. The party might have questioned him further, but four bandits lay bleeding and pleading in the front of the cave. Out of mercy and prudence to bring captives to village justice, Ten Green Gem Vine plied their injuries with his Heron ken, and saved three men. While the Heron tended his enemies, Guy began to heckle the distraught Giselbert. Keagan quick had enough, and put Guy's face to the cave wall and boot to earn them all a swift silence.

Donovan's daughter recovered her senses shortly after Guy fell to Keagan's blows, and even helped staunch the gored spear-wound in Crow's side. For all the beating the girl had surely taken, she seemed intact. I have Ten Green Gem Vine's testimony to that fact. He offered to swear as much to Regan, but I declined it. The vow of a Heron Guard is a terrible thing.

There they were, four now made five with Giselbert, and four prisoners under hand. Guy's wounds would leave him in darkness for hours, and one of the bandits that had lost an arm had passed out as well. Crow's wound was well-tended, but the walk back to the village could tear open his wound and leave him dead in his own blood. And too many hours had passed into the dark autumn night, cloaking rock and pit in shadow. So they stayed the night in that den and broke for Misty Downs in the morning.

With the morning's fog the party developed new questions. Guy spat venom and invective at them, and it soon became apparent that Keagan would beat the man to death before he gave useful answers, so Vera gagged him. The bandit who lost his arm, one called Muck or Mook by Guy, answered every question put to him. Apparently, Guy was a deserter from The Legion who had become an infamous bandit in the Realm over the past year. The Gowern had hired Muck and the other bandits with a purse of shillings for a very specific job, plus whatever they could take. At the time none of the bandits knew what a fiend Guy was, but they soon learned. That was all they got from Muck before his arm's feverdreams got the better of him.

Before arriving at Misty Downs, the party oriented themselves to the Craw farm to most swiftly deliver her to her father and brother. The girl ran to her family in tears, while Donovan eyed the group's prisoners. Innocent Giselbert, though, dominated her father's attentions and insisted they take care of Crow, who'd been wounded fighting her captors. Donovan agreed and sent his son Laanor to help with escorting the prisoners to the village.

It was near midday when the party ambled into town, and the cry amongst our village was great. Laanor immediately began telling an exaggerated tale of the bravery of his sister's rescuers, and as I assembled the village council the matter was made fodder for the gossips. Nara Pugh, however, insisted on calling upon the divines before passing her judgment. Over the next day, our village recovered and celebrated, while the four prisoners awaited their fate in the cellar of the Flooded Downs tavern. When Nara called the council the next day, she related a vision of stars converging around The Great Comet and of a blood moon. We agreed it was a sign that these prisoners were part of some greater plot, and so they needed to be brought into higher scrutiny.

But first, they needed to be saved. Ten Green Gem Vine's knowledge of medicine may have patched wounds and staunched bleeding, but Muck and another of the bandits were bleeding out, and Guy had been pressed with questions to the point of death. Afraid their portent would pass away with them, we ordered a company of our village's men to escort them to Fort Ywrmasr on the frontier of The Barrier, a day north.

Before the prisoners were brought up from the cellar, Ten Green Gem Vine addressed the village in the square. In my years in The Legion, I have fought and served alongside many Heron Guard. They are all valorous and inspiring. Ten Green Gem Vine rallied our village like a commander marshaling his standard. Of our village's seventy houses, thirteen men stepped forward to see the task done. Amongst them were Vera the huntress, Crow the vagabond, Keagan the blacksmith, and Danlyra the Gowerna. At Danlyra's volunteering, my hot-blooded grandson, Baith, pledged his mettle. And at the end Laanor Craw, brother to the girl Giselbert, stepped out from his father's side and bound himself to the task as well. But most surprising of all was when Tiernan Seithkarl, Magistrate of Misty Downs, pledged to lead the expedition.

The Magistrate is a good man, but his ways are quite unlike ours. He rips the clouds with his nose, wearing fine clothes in the spring fields and glutting over every meal. To see him pledge to lead the expedition was a surprise to all the council. But his authority over our village would extend to any requests made of the garrison at Fort Ywrmasr. He packed up several books into a fine leather traveling bag and threw an extra week's worth of provisions onto the blacksmith's donkey as they headed out.

