“A Deadly Choice”

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“A DEADLY CHOICE”

One of the most emotionally devastating episodes that aired on ABC’s “LOST” (2004-2010) turned out to be the Season Six episode, (6.14) “The Candidate”. The episode marked a final turning point in the saga’s main narrative. More importantly, it featured the deaths of three main characters who had been with the series since the beginning.

The fact that three long-standing characters met their deaths made “The Candidate” a topic of great debate by “LOST”fans. The fact that the three characters happened to be non-Western – Jin and Sun Kwon, along with Sayid Jarrah – added fuel to the episode’s controversial nature. But the main controversy that emerged from “The Candidate” centered around a choice made by Jin Kwon. It was a choice that affected (off screen) his and Sun’s young daughter back in South Korea, Ji-Yeon.

The end of the previous episode, (6.13) “The Last Recruit” saw the Kwons and other Losties prisoners of billionaire and former Other Charles Widmore on Hydra Island. Widmore called himself protecting the castaways from the Smoke Monster, now assuming the form of the late John Locke. However, the “Man in Black” recruited Jack Shephard and Sayid to rescue the castaways from Widmore and his followers in “The Candidate”. The Losties made their way to the Ajira 316 airplane, where the “MIB” discovered explosives planted inside. Eager to leave the island, the castaways and the “MIB” decided to use Widmore’s submarine to leave. At the same time, James “Sawyer” Ford conspired with Jack to prevent the “MIB” from leaving the island by instructing the latter to shove the Smoke Monster into the water. A gun battle between the Losties and Widmore’s people exploded near the submarine. Jack shoved the Smoke Monster into the water and Kate got shot. The rest of the castways – aside from Claire Littleton boarded the submarine. Jack carried the wounded Kate aboard. While searching for something to treat her inside his backpack, Jack found a bomb planted by the “MIB”. He tried to convince Sawyer and Sayid not to pull the wires, explaining that the Smoke Monster wanted them to do exactly that so they would kill each other. But Sawyer refused to believe Jack and pulled the wires.

Before the bomb exploded, Sayid grabbed it and ran into another chamber in order to prevent the other castaways from experiencing the initial blast. The explosion loosened a door that knocked pilot Frank Lapidus unconscious. It also put a hole in the side of the submarine, which allowed Frank to float to the water’s surface. More importantly, the explosion loosened heavy debris that trapped Sun into a corner. Jin, Jack and Sawyer tried to free Sun with no success. Jack ordered Hugo “Hurley” Reyes to take one of the air tanks inside the chamber and help the wounded Kate reach the ocean surface. After Hurley and Kate left the submarine, more debris loosened and knocked Sawyer unconscious. Jin told Jack to grab the remaining air tank and take Sawyer to the surface. Jack reluctantly followed Jin’s suggestion, leaving the Kwons alone aboard the sinking submarine. And here is where viewers arrived at the controversial moment. Jin made several attempts to free Sun from the debris. When husband and wife realized his efforts were futile, Sun sadly suggested that Jin attempt to swim for the surface on his own. Recalling the three years he and Sun had spent apart, Jin refused to abandon his wife and insisted upon remaining by her side. Both of the Kwons remained together to the very end and drowned.

As I had earlier hinted, this scene had generated a good deal of controversy among “LOST” fans. Some fans were moved by the Kwons’ fierce devotion to each other and determination to die together. Some complained over what they saw as a lack of originality about the Kwons’ deaths, claiming that “LOST” not only provided Charlie Pace a similar death in Season Three’s (3.22-3.23) “Through the Looking Glass”, but also a more dramatic one. But many had issues over Jin’s decision to die by his wife’s side. They believed that he should have tried to swim for the surface and live in order to be with his and Sun’s only child, Ji-Yeon. They believed that Jin had neglected his parental duties when he made the decision to remain by his wife’s side. By making Ji-Yeon an orphan, Jin left his daughter in the hands of Sun’s ruthless father, Mr. Paik. If I had to be honest, my sentiments regarding the Kwons’ death seemed to match the first group. I was moved Jin’s decision to remain at Sun’s side. Part of my feelings were based upon my frustration toward the two seasons in which the couple were separated. But I also believe that Sun’s parents would care for Ji-Yeon . . . and Jin would have never survived a swim to the surface.

Mr. Paik may have been a ruthless bastard, but I could never accuse him of being a lousy parent. Granted, he struck me as something of a disciplinarian. But Sun has never struck me as an ideal offspring, considering her penchant for lying and other flaky behavior – including an extramarital affair. The only true downside for Ji-Yeon – aside from being parted from her parents – is that I suspect she will never get to meet her paternal grandfather, Mr. Kwon. As for my allegation that Jin would have never survived a swim to the surface, I stand by it. If Jin had left Sun behind and accompanied Jack and the unconscious Sawyer to the surface, he probably would have survived, thanks to the remaining air tank in Jack’s possession. But Jin continued his efforts to free Sun when Jack departed the submarine with Sawyer and the air tank. Without an air tank, Jin would not have survived. Even if he had managed to free Sun, they would not have survived the swim to the surface. Not without an air tank.

Many would point out Frank Lapidus’ survival of the submarine’s destruction as proof that Jin could have made it to the surface without an air tank. But the bomb blast had knocked Frank unconscious. Because he was in that state, his body did not offer any resistance and this allowed the water’s currents to convey his body to the surface. Ana-Lucia Cortez had experienced something similar during the Oceanic 815 plane crash, three years earlier. When that plane broke apart in mid-air, a suitcase fell from one of the overhead compartments and knocked the former police officer out cold. The water’s current carried her body close to the surface, before she eventually regained conscious.

Unlike Frank and Ana-Lucia, Jin was conscious. Unlike Jack, Sawyer, Hurley and Kate; he lacked the assistance of an air tank. I suppose that many can still accuse him of selfishly choosing Sun over a future with their daughter. But since Jin was conscious and lacked an air tank, he would have drowned before reaching the surface. And in the end, both he and Sun would have died anyway . . . only apart from each other and alone.

