The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 by Francis Lawrence (2014)

mockingjay1.1The beginning of the end – but we’re already very familiar with this kind of thing, aren’t we? I mean the splitting of the last volume of a book series into two films. Potter had it, Twilight had it, and I don’t even want to know if Fifty Shades of Bad Entertainment will have it as well. But for Mockingjay, I feel it was the right decision, because part 1 is already amazing.

What happens?

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has been rescued from the arena of her second hunger mockingjay1.2games and brought to District 13 where the rebels have gathered to wage war against the capitol. Katniss’ home District 12 has been destroyed but Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) has saved some people, including Katniss’ mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister Prim (Willow Shields).

District 13 is a military district that works from underground since it had almost been completely destroyed during the war. People there live on essentials. Katniss agrees to be the symbol of the rebellion – the Mockingjay – if the captured tributes, including Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), are rescued at the earliest opportunity and given immunity.

After a sucessful rescue, Peeta tries to kill Katniss – he’s been brainwashed.

mockingjay1.3What fascinated me most with this part of the series is the barren look. While I would have wished for a more plush trainee center in the first film, the sparse set in this film fits District 13 perfectly. And it’s not just the set, the clothes and make-up of the characters reflect the military status of the district. To see Jennifer Lawrence basically without make-up… it makes her acting that much more intense. And not just hers. Once again, Julianne Moore just takes my breath away with her acting. She’s perfect as Alma Coin, the leader of District 13. Her posture shows miliatry stiffness and strength but she’s also sympathetic.

I think my favorite scene – probably everybody’s favorite scene – is the one with the group of young people (among them Natalie Dormer as Cressida) at the lake. It’s a stark difference to the scenes in the underground facility, it’s more relaxed and peaceful than the setting of the forest in the hunger games, and then there’s the song that Katniss sings – and it’s perfect. Jennifer Lawrence has a throaty, raw voice and it fits the situation and the song perfectly.

If there was something in this movie I didn’t like, I don’t remember it anymore because there were so many good things to remember, most of all the great acting by everyone involved. Effie Trinket mockingjay1.4(Elizabeth Banks) without her make-up, stripped bare of her capitol attitude and desperate and vulnarable is such a beautiful thing. Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last role as Plutarch Heavensbee… The casting is just amazing in this series and it makes this movie in particular sparkle more from within, because the setting doesn’t.

This movie series is getting better with each movie, while with the books, I will always think that the first one is the best. It makes for a nice contrast – and I’m so gonna own these wonderful movies on dvd.

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Divergent

 

Divergent (2014) by Neil Burger

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Let me start by saying: I haven’t read the books (yet). They’re somewhere on that long list of want-to-read books I hope to get to in the future and watching the movie certainly pushed them up quite a bit.

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I’m intrigued by the concept of the story. But I’m also a little confused. Let’s look at the plot:

In a not too distant future in post-war Chicago, society is being sorted into five factions. When Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is tested for the special virtue that will decide which faction she might best fit in, she finds out that she’s divergent – she possesses multiple virtues which means she might not fit in anywhere.

Divergents are considered dangerous in the society she lives in and changes within the government lead to the systematic prosecution of divergents. Beatrice must learn to hide in her chosen faction to avoid detection. But hiding ceases to be an option when her parents’ faction becomes the target of a vicious attack.

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I guess it’s a little like getting into Hogwarts and being sorted into houses by virtue but then, of course, it’s not like the Harry Potter-series at all. There’s no magic, there’s technology. Nobody has a super power and having multiple virtues can actually paralyze the bearer.

As I said, the concept is certainly intriguing, but having only watched the movie, I feel that it was not able to convey the layers of the complex social system that lies beneath the story – at least I hope that something like this exists in the books.  Thus the movie left me a little restless to find out more – which is not bad in itself, it just makes the movie a bit dissatisfying.