Traveling to Fort Ywrmasr takes about a day for a man with light burdens. For the Magistrate's assembly, bringing four wounded captives, it would take longer. The blacksmith's donkey pulled a simple two-wheeled cart along for Muck and carried much of the group's provisions. The Gowerna Danlyra profanely rode her horse for the duration, acting the maggot in our country. In all, it took two days of slow progress to reach the fort, and it was not uneventful.

In the middle of the night, with but one of the farmers on watch, the party awoke to the sound of nuzzling followed by shrieks coming from the cart. A wolf had wandered silently into the camp and was worrying open Muck's bloody legs. The crippled bandit lay sobbing and panicking as the party threw themselves upon the beast. Keagan Na Anyon ran the beast through, spitting it upon the thrust of his broadsword, and Ten Green Gem Vine tended to Muck as his blood muddied the soil anew. He needed the attention of Journeymen now more than ever, and of the band of captives he deserved it most. In the morning, Keagan had Seth Drafend skin the wolf and prepare the hide in exchange for letting the huntsman keep the meat.

Misty Downs' expedition reached Fort Ywrmasr in the cooling light of the next afternoon. Crossing a military foot bridge, the group took great care leading Keagan's burro across. Legion engineers make carefully-designed foot bridges surrounding their frontier forts. They are designed to permit only a few men wearing heavy armor at a time, enabling the bridge to crumble under the weight of massed hordes or easing sappers' deconstruction of such edifices in battle. And while the ass pulled the near-dead prisoner across the small bridge amicably, Danlyra's fine-bred horse balked at the creaking timbers of the flexing construction. I am told she had to coax the beast like a mangy dog to cross, much to my villagers' amusement.

They arrived at the fort late on the ninth of October. Ten Green Gem Vine quickly conducted Magistrate Seithkarl to treat with the fort's commander, an older Heron Guard named Seven Eagle Falling Sun. Quickly making the matter plain to him, the fort commander dispatched the fort's Journeymen to tend to the prisoners.

Magistrate Seithkarl didn't come forward with his account of the Journeymen's art and none of the others bore witness to it, but in my time in The Legion I have seen senior Heron Guard treat similar wounds. They intone a deep throaty song, lost words in deep sonorous notes that shake your core. Then they break roots of the mandrake over the men, from which blue smoke pours and falls onto the men's wounds. The cut and festering flesh sizzles and burns, filling the nostrils with the acrid stink of burning men--an odor that parches my blood to this day. The patient feels everything as the magic peels back skin and dissolves torn sinew, devouring the flesh until the original wound is replaced completely with a new one. It is only then that the curative magic knits the newly exposed muscles and tendons, drawing the meat to grow and fill the gouges and gore of battle. The blessed arts taught to the Guard by Regan himself can even reattach limbs under the right circumstance. But the healing magic is never complete--only time can sponge away the last injury. The wound is always left as a raw, tender sore that is inured to infection but susceptible to re-opening. The scar that remains is clean and distinct.

With the prisoners tended to, the Magistrate worked with Seven Eagle Falling Sun to determine the fate of the prisoners. With three companies under the Oghre Standard beneath his command, the fort commander could not spare men for our village's quest, but he did offer to judge the three bandits and allow the Magistrate's party to keep custody over Guy to bring him before the Emperor. Despite Muck's willingness to help the group, Tiernan had no more use for the crippled brigand. Ten Green Gem Vine supported the decision, but Keagan, Vera, and Danlyra all pointed out that the fort commander would surely summarily execute the brigands within a week. Tiernan reminded them that he who pays the piper calls the tune, and thereby sealed the bandits' fate. They would be left at Fort Ywrmasr.

On the following day, the party set out to return to Misty Downs with a restored Guy in their thrall, though with his health largely restored they decided to gag the brigand. They made good time that day, but still they had to make camp before reaching home. That night was a restless one of ill-omens and poor sleep. Ten Green Gem Vine stood the second watch along with young Laanor Craw, though it seemed more than the suddenly docile prisoner merited.