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“LOST” RETROSPECT: (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”

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Nearly seven years ago, (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”, a Season Four episode of “LOST” aired for the first time and I wrote a review of the episode nearly two years after it first aired.  However, after a recent viewing, I decided to write another article on the episode:

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”

I am beginning to wonder if (4.10) “Something Nice Back Home”, a Season Four episode from “LOST”, might be one of the most misunderstood episodes of the series. When I recently viewed it for a second time in four years, I came to a realization that I may have misunderstood it.

“Something Nice Back Home” is basically a Jack Shephard episode that featured three main subplots – two of them about the very intense Dr. Shephard. One of them centered on James “Sawyer” Ford, Claire Littleton and Miles Straume’s efforts to reach the Oceanic 815 survivors’ beach camp, after surviving the near massacre at the Others’ compound by mercenary Martin Keamy and his merry band of killers. The second subplot was about Dr. Juliet Burke’s efforts to save Jack’s life after he had been struck down by appendicitis. And the final subplot turned out to be a flash forward about Jack’s time with fellow castaways Kate Austen and Aaron Littleton in Los Angeles, three years in the future.

During the first subplot, Sawyer, Claire and Miles’ jungle trek to the beach camp proved to be a tense little adventure that obviously appealed to many viewers. Ever since Sawyer had rescued Claire during Keamy’s attack upon the Others’ compound in (4.09) “The Shape of Things to Come”, fans began labeling him as the series’ “hero”. After my second viewing of the two episodes, I found this odd. Aside from his rescue of Claire, I cannot recall Sawyer doing anything worth noticing. Former Others leader Ben Linus had saved the survivors of Keamy’s attack and the Smoke Monster by leading them out of the besieged compound in “The Shape of Things to Come”. And in “Something Nice Back Home”, pilot Frank Lapidus saved Sawyer, Claire, Miles and Aaron with a warning and prevented them from encountering a very angry Keamy and his surviving men. Frank also convinced Keamy to use another jungle trail in order to distract the latter from the castaways’ hiding place.

One might view Sawyer’s protective attitude toward Claire as an example of his heroism. People are entitled to do so . . . even if I have trouble accepting this. Mind you, I found the exchanges between Sawyer and Miles rather amusing. But when Sawyer caught Miles shooting odd stares at Claire, the former decided to go into a belligerent protective mode and warn Miles to keep his distance. This incident, along with Miles’ detection of Danielle Rousseau and Karl’s bodies were signs of Miles’ psychic ability, but Sawyer was unaware of it. Eventually, Sawyer regretted his warning, when Claire disappeared into the jungle with the Smoke Monster, who was in the form of Christian Shephard – hers and Jack’s father. Like I said, this subplot provided plenty of suspense, adventure and snark. But “LOST” never answered some of the questions that it raised. Why did Claire leave with the Man in Black (Smoke Monster)? Why did she leave Aaron behind? What happened to her during those three years before her reunion with her fellow castaways in Season Six? And was Claire’s disappearance nothing more than a plot device for Kate’s story line featuring those years with baby Aaron?

The second plot line focused on Jack’s appendicitis. In fact, this episode began with this subplot, using the trademark shot of Jack’s eye opening. Not much came from this particular subplot. While gathering surgical instruments and medical supplies at the Staff Station, both Jin and Sun Kwon discovered that one of the freighter newcomers, Charlotte Lewis, spoke Korean. Jin informed Charlotte that he will harm her fellow freighter passenger, Daniel Faraday, if she did not secure a place for the pregnant Sun aboard the Kahuna freighter. The subplot also revealed Juliet’s talent for leadership. She also realized that Jack still loved Kate and that her romantic friendship with him was nothing more than an illusion.

In the end, Charlotte did not ensure Sun’s departure from the island. Juliet did in the Season Four finale, (4.12) “There’s No Place Like Home, Part I”. Knowledge of Charlotte’s ability to speak Korean only allowed her to issue a warning to Jin about the dangers of the island before her death in Season Five’s (5.05) “This Place is Death”. And Juliet’s leadership abilities were never explored in future episodes. Adhering to Hollywood’s sexist codes, John Locke ended up acting as leader of the castaways left behind during the island’s time jumps. Sawyer assumed the role of “leader” following Locke’s departure from the island, via the Orchid Station’s donkey wheel.

And to this day, “LOST fans have no idea on what led to Jack’s attack of appendicitis. Many have speculated, claiming that either it was a sign of the Island’s displeasure over Jack’s eagerness to leave or a symbol of his subconscious reacting to Jack’s desire. Who knows? Fellow castaway Rose Nadler expressed her belief to husband Bernard that Jack’s illness was an ominous warning. In her view, everyone “gets better” on the Island. Naturally, she could only speak from her personal experiences and knowledge of what happened to Locke’s legs. I have decided not to view Jack’s appendicitis from any metaphoric point of view and see it as nothing more than an opportunity for “LOST” writers to end the burgeoning Jack/Juliet romance. When Jack made it clear that he wanted Kate to participate in his operation, Juliet realized that Jack was not in love with her and told Kate. What made this whole mystery surrounding Jack’s infirmity ridiculous is that three years and two seasons later, island guru Jacob told Jack and a few others that staying or leaving the island (and accepting the role as island leader) was a matter of choice.

The episode’s last episode – the 2007 flash forward featuring Jack and Kate’s romance in Los Angeles – seemed to have generated the greatest amount of contempt from the fans and the media. Many fans blamed Jack’s personal flaws for his meltdown and break-up with Kate, complaining about his alcohol and drug dependence, his jealousy toward Kate’s feelings for Sawyer (who had remained on the island), and his controlling nature. They believed if Jack had kept these flaws in check, he could have enjoyed a happy life with Kate and Aaron. Others believed that Jack’s visit to Hurley at the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute triggered a realization that he needed to return to the Island in order to meet his “destiny”.

