Last year, I wrote a review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey after seeing it with my best friends on opening night. Though one of those friends tragically passed away this year, my remaining comrade and I were determined to honor her memory and our nerdiness by carrying on the tradition, as we have done since The Fellowship of the Ring was released back in 2001. The time has come to write my review of the second installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug.
Warning: Here there be SPOILERS!
Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the World-building and Character Development. There are definitely SPOILERS in this post.
So many SPOILERS.
Really, I was worried about Thor 2. There were a lot of things that I liked about the first movie, and some things that I definitely didn’t like. Pretty much all of the stuff that happened on Earth (or Midgard, depending on where you’re from). I didn’t like the way that Jane turned into a giggly bubblehead whenever she was around Thor. I didn’t like the fact that Thor, God of Thunder is apparently a very quick study when it comes to learning humility. And I didn’t like the pushback from some people in the fan community against the casting choices for Heimdall and Hogun.
Thor 2 seems to have applied the lessons learned from its predecessor, because I fucking loved it. I know some will disagree, but I’d put this film on par with Iron Man 3in the recent Marvel films. It is all about world-building and relationships, and gave me all the feels.
Thor and Odin
There are a couple of dynamics going on here, both of which the film addressed beautifully. The first is the father-son relationship between Odin and Thor. Odin charged Thor with bringing peace to the Nine Realms. Good luck with that, Thor. Odin notices Thor brooding over the mortal he left behind on Earth and basically tells him to snap out of it, especially when there’s a perfectly good badass Asgardian woman right in front of him. Thor disregards this fatherly advice – not with arrogance, as before, but with a greater sense of perspective, having fought hard to protect Earth with the Avengers.
The second relationship is the king-heir dynamic that comes into play during the crisis that Asgard faces when Malekith and his Dark Elves attack. This is complicated by Odin’s arrogance, which is probably borne out of Odin’s faith in his own father, Borr, who had claimed to put the Dark Elf threat to rest centuries ago. It’s further complicated by the death of Frigga – arrogance and grief prove to be a deadly combination.
Thor and Sif
I was so pleased by how Thor’s relationship with Sif was handled in this film – I feared a cliche and overdone love triangle. I hate love triangles, but this one was so small as to be unobtrusive. Sif is a smart woman, a great warrior, and a good friend. She sees that Thor is in deep smit with Jane Foster, even if she doesn’t think Jane to be a worthy companion for him. And then she does nothing but what she would have done anyway, as one of Thor’s most trusted friends. She sets her own feelings aside for the good of Asgard, and kicks some ass while doing it.
Thor and Jane
No one is more surprised than me that Jane Foster did not entirely annoy the shit out of me in Thor 2 - in fact, I think she actually played a vital role in the plot, in a way that didn’t seem forced. It makes sense that Jane would investigate gravitational anomalies caused by the Convergence. It’s not implausible for her to fall through a portal to another world. And though it’s incredibly stupid for her to touch a glowing red substance trapped in a rock on an alien world, it’s not out of character for her to do so. The scientists in Prometheus made all kinds of bad decisions, too.
I like that both Jane and Thor keep their heads even after they’re reunited. I realize that Thor’s plan to lure Malekith away from Asgard is risky, but if he were thinking the way first-movie-Thor did, he would have gone along with Odin’s plan and sacrificed Asgard to protect her. He didn’t do that – nor did he know whether or not allowing Malekith to remove the Aether from her body would kill her. But it was the right thing to do. As Carrot Ironfoundersson says in theDiscworld books, “Personal is not the same as important.” The way this was handled was uncharacteristically wise for Thor, and showed growth of character.
Loki and Frigga
HOLY CRAP ALL OF THE FEELS! I have so much to say about Frigga and Loki’s relationship, but I don’t even know if I can find the words. I love that such a short amount of screen time showed us so much about Loki’s childhood. Frigga’s question, when she’s projecting into Loki’s cell, “And am I not your mother?” nearly killed me. She was the one that taught him how to cast illusions. She’s the one who pleaded with Odin for mercy on his behalf. And her death is what motivates Loki to keep Malekith from achieving his goals – I’m not as naive as Thor. If Loki possessed any desire to save Asgard it was only to preserve it so he could take it as his own, or exact revenge on Odin. But I believed Loki when he said, “Trust my rage,” as he and Thor prepared to confront Malekith and destroy the Aether. If the Dark Elf attack on Asgard had left Frigga alive and well, Loki wouldn’t have given a bilge snipe’s ass about what Malekith did with the Aether.
Loki’s grief for Frigga was painted on the walls of his cell, even if it wasn’t plain in his face and unkempt (and sexy) hair.
Thor and Loki
I couldn’t stop laughing from the moment Thor freed Loki from his dungeon cell to the moment they arrived on Svartalfheim. The way that Loki was picking and needling at Thor as he flew the Dark Elf ship out of the palace was so indicative of their brotherly relationship, and absolutely hilarious all at the same time. I also loved that Thor was able to actually surprise Loki with his escape plan.
But Loki is always always always three steps ahead of Thor at all times. Even as I watched and had even more feels when Thor was holding a dying Loki in his arms, I knew that Loki was playing the long game – my only question was when the audience would see what it was.
I also think that Loki’s death scene was his gift to Thor – for the time being, anyway, until the truth is uncovered. Thor wanted so desperately to believe that he and Loki could be brothers again that he bought it – hook, line and sinker. But it was also touching, and I think it was a “if only” illusion for Loki as well.
