Trailers for the Tolkien Biopic

It’s three weeks to the release of Tolkien, the new biopic directed by my fellow Finn, Dome Karukoski.

IMDB Tolkien Biopic

Two trailers are out at this point:

TOLKIEN | Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight on YouTube

TOLKIEN | Trailer 2 | FOX Searchlight on YouTube

Looking very shiny! At just under 2 hours and chock-full of great actors—Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Genevieve O’Reilly (Mon Mothma in Star Wars!), Colm Meaney, Pam Ferris and Derek Jacobi, among others—it sounds promising.

Image: Lily Collins as Edith Bratt and Nicholas Hoult as J.R.R. Tolkien, via IMDB.

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What We Want to See in Avengers: Endgame

It’s now just over a week until Avengers: Endgame comes out. The trailers have given us a few hints about what we’ll see in the conclusion to last year’s Infinity War, but there’s still so much we don’t know about how this is all going to end. So, as we await the final countdown, here’s our thoughts on what we would like to see when the lights go down in the theatre:

 

Erik:

I was disappointed in a lot of Infinity War‘s choices, so it’s easier to say what I hope we don’t see, but in the interest of staying positive, here’s what I actually want:

  • A resolution to the Steve/Tony conflict from Captain America: Civil War. I have complained in the past about the Marvel movies being too focused on Tony Stark’s emotional life, but this one is too big a deal to leave hanging. I want to see them come together, not just because they need each other in a moment of crisis but with a proper resolution.
  • The consequences of the Great Snap. I want us to spend some time understanding the real effects on the world of half its population disappearing at once. Not just that so many of our favorite characters are gone, but that the death of half of all the people on a planet necessarily has profound effects on the culture and society of those who are left behind, effects that stretch beyond the immediate grief and trauma of loss.
  • Someone to tell Thanos that he’s a complete idiot. Thanos’s history and motivation make him an interesting villain, but we spent so much time listening to him monologue about his very, very stupid plan for the universe in Infinity War that I really want someone to let him have it and tell him just how very, very stupid his plan is.
  • At least one more Stan Lee cameo. I really hope they got one in the can for this movie.
  • Heroes with a plan. Most of what we saw the heroes do in Infinity War was scrambling, improvising, punching first and asking questions never. I want to see our heroes take the time to regroup, think about the challenge ahead, and make a proper plan.
  • Shuri. I know she seems to be among the dusted, but dang it, I want more Shuri! More Shuri in everything!

 

Eppu:

Unlike Erik, I’ll throw in some negative stuff, but I’ll front the good:

  • If the movie’s going to be 3 hours long, good pacing is a must. Marvel Cinematic Universe has generally been pretty good with that, but I found AIW less successful on that score. Here’s hoping for a great editing team!
  • An intelligent plot twist and some semblance of balance between action and planning. I get that the world is reeling after the snap, but especially since AIW failed so spectacularily in trying to counter Thanos in an intelligent manner, they’re gonna need some brain in the game. Like Doctor Strange to have done something epic, planted some seed somewhere, that along with the remainder of the Avengers’ actions will turn the tide.
  • Shuri! Anywhere, doing anything. Likewise for Okoye and Janet Van Dyne, and it had better be more than a flashback!
  • A solution for Banner’s Hulk problems would be nice but optional.
  • I already mentioned Thor using his new axe-mace. (Stormbringer, I think?) We barely saw it in AIW. Some more awesome lightning blast fights like in Ragnarok, too, please!
  • In the same vein, clever fighting tactics and using individual characters’ strengths to the fullest in cooperation with others. (Like Bucky grabbing Rocket by the scruff and spinning around, both of them firing off at Thanos’ monster troops in Wakanda in AIW. That was a thoughtful bit I liked.) That’s why we watch superhero movies: for the smarts and the smashes.
  • Fewer Thanos manologues. So. TIRESOME.
  • For Peter Quill to grow up and stop being such a whiny, self-centered, insecure git. It’s not fun to watch but painful, since he’s not given any growth to speak of. (Whatever there was at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy was essentially negated in AIW when he started measuring himself against Tony Stark. And this applies to any feature he might appear on.) Oddly, though, last I checked I couldn’t find his name on the IMDB full cast and crew for Endgame. I wonder what’s up with that?

