Friday, December 30, 2011

Finding the Real Tintin

Photo Credit
This past Monday my family and I went to see The Adventures of Tintin by Spielberg and Jackson. I don't frequently post media reviews on this blog, but I feel like writing one about this movie for a number of reasons.

After reading a number of scathingly negative reviews about the film adaptation of the comic book hero that I had loved as a child when I first read them in installments in the long-since defunct children's magazine, EXPLORE, I was uneasy about the film. That, combined with the fact that Spielberg has been the mastermind behind a lot of monstrosities in recent years that it seems I was always dragged to by guy friends and then regretted it afterword––think Transformers––I wasn't at all sure that I even wanted to see The Adventures of Tintin. Thus, when my family decided to take me to see it with them, I didn't say no, but was not too excited about it all the same.

My main fear was that they would end up changing Tintin's character into something awful. American movies tend to follow a very strict formula in which the protagonist starts out thinking or doing one thing, and then at some point makes a decision to change. This formula ensures that the protagonist is what English professors would call a "dynamic" character, that is, a character who changes. This tends to work well. The problem is, when Hollywood tries to adapt a story with a "flat" character who doesn't go through flux, they don't usually know what to do with it. Rather than venturing from the dynamic character mold, they often change the character. This is what ruined the Chronicles of Narnia for me, when they changed Peter, who C.S. Lewis created as a relatively flat character to make him seem more "human." Tintin, as Hergé created him, is an extremely flat character; always the impeccably good guy, which is something that set the Tintin series apart from most of the rest of the morally convoluted world of comics. So there was a myriad of ways in which I could imagine Spielberg changing him.

I ended up being pleasantly surprised. The Tintin in the movie was at least close to what I had imagined from the books, and importantly, stayed remarkably consistent. That's not to say that other characters weren't altered to fit the Hollywood formula––just that Tintin for the most part was not one of them. I'm not enough of an expert on the stories, or literature in general to say for sure what happened, but my feeling was that they ended up altering Captain Haddock's character instead, making him a more "dynamic" character who drinks because he has low self-esteem––not just because he's a swaggering sea captain, and ultimately has to make moral choices to be a better person. While this may or may not be true of what Captain Haddock was supposed to be, I feel like it's a small tragedy compared to Tintin being drastically changed to fit the mold of a normal movie plot. 

As far as the technical side of the movie goes, it was beautifully done (and being produced by Jackson, I wouldn't have expected any less). It's the first fully CGI movie with realistic human characters that I've seen in which I wasn't left with the unsettling feeling that something about them "wasn't quite right." In fact, I often forgot that it was even an animation. The comedic use of simple things like people running into each other felt just the same as Hergé used it, most obviously with the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thompson, but more subtly throughout the rest of the film as well. The locations in the film are also beautifully rendered, and the quick change from one to another was a page right out of the books.

As to the gratuitous action sequences that some critics have claimed are alien to the books and called "Indiana Jones-esque," I don't really have anything to say. I've become resigned to the fact that they are just a sign of the times, as it were. All movies seem to have them, and I think they will just be something people in 20 or 30 years look back on and say "that's so early 2000s" just like excessive use of fade-through transitions in the mid 20th century or slow motion fight scenes in the late 90s tend to date movies from that time. They may not be in the books exactly, but if a few explosions or a drawn out motorcycle chase are the worst thing to complain about, then I think we have escaped rather well (and contrary to what I've read some critics insinuate, the books do actually have motorcycle chases, like the one in King Ottokar's Sceptre, even if it didn't last nearly as long or end nearly as well).

While the movie has its flaws, I felt like it captured at least some of the spirit of the books, and managed to be intriguing without turning Tintin himself into some kind of psychologically confused star. And Tintin being Tintin is I think what made the books what they are. While his guesses weren't always right, his motives were. While he appeared to be worldly-wise, he was at the same time innocent, which made his ventures out into the crazy, convoluted, and at times evil world the real adventures that they are.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The meek shall inherit the Earth, but....

Yesterday I bought a game that I had been considering for a while, Sid Meier's Civilization V.

