Smaug the Movie

I saw Hobbit 2 (Desolation of Smaug) yesterday. It was a bit perplexing experience, thereby worth a short note at least. On one hand, it was a decent fantasy action movie, filled with impressive landscapes and striking visualizations (I saw the 3D HFR version). As to this being part of Hobbit, there was a bit of a challenge to adapt the expectations. There was a hobbit, a wizard and thirteen dwarves ok. Smaug, the dragon itself was also impressive and parts of its dialogue with Bilbo were actually something that Tolkien had written – I think it pretty much steals the show. But most of what was going on was not familiar dialogue. An old, cranky Tolkien-fan could judge the movie just on the basis of its taking too many liberties with the source material. I actually appreciate the effort to explain, for example, why Gandalf and the dwarves set into the hazardous journey to the Lonely Mountain in the first place (hint: war against the rising Darkness, the Arkenstone). The ethically suspicious character of our “heroes” sneaking in to the mountain, waking the dragon, and then cowardly waiting while Smaug hits the mountainside, then flies to burn down Esgaroth, the Lake-town. In this version they actually put up a rather decent fight against the mighty dragon, which is entertaining to follow, but not exactly the most realistic battle in the film history. (I think that the brave handful would probably survived only a few minutes if Smaug would have been himself…) The character of elves is perhaps the most inconsistent element in this version. Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood is a made into a pretty nasty person, and this relates to Legolas, who is introduced into Hobbit (as we learned from Lord of the Rings that Legolas was king’s son). Then there is Tauriel, the new female warrior character who has to carry the burden of being the love-interest of not only Legolas, but also of Kili, the dwarf! The orcs are also made into much active party, and they actively pursue Thorin and his companions first into the gates of Elvenking (I wonder how they made it there unnoticed?) and then deep inside Esgaroth, where they attack the house of Bard, where Bard’s children are treating dying Kili (hit by an arrow with a Morgul blade, of all things). When Legolas and Tauriel arrive to recue at that very moment, the poor Tolkien fan has lost almost all track of where this story is heading.

There are stuff in the Appendices of LoTR that provide interesting materials to explore, and it is clear that Peter Jackson & co. have made good use of it, while filling in some of the most obvious gaps between the Hobbit and LoTR. The stylistic challenge nevertheless remains – this is a children’s book, after all, here adapted to become a much more somber tale of ambition, empathy, greed and hunger of power, and it only just about sticks together as a logical whole. Sometimes I wonder what Jackson would make out of Silmarillion, if he would get the filming rights to that, truly epic treasure trove of material. But watching Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug makes one suspect that such film would over-emphazise the action elements so much that the more philosophical and lyrical elements would be severely downplayed. And that would be a real shame. But, I must underline, Hobbit 2 is pretty ok as an action fantasy movie, one just perhaps needs to adapt one’s expectations a bit.

Applications open for Master’s Degree Programme in Internet and Game Studies

The application round for the master’s degree programmes given in English at the University of Tampere is now open. The application deadline is 31 January 2014. One of the open programmes is the Master’s Degree programme in  Internet and Game Studies; you can find more information about it from here:

Information on the master programmes and on how to apply is available at

More information from Ms. Kirsi Tuominen

Blog comment spam

For a long time already, pretty much the only comments that my blog sites receive are coming from spammers. I have the setting that all new commenters’ comments go for moderation, and I manually delete them all, so they do not serve any purpose for a spammer, either. The original character of blogs as social sites of discussion have long been replaced by social network services, most notably by Facebook, Twitter and Google+. These days, the comments that a note like this one receives, take place in these various services, where original content is being linked to, “liked” and circulated. This is not a particularly good thing if you consider gathering together the various discussion threads, or would like to return to those comments at some point in the future. All those comments will be lost in the constant status update stream of social media, unfortunately. I am now seriously considering closing the comment function altogether from my blogs, and will most likely implement this change in the near future. It will be possible to send me comments via email, of course, and my preferred social network site for public discussion today is Google+ (there are links to my profile in this blog), but any comments, in any platform, are really welcome.