 

That’s what we’ll be looking out for when we head to the movies next week. What about the rest of you? What are you hoping for in Endgame?

Image: Avengers: Endgame poster via IMDb

Creative Differences is an occasional feature in which we discuss a topic or question that we both find interesting. Hear from both of us about whatever’s on our minds.

The Graceful Curves of the Vogelherd Horse

Like the Stone Age twig horse I blogged about a few years ago, this ivory horse is rather magnificent:

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:4_Pferd_Vogelherd_Kopie.jpg

Found in the Vogelherd cave in south-western Germany, it’s carved from woolly mammoth ivory with flint tools in the Aurignacian period, from 40,000 to 28,000 BCE.

Like other animal figurines found in the same layers, the horse appears astonighingly lively and graceful. I’ve done a little bit of wood carving in my life, and—like all sculpting—it definitely takes not just skill but also pre-planning. I can’t imagine what carving ivory with flint would be like, but I’ve no doubt there are quite a few tricks that go into it.

Whatever the use of the Vogelherd horse was, it’s clear that the maker(s) invested time and significant effort into making their art—a good indication that the creativity, dedication, and determination of the modern human do have deep roots.

Found via The Ice Age (@Jamie_Woodward_) on Twitter.

Image: horse figurine from the Vogelherd cave via Wikipedia (Baden-Württemberg, Germany; c. 32,000-35,000 BCE; ivory)

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Fantasy Religions: Novel Religions

The religions that exist in our world can be broadly divided into two categories: traditional religions, which developed gradually in their own native societies and have no clear beginning point, and novel religions, which began at a fixed point in time. Many of the great world religions of the modern day, like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, are novel religions, while some traditional religions, like Shinto, still thrive. Some religions, like Hinduism and Judaism, have features of both. In earlier posts, we’ve discussed what sort of things you may want to keep in mind in your worldbuilding for stories or games to make your imaginary religions feel more authentically traditional. Today we’ll take a look at what makes a novel religion feel alive.

There have been many novel religions in world history. A few have gathered large followings and become major forces in the world. Many have faded away after a few generations. Some have done well for a long time, even for centuries, before finally disappearing. There is no single thing that every novel religion has in common, but looking at history, we can see definite patterns as to what makes a new religious movement thrive, even if only for a time. It takes more than a charismatic leader with a new idea, although that is where most of them start.

Connection to the past

New ways of life can be hard to adopt, but they are easier if they connect to things people already know. Christianity and Islam both drew on Jewish traditions, as Buddhism did with the same ancient Indian traditions that informed Hinduism. The ancient Mediterranean cult of Isis based itself on ancient Egyptian religion. Similarly, Zoroastrianism drew on ancient Iranian religious ideas. New movements within existing religions that do not split off on their own also often share the features of novel religions, like the Protestant denominations within Christianity or the Shia branch of Islam. The degree to which new religious movements identify themselves as new or as reforms to or revivals of older traditions can vary widely.

Texts and beliefs

Not every religion, novel or traditional, has sacred texts, but many novel religions do. Such texts help to define how the new movement differs from what has come before and what its followers are expected to do or believe in order to be counted as part of the group. Depending on the religion, these texts may be openly available to anyone who wants to read them, or access to them may be limited only to those who have joined the movement. Novel religions are also more likely to focus on belief, unlike traditional religions which tend to focus on practices and rituals.