Ten Green Gem Vine rousted the rest of the party with a terrible start. And they quickly discovered that not only had Guy somehow slipped his bonds but he had also spirited away with Laanor Craw. As the final hours of October tenth waned, the party assembled in darkness and set out to hunt down the villain once more.
Gowern: a man of Gower, a hilly kingdom to the east, part of the Empire. Fem. is Gowerna.

Gower is superficially similar to a medieval Middle East: defined by steppes and scrub-land, with dark creatures frequently wandering out of the far east and attacking their settlements.

Keagan will be freely beating Guy quite a bit in this campaign.

Regan: the Heron god, patron of the Heron Guard. Protector of wisdom and longevity.

"The vow of a Heron Guard is a terrible thing." -That's called foreshadowing, kiddos.

This first post-battle sequence was my chance to remind the players of how deadly combat was, and to also give them a chance to see how difficult first aid would be in a combat situation.

I also wanted to establish here that the players could expect to get sympathetic portrayals of characters they'd be tempted to label "bad guys". Muck proves to be helpful, but things don't pan out for him.

These first few sessions of the campaign were extremely emergent in terms of the players helping to guide the plot to delve into certain themes. Characters that had originally been throw-away NPCs to illustrate the dynamics of the game and setting, both Laanor Craw and Baith Hock become important figures in the campaign. My players like Laanor quite a lot, but I'm a sucker for the idiot romantic in Baith.

More emergent gameplay: Ten's player made a great speech calling the men of the village to action, then made a great roll on top of that. Bam, all of a sudden they have a party of commoners helping them along. That can only be a good thing, right?

Rips the clouds with his nose: he's arrogant. An expression of The Realm.

One of the core features/mysteries of my take on the Myth setting is that Emperor Alric has never ridden a horse or used cavalry in any way. No one knows why, but in the patriotic Realm everyone assumes that riding horses is bad in some way, or at least unpatriotic.

Acting the maggot: behaving foolishly. An expression of The Realm.

Wolf attack! I love wolves, and this was a great chance to let the players know that random events would also be present. Of course, if the party had been smaller, an entire wolf pack would've attacked them. But as it is, only one was brave enough to sneak past so many people.

Sketch of Fort Ywrmasr scribbled out by me during player character creation. Inspired by Roman motte and bailey forts used to fortify barbarian Europe.

Yes, all Heron Guard have funny names. And it is an insult and bad omen to give them nicknames. So nyah.

Parches the blood: to make afraid. An expression of The Realm. (I told you I gave everyone a colloquialism and culture sheet, right?)

I hate healing potions. I want players to have scars, to favor bad legs, and to fear the long-term effects of wounds they survive. So even though the Heron Guard have miraculous healing magic, I wanted the cost of that magic to be somewhat horrific. If you have a minor wound, you certainly don't want a Journeyman to look at it. (Description inspired by a foot incident I had back in my college days.)

He who pays the piper calls the tune: he who has the gold makes the rules. An expression of The Realm.

I told you things didn't pan out well for Muck. It gave me a sadistic GM happy to see my player grimace as I revealed the helpful NPC they'd saved had no life worth saving. Good times.

Wow, so congratulations on making it this far. I know that was a pretty mammoth wall of text, but a lot of the details of these early sessions are really important to later characterizations and themes. This covered a little more than two game sessions, too. And yes, that means that one session featured no fun violence except for a little wolf-slaying. That's how I roll as a GM, yo. Deal with my thespy nerdiness.

And as you should be well aware, tomorrow is the release of The Desolation of Smaug, the second installment in The Hobbit trilogy. Accordingly, I've got a crazy few hours ahead of me. Here's and overview:

8-10PM crash period. Nerd poppa needs sleep, occasionally. Or at least time laying down and mopily surfing the net on my Powerbook while watching kids' programming.
10-11PM critical caffeine period. Mountain Dew goes here. Just like being a punk kid all over again.

11-12AM go to movie theater. As a bonus, I use this pre-show time to creep people out by bringing a notepad to the movies. Few things are as disturbing to movie goers as to bring writing utensils to a film. "What're you going to do with that?" "I'm gonna manually bootleg the script, fool."