Having quite a bit of free time, I've been in the mood for some kind of slower, deeper, more thoughtful strategy game. This one seemed to fit the ballot. The only thing I wasn't sure about was whether or not it would run on my computer, and in the reviews and forums, it seemed like a lot of people had had trouble with it. I finally found a forum post that was a quote of another forum post in which a German user said he ran the game on the same model Macbook Pro with the same AMD Radeon HD 6490M graphics card as mine. The way he worded it though was so ambiguous that it was difficult to tell whether or not he was saying that it worked or not. The download, however, was only $15 on Amazon and because of gift cards that I had from trading in text books it ended up not costing anything, so I decided to chance it. After waiting seven hours for it to download, I was not disappointed, as it installed and has been running so far without any trouble.

In between phases, the game gives quotes by famous influentials throughout history, and I found this one to be quite true in light of my families struggle over maintaining mineral rights on our land in the past five years and current situation in which the drilling company involved has been delaying payment or royalties for five months over technicalities:

"The meek shall inherit the Earth, but not its mineral rights." - Jean Paul Getty, American industrialist.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I don't have anything profound, insightful, or humorous to say this morning––which is not to imply that I usually do. I just wanted, however, to wish everyone within and without the blog world and a very merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Sun Never Sets

This evening I started getting birthday wishes from friends where it's already tomorrow, and it made me think about how blessed I've been this year to somehow make friends in so many hemispheres.

Last march, as I was in Latvia for a mission trip kind of thing over spring break that I decided to participate in on a sort of whim. I was also in the process of ending my membership in an online game I'd been playing, Travian. The server was closing, and to avoid losing contact with one of my teammates, I messaged him my email address. It turns out he was from Iran, and I ended up having some very deep and interesting conversations with him and one or two of his friends that I connected with online. This was all while I was in Latvia, not sleeping because of jet-lag, and meeting lot's of Latvian high school students, a few of whom I've managed to keep in touch with. That week feels like a blur in my memory––but I think part of the reason is how much happened and how much I learned.

Over the summer came the journey that I had actually planned for: my internship in Beirut. Not only did I find myself in another foreign country, but I was also living and working with people who had come there from places far beyond the Middle East. Between visiting friends in Jordan and meeting new people there, traveling around Lebanon just talking with people, and hiking in the Lebanese mountains with people from Canada, Korea, and just about everywhere in between, I got to know and learn about the lives of more people with more diverse stories than I had ever imagined I would in my life.

On the way home I got to visit SBI back in San Lorenzo, Italy, where I was able to see people whom I hadn't in almost three years––back when I went to school there. I guess that was where it all started in a lot of ways. It was a little strange being there without my classmates from that semester, but looking at where they all are now, I realize how lucky, and wonderfully improbable it was that I got to meet all of them back then.

So looking back on this year, for someone who isn't very social or good with people, I feel like I've been really blessed to get to know so many from so far––and for the technology that gives the means for us to keep in touch. There's an old saying from back when Britain was still very much an imperial power that "the sun never sets on the British Empire," which was referring to Britain having colonies in nearly every time zone. The British Empire may be long gone (and that may be a good thing) but I think it's amazing that we live in a world today where it can be said that the sun never sets on our friends.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Best Ever

I spent this morning finishing up my last four assignments for Intro to Teaching English as a Second Language, the rather horrible online course I've had this semester. After preparing each of them in .pages documents, I quickly cut and pasted them all into the submission fields on the class website and hit submit. And I was like, "Well, glad I'm done with that." It took me a couple minutes to realize that those were the last thing I had to do this semester. That's always a good realization––when you have it.

It was a crazy semester, with it's share of excitement, depression, and downright weirdness. Before Thanksgiving break, I was tempted to say, for the first time in my college career, that time flew by. But somehow, after Thanksgiving, I started looking back and thinking "Did that really happen this semester?" And suddenly, it seemed like a long period of time again. Still I feel like it went faster than ever before. In fact, despite all of the ways in which it was a horrible semester, I think I have to say that it was probably my best experience yet (not counting SBI). I'm not sure if that's a happy thing or a sad thing. The standard for being my best semester ever has not exactly been set high by my previous experiences.