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Something that cannot be said about the acting. To be sure, I watched the movie because of Kate Winslet. She is a singular reason that never fails to attract me and she’s amazing, and amazingly evil. I love her character, I love how she protrays her – and I love that I can usually trust Kate to star in watchable movies that rarely disappoint. The star of the movie, Shailene Woodley, doesn’t either. She’s vibrant, she’s a good actress, and it’s actually a little disconcerting how much she reminds me of a younger Kate Winslet. It was good to see Ashley Judd again – even in a rather small role, she certainly made an impression. The same goes for Zoe Kravitz and Mekhi Phifer.

I liked this movie, and not just because of the great casting choices. It’s interesting, smart, has great pacing. Beside the fact that I felt a little left out of the loop where background was concerned (I’m aware that the medium does not allow for delving into it too much or the pace would suffer), I feel that I could have done with less of the love story between Tris (Beatrice changes her name to Tris after chosing a new faction) and Four (Theo James). Some of the dialogue in these scenes was also rather corny. But apart from that it’s certainy watchable and I’m looking forward to reading the books and then (maybe) come back for the second film of the series.

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Back to tv: Once Upon a Time

(The purple stuff is not the Gay Menace it’s magic – okay, even I noticed the contradiction in that statement…)

A tv show about fairy tales, I thought, this is either a very bad or a very good idea. I am still not sure which it is but I am watching every week now. The premise goes as follows:

The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) hates Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and wants to destroy her happiness with Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) – actually she wants to destroy everybody’s happy ending. So she curses her enemies to live in a land without magic where she reigns. But the Charmings are having a baby and by prophecy this baby is to rid everyone of the curse – in 28 years. They put her in a magic wardrobe and Emma – thus the Charming’s off-spring’s name – is transported to our world, somewhere in Maine. Not far from that small town that magically appeared shortly after by the name of Storybrooke where all the characters from our favorite fairy tales are now living.

28 years pass – only in Storybrooke they don’t really pass because time has stopped – and Henry (Jared Gilmore) appears at Emma Swan’s (Jennifer Morrison) door, telling her that he is her son and that she has to safe everyone in Storybrooke from the Evil Queen, his adoptive mother, Regina Mills. Emma comes to Storybrooke and as she decides to stay, the clocks in Storybrooke start ticking again.

The story is told in flashbacks that bring us back to Fairytale Land and the story that is taking place in Storybrooke. We get to know the characters and who they were in a magical world and who they have – unknowingly – become.

The concept is actually quite fascinating, especially from a feminist perspective: most of the main players are women because fairy tales are so often concerned with them. The love/hate relationship between Regina and Snow White/Mary Margaret is as much at the core of it as the antagonism between Regina and Emma – who, after all, lay claims to the same boy as son – and the love between Snow and Charmin’ who in Storybrooke are a school teacher and a man in a coma (don’t worry he wakes only to learn that he has married the wrong girl).

With a lot of characters there come a lot of stories to be told. The show does not exclusively tell classic fairy tales either but dips into Wonderland, Neverland and also brings Victor Frankenstein (David Anders) to the (operating) table.

While the story as conducted story is quite fascinating, the handling of characters is sometimes disappointing. It seems that the two villains are treated differently by the writer’s on the ground of gender, while Regina gets the cold shoulder treatment, Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) is forgiven his misdeeds because he is loved by someone. The writer’s also like to throw love-interests at Emma Swan, white male love interests while a lot of fans would rather see her with the Evil Queen, Regina, because these two have actual chemistry.

There are a lot of ships sailing under the Ouat (Once Upon a Time) banner, there are very few characters who are not in some way linked to each other and the fans love making up new ships (some of them not even romantic). One thing is sure: the fans are invested – and I count myself among them. Though my ship is the Red Beauty (that’s Ruby/Red Riding Hood and Belle/Beauty to you).

If you find the time, have a look. If for nothing else, the retelling and changing of fairy tales we’ve grown up with, is fascinating. And there’s room for plenty interpretation.

Book vs. Film – The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (2012) by Gary Ross

It’s been awhile since I read the book and I read it in two days – the following two days I read the second book. Which is to say that my memory of these four days that happened sometime last August are vague at best. Also, these four days immediately followed me writing my bachelor thesis… wow, I just remembered that. I am amazed that I  remember reading The Hunger Games at all.

