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2012 comics year in review: a great time to be a new comics fan

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Batman #14 Greg Capullo Scott Snyder New 52 Joker and Batman on the bridge - Hello, darling

It’s been a damn good year to be a comic book fan, and an even better one if, like me, this was your first year in comics.

Marvel and DC have opened their doors wide to new readership, and their emphasis on accessible stories unburdened by half a century of continuity has meant a bevvy of comic books that can catch and hold a new reader’s eye. Add the continued rise of indie projects published through Image Comics and you’ve got a recipe for an industry that’s only getting better. DC’s New 52 and Marvel NOW! are offering readers a chance to get in on the ground floor of something fresh and new. Did you climb on board?

I did.

The massive character histories of most superheroes intimidated me for years; with the New 52, I finally felt welcome to join the club. There are so many fantastic stories being written that, once I got my feet wet in the genre, it was impossible for me not to swim farther into the deep end.

X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman: the Animated Series from the ’90s provided my childhood superhero education; the film versions of those franchises coloured my teenage years; in university, I fell in love with self-contained canonical Batman masterpieces like The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, while also learning the non-hero side of comics through Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat cartoons.

But it wasn’t until my birthday this past June that I truly stepped into comics.

A friend gave me the first nine issues of Batman. The storyline wasn’t done, so I had to get more. Batman #10 got me into the comic book shop, and got me reading about comics online. I went back for Batman #11 ready to try a few other comics I’d heard good things about: the retooled Captain Marvel, the latest Batwoman, and the first issue of Batman and Robin.

It all snowballed from there. Now I’ve got a longbox nearly full of comics, and a whole bookshelf dedicated to graphic novels and trade paperbacks. I’ve got a subscription at my local comics shop and a mental appointment there every Wednesday after work.

I’m a new fan because there is so much to like about comics right now.

Batman, my gateway drug, is absolutely one of the best comics around. The Night of the Owls storyline was thrilling, and the current Death of the Family Joker arc is frightening and brilliant.

Batman #3 New 52 Greg Capullo Scott Snyder Night of the Owls Talon cover

Batman and a Talon assassin from Batman #3.

On top of Batman, DC Comics has a stable of serious, hard-hitting comics that are worth following. Brian Azarello’s Wonder Woman is an inventive mesh of Greek and superhero mythologies, and Cliff Chiang’s art on the book is gorgeous. I can’t say enough about J.H. Williams III’s Batwoman: it’s an absolute work of art every month. And if you love the DC Universe, grab anything by Geoff Johns, who must have an encyclopedia of it all in the back of his head: he’s writing Justice League, Green Lantern and Aquaman, and he’s got plenty of crossover in them with all the other DC superheroes.

Green Lantern Geoff Johns Simon Baz New 52 DC Comics

Simon Baz, the newest Green Lantern, introduced in issue #0 by Geoff Johns.

On the other side of the fence, Marvel NOW! has pulled even with the New 52 by juggling its roster of strong writers onto new books, bringing fresh stories to previously entrenched characters. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel started in the spirit of Marvel NOW! by recasting Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel, in a new role and with a new costume. DeConnick’s first story arc was dripping with poignant emotion and character analysis as DeConnick took Carol back in time to revisit her origins, both as a superhero and as a woman.

Carol Danvers Captain Marvel Comics Costume

Carol Danvers rocking it in her new Captain Marvel costume.

The full Marvel NOW! initiative hit later in the year, bringing with it a ton of reset points. Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk is an imaginative take on a once-tired character; Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers promises to be one of the grandest stories to be told in 2013; Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is winning legions of followers for its clever writing and David Aja’s killer art. Conceptually, Brian Michael Bendis’ All-New X-Men makes it worth the read: what would you do if your 16 year-old self showed up and told you to stop acting like a dick? Bendis has made the X-world worth reading, whether you’re a mutant lover or not.