I have a different views on the subplot featuring Jack’s meltdown. One, I believe it was the best subplot in “Something Nice Back Home”. It was the only subplot that helped drive the series’ main narrative. And unlike the Sawyer/Claire/Miles and the appendicitis subplots, it did not end with unanswered questions. More importantly, the episode raised a question that many fans, including myself, had failed to notice. What really led to Jack’s post-Island meltdown and break-up with Kate? In my previous review, I had expressed an opinion that Jack’s perfect life with Kate and Aaron was too superficial to last. I never realized the extent of how shallow and false his life was. After viewing “Something Nice Back Home” for the second time, I realized that this question was answered in (4.04) “Eggtown” and in future episodes such as (4.12) “There’s No Place Like Home”, (5.02) “The Lie”, (5.04) “The Little Prince” and (5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened”.

What am I trying to say? Simple. Jack and the other members of the Oceanic Six had created lives filled with unnecessary and/or selfish lies, deceit, illusions and grief. Audiences had already experienced Hugo “Hurley” Reyes’ crash and burn in flashbacks featured in the Season Four premiere, (4.01) “The Beginning of the End”. In this episode, audiences finally witnessed Jack’s future meltdown. In a flash forward from “Eggtown”, Jack revealed the Oceanic Six’s major lie about the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 during Kate’s criminal trial:

DUNCAN: Were you aware that Ms. Austen was a fugitive being transported by a United States marshal on that flight to Los Angeles for trial?

JACK: I did learn that eventually, yes.

DUNCAN: From the U.S. Marshal?

JACK: No, the marshal died in the crash. I never spoke to him. Ms. Austen told me.

DUNCAN: Did you ever ask her if she was guilty?

JACK: No. Never.

DUNCAN: Well, that seems like a reasonable question. Why not?

JACK: I just assumed that there had been some kind of mistake.

DUNCAN: And why would you think that?

JACK: Only eight of us survived the crash. We landed in the water. I was hurt, pretty badly. In fact, if it weren’t for her, I would have never made it to the shore. She took care of me. She took care of all of us. She — she gave us first aid, water, found food, made shelter. She tried to save the other two, but they didn’t—

As we all know, this is a load of horseshit. But what led Jack to tell all of these lies. The episode (4.14) “There’s No Place Like Home”featured a scene in which Locke asked Jack to lie about the Island and their their experiences during the past three months . . . to protect the Island. Jack had announced his intentions to follow Locke’s instructions in (5.02) “The Lie”. Kate, Sun and Sayid agreed to support his lies. Hurley did not, claiming that they were unnecessary. Eventually, Hurley capitulated to Jack’s demands. I never understood why Jack had created such unnecessary lies about the island. It had disappeared after Ben had pushed the Orchid Station’s donkey wheel. By the time the Oceanic Six were “rescued”, they had traveled many miles away from the island, thanks to Kahuna freighter’s helicopter, floating in the ocean for several days and Penny Widmore’s yacht, which conveyed them to the Java Trench, where a fake Oceanic 815 airplane was planted by Penny’s father, Charles Widmore and near the island of Sumba. The only person who could have found the Island was Widmore. Being a former resident of the Island, he knew how to acquire information on the Island’s locations. And once he did, Widmore dispatched Martin Keamy and his thugs there to collect Ben Linus. The authorities would have never found the Island, and the lie did not prevente Widmore from finding it again, as Season Six eventually proved. Leaving behind so many castaways and pretending they were dead did not serve a damn thing.

There was another lie that proved to be even more destructive . . . namely the lie about fugitive Kate Austen being the mother of Aaron Littleton, Claire’s son. When “Something Nice Back Home” first aired, many viewers believed that Jack had coerced Kate into pretending to be Aaron’s mother in order to protect him from the foster care system or Charles Widmore. In “There’s No Place Like Home, Part I”, both Jack and Kate learned that Claire’s mother, Carole Littleton, was alive and well. Both realized they were keeping Aaron from his grandmother via the lie, but both continued the deception. A flashback in “The Little Prince” revealed that it was Kate who had suggested she pretend to be Aaron’s mother, due to her selfish desire to use Aaron as an emotional comfort blanket:

KATE: I’ve been thinking a lot about him. Did you know that Claire was flying to L.A. to give him up for adoption?

JACK: No. No, I didn’t.

KATE: I think we should say he’s mine.

JACK: What?

KATE: We could say that I was six months pregnant when I was arrested and that I gave birth to him on the Island. No one would ever know.

JACK: Kate, no. You don’t have to… [sighs] There’s other ways too this.

KATE: After everyone we’ve lost–Michael, Jin, Sawyer… I can’t lose him, too.

JACK: Sawyer’s not dead.

KATE: No. But he’s gone. Good night, Jack.

JACK: Kate… If we’re gonna be safe, if we’re gonna protect the people that we left behind, tomorrow morning, I’m gonna have to convince everyone to lie. If it’s just me, they’re never gonna go for it. So I’m gonna turn to you first. Are you with me?

KATE: I have always been with you.

Wow. I find it interesting that so many fans have complained about Jack’s controlling nature. Yet, it is also easy to see that he can be very susceptible to Kate’s manipulations. Yet, very few people have commented on this. By the way, Kate’s suggestion was confirmed in a confession that she had made to Cassidy Phillips, Sawyer’s ex-girlfriend and fellow grifter, in “Whatever Happened, Happened”. And Jack . . . due to his selfish desire to earn or maintain Kate’s love, agreed to support her lie. I suspect his encounter with Carole Littleton at his father’s funeral service dealt two major blows to Jack’s psyche. He learned that Claire Littleton was his half-sister, due to an affair between Christian Shephard and Carole. And two, he had allowed Kate to use his nephew as an emotional blanket, while keeping said nephew from the latter’s very healthy grandmother. I suspect that this discovery had led Jack to stay away from Kate for a while. But after seeing her at her trial, he realized he could not stay away and caved in to her demand that he need to accept Aaron as hers in order for them to have a relationship.