I loved the book – the first one, that is. It is well-paced, it is exciting, it is captivating. Katniss Everdeen is not a likely hero, sometimes she is not even likable. But she is practical, and I think this is one of her best characteristics. It is what makes her effective, leave it to Peeta to be likable.

The story is not simple: Thirteen districts fought against the Capital in a war  about 74 years ago and they lost. That is why “The Hunger Games” were invented. Each district – except 13, because 13 has been wiped off the map – sacrifices 2 of their children to these games where only one will survive. A cruel concept, kids killing each other off and this concept works much better in the book than it does in the movie.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12 volunteers to participate after her sister Prim has been chosen. She and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son, travel to the games. Katniss makes an impression with the judges when she shoots an arrow at a roasted pig they are about to eat while she is performing. She is considered to be a strong fighter but also a high risk by President Snow who fears an uprising of the 12 districts.

And he is right: Katniss’ behavior in the arena defies standards. She becomes a recognizable face who cares for others. She becomes the underdog everybody loves – including Peeta who has been in love with her since forever. It is this love that sponsors and audience crave and the organizers of the games use it to their advantage. But in the end it is Katniss who challenges everybody and wins – but the price for this victory might be high.

The movie follows the same storyline. Katniss Everdeen has been well cast with Jennifer Lawrence. The fighting is amazing, the supporting cast is great with young and older actors/actresses that show great performances. Still, I did not enjoy the movie half as much as those two dazed days I read the book.

Of course, there is always the premise that the book is considered better, more elaborate. The story has more space to reveal itself, we learn more about the characters, a new world opens infront of our eyes. But it is not only these undeniable truths that pretty much work for every literary adaptation. I felt that the movie lacked a lot of the warmth the book holds. Katniss is a loving person, even though she is not the most show-y when it comes to affections. She cares deeply. The movie shows very little of this. It seems the movie makers readily sacrifice the warmth of the book for the Twilight-look, as I would like to call it. Well, with vampires this might work but The Hunger Games is about human beings – even though some of them have a twisted sense as to the definition of entertainment.

A lot of the coldness of the movie derives from the sterile settings. From the book, I had the sense that everything in the Capital would be luscious, overly plushy, kitschy. But many of the settings were bare. The scenes in the training area are especially disappointing, metallic, and, yes, cold.

This, of course, does not a bad movie make. I am usually not someone who builds too many expectations but I was still disappointed. The movie in all was entertaining but not something out of the ordinary. The best aspects were the great cast, and seeing some of the more memorable scenes of the book unfold – though the whole storyline with Rue (Amandla Stenberg) was… again, disappointing.

I have already mentioned that the aspect of kids or young adults killing each other is more difficult to put into a movie than a book. Although the book was quite graphic, it was not visual. The killing of that small curly-haired boy (was he from District 5?), for example, was gruesome. The premise of The Hunger Games is, of course, this same cruelty, the unfairness, the paralysis of the parents but actually seeing these young people killing others their age (and some of them even enjoying it) is disturbing, especially considering that many among the audience are the same age as the youngest that are being killed here. I am not exactly a prude when it comes to violence in the movies (horror after all, is one of my favorite genres) but this was harsh… maybe because it felt real.

The love triangle is certainly something I could have done without – book and movie. Considering the book, I always hoped that the girl who gave Katniss the mokingjay-pin would reappear (she was the mayor’s daughter but I don’t remember her name) and I totally would have shipped them. But she was cut from the movie (which made for an awkward mokingjay-pin exchange with Prim as a token that was not really a lucky charm). Just like in the book, I found movie-Gail much more appealing than movie-Peeta, so, I guess, you can put me down for Team Gail (Liam Hemsworth).

On the whole, the movie was okay, entertaining, with a great cast. But make no mistake – the book was AWESOME.

Book vs. Film – Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go (2010) by Mark Romanek

Yes, I have written about this movie before but now I have also read the novel. And let me tell you: it is just as good. Actually book and movie are not that different. And this is quite an accomplishment if you consider that the book is written by I-narrator Kathy. Ishiguro has written the screenplay together with Alex Garland and they succeed in telling the same bittersweet, touching, and complex story.