Over at Image, Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead lurches on inexorably, as does its television iteration. Grant Morrison’s dark and hilarious Happy! is a one-of-a-kind pairing of a hitman and an invisible purple horse that’s a can’t-miss.

And then there’s Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga, the best story being told in comics right now. It’s Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet for the 21st century as star-crossed aliens Alana and Marko try to escape their respective armies and preserve the life of their newborn hybrid baby, Hazel. Vaughn and stellar artist Fiona Staples blend fantasy and science fiction to create a world of rocketship forests, babysitter ghosts and people with TV heads. It’s a singularly imaginative world that crackles with real, human dialogue. It’s honest, moving, and vulgar at turns, but completely believable the whole way.

Saga Comic Brian K. Vaughn Fiona Staples Image Comics Alana Marko and Hazel

Winged Alana with her horned husband Marko and their baby.

For all that was good this year, there were also some disappointments. The biggest had to be when Marvel gave coal to Spider-Man fans by killing Peter Parker the day after Christmas.

Not much can top that, but there were other letdowns, too. DC’s Zero Month in October promised origin tales for all the revamped New 52 comic books, but most of the stories were prequels or preludes to present-day stories.

Marvel and DC put out a lot of titles, and they weren’t spinning narrative gold with all of them.

Superman has been a dog’s breakfast despite creative team change-ups. Jeph Loeb’s current run is no exception. The New 52 Superman has also been a mess to draw with his new armoured costume. Grant Morrison’s Action Comics has been kinder to the character, but the most remarkable part of his young Superman is his steel-toed boots and Super T-shirt – not his adventures.

Marvel NOW!’s releases haven’t all been as fresh as Avengers, Fantastic Four or Indestructible Hulk. Iron Man is the most notable letdown, which is unfortunate for a character about to get his third movie next year.

With all the big strides and stumbles made in 2012, the comic book world of 2013 holds a lot of potential – and two burning questions.

First, Scott Snyder’s new Man of Steel title may yet rescue Superman’s comic reputation before his latest film reboot. Watch for it in June, drawn by Jim Lee. Snyder has been masterful with gritty Batman and creepy Swamp Thing; can he keep it up with the squeaky-clean Man of Tomorrow?

Marvel’s biggest challenge will be next month, when The Superior Spider-Man debuts. Writer Dan Slott faces a massive uphill climb with Otto Octavius as the webslinger. Will this new direction refresh the formerly Amazing Spider-Man, or will it hamstring him for years to come? Will Peter Parker ever return?

Otto Octavius Doctor Octopus as Superior Spider-Man Marvel NOW!

Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-Man, has very strong fingers.

2013 ought to hold plenty of answers and more great questions as Marvel NOW! kicks it into high gear and the New 52 grows into its second full year.

Marvel NOW! is a great jumping-on point, and if you’re a DC fan, the New 52 has trade paperbacks available to quickly catch you up and get you in the game.

It’s a great time to be a comic book fan, and an even better time to become one.

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Movie Review: Django Unchained is a badass spaghetti western for the 21st century

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Jamie Foxx Django Unchained with Chrisoph Waltz Dr. King Schultz Quentin Tarantino

You had to know Quentin Tarantino had this one in him all along.

For a one-of-a-kind movie director and pop culture personality who grew up on pulpy genre films, and who went on to make a career out of those genre films, it was only a matter of time before Tarantino turned in a spaghetti western film unlike any other.

Django Unchained is a slavery revenge narrative turned into a cowboy film that delights in some fine acting, finer dialogue and unparallelled gunfighting scenes.

Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave-turned-bounty hunter let off the chain by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz frees Django to help him identify three brothers with bounties on their heads, but the two prove to be such a good team that they partner up for the long haul. After a winter of the flesh trade business – selling corpses, not slaves, for money – they turn to rescuing Django’s lost wife Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) from wicked plantation owner and black bare-knuckle fighting enthusiast Monsieur Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The acting is incredible from all involved. Tarantino’s love for Inglorious Basterds alum Christoph Waltz clearly led him to write the German into the script, but that love is well-earned. Waltz plays a delightfully friendly and polite German immigrant with a heart of gold and a strong fidelity to social etiquette. Jamie Foxx runs the gamut between vulnerable husband and vengeful slave, and he’s truly badass with a pistol in his hand. DiCaprio’s Monsieur Candie is charming, funny and despicable as the vindictive master of Candieland, but the true star of the plantation is head slave Stephen, played by longtime Tarantino favourite Samuel L. Jackson.

Django Unchained Samuel L. Jackson Stephen Quentin Tarantino

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, a head slave stuck in the past.

Stephen is a doddering old man and an Uncle Tom to Candie, but he’s as much a villain as his master, if not more so. He is at turns hilarious and sinister as only Samuel L. Jackson can be. The magic formula with Jackson has always been to get him shouting “God damn!” and that’s absolutely working for him here.

Watch for some cameos here from Jonah Hill as a Klu Klux Klan member who can’t see out his mask eyeholes, and for an odd fleeting glimpse of Amber Tamblyn in a window. Yes, Tarantino’s got so much clout, he can pull in names for cameos that small.

The music in this movie is glorious. Tarantino brings in the theme song from the 1966 cowboy film Django, and you may well catch yourself singing it on the way out of the theatre. But the old school western music is perfectly blended with some modern rap, including Rick Ross’ great “100 Black Coffins” and the Tupac/James Brown mashup “Unchained”.

There aren’t too many jarring cutaways or text insertions here like you’d find in Kill Bill or, to a lesser extent, Inglorious Basterds. Nevertheless, this movie smacks of Tarantino’s style and writing. There’s one point in the movie where everything looks easily wrapped up, but – in true Tarantino fashion – a little matter of social etiquette blows it wide open.

The gun fight that follows this social faux pas is possibly one of the best scenes on film. It’s gory, loud, over the top and so much fun you don’t want it to ever end.

The same can be said for this entire movie.

Django Unchained will leave you laughing, smiling, and slapping Ds in front of every J you write.

This movie is god damn amazing.

Djust go see it.

9 out of 10

Comic Review: Amazing Spider-Man #700

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Marvel Comics Amazing Spider-Man #700 variant cover Doctor Octopus

Marvel got it in right under the wire: in the final week of the 50th anniversary year of Amazing Spider-Man, the series – and its hero – are no more.

There’s no need for sugarcoating, elusive language or avoidance here: Peter Parker is dead, and Doctor Octopus is the new, Superior Spider-Man.

In issue #698, Spider-Man started acting a lot more confident, and it soon became clear that someone else was pulling the strings. At the end, Peter Parker woke up in Doc Ock’s body, only to face Octavius in control of Spider-Man.

In issue #699, writer Dan Slott explained the Freak Friday switch through some techno-mumbo jumbo involving brain mapping.

Now, it all comes to fruition: issue #700 has the inverted confrontation between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, and between Otto Octavius and Peter Parker – in that order. It’s a strange twist but if one thing is clear, it’s that Doctor Octopus’ shattered body will not survive. With the outcome assured, the narrative tension lies in how Peter’s mind can possibly abandon ship in time to carry on – in one form or another.

It’s entertaining to see these two foes spend a day in the life of one another. Otto’s got a healthy dose of attitude and ego that Peter never showed, and the reactions of Peter’s loved ones are largely positive. It’s definitely amusing to see him call Mary-Jane “Woman,” and to hear him chastise people for “doddling.” But the change in character is not unnoticed: MJ and others pick up on it, and their suspicion will no doubt carry forward into the new series. The Amazing Spider-Man has always carefully guarded his secret identity; the Superior Spider-Man will have two secret identities to conceal.

Peter’s day as a supervillain involves stringing along Hydro-Man and Scorpion long enough to get what he needs without seeing anyone get hurt. It’s not too original but Dan Slott deftly meshes the lingering bits of Octavius with Peter’s voice, resulting in some amusing moments out of our dying hero.

