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    MOVIES! TRAILERS!

    >My new video "A HARD DAY'S KNIGHT," in which I don chain mail to find glory, donuts and spare change for my quest. BIGGER SCREEN ON YOU TUBE

    CLASSIC BOOK trailer! [bigger screen on YouTube]

    more videos here

    Entries in movies (15)

    Sunday
    Jul242016

    William Shatner on “fandom frenzy” and 50 years of “Star Trek


    In this story and Q&A for Salon, I speak to William Shatner about being "Forever Captain Kirk"; he opens up about “fandom frenzy” and 50 years of “Star Trek."

    Sunday
    Mar202016

    Batman vs. Superman Smackdown!

    In this 3-parter in The Boston Globe, I give you (almost) everything you wanted to know about Batman and Superman, in advance the new “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" movie, including: 1) a look at the new movie in the context of previous Batman and Superman films (and if Affleck is up to the task of being the Caped Crusader); 2) an overview of “Batman and Superman at the movies” and 3) a Batman/Superman fact sheet.

     

    Saturday
    Jan302016

    Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the state of the mash-up movie

     

    How to make a mash-up: Into a cauldron, toss some historical or fictional character, dusty novel, or ancient fairy tale. The more staid or stale or out of fashion, the better. Then, stir in creatures or villains from some different genre: zombies, witches, dinosaurs, even Nazis. Pour this mixture into a script, and bake for about 120 minutes at 75 million dollars, give or take a few million. Serve with a reliable dressing — blood and gore, perhaps — that most focus groups will find to their tastes. Prepared correctly, your Hollywood masterpiece will serve the masses.

    On Friday, the mash-up rises again with “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” The movie version of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel of the same name retells Jane Austen’s 1813 tale of manners, morality, social standing, and romance, but sets it in a reimagined Regency Era beset by the undead.

    Will this new concoction, equal parts Austen and zombie pandemic, deliver a much-needed shot in the arm or another box office blow to the genre? Read the rest of my story over at the Boston Globe

    Wednesday
    Feb192014

    A review of RoboCop 2014: Not as Good as RoboCop 1987



    In which I watch RoboCop (2014) and remember RoboCop (1987), and conclude that while the remake isn't without its qualities, it has less to say than the original, and, worse, is not as funny. I also break down the history of our anxiety about robots and A.I., from Metropolis to The Terminator to Her. It's all over at BoingBoing.

    Sunday
    Nov032013

    Why Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion effects were more real than CGI

    The death on May 7 of stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen poignantly brings these issues of real and fake, analog and digital, info focus. Harryhausen's passing represents the end of an era. It closes a crucial chapter in special effects history. It's also a kind of turning point in film technology. From here on out, it's too late to return to the analog.

    Click to read more ...

    Tuesday
    Aug232011

    Guillermo Del Toro: The Interview, Part II

    [this originally appeared on wired.com's Geek Dad]

     

    Here’s Part II of my conversation with Guillermo del Toro, director of Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Mimic, Pan’s Labyrinth, Blade II, and the two Hellboy films. [Read Part I of the interview here.]

    Del Toro, a former special effects makeup designer, has his own aesthetic: melding of the man-made past — the handcrafted technology of wood, leather, brass, iron — and the organic world of slugs, bugs, and tentacles. He has a fascination with mechanical gadgets, the colors amber and steel blue, and body parts embalmed in jars. You might say he’s invented his own genre: not the clockwork and piston of “steampunk,”’ but more gut-and-gears, something I call “steam-gunk.” (For a peek into del Toro’s sketchbooks, see this previous wired.com link to a fascinating video).

    His latest film is one he didn’t direct, but he did co-write and produce: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a throwback to old fashioned haunted house films, starring Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison. The family moves into an old mansion and the daughter discovers an ancient evil inhabiting the basement’s ash pit. Scary stuff ensues.

    When not prepping for his next stint behind the camera (the giant robot battle film Pacific Rim), Del Toro told me that he’s preparing for the rapidly-approaching age of “transmedia” and “multi-platform world creation,” when audiences will read books, play games, watch movies and webisodes, all set in the same world. To that end, he’s been working in fiction (The Strain is his post-apocalyptic, vampires-in-NYC trilogy) and a Lovecraftian horror video game.