Tablets, the Next Generation

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, with S Pen
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, with S Pen

I have been testing two very good tablets recently: iPad Mini with Retina Display (Cellular) and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition, LTE). In principle I would say that if you already are using a large-screen, phablet-style smartphone (like the Samsung Galaxy S4 I am using daily), and also carry around a powerful and light-weight laptop for the serious work stuff, tablet has a rather tight spot to cover. It is mostly too large to fit into your pocket (maybe a 7″ model like Nexus 7 can do that, however) so it not always available in the same way your smartphone is. And since the tablet does not have a full, dedicated keyboard and multitasking-oriented OS like your laptop has, it is not as efficient in the actual work, either. What to think about the continuing success of tablets, then?

When Apple introduced the original iPad, there were many who were sceptical about the actual benefits of again introducing the third, “middle category”, and there had been previous attempts to implement and market tablet computers and those had not been particularly successful. Apple’s virtue has been in the combination of extremely polished user experience with straightforward access to the key contents that most people actually care about. iPad proved that music, movies, photos, web and email can be rather well be handled also with a responsive, nicely designed tablet device.

iPad Mini with Retina Display continues the tradition of design excellence in Apple products. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful products of industrial design I have ever beheld. The care to the detail is admirable, and it is pleasure to touch and study this mini marvel. I have also been testing the new iPad Air and the new Mini has all the bells and whistles like its bigger brother, and it also boasts the same display resolution, just squeezed into significantly smaller frame. (There are some rather minor differences in processor power and in colour accuracy, in addition to size, to iPad Air’s benefit.) The iOS app ecosystem is the best in the mobile universe, and this concerns particularly the quality of applications. Many of the best iOS apps are just pleasure to use, so most games, lifestyle and productivity apps work best in the iOS environment. The main limitations, however, are at the growingly clear lack of innovation: iOS7, the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system is prettier and in some areas clearly better than older versions of iOS. But the live titles and more flexible control scheme of Windows Phone provide more information at a glance, and Android is much more flexible and comes in myriad variations, with tools that a power user in particular can appreciate.

Google’s Nexus line of “stock Android” tablets and phones is perhaps the best example of the benefits that a modern mobile OS can provide, but there were important reasons why I wanted to turn my attention to a Galaxy Note this time. Most important of them was the “S Pen” stylus and its associated operating system enhancements.

Samsung’s S Pen is equipped with the state-of-the-art technology by Wacom, long-time leader in stylus and digitizing solutions. It is fascinating to see the fast reaction of tablet to the approacing tip of the small stylus, and writing and controlling of the tablet is effortless with the S Pen. It feels nice to be able to scribble handwritten text into a search box or straight into a document, and see the software automatically recognise and transform it into text. With Galaxy Note 10.1, I can take a PDF contract document, sent my a publisher, for example, and simply sign it with the S Pen, and email it back. This kind of common task has involved frustratingly complex negotiations between the hybrid worlds of print and digital documents, and now, with the help of S Pen and the magic of Evernote Skitch (a premium, paid feature), annotating PDFs is finally made natural and easy.

The downsides of Android’s increased capabilities include that often there is higher threshold of learning all the various features that manufacturers have made available to the user. iPad and its apps usually do less, but do it better. When I want to play games or consume content, I definitely lean more towards iPad Mini or iPad Air than an Android device. But when I today consider which device to pack with me for that next work trip, the choice is much harder. There is much B-quality bloatware and superfluous stuff in Samsung’s tablet, but also some really unique and genuinely useful features that make the life of a power user much easier. It is difficult to say what will be the outcome of the mobile competition in the long run, but the latest generation of tablets provide delightful and great user experiences, making a compelling case for the continuous existence of tablets as a device category.

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