Tuesday, June 26, 2012

THE HOBBIT - the shocking facts behind the fiction

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In light of Peter Jackson’s upcoming adaptation of Tolkien’s, The Hobbit, I thought it time I finally revealed a huge literary secret that has been weighing heavy on my troubled mind these past years. 


A very old manuscript was brought to my attention many many years ago by a kindly old gentleman who I promised shall remain nameless. When Dave first handed me the manuscript I was stunned, in complete shock, not only because of his outrageous claims of plagiarism, but because those astounding claims were soon revealed to be true!


The authentic manuscript proved, without shadow of a doubt, that Tolkien’s Hobbit is not actually an original piece of work and is in fact based on a much older work of non-fiction written by a little-known UK writer called, Incognito Kelly, which was based on a succession of interviews obtained from real folk involved in one of the most fantastic and exciting escapades in all London’s rich and glorious history.


The spiritual burden of this staggering secret has been, at times, almost too much to bear, and before it contributes further pain to my mushrooming torment, I have decided to free myself from this literary millstone, loosen these previously tight lips and spill the beans.


Here for the first time in print is the first chapter of the original manuscript.



THE HERBERT - a definitely true story, by Incognito Kelly



Herbert: noun. Brit. A stupid, objectionable and rather foolish individual with a silly haircut.





In a hole in the ground there lived a herbert. Not just any old herbert, mind you, and not just in any old hole. This was a herbert hole, and it just happened to be one of the grandest herbert holes in the whole of the park, or as the locals like to call it, The Park, in the main because it was pretty much just a park.


Like all herbert holes, it had a large round front door that opened onto a reception tunnel that led underground, but what set this hole apart from all the others in The Park was the impressive white plaster-of-paris gargoyle-mounted pillars that stood guard on either side of the round faux wood door, which matched the fake ivy covered pillars that lined the classy gravel and crazy-paving driveway. Mock Tudor double-glazed windows adorned the front of the herbert hole, decorated with an assortment of attractive plastic flowers that nicely complimented the astroturf lawn.


One of the many delights, and there were are at least two, of standing in the middle of The Park during the daytime, was having a view never impeded by unseemly or unsightly architecture. This is because all herbert holes are actually bungalows built into the ground; you’ll find no stairs in these humble residences, all their needs are catered for at ground level due to their inherent fear of heights and slopes, a fear compounded by the unfortunate fact that herberts are a short breed of folk and are often likely to plunge into blind panic at the mere sight of a set of stairs, a steep curb or even just a slight incline.


So, what about these herberts, then, who are they? Well, herberts are an old inbred race of small mammals from a quiet leafy area of North London called Regent’s Park, which, as you now know, is referred to as The Park. Herberts are thought to be descended from a mixture of goblins, haggis, gerbils, squirrels... basically any small mammal that couldn’t escape their amorous clutches. This is largely because, what was true in days of old still runs true today: most herberts are extremely enthusiastic when it comes to courting and will often attempt a romantic liaison with pretty much anything that gives off the vague impression of having recently had a heartbeat or a body temperature warmer than an ice cube.


Because this habit spawned many weird and not so wonderful offspring, it was decided that herberts should stick to their own when mating, thereby ensuring a purer breed. A law was decreed that no herbert should produce offspring with anything other than what is deemed, by law, a true herbert, or to give it the proper legal definition: a right proper herbert. By and large (or small, as the reality is), this mating law has proven very successful, with generation after generation producing a more pure bloodline. Unfortunately, this purer bloodline has resulted in many herberts suffering from recessive and deleterious traits associated with intense inbreeding, such as large hairy feet, stunted growth, extreme clumsiness, stupid haircuts, poor hearing and terrible wind. The latter conditions can cause a problem as herberts do have a very acute sense of smell.


Herberts generally live a very timid, peaceful existence, avoiding much of the world beyond the boundaries and security of The Park. They have insatiable appetites, especially for sugary foods and drinks, and have a penchant for smoking great amounts of their home-grown “herby herbert” tobacco, of which there is an abundance due to their formidable talent for gardening. Situated around the perimeter of The Park are a number of 24-hour shops that do a good trade from very paranoid herberts who journey to them for sugary supplies throughout the night.