Obviously, the novel takes a closer look at the feeling of the narrator, the reader learns more about the issues of the homes and the kids that are to donate.  But Kathy and her peers seem just as naive as they are in the movie. Miss Lucy tells Tommy that things are not explained enough and this holds true even in the novel. Sometimes it gets a little tiresome to have Kathy explain things repeatedly but it works well within the context of the story, Kathy’s wish to preserve memories.

I wrote in my former post that I read some subtext into Ruth’s feelings for Kathy. This also holds true for the novel. Ruth does not seem to care much for anybody, at least not romantically, yet she is bound to Kathy not only by acquaintance, or the coincidence that they grew up together. And one has the feeling that she always fights Kathy more than is necessary…

The book tells us more about Miss Lucy’s story. She is a key character in both versions but the book explores her more thoroughly, is giving her more time with the other characters – especially with Tommy. Tommy’s dilemma with his art and creativity is further elaborated on which is good because this aspect of the movie seemed rather confusing. In all, the novel fills the gaps that the movie cannot fill. It is also well-written. If you find the time, put it on your reading list, it certainly is worth your while.

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (2010) by Mark Romanek

Unexpectedly, I watched a really good movie this week. Why unexpectedly? Because I watch movies for the strangest of reasons. For Never Let Me Go the reason was that the novel it was based on was written by Kazuo Ishiguro and I remembered that he had also written The Remains of the Day. Not that I have read either novel but I do believe that some novelists write perfect stories for movies and I guess Ishiguro is one of them – all based on the fact that I love The Remains of the Day.

I did not read the short synopsis for the film so I was utterly unprepared for what was to come. The movie catapults us into a strange ultimate universe – without telling us so, after all everything looks just like good ol’ Britain to me – where clones are bred as inventories for human spare parts. The kids that grow up to be donors live in special homes out in the country without interaction with the outside world.

The story follows three of these kids, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield), whose lives are interwoven as they befriend and fall in love with each other. Ruth turns out to be rather selfish in that love since she pretty much steals Tommy away from Kathy out of – as she later confesses – jealousy. Though she states that she was jealous of the love that grew between Kathy and Tommy there are also indications that she may have been in love with Kathy (I don’t know what the novel says about this but I may yet find out…).

As they grow up their paths devide but will ultimately reunite the three. Ruth makes her confession and Kathy and Tommy try to recapture what they had. But their time is short as they are heading toward their conclusion – which is just a nicer way to say: death.

The story is captivating, the idea of a world where humans breed clones for spare parts is scary but is never really moralized over within the movie, the spectator is to draw their own conclusions as to the question: do clones have souls?

The acting is great. Besides the wonderful three leads (and also the very talented younger selfs – Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell, Charlie Rowe) we have Charlotte Rampling as Miss Emily who leads the home the three live in, and Sally Hawkins as Miss Lucy, a teacher who critiques the system a little bit too audibly. And let me tell you, Keira Knightley can be quite scary!

This is a great movie and finally an innovative story. Hollywood does not do innovative that much these days so maybe we have to turn to Brititsh movie making to see something good these days…

Back to tv: Lost

A couple of days ago I had an inkling to go and watch a show I had never watched before – or only little of. I rented the first cd of both Lost and True Blood and must say, I liked Lost better – despite the fact that True Blood has the better accents (or maybe it is just one accent but it is just the best accent ever). So, I now watched 20 eps of Lost and I like it though I am not sure what to make of it.

When the show came out (when was that? I have to look it up.), it must have been 2005 in Germany, I was a little curious but I think they showed it on an incredibly stupid day at an incredibly stupid time and on an incredibly stupid network because I never really watched it. Maybe I missed the beginning and whenever I caught glimpses of it, I didn’t know what was going on and just changed channels again. Well, it seems I have too much time on my hands these days (despite the papers I should be writing) and I am watching it from the beginning – on dvd.