Half way through, I raised some eyebrows here and at home with my recap of the first half, and I remember wondering then if the second half would be as crazy. I guess I'm glad to say that it was not––at least for me personally. I think over fall break I kind of gave into the emotional exhaustion and didn't feel like fighting anymore... and have pretty much been in that state since then. So it will be good to have some time to (hopefully) recover here.

I'm heading back north tomorrow. Without my car, which may make it an interesting Christmas vacation. My car is in need of a couple thousand dollars of replacements before it's really in condition to drive 800 miles non-stop, and just the gas alone is over $100. So I'm riding back with Jana and Meagan all the way to Penn State, and then hopefully having my parents pick me up there.

So it's back into the howling hills of northern Pennsylvania for Christmas. I hope it will be a better one than last year. Of course, considering that I spent last Christmas Eve packing up sales kiosks at a Mall in Lynchburg Virginia for free, it shouldn't be hard to beat. But even beyond that, I do hope, and intend for it to be a good time, even if that just means seeing people I haven't seen in awhile.

But first I have to get there.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

What 90s?

I'm feeling a little bit nostalgic about the 90s. I've always rather resented people who borrowed nostalgia from times that they don't even remember, but the fact is, I lived through all of the 90s, and, culturally speaking, I may as well have not lived through them. Between being dyslexic, homeschooled, and Mennonite, my cultural knowledge of the decade during which I was a child is very, very limited.

I guess this feeling was spurred on by listening to The Cranberries. I know their song Dreams, but as a cover done by Passion Pit. When I originally heard the song by the people who wrote it, I thought it was like an acoustic version of the one that I know. It was in fact, the original though, and after some research, I found out that it was released in 1993... when I was three years old. That's so weird––to think that a song that I really like now was popular way back then. It leads me to wonder what else I may have missed.

On the other hand, there is probably a lot of stuff it's good that I missed. But it still feels strange. I often hear people who are my age talking about how they remember music and movies and such in the 90s as being "their time" and everything now as being something new and strange. While I have a lot of memories from the time period, they are entirely confined to myself, my family, and perhaps my churches. My earliest memories of the world as far as the outside culture are concerned date to the early 00's at best.

Again, that may be a good thing, but it's also something I wonder about sometimes.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Reflection on Portfolios

Back in the dark old days––which are separated from the dark new days by only a few years and a few thousand miles––I had to compile a lot of portfolios. In order to get a diploma, Pennsylvania requires homeschool students to turn in a portfolio at the end of every academic year showing evidence of all the courses they have taken, field trips they have gone on, books they have read and reports of general activities and such ilk. I was a homeschool student in PA. Thus, come April every year, there was this frenzied scramble to find, categorize, and assemble the massive amount material for the damned things so that they could be scrutinized by our evaluator, and then delivered to the office of the superintendent of the local high school. I suspect that this person––who generally hated us––never actually looked at them, but that's neither here nor there.

Entering college, one of the few things that I really enjoyed the first year was the fact that I did not have to turn in a portfolio. I got home every May to find my five younger siblings busily at work on theirs, while I myself had not even had to think the word portfolio except perhaps in some dark subconscious dream-state in which everything that bothered me as a young teenager still bothered me now––which it generally does, come to think of it, but back to the issue at hand.

So I felt almost something akin to nostalgia when I found out that one of my classes this semester would require the compilation of a portfolio. While I put off working on it till half way through the class, when I did, I conjured up all my years of portfolio experience and created a sleek, narcissistic monument to myself that bedazzled everyone who beheld it and was even deemed by the student worker girl who actually grades the things (when she isn't making snide remarks about my considering that I may be called a life of celibacy in the margins of my "Where do I want to be in five years" papers) to be the most "interesting one" out of the class of 20 or so.

That was due on Wednesday, and yesterday I found out that I will have to do another portfolio for the Long-Term Campaign (upper level comm class jargon for "group project from hell") in my persuasive comm class due on Monday. Then I remembered that I have another portfolio to compile for my internship over the summer, which is also due Monday. So by the end of the semester, which is mercifully close-at-hand, I will have assembled three portfolios. Basically one for every year that I didn't do one since I was no longer homeschooled. It's amazing how life comes around and bites you when you think you've escaped.