A Non-Spoiler Review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

A Non-Spoiler Review

Fans of the ‘Harry Potter’ behemoth franchise have no doubt already queued up to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the new movie set in the Harry Potter universe, and tied into the book of the same name that was featured in the Harry Potter books. The movie is currently trending at around 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, 65% on Metacritic, and an impressive 8/10 on IMDb.

I haven’t yet seen the movie, but from what I can tell it’s not the most impressive script, while still being visually stunning – about what you’d expect, I think, from J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them - The Original Screenplay cover image

For those who are well and truly hooked, however – or for the Harry Potter-completest in all of us – comes the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Original Screenplay, written by J.K. Rowling and put out in a beautiful little hardcover edition. I’m not going to review the contents of the book – as I haven’t read it, and won’t read it until after I see the movie – but rather simply tell you that a) it exists, and b) it’s beautiful.

My copy is a beautiful little hardcover, slightly smaller than a traditional hardcover book, and in a beautiful blue dust-jacket with gold artwork. The book doesn’t contain anything other than the full screenplay of the movie – which is a little disappointing, considering the potential for an introduction from someone involved in the making of the movie, or J.K. Rowling herself, and some additional backmatter. Although, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that they are dolling the extra material out in the most lucrative and expensive way possible. Stay tuned for more books, I guess.

In the end, you don’t need this book, unless you absolutely need this book, in that case …

Reviewed: Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe

As a reviewer for a site like Fantasy Book Review, you can sometimes stretch your job description a little so that you can review something a little … left of centre, shall we say.

Which is why I get to talk to you about Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, by the author of the hugely popular webcomic XKCD, Randall Munroe. Coming in the wake of his similarly brilliant What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, Munroe’s new book delves into the minutia and details of absurdly scientific and nuanced issues, with his characteristic irreverence and intelligence.

The book’s premise is simple: Using only words from a list of “The Ten Hundred Words People Use The Most”, Randall Munroe details and explains everything from the International Space Station to washing machines, plate tectonics to a “sky boat with turning wings” (ie, a helicopter).

Each page bears a hugely intricate hand-drawing done in the traditional XKCD style for these things (in fact, the entire style of the book can be seen in prototype-form in the XKCD-comic ‘Up Goer Five’).

Whether you are vaguely interested in how things work, a fan of XKCD, a specific fan of geography or astronomy or any other science, or you just want to learn up on some things you’ll never really need to know about (in language you’ll never be able to repeat without breaking into a grin), then this book is absolutely for you.

It’s also for everyone else.

In short, this book is brilliant.

For more information on this book, visit the official website: https://xkcd.com/thing-explainer/

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles

When I first encountered the ‘Chronicles’ collection of books published in conjunction with The Hobbit films, it was the last movie and I had no expectation that I would ever come across any that had come before. However, thanks to the generosity of the publishers at Harper Collins, I’ve been provided with the other three books that were released over the past several years.

For the second movie in the trilogy, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’, the Weta design team published ‘Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers’ – featuring a foreword by Evangeline Lilly (who played the elf Tauriel in the movies) and a behind-the-scenes look at thousands of costumes, armour, weapons, props, and set dressing elements that went into making The Desolation of Smaug an Academy Award-nominated film.

Once again, the book is credited to Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer, and comes with an introduction by costume designer Ann Maskrey, making it “the definitive guide to the artefacts and sumptuous fabrics of The Hobbit film adaptations.”

I have been a fan of coffee-table books for some time now, and when you make a coffee-table book out of the work done by Weta Workshop, then I am sold.

Each page is layered with beautiful full-colour photographs of the hundreds upon thousands of props, costumes, pieces of armour and weaponry, sets, and the intricately-worked scale items that were so integral to the making of these movies.

This book is not so limited to one movie over another, as is shown by the first chapter which details the design of the ‘Hobbits of The Shire’. Other chapters are allocated for all the major races and locations that populate The Hobbit movies, including ’The Elves of Mirkwood’, ‘The Company of Thorin’, ‘Beorn and His Home’, ‘Lake-Town and Its People’, and much, much more. Individual character costumes get a lot of attention, from Bofur’s hand-knitted scarf to the elf hunter armour and weapons.