Hope in times of trouble

The success of any new religion depends largely on its ability to attract new followers in sufficient numbers to keep the movement going. Most people most of the time aren’t really “in the market” for a new religion, but there are certain times in history when large numbers of people are ready to embrace something new. It tends to happen in times of suffering and uncertainty, among people who have been displaced from their homes and familiar ways of life. The Bacchanal cult of the second century BCE appealed to Italian peasants who had been driven from the countryside into the cities by economic desperation. Haitian Vodou and related religions came out of the traumas of enslaved West Africans in the Caribbean and the Americas. Christianity and Islam both, in different periods and different ways, emerged among the victims of Roman imperialism. Novel religions often offer purpose, identity, and community to people who have lost the things that gave them those comforts before.

Difficult (but not too difficult)

A novel religion often thrives when it demands practices of its followers that are difficult, but not excessively difficult, to carry out. Muslims are expected to pray five times a day. Buddhists engage in meditation of many different kinds. Followers of Isis were expected to furnish a feast for their fellow worshipers upon joining. These kinds of practices, which require time, focus, and effort, but are not overly demanding, help foster a sense of community by creating shared experiences. At the same time, religions which demand overly difficult practices tend to see their followings dwindle. Converts to Mithraism went through initiations involving withstanding heat, cold, and pain (although probably not bathing in bull’s blood, as sometimes alleged). The rigors of these initiations, as well as the fact that it seems to have been open only to men, may have limited the cult’s appeal and kept it from gaining a critical mass of followers.

Outward from the middle

Novel religions tend to begin neither at the top nor at the bottom of the social scale but somewhere in the middle. Simply put, the rich and powerful have little to gain from upending the order of things, while the poor and powerless don’t have the time to ponder on the mysteries of the universe. New religious movements tend to begin among people who, if not always “middle class” by a modern definition, are somewhere on the middling ranks of the social and economic hierarchy. How they spread from there differs. Some religions grow by promising the hope of a better life to the poor, as Christianity did, while others, such as Confucianism, grow by appealing to a discontented elite.

Food

Food, for many of us, is a vital part of our sense of identity and community—think of your favorite family recipes or the special holiday dishes that remind you of heritage and home. Many novel religions present new ways of eating as part of the creation of a new communal identity. One of the central rituals of Christianity involves consuming (literally or metaphorically, depending on one’s theology) the body and blood of the founding figure. Muslims are enjoined to fast during daylight hours during Ramadan and to avoid certain food and drink, including pork and alcohol, altogether. Manichaeism taught that adherents had a duty to spread light in the world and combat darkness by eating certain foods and avoiding others. Eating together, or eating in similar ways to other followers elsewhere, helps to maintain the bonds that hold the adherents of a new religion together.

Thoughts for writers

As an example of how these features of novel religions can inform worldbuilding, here is a short description of an imaginary movement in an imaginary world.

The borderlands of Jash have been ravaged by decades of war between the Jashite cities and the invading armies of the Akluni Empire. As refugees from the rugged hills and scrublands of northern Jash stream into the cities of the lush Jash River valley, they find misery, poverty, and violence. Many of the refugees, looking for the solace of the familiar, have filled the neglected temples of Uzuli, the moon goddess favored by borderland shepherds but little regarded by the city folk.

Among the merchants and farmers of the Jash cities, tensions have been growing as no city seems capable of leading a coordinated response to the Akluni threat. Factions have formed within the cities, some arguing for peace with Aklun, others for resistance to the death; some for throwing the refugees out to fend for themselves, others for redistributing farmland to provide for the hungry. Encounters between members of these factions in the streets and market often lead to harangues, arguments, even fistfights.

Lately, a woman calling herself the Moon Daughter has been gathering crowds in the side streets of the city of Busa, giving stirring speeches promising a return of peace and prosperity. She comes from one of the lesser merchant families of Busa, but no longer speaks to them after beginning her work in the streets. She reports visions from Uzuli that call for all the people of Jash to be as one, to return to the simpler ways of the country, and to withstand the assault of Aklun not by arms but with the patience of Uzuli, who does not fear the waning because she knows that the full moon will come again.