    But whatever the media, del Toro’s goal, it seems to me, is never to gratuitously freak us out. Rather, he just wants to touch us. Or as he puts it, “to make beautiful and moving images, and beautiful and moving stories within the genre.”

    One of the homunculi from "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"Ethan Gilsdorf: To me, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was interesting because typically in a film set in a haunted house, the horror that has happened in the past gets reflected in ghosts, or in things that are more spiritual. In this movie, these little creatures, the homunculi, are really a different kind of manifestation of that curse.

    Guillermo Del Toro: The idea in the movie is that these creatures presented predate even the time when the land was colonized. There is a small reference in the movie about how in the colonies they built a mill and it sank into the caves. So the caves in that area have lodged these creatures which are very old. They predate man setting foot in there.

    EG: Do you have a sense of why horror movies, especially those with supernatural elements, remain critically underappreciated? I suspect it’s related to the same way that other kinds of genre movies are received, but in some way horror has had less of a critical reevaluation, unlike science fiction or fantasy which seem to be genres people don’t pass judgment on as quickly as they used to. With horror or movies of the supernatural, there is still a stigma in the critical community. Any thoughts on why that is the case?

    GDT: The movies that depend on an emotional reaction — being comedy, melodrama, horror — because precisely they are trying to elicit an emotion from the audience, they become almost a challenge to audiences and critics. It’s very hard for the critical audience to admit they got emotional in a movie. It’s sort of admitting defeat. A movie that tries to provoke on a purely intellectual level is always going to be met [more favorably] … Those who claim [they are] stimulated intellectually by that movie almost by proxy are defining themselves as intelligent. They are defining themselves as affected on a higher level. Movies that depend on an emotional reaction are oftentimes almost a dual situation: you go to a comedy as a critic or an audience member, almost saying, “Come on, do your worst. Make me laugh.”

    And the same in horror movies. Being scared is often regarded as a childish or immature emotion. It’s very hard to establish that you are affected by [this kind of] movie without admitting that you love stuff that is more challenging.

    Historically, science fiction requires more production value than horror. And other genres like comedy or melodrama don’t depend on the budget. There’s never been a categorization like a “B-[movie] melodrama” or whatever. Horror movies [are] a very quick and cheap entryway into the mainstream, in a way. They are very numerous and very visually objectionable, if you will, and very visually low budget and industry-defying. They are qualified as cheap products to cash in. That is true of many of the movies of the genre. But not all of the movies of the genre.

    EG: What are some of the movies that you’ve seen that have affected you? I know the original version of this movie, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, you said was one of the scariest pieces of television that you’ve seen. What are some of the films, either recently or ones that go back decades, that you would say have frightened or disturbed you the most?

    GDT: The list is the usual. The Shining, Alien, The Innocents, The Haunting, Jaws, The Uninvited with Ray Milland, The Dead of Night (the British movie), The Curse of the Demon … But recently I was very affected by a Korean movie that is very, very extreme called I Saw the Devil. I was very, very affected by it. It’s a very in your face, a broad, brutal, movie, but highly effective.

    EG: How do you see your own work having grown or evolved over the years since you first got started as a filmmaker? How do you think you’ve changed?

    GDT: Well, I think that technically I’ve become more proficient at certain things, but in terms of artistic intention, I think from he get-go, from Cronos on, I’ve always tried very hard in my own way to make beautiful and moving images, and beautiful and moving stories within the genre. That has been basically unwavering in my intention in creating things. Even in the more commercial movies like the two Hellboys, I tried very hard to fabricate beautiful images, and beautiful moments. Even in a movie as hardcore as Blade II I tried very hard  [to make] a beautiful image here and there.

    EG: Do you ever long to do something that’s fairly conventional, in terms of just a straight up drama or straight up comedy or something that doesn’t necessary include these more fantastical, supernatural or pulpy elements?

    GDT: Not really. [Laughs.] I don’t think it’s in my DNA. I really think I was born to exist in the genre. I adore it. I embrace it. I enshrine it. I don’t look upon it or frown upon it in a way that a lot of directors do. A lot of directors make a horror movie as a steppingstone. For me, it’s not a steppingstone, it’s a cathedral.

    EG: Do you feel like you have a particular lesson that you would like a young filmmaker or a beginning filmmaker, or for that matter a beginning writer, to take away from your work? Is there something that you hope an astute student would be able to appreciate of what you’re doing?