For fans of the intricate detail that went into the thousands of costumes, pieces of armour, weapons, and everything else that made these movies, this book is a must have. The comments from each of the designers who worked on the movie that accompany many of the photos are really insightful, and really take you into the world of Weta Workshop.

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Chronicles Creatures & Characters

This second book in the series was released in conjunction with the first movie, ‘An Unexpected Journey’, and deals specifically with the creatures and characters found in all of the movies.

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Chronicles Creatures & Characters cover

 

The book is reliant upon a lot of makeup-chair and finished product photos, making it like a hardcopy version of one of the Behind the Scenes features that come with the Extended Edition. You get to see and hear about the processes behind making the costumes for each of the main characters, and hear from the actors and makeup artists as well.

Like the Behind the Scenes features, the whole process is on display – from casting the faces of the dwarves, to making the prosthetic feet for Bilbo, scaling costumes for the scale-doubles, and the animation work that went into the trolls and orcs and goblins. There are sections on coaching the actors in movement, language, and accents, and quotes with many of the actors from all of the movies.

One of the most interesting aspects of the movies for me has always been the dialogue and language work – but, understandably, it doesn’t necessarily warrant a lot of attention on the special features. In this book, there is a lot more effort put into providing a detailed look at the way the elves were made to appear on screen, which includes their language. Bret McKenzie, the actor who made famous an unnamed elf (first named Figwit by the fans after his appearance in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, and then given the name Lindir in The Hobbit movies) is quoted a lot, as is Leith McPherson, the wonderful dialect coach.

This book more than the others, is something you could sit down and just read. The other books are for the sporadic reader, who wants to just pick up the book for a few moments, look at some pictures, maybe read a quote or two, then put it back down. The Creatures & Characters book has much more meat to it – is an in depth look at the processes that created the characters and creatures that took centre-stage on the screen.

For fans of The Hobbit films, or for fans of movie-making in general, this book is an absolute winner.

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Chronicles

For the first of The Hobbit movies, ‘An Unexpected Journey’, two books were released. The first one, ‘Art & Design’, takes you on a journey through the artwork that inspired the first movie, rather than the props and costumes. In many ways, this book is the only way much of this artwork will ever see the light of day – whereas two of the other books released in this series are very much companion pieces to the Behind the Scenes features released with the Extended Edition.

Thousands of pieces of art are packed into this book, including concept artwork, photographs, and development paintings. And for most of the pieces in this book, there is an accompanying blurb by the artist, revealing the stories behind the art.

With a foreword by world famous set decorator Dan Hennah, and Weta Workshop’s founder and creative director, Richard Taylor providing the Introduction, the book (like all in the series) is written and compiled by Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer (who many will have seen in the Behind the Scenes features).

I’m a massive fan of concept artwork – I’ll seek it out for most video games I play, and I love finding those pieces that are provided for movies such as The Hobbit (I’m less interested in concept artwork for, say, ‘Taken’). The second chapter is less about the concept artwork, focusing on the Dwarves and their costumes, and therefore photography. But many of the other chapters are heavily filled with concept artwork – like the chapters on Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum and the Company’s flight to the trees at the end of the film.

This book is the epitome of a coffee-table book, and should be on hand for any fan of The Hobbit films.

Arrow Season One Review

vamersarrowposter1With the impending release of the second season of ‘Arrow’ on DVD and BluRay here in Australia, I thought it about time I share my thoughts on the first season of one of the best non-cable channel shows of the last decade.

I have been a big Green Arrow fan for years now, so when I heard that the vigilante of Star City was coming to TV, I was stoked. I didn’t know anything about the actors, but having missed a lot of the CW-style TV shows over the preceding few years, that wasn’t much of a surprise. Mamma Queen and Pappa Lance were known to me, and Thea Queen was a memory from my ‘The O.C.’ days, but everyone else was a beautiful mystery (because, yes, everyone on this show is ridiculously beautiful).