The Moon Daughter’s early followers came from among other merchants families, whose fortunes have fallen under the pressure of war, but she increasingly draws crowds of hinterland refugees. Some of her followers have begun writing down her speeches and publishing them as pamphlets. “Eat of the bitter terebinth and the prickly pear” she says, “in memory of our home that is lost. Then drink of the honeyed wine that promises peace and harmony forever in the turning of the moon.” Her followers gather for common meals, eating and drinking as she commands, but also sharing what food they have with those who have none.

Building in some of the common features of novel religions helps the Moon Daughter’s movement feel fuller and more grounded in the world. It also offers interesting storytelling hooks. What happens if Busa is conquered by Aklun and the Moon Daughter and her followers have to flee elsewhere? What if the priestesses of Uzuli challenge the Moon Daughter for false prophecy? What if the Moon Daughter’s movement becomes so popular its followers take control of Busa, and then have to negotiate with the other Jashite cities who haven’t joined the movement? What if the Akluni Empire collapses and the refugees return home bringing the Moon Daughter’s words and ideas with them, but leaving the life of the city far behind? There are lots of directions you could take a story or a game from this beginning.

Other entries in Fantasy Religions:

Image: Manichaean diagram of the universe via Wikimedia (China; 1279-1368 CE; paint and gold on silk)

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Never Gets Old: Surfing on a Flaming Harpoon Bolt

Northrend has some of my favorite areas in World of Warcraft. I love the music in Grizzly Hills, and both Howling Fjord and Borean Tundra have nice, varied environments. (Then again, Northrend also has one of my all-time non-favorites, too: Icecrown. So dark and spiky and empty, brr. But I digress.) Whenever I level a toon through Northrend these days, I visit all three zones, and pick and choose the rest as mood strikes me.

One of the Howling Fjord quests never gets old: Let’s Go Surfing Now lets you ride down an impossibly tall cliff standing on top of a flaming harpoon bolt. I took my Dark Iron Dwarf through there last night:

WoW Dark Iron Dwarf Howling Fjord Riding Harpoon

Whee! 😀

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Quotes: Our Real Journey in Life Is Interior

Trappist monk Thomas Merton apparently was very concerned with silence and retreat from the world and its opposing force, that of engagement with the world and its ourward pull.

Current Reading Silence

“Our real journey in life is interior. It is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary for us to respond to that action.”

– Thomas Merton, 1975

Apparently this quote is from a collection of journal entries Merton made in Asia shortly before his accidental death during the trip.

Not being a philosopher or a spiritual person, I couldn’t tell you what I think of “the creative action of love and grace”. However, the conclusion I’m more and more leaning towards is that the most important thing in life is one’s internal growth and what external actions (hopefully positive or beneficial to others) stem out of that.

Merton, Thomas. “Serious Communication”: The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, eds. Naomi Burton, Brother Patrick Hart and James Laughlin, p. 29. New York: New Directions, 1975. Quoted in Brox, Jane. Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements if Our Lives. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, p. 225.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Chariots

War may never change, but the technology of war is always being updated, adapted, and replaced with new inventions. Because of the powerful emotions invoked by our experience of war, outdated military technology is sometimes invested with cultural meaning and takes on a new symbolic life when its functional utility is past. Suits of armor designed to protect soldiers from spears and arrows in wars hundreds of years in the past have become decorative objects that convey a sense of antiquity and dignity to a stately home. Swords have been obsolete on the battlefield for a century, but they still exercise such a fascination for us that we give them to heroes in stories set in the present and future. The town where I live boasts of its possession of a disabled artillery piece from a war more than a hundred years past. In the ancient world, chariots went through a similar transition from practical military hardware to symbolic possession.