    "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark": Dinner at the haunted manor, with Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison (Courtesy of FilmDistrict Distribution) GDT: No, I’m not trying to teach anyone anything. I think that’s a waste of time. I do hope that people who like [one of my movies] like it for the right reason. That they like it because they see how many of the moments in the movies run counter to what they are just supposed to do. The Devil’s Backbone’s ghost, I tried to make him more moving than scary. I tried to make him pitiful and beautiful. I tried to make the vampire sympathetic in Cronos. I tried to make the real world far more brutal in a way than the world of horrors that the girl experiences in Pan’s Labyrinth. And so forth. But they are not lessons by any means. They are just strands of my work that I hope that the people who like it notice.

    EG: Are you at liberty to talk about The Hobbit and share any thoughts about what is going on? Are you in touch with Peter Jackson and what’s going on down there in New Zealand?

    GDT: We stay in touch. I said what I had to say. I really love having had the experience. Now it’s in Peter’s hands and I’m actually waiting for it to come out and I’ll be the first in line. Other than what I had to say, that there’s nothing else to add.

    EG: Give me some thoughts on your field and the direction you think filmmaking is going to be headed. Whether this relates to the kinds of stories we’re going to be absorbing, the kinds of narratives, like filmmakers collaborating with game designers, or other changes.

    GDT: I’m a firm believer that the narrative form, the storytelling form, for big genre stories, will very rapidly invade into transmedia, in multi-platform world creation, in the next ten years, when we’re going to have the movies, the video games, the storyline, the TV series or webisodes and this and that, all coming at us consecutively if not simultaneously to give the audience a real sense of a world creation. I’m not talking about [every film] — there will be all kinds of films always — just in the genre filmmaking I expect it will be changing. I’m very interested and very actively training myself by designing and directing a video game. I’ve been working on it for the last year and I still have three more years to go to develop the video game. … So by the end of the four years I will have had a bit of a tenure in video game making.

    EG: Is that game going to be related to a film you are working on, or is it independent?

    GDT: No, this is just my apprenticeship into the gaming world. And my experience has been a very beautiful and productive one. It’s with a company called THQ and it’s game called “inSANE.’’

    EG: I see that we are out of time.

    GDT: I want to thank you again for this.

    EG: Thank you very much. Guillermo, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

    Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark opens Friday, August 26.

    [Note: Portions of this interview originally appeared in a different form in an article for the Boston Sunday Globe]

    Monday
    Aug222011

    Guillermo Del Toro: The Interview, Part I

    [This posting originally appeared on wired.com's Geek Dad]

    Guillermo del Toro and star Bailee Madison, on the set of "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (Courtesy of FilmDistrict Distribution)Guillermo Del Toro, the director behind personal, vision-driven films like Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth, plus commercial blockbuster action vehicles like Blade II and two Hellboy films, has been involved in more than his share of film projects over the past few years. But he hasn’t personally helmed a picture since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. So fans of del Toro the film director – not the screenwriter, producer, executive producer, video game designer, novelist, and creative consultant – will have to keep waiting.

    Perhaps he has simply been the victim of bad luck.

    Originally recruited to co-write and direct The Hobbit, del Toro even relocated his family to New Zealand. But after interminable production delays, he backed out, and now Peter Jackson is directing. Del Toro’s next project was to be an effects-laden, 3D adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness. Yet studios balked at the $150-million price tag (even with Tom Cruise attached). It turns out del Toro’s next directorial effort will be a Japanese-style monsters versus robots film called Pacific Rim, with a slated release date of 2013.

    In the meantime, fans will have to sate themselves with a new project heavy with the del Toro imprint but not officially part of his directorial oeuvre: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a throwback to old-timey haunted house films. Though he only co-wrote and produced the film — the director is newcomer Troy Nixey — Don’t Be Afraid (opening Friday) contains many familiar del Toro themes: a flashback prologue; mysterious and maleficent creatures, and a hidden world of fantasy revealed by a child protagonist.

    The original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was a 1973 ABC made-for-TV movie about a young couple in an abusive relationship who inherit an old mansion. Del Toro has claimed that, for his generation (he was 9 at the time), this was “the scariest TV movie we ever saw.” Del Toro began co-writing his version with Matthew Robbins in 1998, but the production had its own delays. Switching the focus to the couple’s daughter, he realized the plot was too similar to Pan’s Labyrinth, so he put the project on hold. He kept pursuing it over the past dozen years, finally beginning production two years ago when he felt the time was right.