So, that’s a little bit about these charming little herbert folk, but what about the owner of this particularly resplendent herbert hole, the herbert whose name was destined to go down in the history of The Park and be forgotten almost instantly. The owner of this hole was a herbert called Faggins, or to give him his proper title: Billabong Faggins of Fag End, Regent’s Park. Known as Billy, or Bill to his mates (of which there weren’t any on account of Billabong’s reputation for pocketing anything that wasn’t bolted down whenever he visited their holes), he lived in relative anonymity until I started writing this.


Basically, one quiet sunny spring morning, Billabong Faggins was sitting outside Fag End puffing on his third bong of the morning, lazily watching all the young herberts charging around playing silly buggers on the village green, when he slowly became aware of a distant buzzing noise getting steadily louder and louder, coming closer and closer. As the whirring noise eventually became identifiable as an engine of sorts (a very rare sound to hear in these peaceful grassy parts) concerned herberts began peering out of their herbert holes to see what the unusual commotion was, and all the inquisitive young herberts stopped beating each other with fence posts to stare into the surrounding woods. For a worried moment every herbert held their breath (and each other's bottoms) unsure what terror the shadowy woods were about to reveal, having no idea they would soon bear witness to a sight so magnificent it would be spoken about forever, or at least the next day or so.


A vintage motorbike with sidecar spluttered forth from the undergrowth, expertly navigated through the trees by a tall willowy bearded man dressed head to toe in flowing grey robes. Sitting astride the chugging battered machine, this strange mysterious man wore a long grey cloak with the legend ‘The G Man’ emblazoned across the back and old grey boots that curled over into a point at the toes. He had a long woolly greyish beard and big bushy eyebrows that were stuffed into W.W.I pilot’s goggles wrapped around a huge flappy pointed grey hat, also with a faded ‘G Man’ emblem. Elegantly flapping behind him in the breeze was a grey silken scarf, a long battered pipe was gripped determinedly between his teeth. 


The side car was loaded up with secret boxes covered in what looked like Elven writing. Not that any of them had ever seen Elven writing before, but if they had it would probably have looked something like that and they would have recognised it as such, and because of that all the young herberts swarmed towards the mystical Elven boxes and their imagined promise of Elven magic and mischief.


“Waaahey! Waaaaaaaay!” Two of the young herberts screamed as the mysterious grey man screeched his motorbike to a stop outside Fag End. They were immediately carried off crying but luckily found to only have bruised toes, nothing broken.


“Elven boxes! Elven magic!” yelled the others from a safe distance, eyeing up the huge cross-country tyres he had obviously recently put on his trusty steed. “Show us some Elven magic! Do some magic! Do something, do something!” squealed the poor, enraptured youngsters.


“Ha! Ha! Aha! Ha! Away! Be off with you, young rascals! Ha! Do you not know who I am? Mmm? Ha! I am Gandaft the Grey. Wizard extraordinaire! Counsel to Elves! Guardian of Men and fully paid up member of the Magic Circle!” he bellowed as he majestically dismounted his bike, trod on his cloak and fell face forward into one of the white plaster pillars. His panicked outstretched arms travelled either side of the pillar, leaving his face to take the full impact. This in turn dislodged the mounted gargoyle on top of the pillar, which fell and struck the groaning stranger on the back of the head and silenced any further protest.


A huge cheer went up and the dozens of young herberts shot away in different directions, leaking peals of laughter, as they ran off to tell their parents that a great wizard had arrived. A shocked Billabong Faggins stood staring in open-mouthed amazement at the unmoving grey-clad figure lying unconscious on his gravel driveway, the smell of diesel wafting up to mingle with the heady aroma of home-grown pipe weed.


The hobbit


A few hours later, Gandaft was lounging in a very small armchair by the fireside in Fag End, holding a dripping icepack to his nose and forehead, sipping a Pina Colada through his bruised lips using a straw. Billabong was sitting opposite, grazing on an enormous bucket of toffee- covered popcorn, one eye warily watching his strange house guest, with the other eye doing the same.


“Ha! Aha! Sorry about the gargoyle, Faggins, old chap, hope it wasn’t of sentimental value. My magician’s equity insurance covers me for most damages, real or imaginary, so hopefully we can clear everything up in a jiffy.” said Gandaft, noisily draining the remainder of his Pina Colada through the sparkly blue spiral straw.


“How do you know my name?” asked Billabong, nervously shovelling great handfuls of popcorn into his mouth. “You just called me by my family name but I’ve never met you before. How do you know who I am? How do you know? How? Who are you? How? Who? How, who? How? Who?”