But Jack’s conversation with Hurley at the mental hospital only proved something that Jack could not face – he was living a life based upon lies about the Island, the survivors of the crash and especially Aaron. And I also suspect that his discovery of Kate’s deception about the favor she did for Sawyer made him realized that he was maintaining lies for the love of a woman who was lying to him. No wonder he freaked out in the end with booze, pills and anger. I suspect that Jack’s outburst about Kate not being related to Aaron was a hint of her own meltdown and realization, a few months later.

“Something Nice Back Home” was not perfect. The episode featured one entertaining and suspenseful subplot that brought up questions behind Claire Littleton’s disappearance – questions that were never really explored after Claire’s reappearance in Season Six. It featured another subplot regarding Jack’s appendicitis that raised both questions and minor subplots that were never dealt with any satisfaction. The only subplot I believe that had any meat or merit was the flash forward featuring Jack Shephard’s meltdown regarding the Island, Kate Austen and his nephew Aaron Littleton. So in the end, all was not lost for “Something Nice Back Home”.

Top Five Favorite “LOST” Season One (2004-2005) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of “LOST” (2004-2010). The series was created by Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof; and produced by the latter and Carlton Cuse.

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “LOST” SEASON ONE (2004-2005) Episodes

1 - 1.22-1.23 Exodus

1. (1.23-1.25) “Exodus” – This season finale served as a transition in the series’ narrative, as an expedition sets out to find dynamite to open the hatch recently discovered by castaway John Locke. And the raft planned by Michael Dawson finally leaves the island with him, his son Walt, Jin Kwon and James “Sawyer” Ford, resulting in unexpected circumstances.

 

2 - 1.17 In Translation

2. (1.17) “. . . In Translation” – This episode featured Jin Kwon’s backstory in flashbacks and the further disintegration of his marriage, when he discovers that his wife Sun had learned English behind his back.

 

3 - 1.04 Walkabout

3. (1.04) “Walkabout” – While Locke and a few others set on a hunting expedition to find boar for the other castaways, his flashbacks reveal his reason for being in Australia.

 

4 - 1.11 All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues

4. (1.11) “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” – Jack Shephard leads an expedition to find two castaways that had been kidnapped in the previous episode. The episode’s flashbacks reveal the events that led to Jack being responsible for his father’s dismissal from the hospital they worked at.

 

5 - 1.19 Deus Ex Machina

5. (1.19) “Deus Ex Machina” – In their search for a means to open a hatch they had found, Locke and Boone Carlyle find a Nigerian small plane. And their discovery leads to tragic circumstances. In the flashbacks, Locke meets his parents for the first time, who prove to be major disappointments.

“LOST”: Things That Make Me Go . . . Hmmm?

The following is a list of questions I have regarding subplots that have been featured in past episodes of “LOST”. If you have an answer to any of my questions, please feel free to reply:

 

“LOST”: THINGS THAT MAKE ME GO . . . HMMM?

1. Who gave the original order for Walt Lloyd to be kidnapped?

 

2. Why did the Others kidnap some of the surviving Tail Section passengers of Oceanic 815?

 

3. Why did Ben Linus and the Others scheme to keep Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, and James “Sawyer” Ford as prisoners on Hydra Island?

 

4. Why did Michael Dawson confess his murder of Ana-Lucia Cortez and accidental killing of Libby to his ten year-old son, Walt Lloyd, following their departure from the island?

 

5. Why did Tom Friendly claim that no one was able to leave the island, following the explosion of the Swan Station, despite the fact that he, Michael and Walt were able to do so?

 

6. Why did the prosecuting attorney blindly believe Jack’s false testimony that Kate gave birth to Aaron Littleton, during their three-month stay on the island?

 

7. Why did the prosecuting attorney fail to continue her prosecution of Kate for the charges of bank robbery, assaulting a Federal peace officer, after the murder charges were dropped?

 

8. Why were the Losties, the Freighter people and Juliet the only ones who time traveled on the island and not the Others or Danielle Rousseau?

 

9. Why did Ben kill John Locke in “The Death of Jeremy Bentham”?

 

10. What happened to Claire Littleton during her three-year stay on the island, following the departure of the Oceanic Six?

 

11. Who killed some of the surviving Ajira 316 passengers at their beach camp and why?

 

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (2013) Review

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“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (2013) Review

The second part of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel, “The Hobbit” recently hit the theaters. After watching it, I am amazed that I was ever against the idea of a three-film adaptation of the Tolkien’s story.

Titled “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”, the second film began not long after the first one left off. I take that back. The movie began with a flashback featuring a meet between the wizard Gandalf the Gray and the Dwarf prince, Thorin Oakenshield at the Prancing Pony Tavern in Bree. Those familiar with the trilogy, will remember that Froddo Baggins and his fellow Hobbits were supposed to meet Gandalf at the Prancing Pony and ended up meeting Strider aka Aragon, future king of Gondor. The audiences learn in this flashback that it was Gandalf, who originally kickstarted the adventure by convincing Thorin to obtain the Arkenstone in order to unite the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.