12-3:30AM watch Desolation of Smaug. This is the phase where I watch the film. Gripping, no?

3:30-4:30AM hangout and post nerdview. Just for the heck of it, I'm going to put up a link to a Google Hangout while I work on my nerdview post of the movie. If you're insane enough to want to join me in a little red-eye post-movie discussion while I type out my thoughts, watch my Google+ and Facebook pages for the link to be posted.

Desolation of Smaug

Nerdview: A good review is hard to find. A good review--that is, a quality review, not a positive review--seems to be even more rare amongst professionals and dedicated reviewers. Fortunately, the nerdery is helmed by a literary nut. Each review, whether it is a game, movie, book, or television series, will have the four elements: bias, appreciation, personal enjoyment, and general enjoyment. Put in food terms, these are odor, beef, gravy, and cheese.

Oh my, it is late. I'm not talking about the hour either. I'm talking about the crushing realization that I didn't do a nerdview of last year's An Unexpected Journey. Whatthefrak, nerd? Well, last year's failings aside, here's a toasty nerdview of the second film in The Hobbit trilogy.

Expectations 'Odor': I was not blown away by the first installment of The Hobbit. I didn't hate it, but the fact that I wasn't rushing to review it last year is really damning evidence that the movie just wasn't that spectacular. (Did I really not review it?! What planet is this? Am I just losing it after one midnight showing too many?) An Unexpected Journey didn't have the same heart as each movie of The Lord Of The Rings, and too much of the story felt compromised for flashy additions to the world and total BS action sequences. The skiing derrick down the rock face of the goblin caves was especially eyeroll-inducing. I didn't like the abundance of CG baddies--especially the George Lucas Goblin King that was just outright gross. And they didn't include "fifteen birds in five fir trees", which I had already said I really really wanted to see included.

But this next movie stands to include so much more that I'm excited about. Mirkwood and Thranduil's creepy elves. Laketown and Bard the badass the bowman. Erebor revealed. Mega Nibelungenlied imagery. The battle with Smaug over Laketown.

And, if I'm honest, I'm intrigued by the inclusion of an auburn-haired elf-maiden. And by intrigued I mean, intrigued…

But seriously, I expect Bard to really shine as a common man hero in this film, taking the spotlight completely from Thorin and maybe even Bilbo. I want Smaug to be intelligently scary. But I want them to tone-down the over-the-top BS of the first Hobbit film and stick closer to believable, visceral action. An Unexpected Journey had very few action sequences that weren't cartoonishly unbelievable. And while you could say that this is deliberate because the films are actually a recreation of Bilbo's book, that's not highlighted as a theme of the movie and is a poor excuse to make such ham-handed glittery special effects pieces instead of real hands-on fights like the ones that made The Lord of the Rings popular. Overall, I want a film guided by a more controlled and focused plot than last year's film.

Appreciation 'Beef': Well, frak that feldercarb.

No, seriously. Bad bad badness.

First let me begin with a non-spoiler spoiler alert. This movie is pointless. I am totally going to spoil the crap out of this movie in the course of this review because none of the so-called plot movements actually matter and there's no real dynamic--no change--to the characters or setting in this film. It is seriously just a long piece of exposition to get us to the third movie.

Before I really let into the movie, though, let me get the good stuff out of the way. The opening of the film is interesting, showing a scene based on Tolkien's notes that shows Gandalf was the one to strong-arm Thorin into starting his quest for the Lonely Mountain. That's followed by a nice bit with Beorn, a shape-shifting bear/Liam Neeson type. But the film starts to dip with the spiders of Mirkwood sequence--it's well-done, but it's too long compared to how rushed most of the film is, and the fighting begins to get implausible here. Characters repeatedly free-fall from hundred-foot tall trees only to be conveniently caught by spider webs, just-right branches, or outright plot protection.

Bard is cool, and is probably the only character in the film that is worthy of his depiction in the book. That's not to say that he's faithfully adapted from the book--not even close--but he is at least as cool as the literary Bard the bowman, and just what I'd hoped from him. I do think that Thorin, Bard, and Kili look way too much alike, though, and considering Thorin should have like at least one foot of beard this is just salt in the wound. Luke Evans plays Bard perfectly and he looks the part, but coming in alongside Thorin the visual similarities tend to wash him out as a tag-along.