And I like it. It’s not Xena, mind you, nor Buffy (although I must say, I like the official photos of the cast much better than those of Buffy, what an exotic location can do…) but it has elements of action, and fantasy, and weird what-would-you-bring-to-a-deserted-island-thematic. I mean, this island is paradise, right? Yet, it is also hell… no way around it, and on top of that there is something big that is going to kill everyone eventually, and polar bears, and dogs running around without a leash, it’s a nightmare.

Oh, but for the views, and by views I mean: how hot is Kate?! Evangeline Lilly is incredibly hot (though sometimes when they just show her face you wonder how old – and by old I mean young – she is; close up she looks  like a little girl, might be the freckles…). Actually it is almost rediculous how many beautiful people were on that plane. Of course, friends that been to California have told me that the women there are incredibly hot, but I didn’t know that they all flew in from Australia.

The above picture already indicates on what I am waiting for now: Michelle Rodriguez. Had she been on that show from the beginning I would have watched it from the beginning. I have to check out imdb.com to see when she’ll be on. Useless to say, I like her – every lesbian with a pulse does. And not just because she is hot, but because she’s a really good actress. And let’s face it, I got a thing for tough women (another reason to also like Kate…).

(Is that Kate and Jack playing Twister?)

Oh, for the plot: it is interesting and it can get you hooked. But I am always more into characters… and there’s a lot of that. I like how the stories of the main players are told in flashbacks, how they all seemed to be destined to be on the plane that crashed, how their lives crossed without them realizing it (Hurly owned the box company Locke worked for, on the tv in Japan at Sun and Jin’s you see Hurly being interviewed about his lottery win and so on).

The show is also strangely interwoven into a topic that interests me at the moment: queerness in heteronormative environments (or maybe it is hyper-heteronormative environments). We have still to discover a queer character on the show but that the microcosm of the island is heteronormative is clear… and not just from the fact that they named the bodies they found in the caves Adam and Eve… the love/hate-triangle of Kate, Jack and Sawyer… Sayid and Shannon… Shannon and Boone (though that seems a little incestuous, and I am wondering if incestuous relationships can be considered queer)… John Locke might be gay, or maybe he is just really into male bonding…

Anyway, I like Lost and I will keep watching – at least for now.

Inception

I don’t know about men in the US but in Germany they usually frown at you when you say that you like Leonardo DiCaprio. They seem to only remember him from “Titanic” while he was in some quite successful dick flicks as well. And he is a good actor, everybody who has watched The Basketball Diaries and/or This Boy’s Life knows that. Still, there is resentment on the men’s part. Is it because he is good-looking, or all his girlfriends are supermodels… okay, yeah, I can see it clearly now, it’s just envy.

And he is only one in a list of actors I like or found likable in this movie (a real surprise was Cillian Murphy because I remember him as pretty scary from the The Dark Knight but he’s actually quite beautiful.). Since I usually watch movies because of the female cast-members this was no different and it was because of Ellen Page. She makes this movie about mental thievery a good version of Ocean’s Eleven where women are not only there to distract the men from their jobs and keeps the myth of their heterosexuality alive. She is a serious player in this game, she’s the architect.

To discribe the plot is next to impossible and it is one of the few movies I wish had been in 3D – but maybe that would have been overkill and we would all just have had a stroke. Maybe it was because I was very tired myself but the movie seems like a dream to me (luckily I never fall asleep infront of a screen) and it was incredibly hard to get out of it when it ended. I was actually dizzy for the remainder of the evening. The effects were mindboggling but director Christopher Nolan also created a group of characters who really create the story. Add a very good cast and it is no wonder one is so mesmerized by it.

I am trying to convey the feeling I got from watching it not the plot, ’cause it is too confusing to retell. You should just watch it yourself if you haven’t yet.

On another note, Ellen Page’s wardrobe was criticized for being “a little boy[‘s]” by New York Magazine’s blog “Vulture“. Hmmm. The look works for me but then again, I’m easy. I just think it is sad that some people cannot look beyond the “asexual sidekick” quality of Ellen Page’s character and see her integral part within the plot. And why is a girl not dressing in high-heels and tight jeans recognized as a boy? They could have just said that they think she plays a lesbian instead of beating around the bush… But you can’t say that, can you? Why don’t we just label her “tomboy” and be done with it?