Finally, the story begins where the last movie left off, with Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves evading the Orc chieftain Azog and his party. They eventually seek shelter at the home of a shapeshifter named Beorn, before they make their way to the Milkwood forest. There, Gandalf parts company with the others after discovering Black Speech graffiti imprinted on an old ruin. He heads toward the tombs of the Nazgûl in Dol Guldur, to investigate with fellow wizard Radagast. Meanwhile, Bilbo and the Dwarves get lost in the Milkwood forest and eventually captured by giant spiders. Using the One Ring to render himself invisible, Bilbo manages to free the Dwarves from the spiders’ webs. However, they end up being captured by a party of Wood Elves led by Legolas and Tauriel, who finish off the spiders. During the Dwarves’ captivity, Thorin gets into a conflict with the Wood Elves’ king, Thranduil; Kili becomes attracted to the Elves’ Chief of Guards, Tauriel. Again, Bilbo comes to the Dwaves’ rescue and help them escape, with their Orc pursuers close at their heels. And with the help of a barge man named Bard the Bowman (who is also a descendant of the last king of Dale), the travelers not only reach Lake-town, but eventually the Lonely Mountain and Smaug. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, Thorin and the other Dwarves, Gandalf is captured by the Necromancer of Nazgûl, who reveals himself as the Dark Lord Sauron.

Many fans and critics tend to view “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” as superior to the first movie in this new trilogy, “THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. If I have to be brutally honest, I do not particularly share this view. On the other hand, I do not regard the first “HOBBIT” movie as superior to this second one. I really cannot make up my mind on which film is better. “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” does not have a first act that takes its time in introducing the character. On the other hand, “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” does not have an abrupt ending. And both films, in my opinion, are well written by screenwriters Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Guillermo del Toro. It featured further development of the major characters, development of the main narrative and some superb action sequences.

Before I wax lyrical over “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”, I might as well comment over its shortcomings. Thankfully, there are only a few. Two of them featured characters from the Wood Elves – Legolas and Tauriel. Orlando Bloom returned to portray the sixty years younger Legolas for this new trilogy. However, Bloom is over a decade older than he was when he portrayed the older Legolas. I wish I could say that he looked young enough to portray the younger Legolas. But I would be lying. And I am not being shallow. Bloom looked great. But I could tell that he looked older than he did in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. And for me, this did not gel very well, considering that he was portraying the same character at a younger age. I also had a problem with the new character, Tauriel, Chief Guard for the Wood Elves. I understand that she was created by Jackson and the other screenwriters, due to the dearth of female characters in this story’s chapter. Quite frankly, I have no problem with this, unlike the Tolkien “purists”. But there were times when I found her character a little too ideal. It is great that she is a badass. But aside from an initial show of bigotry toward the Dwarves, there seemed to be a lack of flaws in Tauriel’s characterization. Not only is she a badass fighter, she is the only Elf who seemed to be aware of a growing evil throughout Middle Earth and believes something should be done about it. Tauriel is practically a borderline “Mary Sue”. And like many moviegoers, I found the movie’s final scene rather perplexing. I realize that “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” is only the second of three movies. But Jackson had ended previous Tolkien movies – aside from “LORD OF THE RING: RETURN OF THE KING” – with the conclusion of a major action sequence. I had expected him to resolve the matter of Smaug before moving on to the last chapter of “THE HOBBIT”. He did not. And because of this, the movie ended on an erupt note.

As I had earlier stated, I cannot view “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” as superior to “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. On the other hand, I definitely do not view this second film as inferior to the first. First of all, it benefited from the establishment of the main characters and main narrative from the first film. I also have to give kudos to Peter Jackson for maintaining a steady pace throughout the movie – in both the action and dramatic sequences. I find that very impressive for a movie with a running time of two hours and forty-one minutes. The movie also continued Jackson’s track record with impressive production designs. I was especially impressed by Dan Hennah’s work for the Mirkwood Elves Realm, Lake-wood and the Lonely Mountain interior sequences. The costumes designed by Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey and Richard Taylor struck me as beautiful . . . especially those designed for the Wood Elves. I cannot forget Andrew Lesnie’s beautiful photography of New Zealand, which served as Middle Earth. And the makeup designs for the Dwaves characters and the Elves continued to impress me. But I cannot forget the visual effects used in this film. Most of the faces for the Orcs were computer generated, and I must say that I found that impressive. The visual effects team also did exceptional work for the Dol Guldur sequences – especially with Gandalf’s encounter with Sauron. And despite my dislike of spiders, I was also impressed by the visual work on the Milkwood Forest sequence that featured the protagonists’ encounters with the deadly beasts. But the one sequence that stands above the others – at least for me – proved to be Bilbo and the Dwarves’ encounter with the dragon Smaug. How can I put it? I found it breathtaking, mesmerizing . . . and extremely frightening. The visual creation of Smaug truly have to be the movie’s pièce de résistance. Benedict Cumberbatch’s superb voice performance greatly added to the terror . . . and I am being complementary.

However, “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” was not all about visual effects. The movie also featured some top-notch action sequences and superb dramatic moments. Not even my negative opinion of spiders could blind me from the first-rate sequence that featured the Milwood Elves’ rescue of Bilbo and the Dwarves. It was an especially good moment for actors Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly. Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and those actors who portrayed the Dwarves had their chance to really shine in that outstanding sequence featuring Smaug within the great halls of Erebor. But my favorite action sequence featured Bilbo and the Dwarves’ escape from Wood Elves’ realm by traveling along a river inside empty wine barrels. Not even that brief, silly moment that featured Legolas balancing on the heads of two Dwarves, while fighting the pursuing Orcs could mar my enjoyment of that scene. If Jackson ever consider opening an amusement park, he might want to consider that sequence as an inspiration for an attraction. However, “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” was not all action and no drama. The movie certain featured some fine dramatic scenes. My favorites include two scenes featuring the growing romance between the Dwarf Kili and the Elf Guard Tauriel, Bilbo’s cat-and-mouse session with Smaug, and a wonderful moment in which Thorin manages to convince the citizens of Lake-town to support the Dwarves’ efforts to reclaim Erebor. But if there is one scene that really impressed me, it happened to be the stormy confrontation between the two leaders, Thorin and Thranduil, within the latter’s realm. I feel it was the dramatic highlight of the movie, thanks to superb performances from Richard Armitage and Lee Pace.