Amazing Spider-Man #700 is remarkable more for its character implications than for its actual execution, but there are some strong moments here that aptly reflect on the long and colorful history of Peter Parker.

Peter briefly dies midway through, and he gets to see a parade of all the people he’s lost. Gwen and Captain Stacey make appearances, among others, but it’s Uncle Ben – it has to be Uncle Ben, doesn’t it? – who gives the heart to the scene and, really, this whole issue.

And that’s where the strength of this story really lies. It’s not so much about how Peter goes out, but about what brought him to this point. It’s about what makes Spider-Man a hero, and what will make the new Spider-Man a hero, too. For a 50th anniversary issue, it fitting celebrates the history of the character before taking a step into the unknown. Amazing Spider-Man #700 is a crash course in the loss and heroism at the heart of comics’ favorite underdog, and it’s Peter Parker doing the teaching. He’s ready to pass on the mantle, and remarkably, Otto Octavius seems ready to accept it.

Amazing Spider-Man #700 spoiler history Doctor Octopus

Otto Octavius, meshing histories with Peter Parker.

The art in this comic is definitely a mixed bag. Humberto Ramos nicely renders flashbacks and the afterlife sequence with all of Peter’s loved ones, but he gets tripped up by some garbled action sequences, particularly when Spidey punches Scorpion in the jaw.

Octo-Spidey gets some great shadows and sinister expressions, but not every character is so well-served. Ramos misses the mark in a panel where MJ is telling Peter she loves him, as her face looks like she just saw her puppy get hit by a car.

Nevertheless, Ramos delivers on the real emotional moments of this issue, and that’s what really counts.

You can debate the merits of Spider-swapping until the cows come home, but remember: this is comics. Dick Grayson became Batman for a while, but Bruce Wayne is back. No one ever stays dead, and no one ever stays gone. Marvel was clearly experimenting with a non-Parker Spider-Man when they made Miles Morales the Ultimate Spider-Man. The Superior Spider-Man is likely an extension of that experiment.

Let’s see where the experiment goes. After all, Marvel’s got a second Spider-Man film franchise with Peter Parker as its main character. How long can they go without returning his comic incarnation to the status quo?

This tougher, meaner, Superior Spider-Man will bring fresh conflict and an interesting new perspective to the wall crawler in Marvel NOW!’s Superior Spider-Man #1, and if/when Peter gets back – likely through cloning or more brain mapping – he’ll have an altered life dynamic, and Otto Octavius to thank for it.

Peter Parker is dead. Long live the new Peter Parker.

7 out of 10

Six great iPhone games for the simulation lover

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

If nothing excites you more than holding a little world in the palm of your hand, then these iOS apps are right for you: each one is a cheap or free game that’s just as thrilling for the hardcore mobile gamer as for the casual iPhone user. With these apps you can conquer the world, run a successful mall or win the championship with your sports franchise – and you can do it all on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

Click the icon to visit the iTunes page for each app below.

1. Plague Inc.


Plague Inc. Ndemic Creations iOS iPhone iPad iTunes Apple

It’s the holiday season and the flu is going around. Rather than popping cough drops and swilling NyQuil, take charge of the virus with Plague Inc..

Plague Inc world map virus spread Ndemic Creations iTunes

Plague Inc. is a virus simulator at its most perverse: you control the disease, spend DNA points to evolve its symptoms and control how it spreads. you can strike terror into the human race and bring the world to its knees with a whole host of vile symptoms. Nasty effects like internal hemorrhaging, dysentery and pulmonary oedema are yours to command. Spread your plague by air, water, blood, or through animal transmission. Mutate antibiotic resistance to prevent humans from developing a cure or foiling your infection techniques.

Plague Inc. is an extremely reasonable $0.99 and takes about 20 minutes to run through. Each victory unlocks new genes and new plague types.