    Shot in Australia, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is set in present day Rhode Island. An architect (Guy Pearce) and his interior-designer girlfriend (Katie Holmes) renovate and move into a lavish mansion. The architect’s introverted daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison from Bridge to Terabithia), reluctantly joins them. The de rigueur prologue concerns the previous owner of Blackwood Manor, a Victorian-era, Audubon-like illustrator and naturalist who became enslaved to an ancient evil inhabiting the basement’s ash pit.

    I had a chance to speak with Guillermo del Toro, via telephone from New York City. We had met in person last year, when del Toro was in Boston promoting The Fall, the second book in his horror novel trilogy The Strain, co-authored with Massachusetts resident Chuck Hogan. (The final volume The Night Eternal comes out October 25.)

    Ethan Gilsdorf: Hello, Mr. del Toro. It’s a pleasure to speak with you again. We met about a year ago in Boston when you were promoting The Fall. I was the guy who wrote that book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks. We traded books, I seem to recall.

    Guillermo del Toro: I remember that, yes. You went to New Zealand for Lord of the Rings.

    EG: I’m glad you remembered! Yes, I was that crazy nut who traveled there to see as many of the Lord of the Rings filming locations as I could in three weeks.

    GDT: [Laughs]

    EG: Yeah, it’s all in my book. So, I should probably get right to the questions since I know you have a limited amount of time. I saw Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark last night and I very much enjoyed it. Can you talk your decision in this case to co-write and producer rather than direct this film yourself?

    Blackwood Manor, home to nasty and evil forces. (Courtesy of FilmDistrict Distribution)GDT: I co-wrote the movie with Matthew Robbins in 1998. And in the interim, I did Pan’s Labyrinth. I thought anecdotally and superficially the two movies shared certain traits. A young girl arriving at a foreign place, to an old mansion, discovering creatures underground. I thought about it and I thought, although it was very different, I thought it was superficially, professionally, too much in common. I didn’t want to repeat. I thought, however, I would be very, very involved in the making of the movie.

    EG: Troy Nixey, the director you chose, comes from comic books. He illustrated for the Batman franchise and Neil Gaiman’s Only the End of the World Again, among other things. But Nixey had made just one short film, Latchkey’s Lament. Why did you pick him?

    GDT: Yes, [Nixey was] a first time feature filmmaker. He had done a wonderful short called Latchkey’s Lament, and I saw that short. It’s really, really quite beautiful. It’s available to see on YouTube. You can just type “Latchkey’s Lament” and you can see why he got the job. [See the film here]

    EG: For someone like Nixey, who has gone from a short film to a pretty major production, with some major actors and obviously a lot of special effects work and so on, I wonder if that required any special attention on your part? Were you there on the set quite often to oversee things, or did he get to run with things on his own?

    GDT: Yes, this is the movie I have produced where I have been the most involved in every facet of it. It’s the only movie I have produced where I have been, almost 90 percent of the time on the set, every day, because it was a big job to go from a short film as I say to something that intricate and that complicated. Also, we did it for a budget and a very tight schedule. Ultimately, we delivered the movie under budget and under schedule. Which was great, but to do so was a very complicated process.

    This is a haunted house movie. Better bring your flashlight. (Courtesy of FilmDistrict Distribution)EG: There have been so many movies made over the years that try to scare people or try to disturb them, or try to effect them emotionally. I was wondering when you are selecting your projects, whether you are directing or want to direct, or just to be attached to, how do you think outside of the box? Particularly with horror movies, it does seem like they are a dime a dozen at this point. How do you be original?

    GDT: I think that the case of the genre of horror movies, they are a way to make a quick buck. There are very few filmmakers both on the producing and directing side who actually approach [horror] with the desire to create something either of substance or something beautiful or powerful. Most of the people just try to get a [big opening] weekend and DVD sales.

    The first thing is, I don’t get attached, or I rarely get attached, to something I’m not generating from the get go. Don’t Be Afraid is no exception. I started working on this project actively about 16 years ago now. We wrote it in 1998 which was about 13 years ago. And I have not stopped pursuing it actively. So I really just try to get involved in things I feel truly passionate about, and if I happen to be able to control the rights or hold the rights, I don’t let them go. I just hold onto the project until it gets made. If I don’t control the rights, that’s a different matter.