Okay, enough with the stereotypes…

Avatar (3D)

Avatar (2009) by James Cameron.

What I want for Christmas this year? My own avatar! Or at least Sigourney Weaver’s.

I have just watched the movie – and I know what you’re thinking: you’re a little late, aren’t you? And yes I am. There were reasons I won’t go into now but they had nothing to do with not wanting to see it. I wanted to and now I have.

Sometimes I feel that through my studies I have lost the ability to just read a book for enjoyment, and I get the same feeling about movies and tv shows – sometimes. This did not happen while I watched Avatar but sitting here now, doing what has become second nature (analyzing a story, that is) I start to forget how wonderful the movie looked and felt. I am not exactly a fan of 3D – who has been since now? – but it was pretty amazing with the world Cameron has created. Feeling Pandora – let’s face it, it was amazing. The whole world, the animals, the Navi, the trees and everything about it… AMAZING.

The idea of a world like this is not new, the idea of “surrogates,” even “Sims,” we want to have someone perfect in this world to represent us. The way Cameron filmed this vision was mind-blowing, though.

But alas, the story… Was I the only one who was reminded of Aliens? And not just because of Sigourney Weaver. Think about it: in Aliens we had the Terraformers who inhabited this really gruesome place (I forgot its name). Then the aliens come and kill them or preserve them and then there come the army guys. Okay, you could say, that’s completely different from Avatar, it’s pretty much the other way around with some American history thrown in. The Aliens are not the bad guys anymore, they are the savages, the natives, indigenous (to use PC). And who are the terrorists now?… Right. The army guys who want to take over because of something valuable in the earth of this paradise.

Maybe it was just the characters. When you make the link between Giovanni Ribisi’s character and Burke from Aliens or between Trudi and Sanchez… it’s quite obvious. Put Sigourney Weaver into the mix and yes, it is another Alien-movie. Distorted, yes, but the essentials are still there. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it makes clear why Avatar did not win as many Academy Awards as some thought it would. While it is stunning to watch, the story is neither new nor especially innovative.

And I guess for an economic utopia fairy-tale I personally would have preferred a female hero (even if that is a clichée). Maybe it is just that I fell in love with Sigourney Weaver’s avatar on first sight, maybe I am still angry that Cameron let her die, maybe it felt like all the times great female heroes in films did die and only men were left to save the (any) world… maybe it is because I thought of Aliens the whole time I watched Avatar. And maybe this is one of the reasons Avatar is not really a great story for me: because it is the repetition of the myth of the male fighter, the savior is male, strong females die or succumb to male charm. I do not buy into that anymore, it bores me. Call me a lesbian feminist if you want (after all that’s what I am!) but… having a movie with Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez in it and letting both die – that’s lame!

I guess, it’s the little things that can make or break a movie for me. I know, I will own it on DVD and will find many reasons to like it. I will also write about it some more, compare it to Aliens and other movies… I will always be amazed at the sheer splendor of it, sure, but it will always be bitter sweet. The moment Grace died, it felt like the movie was over – for me.

I know that I am quite the sucker for people in movies. Characters and the people who play them are my main focus, they have always been. I do not watch films with certain actors in it although the movie might be good. I am also pretty tired of films that underline machismo too much, where extras (people in the movie) are killed just to have one hero to make it all worth it. And look at Avatar! It is done there, too. Seeing all the Navi die… it was disturbing and though Cameron meant it to be disturbing it is still done in the most brutal way. We had a discussion once in a film class about this: is it still a critique on violence and war when it is done so elaborately and almost sensational? I don’t think so. I think, killing living things in such splendor is like making war propaganda… and even though I know Avatar is a critique on war, on environmental polution, on genocide, the ending – ultimately, the victory of one hero who saves everybody – makes these things necessary and inevitable. For the hero to be a hero there has to be bad guys who kill everything that is good. I wonder if a different ending – one in which even the hero dies and the bad guys win – would not have had a greater impact.

But that’s just me, I guess…