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Reviewing an entire season of TV is tricky at the best of times — worse when it’s as good as Arrow season one was. Many TV shows struggle through their first season — ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ anyone? (Or pretty much every Star Trek TV series ever.) However, from the very first episode, I was hooked on the stories of these re-envisioned characters.

One of the most impressive accomplishments of the show, however, was the wonderful use of flashbacks. Many shows use flashbacks as an ad-hoc info-dump, and irregularly, making them seem more like a failing in storytelling and writing rather than an interesting plot device. In Arrow, however, the flashbacks are absolutely integral to the overall story, and a number of the individual episode-length stories.

Slade

The season-length story-arc was everything I have ever desired from my TV shows. Ever since the I fell in love with the overarching story lines from ‘Star Trek: Deep Space 9’ I’ve wanted continuing stories in everything I watch — a TV show which is nothing more than ‘monster of the week’ stories bores me in a few weeks. And while Arrow incorporates its fair share of monsters each week, the real story is what happens around that. From the growth of Diggle as a character, and his relationship with Oliver; the almost pathological inability Oliver and Laurel have to make things work; to how Tommy became one of the most impressively written and acted characters on TV, thanks in large part to actor Colin Donnell: Almost every aspect of Arrow has depth and three-dimensionality to it that helps make this show one of the most watchable and entertaining shows ever.

The last few episodes of season one really ramp up the storytelling and match it strength for strength with intense drama and action. By the time the last episode rolls credits, you’re left feeling emotionally devastated — and desperately wanting more.

There’s little more that can be said, other than to implore any fan of good TV and storytelling, DC’s Green Arrow, and very beautiful actors (I think I can understand Felicity’s issue whenever Oliver works out on the salmon ladder) to go out immediately and buy season one of Arrow.

‘The World of Ice and Fire’ is Everything You Wanted!

When George R. R. Martin announced that he would be penning a “The World of Ice and Fire” book, fans around the world rejoiced. New information, new history, and maybe some spoilers — what could be better?

I’ll tell you what could be better — the actual product in your hand.

‘The World of Ice and Fire’ is everything fans of the series — both book and TV — could have asked for.

World of Ice and Fire 1

The book is big and heavy, just as it should be, and pretty much every page is highlighted with artwork, with the book boasting “more than 170 original pieces”. Each page is really quite stunning to just look at, never mind the fact that Martin has written a heap of new material for this book.

The book starts out looking at the ancient history of Westeros — the Dawn Age, the building of the wall, and any number of stories and characters vaguely referenced in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ books.

World of Ice and Fire 2

We get individual bios the Targaryen Kings, and a massive history of the Seven Kingdoms.

All in all, this book deserves a lot more said about it, but with no real story to underpin it, the best I can do is highlight some of my favourite parts of this monstrous history of one of the best series of books around.

If you ever wanted to know about what came before ‘A Game of Thrones’ and what made the Targaryens so … eccentric, then here’s your chance!

What If? by Randll Munroe

Every now and again I get to read a non-fiction book which blows my socks off. Over the years the contenders have mostly been historical in nature — as is my particular bent — but this time, and completely unsurprisingly, things are a little different.

“What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” is a book by Randall Munroe, most popularly known as the creator and author of the phenomenally popular “XKCD” webcomic.What If

And it lives up to its name.

The first question Munroe answers — with some authority, as a man who started life out as a NASA roboticist — is this:

What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?

It is not a question I had ever contemplated, nor do I imagine I will ever be able to put into practice the information I have gleaned from Munroe’s answer (which, in typical XKCD fashion, starts out simply saying: “Nearly everyone would die. Then things would get interesting.”).

However it’s damned fun!

The premise of the book is simple: Munroe’s XKCD website features a regular column in which the author answers ‘What If?’ questions. The best of these (as well as some of the more worrying — see below) are answered in detail in the book, along with Munroe’s beloved artwork — helping, illustrating, and laughing at some of his answers.

The questions answered range across the whole scientific spectrum, including my favourite:

What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?

The answer, inevitably, results in death, but the how and why is a fascinating learning experience.