    EG: You grew up in one culture, Mexico, and largely work in another, by which I mean the American film system. Obviously your audiences are world-wide, but a good chunk of them are American. Do you find there is a universal thread that connects audience sfrom one culture to another, in terms of what disturbs them or what haunts them? Are there specific kinds of themes that always work?

    GDT: I think that no matter what culture you come from [you] are afraid of the   darkness, and what lurks in it is an absolutely common fear. I think that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is tapping into the most primal, almost universal, childhood fears. That’s what attracted me from the get-go to the idea of making this remake, a complete re-telling of this story. The movie from 1973 was about a very specific, abusive relationship between a husband and wife, and it was very much a product of its time. … I decided to turn it into a sort of a very dark fairy tale. Precisely, as I say, that taps into universal fears — the invasion of the more intimate spaces, the home, the bedroom, the bed — and little by little we show that these creatures can be anywhere at any time, watching from the dark.

    And that’s the end of Part I. Tune in tomorrow for Part II, when the conversation with Guillermo del Toro continues. Among other topics, we discuss why the horror genre is underappreciated, how he sees his own evolution as a filmmaker, his relationship with Peter Jackson, his new video game project, and — of course — what scares him.

    [Note: Portions of this interview originally appeared in a different form in an article for the Boston Sunday Globe]

    Monday
    Aug082011

    My Super 8 Summer of Escapism

    From the 1978 Sears catalog -- do your chores, save your allowance, and all your movie-making dreams can come true.The film Super 8, which hit theaters a few weeks ago, weaves in pop cultural touchstones that triggered for me a nostalgic tsunami: whispering into walkie-talkies, perfecting techniques for monster makeup, and wearing my hair in a hobbity mop. A project in mind, I’d madly pedal my Schwinn bicycle (with banana seat and sissy bar) from one part of town to another to hatch it, just like Super 8’s Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his buddies.

    Coincidentally enough, Super 8 also eerily evokes an American boyhood experience similar to my own upbringing in small town New Hampshire. No, I never saw giant spider-like creatures emerging from train crashes and I didn’t film them. But in the late 1970s, enthralled by the same films that Super 8 director J.J. Abrams clearly was — Spielbergian monster and alien encounter movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. — I was determined to be next blockbuster kid. And weirdly, like me, Abrams was born in 1966 and was 12 in 1979, the same year the movie takes place.

    Like the boys in Super 8, I armed also myself with a movie camera. I built sets with HO-scale train props, and MacGyvered Revell airplane and boat models to make my own Star Wars-like space ships. Focusing on animation rather than live action films, I’d shoot clay blobs one frame at a time, enacting monster wrestling matches and deep space dogfights. This being an eon before iMovie and YouTube, I edited my footage with crude equipment, assembling each scene with plastic splices, and showed them to an audience of my family and friends.

    As I wrote in a recent aticle for Salon.com, my journey through the realm of adolescence to the kingdom of adulthood began to reveal itself as a tricky maze filled with traps, monsters and dead ends, not to mention broken mothers. Like Joe Lamb, whose mother dies in a freak factory accident, my mother was gone, suddenly stricken by brain damage. Like that kid, I was saddled with a heavy cloak of loss I couldn’t come close to articulating. I felt abandoned, and the solution for how to navigate this new life was not published, upside-down, in the back of any book of brain teasers. I longed for answers.

    The Super 8 movies I shot provided one avenue of escape. Then, in and around directing my latest Claymation fantasy feature that summer of 1979, another path appeared. I learned how to face my demons in another way. I learned that sometimes, checking out from reality was not merely a fun diversion, but necessary. I was shown a clever trick—how to step away from my own body and mind, my family, and travel to places I’d never even seen. A new, more powerful way out. I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. [More on that story here.]

    Thursday
    Jun302011

    ‘Trollhunter’ director pays homage to Norwegian folklore

    The troll hunters approach a massive “Jotnar" troll[This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe]

    by Ethan Gilsdorf

    Eighteenth- and 19th-century Norwegians believed in trolls. These huge humanoids wandered wild, marginal places and wastelands and caused trouble when they encountered humans.

    Nowadays, no one believes in trolls. But they still haunt and inhabit Norway’s folkloric consciousness, a still-pristine landscape of woods, mountains, and fiord lands, largely as comic characters. Think of the dim-witted troll in the Norwegian tale “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,’’ easily tricked by the goats and the butt of jokes.