“Who am I? Ha! Aha! Ha!” exclaimed the wizard, his eyes bulging fiercely, and after holding Billabong’s worried gaze for an intense few seconds he started chuckling loudly. “Oh, you poor poor fool of a herbert. How you’ll laugh with embarrassment when you see... THIS!” and with that Gandaft ripped open his grey shirt to reveal an aged grey t-shirt sporting the faded legend, “The G Man”.


Gandaft’s shirt buttons ricocheted off Billabong’s shocked face, thankfully just missing his nervous twitching eyes, and Billabong stared at the insipid grey t-shirt, trying to make out what it said. “The... O... Man? O... man. Oman?” Billabong struggled to read. “Oman? What, like the country on the Arabian Peninsula governed by the great Sultana bin Said Before, the benevolent ruler and keen sand dune conservationist?”


“No, you blasted fool!” exclaimed Gandaft, rearing up. “The G Man! Me! Gandaft the Grey! Me! Wizard extraordinaire! Counsel to Elves, Guardian of Men...” and as he accentuated his declaration of fame with a dramatic leap to his feet, he cracked his head off the low herbert hole ceiling, let out a short sharp groan and instantly crumpled back into the armchair and lay there unmoving. Billabong stared in wonder, toffee popcorn falling from his open mouth onto the straw-covered flagstone floor.


A while later, Gandaft awoke in the same armchair by the fire, this time a large dripping icepack tied to the top of his head. Both his puffed up eyes had started to turn a nice shade of purple, his chaffed nose glowed red and his bruised lips had nicely swollen up to the size of two plump sausages. Billabong smiled nervously and handed him a fresh Pina Colada. Gandaft eyed the drink suspiciously, sniffed it and finally very carefully sucked on the straw, slowly tasting the drink. Eventually he nodded his head in approval.


“Aha! He! Ha! I don’t know what you put in these bad boys but they certainly pack a punch, young Faggins. You definitely are your mother’s son, alright, she could mix a mean cocktail in her day. Oh yes sirreee, indeedy weedy.” Gandaft greedily slurped on his drink.


“You knew my mother?” exclaimed Billabong, “does that mean you’ve actually been to The Park before?”


“Ha! Aha! Ha! Ha! Ahoy! Ha! Fag End is like an old home to me, young Billabong. All the Faggins have always been very giving, sharing and generous to me over the years,” said Gandaft as he drained his drink and slipped the empty crystal glass into his bag. “Everyone knew your mother, she was a very fine herbert, an example to us all.”


Before Billabong could raise his concern at the second crystal glass disappearing into Gandaft’s rucksack, they were interrupted by the not-very soothing chimes of a cheap classical-themed electric doorbell. The opening chords of Beethoven’s Fifth wafted through the herbert hole.


“Ha! Aha! Ha! I see! Ha! That’ll do it! ” exclaimed Gandaft, checking the portable sundial strapped to his wrist. “Ha! If there’s one thing you can say about dwarfs, other than they’re not that tall of course, hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, oh, and that they’ve all got really long beards, hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, oh, and that they all wear really silly hats, hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, is that they are punctual. Very punctual indeed! Ha! Aha!”


“Dwarfs?” blurted Billabong, “what, you mean, actual dwarfs? Like dwarf dwarfs? You telling me that there are actual dwarfs outside? Here? At Fag End? In The Park? Now? Outside? Now? Dwarfs? Here? Now? Here? Now? Here now here now herenowherenow?


“Ha! Aha! Ha! Hee! Hoo! Ha! Hootenanny! Oh yes! Ha! Not just dwarfs, young Billabong!” Gandaft leaned forward, looked around, leaned in closer to Billabong, checked around once more, his eyes boring into every shadow, looked back at Billabong’s expectant face, looked around again, stroked his beard, checked his cell phone for text messages, laughed at one message, replied, waited until the phone assured him the message had been sent, read another message, frowned, read some old text messages that he’d already read countless times before, browsed Twitter, reinstalled his Facebook app, then, finally... finally... looked directly into Billabong’s sleeping face and screamed, “Wake up!” 