And that’s the trick of why this book is so good. Yes, it’s hilariously terrifying at times (“How many houses are burned down in the United States every year? What would be the easiest way to increase that number by a significant amount (say, at least 15%)?” — as a note, Munroe doesn’t answer this question), and absurd (“How much force power can Yoda output?”), but in the end, the book is also really informative. Entire high school science curriculums should be built solely around Munroe’s method of education.

Periodic Table
Image Credit: Wired

So the audience for this book is many and varied: If you’re into science, young and not into science, a parent of someone young and not into science, a parent, a fan of XKCD, a fan of weird scientific questions answered …

Now I come to think of it, I think it’d be good if Randall Munroe did a What If? about who his book doesn’t appeal to. The science would be fascinating.

Pick it up at your local Amazon (or wherever).

Learning the Language of the Dothraki, thanks to Living Languages

Every now and again a package rocks up at my doorstep, completely unasked for, and completely awesome. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen, it definitely makes my day.

So last week, after unwrapping Terry Pratchett’s new non-fiction anthology, I picked up the second parcel and, low and behold, what did I find?

living-language-dothraki-a-conversational-language-course-based-on-the-hit-original-hbo-series-game-of-thronespaperback-book_500The “Living Language Dothraki” package, a “conversational language course based on the Hit Original HBO series Game of Thrones”.

Now, for those wondering, Living Language is a genuine foreign language self-study publisher, who provide very popular language packages for the more boring languages, such as Japanese and Russian. That they had branched out into fictional languages is completely new to me, though I should have known better.

The pack contains a book to help you as you work through the 5 separate lessons provided on an accompanying CD: dealing with Pronunciation, Basic Expressions, Grammar, Vocabulary, and Dialogue.

In much the same way as any language learning tool, the Living Language Dothraki takes you from the small, and then builds up as you go. I’m not an expert at languages – in fact, I have proven multiple times my inability to learn anything other than English – but this proves to be a lot of fun for fans of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”, as well as “The Game of Thrones”.

You can find out more about the Living Language package by heading on over to their Dothraki website, for more reviews, the app, and more.

Review: Asterix and the Picts by Ferri and Conrad

For those of you who don’t know how the book review-gig goes, it’s pretty simple. Each publishing house generally has their own specific method of going about things, but in essence, every month or three an email will go out with a list of books being published. You can then request those which meet your specific genre or tastes, and hope for the best.

A few months ago, such an email came through, and my mind was immediately cast back to my childhood when I saw the title ‘Asterix and the Picts’.

For those of you who grew up under a rock (because I’m assuming that would be the only possible way to escape the sheer width and breadth of distribution the Asterix series of books enjoyed) Asterix (and his fat friend Obelix) is a French comic written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo that received massive popularity around the world. According to some numbers, 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making the pair exceedingly bestselling authors.

I’ll skip the rest of the history lesson, in lieu of sending you towards the lengthy Wikipedia entry, suffice to say, the moment I saw there was a new Asterix story had me feeling very nostalgic.

The story is exactly what you want from an Asterix story. Frozen Pict floats onto local Gaulish beach, discovered by Asterix and Obelix, soon the envy of all the women in the village, which inevitably leads to Asterix and Obelix being tasked with escorting the young handsome Pict back to his lady-love and the giant otter that lives in the local Loch.

As with every Asterix book, it’s all very short and to the point. 48 pages in length, and with obvious translation issues causing some at-times odd brevity. This would appear to be the first Asterix book not to involve either of the original creators – Goscinny having died in 1977 and seemingly finally passing on the baton.

I loved this. I genuinely did. I poured through the pages, reliving some very good Asterix art considering it was not illustrated by Uderzo (this time by illustrator Didier Conrad). The linework is just like it has ever been, with beautiful cartoon-style lines and shading, and the colours have always been brilliant, and are no different in this newest volume.

If you’ve never read Asterix, or if you’re a lifelong fan like I am, then Asterix and the Picts is an absolute must-read. Buy it for yourself, or buy it for your kids and then sneak a read – either way, it’s going to be enjoyed by anyone who picks it up.

10/10