    “Trollhunter,’’ which opens Friday, dusts off those fairy tales and updates them with a fresh, 21st-century coat of adventure and suspense — and ironic reality check.

    Trolls exist.

    But “fairy tales don’t always match reality,’’ grumbles Hans, the film’s misanthropic antihero.

    Written and directed by Norwegian André Ovredal, “Trollhunter’’ shares the first-person-reportage feel of “The Blair Witch Project,’’ as well as the shaky-camera monster-movie vibe of “Cloverfield.’’ Ovredal’s vision also includes doses of Steven Spielberg’s effects-driven shock and awe, as well as that director’s prevailing mistrust of authority.

    “I wanted to blend my love of ‘Indiana Jones’ with my love of trolls,’’ said Ovredal, 37, in Boston to promote his debut feature. Which explains why Hans the troll hunter wears a fedora.

    As with “Blair Witch,’’ what the audience sees, ostensibly, is footage shot by students. There are three of them, investigating a series of bear killings in the wilds of Norway. They hope to interview the “poacher.’’

    Finally agreeing to let the video crew follow him, the poacher is revealed to be Hans, a middle-aged, burned-out government employee working for the fictitious Troll Security Service (or TSS, an echo of the PST, Norway’s version of the CIA). His job: keep the troll population under control. Meanwhile, TSS bureaucrats devise bogus explanations — tornadoes, floods, bears — to explain any isolated troll-wrought damage or deaths.

    The troll hunter is played by Norway’s most famous and controversial comedian, Otto Jespersen, known for his crass, dark sense of humor. Here, Jespersen doesn’t aim for laughs. The portrayal is straight. “There’s nothing heroic about what I do,’’ he deadpans to the wide-eyed college kids.

    While the troll hunter is supposed to ensure Norwegians never learn that trolls exist, Hans eventually tires of the cover-up and lets the students document his methods. In doing so, “Trollhunter’’ manages to pay homage to Norway’s rich folklore and take jabs at government bureaucracy and politics. He complains he gets no overtime pay. After every killing, Hans must fill out a “Slayed Troll Form.’’ The current controversy over building electrical towers in Norway’s hinterlands is cleverly woven into the plot. Let’s just say those high-tension lines serve a purpose beyond bringing power to the people.

    “Because Norway has such rugged landscapes, it’s not surprising that many of the creatures of their cultural lore are connected so deeply with the earth and its perils,’’ noted Sandra Hordis, a professor at Arcadia University, in Glenside, Pa., who specializes in medieval literature and folklore. “They are beings sprung from soil and stone, and have come to permeate much of the folklore of the region.’’

    Trolls have given their names to natural features such as the rugged, dolomite formations called Trollholmsund and Trollstigen, a dramatic mountain road that translates as “Troll’s Ladder.’’

    Ovredal, who is known in Norway as a director of commercials, and his special-effects team wanted their trolls to have idiosyncratic and distinct personalities. Their creatures aren’t the Hulk-like, Middle-earth trolls Peter Jackson brought to life, nor are they the cute, neon-haired dolls from the 1960s. These trolls were inspired by “The Fairy Tales of Asbjornsen and Moe,’’ a book from the 1850s that Ovredal’s grandparents read to him as a boy.

    “I never read ‘Lord of Rings’ and never played the game D&D [Dungeons & Dragons],’’ said Ovredal. “There was a missing, collective mythology I had to create.’’

    Ovredal worked out a detailed “natural history of trolls’’ as fastidious as an entry in the D&D “Monster Manual.’’ His lexicon delineates four species: the one-armed “Ringlefinch,’’ the three-headed “Tosserlad,’’ the cave-dwelling “Mountain King,’’ and the massive “Jotnar.’’ All have oversize faces and bulbous noses. Norwegians know that sunlight turns trolls to stone. In Ovredal’s world, flashes of bright light also can make them explode. Here’s the scientific explanation: The UVB rays accelerate vitamin D and calcium production in their bodies, which either calcifies or detonates them.

    In a nod to folklore, “Trollhunter’’ also includes a bridge scene reminiscent of “Three Billy Goats Gruff.’’ And just as in the “fee-fi-fo-fum’’ nursery rhyme, these trolls can smell Christian blood.