Let me spell it out: Thorin Oakenshield uses his beard as a measurement of masculinity in the books. He wishes people well by saying stuff like "may your beard grow ever longer". We should have no clue what his cheeks look like because it should be underneath three pounds of beard.

Of course, Bard is also mired in the middle of one of the dumbest settings in the movie: Laketown. Rather than being a hardy bastion of men living in the wet blindspot of Smaug, the Laketown of the movie is a frigid derrick of the same Tudor-style buildings we saw in Bree except suspended over water. The culture is soulless and the people accordingly bland to the point where no one even seems to register that they're living under the tyranny of the most toothlessly impotent mayor ever. I might consider this a dramatic criticism of society if the police state imagery was consistently realized, but the town guards only come out to prolong the plot of a film that is mostly filler. Bard makes a big deal out of needing to smuggle the dwarves into Laketown--which was no problem in the book--and the sequence of him bringing them in is good for a little tension. But later in the movie, a band of thirty orcs in armor and two elves just show up in Laketown without any mention of how they did so or any recognition from the rest of the town at all. Seriously, with orcs jumping across the rooftops of the town for like twenty minutes in the middle of the night, no one seemed to notice. When I'm in my basement and my toddler's running around in his room, I hear it above me like a sack of potatoes being bounced around a port-a-potty. I think thirty armored orcs would be slightly less stealthy than my two year-old son, as hard as that may be to imagine.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel is hot without showing any skin. Here endeth the nice part about her character. Tauriel is the dumbest, least articulate, reactionary, over-powered Mary Sue sleaze I can recall from any movie ever. An "original" character forced into the plot of the movie, they decide that in order to make us like her she should be better than everyone at everything. She out-BSes Legolas in terms of absurdly super-powered shots and moves. Like shooting an Orc's arrow out of the air to save Legolas. She also heals Kili from a Morgul wound with so much ease that it makes Elrond look like a stuttering poseur rather than a three thousand year-old sage. And when she meets Kili, she immediately puts on the googly-eyes at him and proceeds down a clumsy romance sub-plot that ends with her being the worst person ever.

Before I explain that, though, let me spell out another gem of truth from Tolkien's Middle-Earth: elves and dwarves do not get along. Gimli and Legolas' friendship is supposed to be a historic exception by a wide margin. Let alone romantic compatibility--labradors do not mate with spaniels, so to speak, in Tolkien's books. Heck, human-elf pairings are so rare in the setting that every one of them is well-known and eminently proven to be a bad idea. That's the whole subtext of the tension in Aragorn and Arwen's relationship--which was a century-long courtship that was still awkward for them.

Anyways, back to how Tauriel's randiness ends up making her the worst person ever. So after getting all oo-lala over Kili, Tauriel meets with Thranduil, Legolas' d-bag lush of a father. Thranduil, tells Tauriel that Legolas wants her bad, but he won't let his son get his elf on because Tauriel is a common elf. She acts hurt by this even though she was just checking out the dwarf meat she tossed in the dungeon. Later, when Kili is wounded while escaping Mirkwood, she abandons her home to try to catch up to him and help him. When Legolas, too dumb to know better, follows her she immediately smirks and wiggles her nose at him, saying she knew he'd follow her and help. Yeah--she leads on the prince of the elves to get him to commit treason all in an effort to save the dwarf hunk she met one day before. Then, when they finally catch up to the dwarves, Tauriel ditches Legolas in the middle of a fight to go play doctor with her favorite beardy-boy.

Worst. Person. Ever. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh included her as a tack-on character to try to give the film some grrrl power, and instead they made a cliched slander against the entire female sex.

There are more BS moments throughout the film, but one of the biggest is molten gold apparently having a melting temperature of Hershey's chocolate. First, century-old kilns full of gold are melted faster than defrosting a Thanksgiving turkey. Then Thorin rides a river of molten gold on a metal bucket with his bare hands inches from the molten ore. Finally, Smaug gets completely submerged in it and hops out as easily as a kid getting out of a hot-tub.