Billabong sat bolt upright with a panicked start, throwing the remaining popcorn all over Gandaft. “Ha! Aha! We’re talking proper dwarfs here, Billabong,” whispered Gandaft, removing popcorn from his beard, “not any of your dumpy-looking actors standing in holes using clever camera angles and CGI jiggery-pokery, oh no sirreee! Ha! Aha! We’re talking about the real thing, the real deal, the real mccoy and the ready meal! Proper pukka little dwarf muchachos! But look here, Billabong,” Gandaft shifted forward in his seat, a deadly serious look on his battered and bruised face, a piece of popcorn balanced on his bushy left eyebrow, “it’s all well and good us calling them dwarfs in here with no one around to hear us, see, but don’t you be thinking about saying that word to their hairy-mary bearded faces, you hear me? Whatever you do, do not refer to them as dwarfs! They can be quite touchy about the whole height thing, not helped by the fact they all carry razor-sharp axes and a temper like a bull with a bee on his balls. It’s best you just forget about the whole height thing, just pretend there’s nothing unusual about them and we’ll all just get on fine. Ha!”


“But why? Why here? Why me? Why here and me? Why are dwarfs here at Fag End? Why? Why? Why? And why?”


“Ha! Hee! Ha! Aha! Ho! Ha! Hola!” exclaimed the wizard, stamping a foot on the ground and inhaling through his bloodied and discoloured nostrils. “Ha! Yes! Adventure, young Billabong! Ha! Aha! It’s in the air. Can you not smell it?” smiled the old wizard, nodding his head sagely, causing the melting ice pack to slide down around his ears. And it was true, Billabong could definitely smell something in the air, something quite distinctive, something very much like...


“Fire!” screamed Billabong, leaping up and grabbing Gandaft’s arm, “your cloak’s on fire, it’s fallen into the fireplace!”


Gandaft looked around in panic, seeing the hem of his old grey cloak beginning to discolour in the flickering coal fire, black smoke spiralling up from the ancient knitted material. “By the hairless balls of sweet baby Jesus! No time to lose, Faggins! Stand back, herbert, there’s only one way to deal with a dire fire emergency like this... and that’s with magic!” 


Gandaft pushed the shaking herbert away, raised both his hands into a finger-gun pose and thrust them towards the fire. Gandaft paused and frowned for a moment as an assortment of playing cards and multi-coloured scarfs, along with a Paul Daniels magic trick book, emptied from his sleeves, all instantly consumed in the mini-inferno below, and then he began chanting an ancient magical incantation whilst mimicking shooting the flames with his finger guns. 


“Hubble, bubble, tin foil and stubble, burning fire become a puddle!” and with that a loud wet BOOM! reverberated around the herbert hole and in an instant the burning fireplace morphed into a raging torrent of water and a huge geyser shot out, picked up Gandaft bodily and fired him across the room into the magnificent rare bone china display on the antique oak dresser against the rear wall. Gandaft dropped to the flooded floor with a splash, shattered china raining down around him, followed by the large ancient wooden display cabinet as it tipped forward and collapsed in splintered pieces on top of the drenched unconscious wizard. 


Billabong stared dumbfounded as the knee-high water slowly drained away and flooded the rest of Fag End, but any thoughts of escape that may have been forming in his stoned and befuddled mind were interrupted by the electro-tinny opening notes of the William Tell Overture emanating from his electric doorbell.


 Chapter 2. ROAST MUTTON


Saturday, June 09, 2012


(a spoiler-free zone)

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Prometheus, for me, was a big and gloriously beautiful disappointment. A feeling compounded by the fact I always approach these big film events maybe a little too eager to forgive, as I’m really still just a wide-eyed little boy (albeit with a beard and a rampant sex addiction) and want all films to happily succeed and all audiences to have a great time.

The perfect example of this being Andrew Stanton's recent John Carter of Mars. So many bloggers, tweeters and self-proclaimed film critics publicly panned that film BEFORE even seeing it, seemingly willing it to fail, greedily lapping up Disney’s politically suicidal press releases and then adding their own poisonous spin, yet hundreds of hardworking brilliant film folk had thrown their lives at making that film, which at least deserves some respect, especially from those who should know just how hard making any film is. 

For the record, as a piece of blockbuster entertainment, I thought John Carter was an enjoyable romp and held up much better than its mega-hyped 3D peers Titans and Battleship, both of which also quickly and quietly sank into obscurity.