Developer Ndemic Creations has remain active in updating and expanding Plague Inc., meaning this already spectacular game continues to receive fine-tuning updates on a regular basis.

2. Tiny Tower


iTunes Tiny Tower Nimblebit

Tiny Tower is a building management game that runs in real time. It’s simple, quick at first and extraordinarily addictive as it progresses. You run a tower where cute little pixelated people live and work, and it’s your job to build and manage the various stores in the tower.

Tiny Tower Nimblebit iTunes iPhone iPad iPod Apple iOS

You’ll move in people, give them jobs, tell them what to produce and wait while they produce it. This is easy at first, but as more expensive options open up, you’ll find yourself waiting hours, not minutes, for jobs to complete. It soon becomes a time management game, meaning it will keep you hooked on the next move you’re waiting to make.

Nimblebit’s Tiny Tower will always call you back, as there will always be a store to restock, a new item to produce, and a new shop to staff. It’s extraordinarily addictive. It’s also completely free.

3. Pocket Planes

Pocket Planes Nimblebit iTunes

Speaking of Nimblebit and real time games, Pocket Planes is Nimblebit’s latest endeavour that’s also worth a look. Pocket Planes puts you in charge of a small regional airline and challenges you to connect the world with your airplanes.

Pocket Planes map view Nimblebit iPhone iPad iTunes iOS Apple

Build planes out of aircraft parts, upgrade them and load up passengers and cargo to earn money and unlock bigger and better things. Bi-weekly worldwide tasks keep you coming back for special rewards, and hour-long flights assure you’ll be peeking in to see that all your passengers made it to their destination safely.

Like Tiny Tower, Pocket Planes is free. Nimblebit makes its money off selling bux, which are used to purchase aircraft in the game. Don’t let that put you off, though: bux are easily obtainable without paying. Money simply accelerates your progress.

Pocket Planes is a cute and fun simulator that will give you a crash course in world geography as you open airports to connect your flights and stretch your service across the globe.

4. Mega Mall Story

Kairosoft Mega Mall Story iTunes iOS

If Tiny Tower tickles your fancy, then Mega Mall Story will make you think you died and went to capitalist heaven. You manage a little strip mall and build it up into a megaplex, complete with underground levels, a subway, bus routes and a helicopter pad.

Mega Mall Story iTunes Kairosoft Apple

Court the locals with high quality stores and varied merchandise and they’ll become regulars and reward you. Invest in the surrounding community to bring in new opportunities and develop your customer base. Earn rare stores and combine shops into complementary strings to really boost your sales. Mega Mall Story is a shopping mall simulator that you’ll never want to put down.

Developer Kairosoft has got to be one of the best mobile game companies around. They’ve got a great stable of simulator games all based around a similar structure, but with enough variation and unique elements to make each game worth it in its own right. Kairosoft knows it, too: their apps are not cheap, as each one (including Mega Mall Story) will set you back $3.99.

Fortunately, the Lite version is available for free. If you enjoy Mega Mall Story, be sure to check out the other Lite offerings from Kairosoft to really get a sense of how good they’ve gotten at developing mobile games.

5. Lux Touch

Lux Touch iTunes Sillysoft Games Risk clone

If you’ve ever harbored secret delusions of world domination, or if you’ve agonized over trying to conquer Asia in the classic board game Risk, then Lux Touch is for you. It’s a Risk clone for the casual strategist, easily playable in five minutes and not nearly as graphic-intensive or statistically-reliant as the actual EA Games Risk app (which hits harder in the pocketbook and takes a good chunk out of your device’s battery life).

Lux Touch doesn’t show the dice rolls, the men or the territory names. It only keeps the important stuff, like victory cards and continent bonuses, so you’ll still want to get your hands on Asia and you may want to hole up in Australia. Lux Touch is pared right down to a basic world conquest format, and one simple rule change makes it run at breakneck speed.