Speaking of performances . . . I really cannot say there was one that failed to impress me. Although I had some criticisms of the Legolas and Tauriel characters, I certainly had none regarding the two performers who portrayed them. Granted, Orlando Bloom may have been a bit old for portraying the younger Legolas, I must admit that I found his acting in this movie a lot more impressive than in the “LORD OF THE RINGS”. His Legolas in this film was a bit darker and more complex. And Bloom rose to the occasion perfectly. Evangeline Lilly’s portrayal of Tauriel was probably one of the best things in this movie. She has certainly come a long way since her early years as an actress. Tauriel might have been something of a “Mary Sue”, Lilly certainly injected a great deal of brilliance and excitement into the character. And she had great screen chemistry with Aidan Turner, who portrayed the youngest member of Thorin’s Dwarf band – Kili. Turner, who was such fun in the first “HOBBIT” film, did a marvelous job as the lovesick Kili. I especially enjoyed his one scene in which the barely conscious Kili not only poignantly expressed his love for Tauriel, but also his self-doubts about her feelings for him. Lee Pace added another eccentric character to his gallery of roles as the arrogant king of the Wood Elves, Thranduil. Mind you, Pace went out of his way to express Thranduil’s desire to protect his people from the growing evil. But he also did such a marvelous job in expressing Thranduil’s showy personality and arrogance.

Luke Evans made his debut in the trilogy as Bard the Bowman, an archer and descendant of the lords of Dale. And he was fantastic. Evans captured a great deal of the character’s grim charisma and presence with great ease. Some of the other actors who portrayed the Erebor Dwarves certainly made their presence felt in this film. Graham McTavish was deliciously surly as the aggressive Dwalin, the first Dwarf that Bilbo ever met. Ken Stott continued his outstanding portrayal of the elderly and very wise Balin. Dean O’Gorman continued his strong chemistry with Aidan Turner as Fili, Kili’s older brother. I was especially impressed by his performance in a scene in which Fili refuses to leave behind the injured Kili at Lake-town. A first-rate dramatic performance on his part. Stephen Hunter got to shine as the overweight Dwarf, Bombur. After his character was treated as a joke in the first film, Hunter had a great heroic moment when his character fought off several Orcs during the flight from the Milkwood Palace. Stephen Fry appeared in the film as the Master of Lake-town and gave a deliciously nasty performance as the self-involved and greedy leader of the community near the Lonely Mountain. In fact, I cannot recall him portraying such a negative character before. He should do it more often.

Ian McKellen continued his elegant portrayal of the wizard Gandalf the Gray. Like the second film in the “LORD OF RINGS” trilogy, his appearance was more limited than it was in the first. But he had some marvelous moments during the sequence that featured Gandalf’s visit to Dol Guldur. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo Baggins developed in a way that I found both satisfying and disturbing. I have to give Freeman kudos in the subtle manner in which he conveyed Bilbo’s growing confidence in his role as a member of Thorin’s company. At the same, audiences could see the growing negative imapact of the One Ring upon his character . . . especially in the Milkwood Forest sequence. Bilbo’s character was not the only one growing increasingly darker. As much as I enjoyed Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the heroic Aragon in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy, I must admit that I find Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin Oakenshield more rewarding. The character is so rich in its complexity and Armitage does a superb job in portraying the Dwarf prince’s moral ambiguity. I found it interesting that in this second film, Thorin begins to rely a lot more on Bilbo to help the company through its travails. Yet, the closer the company reaches its goal in Erebor, the darker Thorin’s personality becomes. It is fascinating to watch Armitage take this character down a dark road.

It is a pity that “THE HOBBIT” trilogy has not garnered as much critical acclaim as the “LORD OF THE RINGS” movies. Quite frankly, I find them more enjoyable to watch. Unlike the trilogy from a decade ago, the two “HOBBIT” movies have managed to more than satisfy me. “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” may have possessed a few flaws, but it kept me fully entertained and fascinated right to the end. Right now, Peter Jackson seemed to be on a roll with this second trilogy. I only hope that the third and last film will not disappoint me.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.01-1.02) “The Pilot”

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“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.01-1.02) “The Pilot”

The pilot episode of some of my favorite television series have rarely impressed me . . . if not at all. There are a few exceptions to the rule. And one of those exceptions happened to the be pilot episode for ABC-TV’s “LOST”

Created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Leiber and Damon Lindelof, “LOST” aired on television for six seasons, between 2004 and 2010. As many fans know, “LOST” told about the survivors of a commercial passenger plane crash on a mysterious South Pacific island, while flying between Sydney and Los Angeles. While television viewers got to know these survivors during their time on the island, but also through flashbacks revealing their past. The series’ first episode aired in two parts on September 22, 2004.

(1.01) “Pilot (Part 1)” introduced the series’ leading character, a spinal surgeon named Dr. Jack Shephard, who wakes up in the middle of the jungle following the crash of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815. He stumbles onto the beach and finds the chaos left behind from Oceanic 815’s crash. As everyone knows, the plane broke into three pieces before crashing on the island. Jack and most of the survivors ended upon with the fuselage. The cockpit and the plane’s first-class section ended deep into the jungle with no survivors, save the pilot. And the tail section fell into the ocean on the other side of the island. Jack and some of the survivors like John Locke and Hugo “Hurley” Reyes help other passengers with injuries or dodging burning pieces. After helping some of the passengers, Jack goes to another part of the beach to tend to his own injury, when he meets Kate Austen. She sews up his injury, while the two bond. Many other things occur during the episode. Survivors either form friendships or get on each others’ nerves. During their first night on the beach, everyone becomes unnerved by sounds of a monster deep in the jungle. The following day, Jack heads toward the cockpit to retrieve the plane’s transceiver and is accompanied by Kate and musician Charlie Pace. They retrieve the transceiver and encounter the badly injured pilot, who informs them that the plane had lost radio contact six hours into the flight and veered off course. Before he can share any further information, he is seized by a strange being and killed. Jack, Kate and Charlie make a run for it.