What began as a hopeful improvement on the first film quickly slides down into every mistake made by the first movie. The drama is drowned out by over-the-top posturing and wide angle shots, ensuring that you can't even see the actor's expressions during the most tense moments. There is no close up face-twitching drama of Denethor's hall in this flick, just shouting in front of beautiful backdrops. The fight sequences are dazzling displays of special effects with no practical integration to make it feel real or plausible. It's so bad that Gandalf's encounter with the Necromancer is literally him standing still, staff upraised while putting out a Sue Storm shield of white light while a shadow shrinks his personal bubble.


Personal Enjoyment 'Gravy': Oh man, I think you can guess I did not enjoy this flick too much. Amongst its many flaws, this film indulges in way too many Byrne holds for any one plot to bear. A Byrne hold, named after comic artist John Byrne, is when a character holds another aloft by the throat. It's a moment of abject helplessness, where the victim is spared from death only by the capriciousness of the one holding their throat. And usually the only reason the villain doesn't snap their neck then and there is because of bad writing--the writer needs the victim to survive, so the victor hesitates for no good reason.

In this movie, we have 13 dwarves, Bilbo, Gandalf, Tauriel, and Legolas who all directly fight bad guys throughout the movie. The antagonists have Azog (the white orc), Bolg (his strapping son), Smaug the dragon, and the Necromancer. All of them engage in personal combat at least once in the movie. Bolg several times. None of these characters die in the course of the film. Twenty-one principal characters all actively fighting and trying to kill each other in a three hour film: no one succeeds. And when you remember that most of these characters were in An Unexpected Journey, you have the worst kill ratio of all storytelling time. And that's not for being able to. For fully one half of the movie, Azog and the Necromancer could easily execute Gandalf but don't because of the Byrne hold effect. The dwarves dump a dwarven statue of liberty's worth of molten gold on Smaug, and he not only isn't wounded by the attack but he also doesn't kill them as he so easily could at that point. Smaug's entire conversation with Bilbo is twisted from the casual biplay of the book to be "I am totally going to kill you, but I won't just yet…cuz." It's infuriatingly stupid and I can't comprehend how we're supposed to be engrossed in this action when every character is plot-protected anyways. Heck, a mortally-wounded Kili falls down a circular staircase with an armload of swords and axes and he even makes it to the ending credits. It's an absurd lantern hanging on the fact that these characters are invulnerable to stupid flashy plot twists until the third movie, at which point two-thirds of them will die. The only character they could have been killed off in this movie, but wasn't, was Tauriel. And she's never in any peril in the film because she's superwoman.

I've got a lot of other issues with this film, many of them relating to comparisons between the book and the film, but these ones are just issues of a clumsy movie itself. The film has no natural arc--no beginning, middle, and end, no development of the characters. Though we did get some of that in the previous film, this one just throws "action" and scenery at us until it ends in the most unforgivable manner possible--in the middle of a fight.

This movie was supposed to be about Smaug, yet he wasn't in half of it and he survived the non-climax of the film. Not to be dramatic, but I wouldn't blame anyone wanting their money back.

General Enjoyment 'Cheese'This film stretches my goal as a reviewer--I'm not sure someone reading my words would decide to see the movie. Unless their mind was already made up, of course. And I think I'm happy about that. This is the sort of big-budget clusterfudge that I use to weed out bad reviewers in my own reading. See someone who liked this film? Idiot. Complimented its pacing? Hack.

Now, I'm not saying you can't enjoy this film. I'm really not. I think people with no love for the book and a sort of Harry Potter expectation of events could enjoy what they see. But for people who love the first trilogy and even merely like the books, I don't see how they could enjoy it. And I don't see how anyone at all could honestly look at this movie and say it was really necessary for anything more than introducing a few elements that could have been elegantly fit into the other two movies.

Then again, Peter Jackson doesn't seem to know about elegance anymore. Like Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim or George Lucas when making his prequel trilogy, he seems lost in a sea of funding and yes-men glad-handing along his bad ideas.

So not worth an all-nighter.

Yeah, desolate is right