Lux Touch by Sillysoft Games Risk clone on Apple iTunes

Instead of attacking only once per turn with a bundle of armies, you’re free to build up a pack of men and go on a worldwide rampage. This means that if you can secure a bonus territory early, you can build up a squad and sweep your enemies right to the brink of the ocean and push them off with the blue tide of your army.

Lux Touch is completely free and a fun way to kill a few minutes of waiting around wherever you are.

6. iOOTP Baseball 2012

iOOTP Baseball 2012 iTunes Apple

For the armchair general manager and sports fan there’s iOOTP 2012 Baseball, a fantasy sports simulator that makes you the brains of your very own baseball organization. You control the roster, coach the team, manage contracts and trade players.

iOOTP 2012 Baseball simulator fantasy sports general manager GM

Console sports games all come with a general manager mode. If you’re the kind of player who simulates through the actual games and focuses on the big picture roster moves, then iOOTP Baseball 2012 is the game for you. It takes all the fun of general manager mode and trims out the graphic-intensive gameplay to create a pure management simulator for you to play on your phone.

Best of all, you don’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this. The stats differ from football, basketball or hockey, but once you identify the kinds of players you need, it’s not hard to work through the statistics. Before long, you can be playing your own version of Moneyball with iOOTP Baseball 2012.

iOOTP Baseball 2012 is $1.99 on the app store, but well worth the price for anyone with sports management aspirations.

Multi-film novel adaptations becoming a disturbing Hollywood trend

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Peter Jackson The Hobbit Part 1 An Unexpected Journey Bilbo Thorin Dwarves Martin Freeman

It’s becoming an all-too-common trend: popular novels are being awkwardly hacked into chunks and transformed into overlong feature-length films to prolong franchise life and score extra ticket receipts. Fans love it, but for the uninitiated it’s resulting in poorly-constructed stories that fail to offer the closure expected out of a traditional movie experience.

So far, film producers have only had the cojones to do it with much-beloved book franchises with cult followings, and that’s unlikely to change. In a movie era where the cinemas are dominated by nostalgic reboots, novel adaptations and comic book superheroes, film companies clearly place an incredible amount of faith in pre-established audiences.

That’s why they’ve pushed the boundaries of solid filmmaking by creating incomplete movies: they know a die-hard (or Twi-Hard) fan is willing to accept an incomplete movie and pay for admission twice because they’re already committed to the product. Making two Twilight films prolongs the fantasy experience and adds double the ticket receipts, plus an extra boost for 3D and IMAX surcharges.

Given that most moviegoers wouldn’t stomach an original film that’s only partially written (unless it’s from Quentin Tarantino), it’s safe to say we won’t ever see Anchorman 2: Part 1.

Anchorman 2 Will Ferrell Ron Burgundy

“Great Odin’s raven! Why not?”

But these multi-film novel adaptations are a practice you simply won’t get away with in any other area of life.

Imagine you’re in high school English and your first term paper is due. 500 words on one of the major themes in The Hobbit. Due Friday.

You pick power as your topic. Easy one, right? Just slot your argument into the old five paragraph essay format and you’re golden: intro, body, conclusion. Boom.

Now imagine you write the essay in 1800 words. You chop it at exactly 600 words for each, and you shrink the font and expand the margins to squeeze it all into the typical page length. You turn in the first chunk and think: “That’s way more words than the teacher asked for, so she’ll be impressed that I’m so smart. And I’ve got enough to turn in for my next two essays, too. I’m covered for the year!”

You get an F. In the top corner, written in red, your teacher wrote: “This is a long intro with one paragraph and no conclusion. Next time, write an essay.”

English class teacher gives an F Fail

“Also, you’re over word count, dumbass.”

That’s exactly what Peter Jackson did with The Hobbit. He took a book with the subtitle “There and Back Again” and made a movie about getting partway There. His next two movies will be The Desolation of Smaug (i.e. There for a While) and There and Back Again (i.e. Eventually Going Back Again). And if you haven’t read the book, Bilbo’s journey home is a total victory lap; nothing gets in his way or slows him down to make it interesting.

Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Martin Freeman Bilbo smoking a pipe Tolkien

He just does a lot of this.

There’s a lot of narrative padding and extra story added to An Unexpected Journey to get it up to an unwieldy three hours. the film could have realistically been done in two. Now, consider how much Jackson is going to have to pad the next two movies to make each one three hours.

There’s also the near-inevitability that the Blu-ray release will see an extended cut for each film, the same way Lord of the Rings was released. Jackson added two and a half hours of footage to those films from the material he had to cut. So rest assured, Tolkien fans: you’ll eventually get to see the scenes Jackson left out of this Hobbit trilogy. You’ll finally see the origin of Radagast’s bird poop haircut, and Jackson will certainly add back in every single song from the novel, including the Rivendell elves’ song:

O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The faggots are reeking,
The bannocks are baking!
O! tril-lil-lil-lolly
the valley is jolly,
ha! ha!

It’s really not the same story without a tril-lil-lil-lolly.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the first to try splitting one book into two movies. In fact, Warner Bros. toyed with the idea of making Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire into two films back in 2004, but scrapped the idea and – much to the chagrin of Potter fans – made some aggressive story cuts instead. Not so with Deathly Hallows: according to producer David Heyman, the choice to split the movie up was left entirely in the hands of the filmmakers, and they opted to do it because there were too many plot points to hit in the final film for them to squeeze it all into a reasonable length. They were looking at a 4.5 hour single film unless they split it up, so they went ahead with the divison. They also had plenty of support from J.K. Rowling herself.

So, while critics were annoyed by the sudden halt midway through the plot, fans delighted to know that J.K. Rowling’s epic Potter conclusion would get all the screen time it needed to tie up every loose end for the franchise. Shooting both movies together meant a prolonged two-year break between Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, but the result was a fully-realized adaptation for fans, and a box office bonanza for Warner Bros. Together, the two Deathly Hallows films grossed nearly $2.3 billion in worldwide revenue.

Harry Potter Gringott's Goblin Bank Money Counting

“$2,284,510,930 to be exact.”

If J.K. Rowling was supportive of a proposed split for her final book, then Stephanie Meyer was downright adamant: she insisted that there was too much content to Breaking Dawn for it to be anything but a two-film finale. The announcement that Breaking Dawn would be a two-parter came just five months before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 hit theatres, and Twilight fans were stoked. Meyer’s rabid fanbase devoured both parts of the final sparkling vampire story, and the two films grossed a combined $1.5 billion worldwide. Critics panned it, but the only complaint you heard out of Twi-Hards was that they had to wait in line twice – and subject their ear drums to prepubescent girl screams twice – to see Bella marry Edward and pop out a vamp kid.

Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Bella Edward Vampires Wedding Kristen Stewart Robert Pattinson

“OMG we’re so happy to be vampire married!”

Fast-forward again to Peter Jackson, who is creating a nine-hour trilogy from a 150-page book originally written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children, with all the bits that weren’t coherent enough for The Lord of the Rings shoved in around the edges to fill in run time. There are added subplots and artificial end points to get each movie out the door in a more or less self-contained form, but it’s clear this is a trilogy that never should have been.

Unlike with Harry Potter and The Twilight Saga, Hobbit fans need not fear that the book will be shortchanged. Instead, the danger is it’s getting lost in the noise of all the added material.

The audacious part about the Hobbit trilogy is that it was initially planned as a two-film project. A third film was added just five months before the first movie debuted, meaning Jackson had to scramble to re-edit his movies and re-shoot footage to make everything coherent.

There is plenty to like about An Unexpected Journey. It’s well-acted, the special effects are grand and Middle-Earth is as beautiful, dangerous and exhilarating as ever. But this series is too much of a good thing.

The Hobbit is about a band of dwarves in pursuit of a pile of riches.

The story of its film adaptation is about that same pursuit.