(1.02) “Pilot (Part 2)” continue Jack, Kate and Charlie’s flight from the monster that killed the pilot. During their absence, the dog of 10 year-old survivor Walt Lloyd finds a pair of handcuffs. A Middle Eastern survivor name Sayid Jarrah comes under suspicion from a Southern-born passenger named “Sawyer”. Jack and his two companions make it back to the beach with the transceiver. Sayid, Kate, “Sawyer”, Charlie and a step-brother-sister team named Boone Carlyle and Shannon Rutherford trek to the high ground to use the transceiver. Instead of contacting help, they manage to interpret a message sent earlier by a French woman on the island. One of the badly wounded survivors on the beach turn out to be a U.S. marshal demanding the whereabouts of his prisoner, a woman. Flashbacks reveal that the prisoner is Kate.

I will not deny that “LOST” is one of my favorite television series. It is not on my list of the top ten favorite shows. But it is on my list of top twenty favorites. Despite my favoritism toward “LOST”, I cannot deny that it also possessed some seriously flawed writing. But it was not on display in the two-part pilot. Well . . . somewhat. A few of the occurrences in this episode ended up contradicting the series’ future narrative. 

It is ironic that the first villainous character to make his/her appearance in the series turned out to be the main villain – the Smoke Monster aka the Man in Black. The survivors heard its “roar” during their first night on the island. And he killed the Oceanic 815’s pilot while the latter discussed the plane’s location with Jack and Kate. In fact, the Smoke Monster killed another survivor in an early Season Three episode – Mr. Eko. While many fans are still debating the reason behind the MIB’s murder of Mr. Eko, no one has figured out why the pilot was killed. Especially after Season Six revealed the list of candidates for the island’s new caretaker. I suspect that the MIB was simply being portrayed as a supernatural monster before the writers had decided to portray him as a villain with a purpose.

I have two more complaints about the episode. Some of the characterizations struck me as one-dimensional. This was especially the case for Shannon Rutherford, who was portrayed as some bitchy Valley Girl; Jin Kwon, who was written as a cliché of the oppressive Asian husband; Sun Kwon, who was portrayed as the typically oppressed Asian wife; and James “Sawyer” Ford, who was not only unlikable, but also the one-dimensional Southern white male. In Sawyer’s case, not only was his character portrayed in the worst clichéd manner possible, poor Josh Holloway was stuck with some pretty bad dialogue – especially in Part 2. He fared a lot better as the series progressed. Speaking of dialogue – yeech! Yes, I thought it was pretty bad. It was more than bad. I found it somewhat infantile and unmemorable.

Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad. Despite some of the one-dimensional characterization and bad dialogue, there were some pretty good performances. For me, one of the best performances came from Matthew Fox, who dived right into the role as the series’ lead character, Dr. Jack Shephard. Fox gave early hints of the complicated and deeply flawed character later revealed in future episodes. Fox’s early revelation of Jack’s flaws must have been subtle, for the later revelation of his flaws seemed to have taken many by surprise. Dominic Monaghan gave a funny and charming performance as the drug-addicted musician, Charlie Pace. And yet, his performance was skillfully shaded with hints of his character’s drug addiction. Thanks to Naveen Andrews’ subtle, yet intense performance and good writing, the character of Sayid Jarrah rose above the usual clichés featuring Middle Eastern characters. Emilie de Ravin was a delight as the pregnant Australian survivor, Claire Littleton. As for Evangeline Lilly, she did a pretty good job as Kate Austen, the survivor trying to hide her status as a Federal prisoner. However, I had some difficulty accepting her as the take charge type, as the script tried to portray her in Part 2. Terry O’Quinn was perfectly mysterious as John Locke, but viewers had to wait for another two episodes before he began to shine in the role. And Harold Perrineau gave a skillful performance as Michael Dawson, the inexperienced father of 10 year-old survivor, Walt Lloyd.

I felt that the narrative for “The Pilot”, which was written by Abrams and Lindelof, proved to be a well-written adventure. The story covered all of the elements for a story about survivors on a tropical island. The addition of the Smoke Monster injected a little horror and a great deal of mystery that would become the series’ hallmark. One of the aspects of “The Pilot” that I found particularly interesting was that it started with a close-up of Jack Shephard’s eye – post crash. In other words, this story did not start with the crash. Audiences were not treated to scenes aboard Oceanic Flight 815 and the actual crash, except during flashbacks. Very unusual. There were other scenes that I still find fascinating after nine years. My God! Has it been nine years? Those scenes include Jack, Kate and Charlie’s escape from the cockpit, following the pilot’s death; the discovery of Danielle Rousseau’s message in Part 2; the encounter with the polar bear; and the survivors’ first awareness of the Smoke Monster’s existence. But the one scene that many consider outstanding – including myself – is that opening shot of the fuselage wreckage on the beach and the chaos that surrounded it. I must admit that not only did J.J. Abrams really outdid himself in this particular scene, it is probably one of his best directed sequences in his entire career.

Despite a few hiccups regarding dialogue and some one-dimensional characterizations, “LOST” provided one of the best series openings I have ever viewed on television, thanks to some superb direction by J.J. Abrams, a damn fine cast and a well written teleplay. It is a pity that the series has never been able to maintain such excellent consistency during the rest of its six seasons on the air.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.17) “. . . In Translation”

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.17) “. . . In Translation”

Before I commence upon this article, I should reveal that the “LOST” Season One episode, (1.17) “. . . In Translation” is one of my all time favorites from the series. I will try to be as biased as possible regarding the episode, but do not expect me to succeed. 