    The director cut his teeth on Spielberg’s alien and fantasy films such as “Jaws,’’ “E.T.’’ and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’’ In those films, he said, “We have to figure out what is psychologically true in the fantastic.’’

    But overall, “Trollhunter’’ is more skeptical than Spielbergian. Ovredal likens his film more to “Man Bites Dog,’’ the Belgian mockumentary about a film crew following a serial killer. He didn't want to make the “typical Norwegian socialist-realist film.’’ Like “The Host’’ for South Koreans, perhaps this overlooked Scandinavian nation needs its own monster movie.

    “I hope they experience an adventure they have never seen before,’’ Ovredal said of US audiences. “A sense of humor that’s different. A monster they’ve never seen before. [And leave the theater] with a big smile on their face, and talk about it.’’

    Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at www.ethangilsdorf.com.

    Monday
    Jun062011

    Hobbit talk

    NOT in The Hobbit? Artist John Howe's vision of Dol Guldur, Sauron's fortified hangout and HQ tucked away in the forests of Mirkwood.As I recently wrote about in my posting at Geek Dad on wired.com, there's some interesting talk in the Tolkien fan world about The Hobbit movie adaptation.

    First, it was confirmed that Orlando Bloom would reprise his role as Legolas in The Hobbit production now being filmed by Peter Jackson and company down in New Zealand. As many of you know, while Legolas features prominently in The Lord of the Rings, the blond elf does not appear in J.R.R. Tolkien’s earlier book, The Hobbit.

    Then, a few days ago, the news was made official that The Hobbit would in fact be two films. (The rumor mill knew this for eons.) “The first film, titled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, will be released on December 14, 2012. The second film, titled The Hobbit: There and Back Again, is slated for release the following year, on December 13, 2013,” it was declared on the production’s Hobbit Blog.

    The simple choice to make two more complex films out of one simple, 300-odd-page kid’s book has pricked up the ears of some fans—i.e., me, for one—and has made other fans prickly.

    Upping the ante was what Peter Jackson revealed on his Facebook page earlier this week about the plot of The Hobbit movie:

    “I’m not going to say just what and when, but I will confirm that both the White Council and Dol Guldur will feature in the movies. And not just in one scene either. Just how to visualise it has been a challenge, but fortunately Alan Lee and John Howe went crazy with ideas, and it should look pretty cool.”

    For the unwashed, Dol Guldur is Sauron’s fortified hangout and HQ in the forest of Mirkwood for more than a millennia of the Third Age (back when he goes by the handle of the Necromancer). The White Council is sort of like the Council of Elrond, an All-Star assembly of Middle-earth heroes, formed in response to the rise of Dol Guldur. The members include the Wizards Saruman the White and Gandalf the Grey, Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien, Master Elrond of Rivendell and a few others. These goings-on are only alluded to in The Hobbit.

    The latest announcement explains the reason why Cate Blanchett will be back to reprise her role as Galadriel. It also makes sense that Christopher Lee will be back to play Saruman (although, as of yet, this has not been confirmed). Less clear is how Legolas/Bloom will be integrated into the movie.

    To work in these elements, Jackson and the other screenwriters have made it clear they’ll be adding material not actually in The Hobbit, but drawn from other sources in the Tolkien lengendarium. But as reported in The Guardian and elsewhere, some question the wisdom of this move. Is turning what is essentially a kid’s book into high epic fantasy more along the lines of The Lord of the Rings such a great idea? Remember, both in tone and in treatment, The Hobbit was written for and targeted mainly to children, with very little of the heady, wearying Sturm und Drang of LOTR.

    Of course, PJ and the gang at Wingnut and Weta have not only oodles of fans to please, but oodles of money to make. And most of those LOTR fans are movie fans first and foremost, not readers of the trilogy. So fashioning a plot and movie look-and-feel that’s as seamless with the Middle-earth millions already know from the LOTR movies makes money sense.

    Tolkien purists put their trust in Jackson the first time around and, squabbling aside, most were generally pleased with the elements he added and subtracted to LOTR. The appearance of Legolas, the White Council and Dol Guldur is plausible; these logically would have happened concurrent with the events of The Hobbit.

    Still, I can imagine the most fevrent fans of The Hobbit (the book) might want to revoke Jackson’s creative license.

    But I can also imagine the cheers in the audience when Legolas appears wherever he’s going to appear. We’ll have to wait till Christmas of next year out find out.