A chariot is a light cart, usually on two wheels, though four-wheeled examples exist, designed to be pulled by one or more animals, usually horses. Four-wheeled versions, using heavy solid wheels and pulled by onagers (a type of wild ass) are documented in southern Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium BCE. These wagons would have been relatively slow and ponderous, but they allowed the transport of fighters across the battlefield faster than infantry on foot and provided a defensible fighting platform. Light, fast chariots became possible with the invention of the spoked wheel on the steppes of Central Asia around 2000 BCE.

Light, mobile chariots pulled by horses offered several advantages in war. They allowed swift movement around the battlefield, provided an elevated platform from which to observe the progress of battle, and, on open ground, could stage mass charges to intimidate opposing troops. Horses that were too small to carry a rider under the rigors of war could be used to pull chariots. Between 2000 and 500 BCE, the use of chariots spread across a large swath of Eurasia and northern Africa, from China to Ireland, and from Egypt to the Baltic Sea.

Chariots also had some drawbacks, however. They required skilled construction and maintenance. To be effectively mobile, they had to be built light, but such light construction also made them relatively fragile. They required lots of space to operate and were of limited use on narrow, uneven, or muddy battlefields. Driving and fighting from a chariot solo was a virtuoso feat that few could manage, so the need to provide separate drivers in addition to the fighting troops was a drain on fighting power. In most places, chariots were retired from the battlefield as soon as horse breeds that were large and strong enough to carry an armored soldier became available.

In a few places, like the wide, open plains of Mesopotamia, where the terrain was favorable, chariots were used for fighting into the first century CE, but in most places they had vanished from military use centuries earlier. The glory of the chariot, though, kept its hold on people’s imaginations. In most places where they had been used in war, they were repurposed for symbolic and artistic purposes. In China, chariots were used to make impressive showpieces of engineering, like the famous South-Pointing Chariot, equipped with a figure that always pointed to the south no matter how the chariot turned. In India, chariots were reimagined to become vessels for carrying images of the Hind gods in ceremonial processions. In the Mediterranean, they were used for racing and military parades. In many of these places, chariots also entered mythology, remaining the conveyance of heroes and gods long after they had ceased to be used to carry soldiers around the battlefield.

Image: Model of a four-horse chariot, photograph by BabelStone via Wikimedia (found in Takht-i-Kuwad, Tajikistan, currently British Museum; 5th-4th c. BCE; gold)

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Rating: Murdoch Mysteries Season 7

Turn-of-the-twentieth-century Toronto detective William Murdoch is back for season 7, and so are we. Here’s what we thought of the episodes this time:

  1. “Murdoch Ahoy” – 6
  2. “Tour de Murdoch” – 7.5
  3. “The Filmed Adventures of Detective Murdoch” – 7.5
  4. “Return of Sherlock Holmes” – 8
  5. “Murdoch of the Living Dead” – 5.5
  6. “Murdochophobia” – 4
  7. “Loch Ness Murdoch” – 7
  8. “Republic of Murdoch” – 7
  9. “A Midnight Train to Kingston” – 0
  10. “Murdoch in Ragtime” – 6
  11. “Journey to the Centre of Toronto” – 10
  12. “Unfinished Business” – 7
  13. “The Murdoch Sting” – 6
  14. “Friday the 13th, 1901” – 6
  15. “The Spy Who Came Up to the Cold” – 6
  16. “Kung Fu Crabtree” – 4
  17. “Blast of Silence” – 2
  18. “The Death of Dr. Ogden” – 4

This season’s average rating is 5.8, which is pretty good. There is one standout great episode and one standout awful one, but most of the season is middling to good, which makes it good for comfort rewatching.

On the whole, this season holds up well. It offers a lot of what we have come to expect from Murdoch. There are clever takes on modern stories, like the zombie-ish “Murdoch of the Living Dead,” the turnabout con in “The Murdoch Sting,” and half of “Friday the 13th, 1901” in which Drs. Ogden and Grace get a horror movie plot (meanwhile, the boys enjoy an adorably Canadian story about curling). There are also the usual return appearances by our favorite guest characters, like Terrence Myers and Alan Clegg in “The Spy Who Came up to the Cold,” which uses the assassination of US President McKinley as fodder for an espionage thriller. And James Pendrick, the perpetual inventor of things before their time, is back to invent… Murdoch Mysteries!