To understand “. . . In Translation”, one has to watch the previous episode, (1.06) “The House of the Rising Sun”. The flashbacks in that episode revealed the backstory of the marriage between Jin-Soo Kwon and Sun-Hwa Kwon (née Paik) before they had ended up stranded on the island via Oceanic Flight 815. Told from Sun’s point of view, the flashbacks revealed that Jin had to take a job working for Mr. Paik, Sun’s father, for her hand in marriage. The couple became increasingly estranged, as Jin began spending more time doing his father-in-law’s bidding than with his wife. One night, after they are married, Jin returned home covered in someone else’s blood. Fearing that her husband might be a dangerous killer, Sun secretly plotted to leave Jin (hence the secret English lessons); but changed her mind while on route to Los Angeles, via Sydney. “The House of the Rising Sun” also revealed the growing animosity between Jin and fellow castaway Michael Dawson, when the former attacked the latter for wearing Sun’s father’s watch – something that Michael had discovered on the beach.

“. . . In Translation” continued the revelation of the Kwon marriage, only from Jin’s point-of-view. The flashbacks revealed the circumstances behind Jin asking Sun’s father her hand in marriage, the bargain he made to work for the older man, Jin’s growing awareness of Sun’s frustration with his duties and more importantly the real circumstances surrounding the infamous blood on his hands that Sun had spotted. Sun saw a man who may have committed a brutal murder. What really happened is that Jin prevented a government official – who had refused to re-open one of Mr. Paik’s factories – from being murdered by one of his father-in-law’s henchmen by convincing the man to cooperate with a severe beating. Realizing that he was in danger of losing Sun, Jin decided to take his fisherman father’s advice to use a business trip to leave South Korea and stay in the U.S. for good. Only the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 intervened. Following the events of (1.14) “Special”, Michael Dawson decided to build a raft in order to get his ten year-old son away from the dangers of the island. The hostility between Michael and Jin finally come to a head when someone mysteriously set fire to the raft. Believing that Jin had set the fire, Michael attacked the former. Sun’s desperate cries for Michael to stop revealed her knowledge of English to Jin and the other castaways. The revelation not only led to a rift between the South Korean couple, but also to the beginning of a friendship between Jin and Michael, as they proceeded to rebuild the raft.

This episode was aptly named “. . . In Translation”, a take on Sofia Coppola’s 2003 movie. If anything, it focused upon the main problem that surrounded the Kwon marriage – namely the bad communication that existed between the couple before and after the crash of Oceanic 815. For some time, Sun believed that Jin might be a murderer on her father’s behalf, due to the blood she had spotted on his hand. This would explain why she had continuously declared to people like Michael and fellow castaway Kate Austen about Jin’s dangerous nature and how “he was capable of anything”. And this would explain why she took the trouble to learn English and not tell Jin. However, Jin was also guilty of keeping secrets from Sun. He never told Sun the details behind the blood on his hands, believing that it was not her place to know. More importantly, he lied about his father, Mr. Kwon, telling both Sun and her father that the latter was dead. Which is ironic, considering he left Sun after learning that she spoke English. Even more ironic is the fact that Sun knows that his father is alive . . . but never bothered to reveal this to Jin. Some viewers translated that last shot of Sun revealing her bikini without Jin hovering about, as a sign of her “freedom”. Whatever ”=”bondage”that Sun found during her marriage, had been created by bad communication between her and Jin. For me, Sun’s removal of her wrap struck me as a hollow and irrelevant gesture. Her “freedom” came at the cost of losing – at least for a while – the very man that she would always love more than anyone else.

On a minor level, a lack of communications also continued to exist between Michael and Walt. Most fans tend to blame Michael for this by accusing him of being a poor parent. Although there were moments when Michael became forgetful of Walt. And there were other times when Michael’s jealousy of Walt’s friendship with castaway John Locke got in the way. However, many of these fans failed to recall that Walt was just as responsible as Michael, due to his residual resentment toward the major changes in his life – losing his mother and gaining a long lost father. Because of this resentment, Walt had a bad habit of disobeying his father when he should have done the opposite. As far as these fans are concerned, Locke would have made a better parent than Michael. Personally, I disagree. Locke was adept at being a friend to Walt. Being a friend did not necessarily mean one is a good parent. The latter has to be an effective disciplinarian, as well. Unfortunately, being a disciplinarian does not jibe with the early 21st ideal of parenthood.

A third storyline centered on the triangle that existed between Shannon Rutherford, Sayid Jarrah and Shannon’s stepbrother, Boone Carlyle. But I barely paid attention. In a nutshell, Sayid declared his intentions to court Shannon to Boone. The latter decided to stir up trouble by hinting to Sayid that Shannon likes to use older men for her own benefit. Needless to say, Shannon set things to right and resumed her romance with Sayid after receiving sound advice from Locke.

Screenwriters Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Leonard Dick really did a great job in continuing the revelations behind the Kwon marriage in this very emotional episode. The island incidents balanced very well against Jin’s flashbacks regarding his marriage. And this episode really worked, due to the outstanding performances from Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim. Also Harold Perrineau (Michael Dawson), Bryan Chung (Mr. Paik), and John Shin (Mr. Kwon) gave excellent support.

Some of my favorite scenes in the episode included Jin’s successful attempts to save the life of the South Korean government official, his marriage proposal to Mr. Paik and especially the poignant conversation he has with his father, Mr. Kwon, about his marriage. I also enjoyed the scenes that featured Michael’s two attempts to bond with ten year-old Walt – the second being more successful. I also enjoyed Locke’s revelation that Walt was responsible for burning the raft. But my favorite scene featured the moment when Jin discovered that Sun spoke English. Director Tucker Gates did an excellent job in conveying Jin’s confusion with spinning camera work and muffled babble, as the the South Korean castaway tried to understand the English words that swirled around him. The only dark spot in this episode was Sawyer’s attempt to form a lynch mob for Jin, after the raft caught on fire. It was an unpleasant reminder that Mr. Ford’s penchant for resorting to violent retribution remained with him until the last season
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Some time ago, I had created a LIST of my ten favorite episodes from “LOST”“. . . In Translation” ranked at number six on my list. After my recent viewing of the episode, that ranking still stands.