But I was disappointed with Prometheus. Without going into plot detail, one of the overriding issues I had with the whole film was character; the believability of the crew. Visually, the film is nothing short of jaw-droppingly stunning, an epic visual feast, and hopefully it will be that element that helps makes the film a success. The problem is, no matter how expensively spectacular any film is, spectacle will only ever be the cheapest way of engaging an audience, and without any real heart underneath the pomp, lack of substance will always be sorely exposed.

Real drama lies with human action and reaction, and for that to work we need to believe in the characters, yet in this instance the crew fail to inspire belief as a team of experts sent on mankind’s most important mission ever - to meet our makers. Most of the 17 (!) crew members were underwritten, paper-thin, not believable, all ambling around in a story that felt like it was trying much too hard to not-quite say things about a load of stuff we increasingly cared less and less about. I can only think that Ridley must have been so hypnotically immersed in his undeniably brilliant world of creating stunning visuals that he overlooked the heart of his movie: that it should have been about you and me.

In Alien, the crew of the Nostromo, although all from very different backgrounds, were very clearly a group of believable characters who looked and felt like they belonged together as a working team; yet half of the crew of Prometheus had never even met each other before (before waking up on the same ship together at their destination after a 200-year cryo sleep!) and many of them looked like they were recruited from a college campus and acted as if they were recruited from a local dive bar. 

Regardless of the fact that it may very well be genius student brains that eventually crack the meaning of life, I refuse to believe that a “trillion dollar” space exploration mission - the greatest mission mankind has ever undertaken - would be crewed by such apparent cretins. And therein lies the major difference and the major problem. The Nostromo was nothing more than a mining ship and crewed accordingly. The Prometheus is mankind's most expensive, greatest and important mission EVER, yet is crewed like a mining ship. A really shit mining ship. 

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I can’t imagine that any of the crew of the Nostromo felt it was their career highlight to be interstellar scavengers. They were just average workers in a dead-end job in the arse-end of space, clock-watchers desperate to get back home and spend their hard-earned wages, yet circumstance forced them to step up and act like heroes or die. The crew of the Prometheus, on the other hand, are on the greatest mission ever undertaken by the human race, but mostly don’t seem to really give that much of a shit. Surely from inception, selection, training and launch, that crew should have been nothing less than the ultimate professionals on the ultimate mission. But they’re not. They are mostly just a bit shit. A bit rubbish. A bit undisciplined. And just very unbelievable.

In this respect I think the script falls foul of trying to replicate the brilliant dynamic of the Nostromo crew. I can understand why any writer would look to that example as a source of inspiration, but the whopping mistake is that they attempted to replicate that dynamic in a wholly different setting. 

Throw the ragged, homesick crew of a mining ship into a tense high-pressure scenario and we fully expect all kinds of hell to break loose. Asking us to believe in the continued nonchalance and fallibility of the expert crew of the most important mission in the history of mankind? Pedestrian screw-ups and technical ignorance and incompetence are used to create many of the problems that serve to drive the creaky plot. It just isn’t believable. Smoking a bong inside a spacesuit while taking the first tentative steps on a planet possibly inhabited by superior beings? Really? 

The first Alien was a brilliantly written horror film; tense, brooding, terrifying, full of constricted spaces, dread oozing out of every claustrophobic shadow. Its sequel, Aliens, was a brilliantly written action film, full of wonderful larger-than-life characters, fantastic set pieces, humour and pathos; a full-on roller-coaster ride of cinematic joy. 

The much-anticipated prequel and heir to those films, Prometheus, is a badly written CGI masterpiece, one of the best examples of 3D you’re likely to see, on an epic scale, but it lacks any real suspense, tension, heart or atmosphere and is sadly populated by overly talkative cannon fodder B-movie characters plodding obediently and unchanging towards their uninspiring deaths. 

On an extremely serious side-note: the film missed what could have been its saving grace in opting not to show Idris Elba and Charlize Theron getting full on down and dirty. Ridley could have safely apportioned at least forty minutes of screen time to those two absolutely gorgeous specimens of hot hot human flesh getting butt-naked and going hell for leather at each other in space, in 3D. But he didn't. 

In space, no one could hear them scream. 

"The most important, significant thing in all films - I don’t give a shit whether it’s science fiction or a western or whatever - is the goddamn screenplay. Get the screenplay right and all this technology enhances it. But when the screenplay is weak…"   Ridley Scott