This season is five episodes longer than previous seasons, coming in at eighteen episodes, which is great. We’re always in favor of more Murdoch. We also see signs of change starting to show through as this season features more people of color as incidental characters and women pushing against the boundaries of social convention.

Our lowest rating for the season goes to “A Midnight Train to Kingston,” at 0. This episode features the return of genius serial killer and Murdoch fanboy James Gillies. We have made our feelings about genius serial killer detective fanboys clear before, and we still have no interest in seeing more of them.

On the other hand, “Journey to the Centre of Toronto,” which takes up contemporary speculation about a hollow earth with a steampunkish spin, makes for a thoroughly delightful 10. This episode suffers a bit from odd pacing and a somewhat unsatisfying ending, but it presents Detective Murdoch and company with such a unique challenge, and they rise to it with such gusto, that we can forgive these weaknesses. We also love the adventurer character, Elva Gordon. It’s a shame she can’t become a regular guest like Myers and Pendrick.

Few series can stand up to the pressures of a long run without faltering, but Murdoch Mysteries continues to deliver. Long may Murdoch continue!

Have a different take on this season? Let us know!

Image: Detective Murdoch explaining an earth-burrowing mole machine, from Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Yet Another Avengers: Endgame Trailer: Special Look

Well, how about that—just after I scheduled my Second Avengers: Endgame trailer post and leaned back, there’s another trailer:

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame | Special Look by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

It seems there are at least two big group missions: from trailer #2 the one that the team wears their pale armor for while epically slowwalking in the hangar (at the Avengers compound, I assume), and from the special look the one where they take the fight to Thanos wearing darker armor. Unless the trailers deliberatly lie, which they might.

Smaller sorties are implied e.g. in the scene where Tony and Steve shake hands and Cap tells Tony he trusts him; it looks like it either might lead to a confrontation or come at the end of one—you can just see emergency vehicle lights flashing in the background. We also see Black Widow and Hawkeye gearing up (seemingly in the quinjet, perhaps over Manhattan), Hawkeye running away from a fire blast in a tunnel, Rocket hanging onto War Machine’s shoulder ready to take anyone on, and Ant-Man jumping at a lever.

IMDB lists Endgame run time at an unprecedented 3 h 2 min. Even if the end credits take the now-usual 10 minutes, that leaves 2 hours and 50 minutes for the storytelling. There’s clearly a lot to go through: apart from numerous fights, flashbacks, and getting people regrouped, some from pretty far away, there’s some training, planning, and contemplating. (So much contemplating!)

For one, I am looking forward to Thor getting to use his honking big axe-mace, and for another, to how Captain Marvel fits into the lineup.

However, one thing absolutely baffles me—I assume there will be at least one stinger, since that seems de rigueur for MCU, but what it (or they) might contain is beyond me. Any guesses?

This post has been edited to correct a typo.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Second Avengers: Endgame Trailer & Tv Spot

In just about three weeks, we in the U.S. get to see Avengers: Endgame, the sequel for Infinity War. And there are new clips!

Here’s the tv spot from SuperBowl Sunday:

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame – Big Game TV Spot by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

The second trailer:

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame – Official Trailer by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

They’re really not revealing much, are they. Clearly many (or all?) of the far-flung protagonists have found their way to Earth, and there’s A Plan(TM) in the works. I do hope they won’t overuse that swelling, epic music with choral vocalizing in the movie. As amazing as it can be, this trailer sure had too much of it.

But: WTH is going on with Tony Stark being plastered up, front, and center in these trailers? Did Robert Downey Jr. make a deal to have an at-minimum performance time in each MCU movie?? Is someone upset not to get their daily RDJ dose???

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.