Darcy and Everyone
Darcy forever! Keep up the sassiness, girl! Also, I love that you have an intern.
“How’s space?” indeed.
Malekith and the Universe
I went back to read io9′s review of Thor 2, which I skipped the first time around because I wanted to go into the movie without any preconceptions. I was surprised that Charlie thought that Christopher Eccleston was a non-entity as Malekith, because I thought he was fucking awesome. When he destroyed Odin’s throne during the Dark Elf attack, it was so obvious that the very sight of the golden throne in the cheerfully-lit palace was an affront to Darkness – a blatant offense to everything about him and his people. Sure, attempting to extinguish all light in the Universe seems like such an impossible goal for a Big Bad, which might have reduced the character’s believeability, but I thought he carried it off quite well.
Also, STAY THROUGH ALL OF THE CREDITS.
This is one of my favorites, everyone!
The Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes) is the smallest of all African cats and one of the smallest in the world, weighing only 5.4 pounds (2.45 Kg) for fully-grown males, and only 3.6 pounds (1.65 Kg) for fully-grown females.
The largest males measure up to 17 inches (36 cm) from nose to the base of the tail, with an almost 8-inch tail (19.8 cm). The pads and the fur on the bottom of its feet are black (hence the name).
Black-footed Cats can be found in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and southern Angola. Historical records indicate that they once existed in Botswana, but none can be found there now. Their habitat consists of open savanna, grassland, Karoo semi-desert, but not in the driest and more desolate parts of the Kalahari.
There are two recognized subspecies of the Black-footed Cat:
- Felis nigripes nigripes (Botswana, Namibia, and the northern part of South Africa)
- Felis nigripes thomasi (the rest of South Africa)
F. n. nigripes is smaller and paler than F. n. thomasi, in general, but since there are no hard geographical boundaries between the range and individuals of both subspecies have been observed to inhabit the same areas, the existence of subspecies is sometimes questioned.
Black-footed Cats are only active at night, and are therefore difficult to observe. Most of their water comes from their prey (mostly rodents and birds), because they live in dry environments, but they will drink water when they can. These cats are ground-dwellers, and are not inclined to climb trees. They can dig their own burrows but prefer to customize abandoned termite mounds or dens dug by other animals.
Female Black-footed Cats will give birth to a litter of one to four kittens, though the average litter size is two. Their gestation period lasts for 63 to 68 days.
Black-footed Cats are easily startled, and prefer flight to fight. But when they are cornered, they will fight fiercely and to the death. Because of this, they are known as meershooptier in parts of the southern Karoo, which means “anthill tiger.” One San legend claims that a Black-footed Cat once took down a giraffe by piercing its jugular – this story is meant to emphasize the amount of courage contained in such a tiny cat.
Full disclosure: I have never heard of these guys before, let alone seen any. I was tempted to call this post “Wednesday Woof – Wolvercorgi Edition”, because they do look to me like what you’d get if a wolverine and a corgi found True Love together (still very cute in their own way). But I digress.
Bush Dogs are a smallish canid that can be found in Central and South America, although it’s incredibly rare within that range and mostly concentrated in Suriname. They are the only extant species of the genus Speothos, and it’s believed that their closest living relative is the Maned Wolf.
Adult Bush Dogs can grow up to 30 inches (75 cm) from nose to the base of the tail, and the tail is about 5 inches long (13 cm). They only weigh about 18 pounds (8 Kg) and have a reddish-brown coat when they reach maturity. There are many local names for the Bush Dog, including cachorro-vinagre/perro vinagre (vinegar dog), zorro vinagre (vinegar fox), or perro de agua(water dog).
There are three recognized subspecies of Bush Dog:
- Speothos venaticus venaticus (Brazil, the Guyanas, southern Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – medium-sized and dark in color)
- Speothos venaticus panamensis (northern Colombia, Venezuela and Panama – small and light in color)
- Speothos venaticus wingei (Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil – small and light in color)
Bush Dogs are diurnal carnivores, preying on large rodents like capybara, agouti, and pacas. They will hunt alone or more often in small family packs, which allows them to bring down larger prey like rheas, peccaries and even animals as large as tapir.
Bush Dog mating can happen at any time during the year. Female Bush Dogs will give birth to a litter of three to six puppies after a gestation period of up to 83 days. The pups will emerge from dens (usually abandoned armadillo burrows) after nineteen days, when their eyes are open. They’re weaned at about four weeks. You can see some pictures of young Bush Dogs in captivity here.
Bush Dog packs are family packs. They’re led by a mated pair, and all younger pack members are subordinate to them. They keep in contact with each other while hunting through different vocalizations, mostly whines. The Bush Dog is considered Near Threatened by the IUCN.
This Caturday is later than usual, but lateness doesn’t count when it’s a holiday weekend (sorry, non-U.S. people). This week we’re learning about the Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia), which is also known as the Bornean Bay Cat or Bornean Marbled Cat. You’ll notice by the kinds of pictures included in post that this cat is particularly rare compared to cats that are more regularly encountered in the same area, which is the island of Borneo. The reason I say this is that I try to avoid providing pictures of these animals in captivity – but in this case, beggars can’t be choosers.
The Bay Cat is smaller than the Asian Golden Cat and has a much more chestnut-red coat, though it looks fairly similar. Based on a relatively small sample size, the Bay Cat is estimated to grow up to 26 inches in body length (67 cm) with a 15-inch tail (40 cm). It will probably weigh up to almost 9 pounds (4 Kg), but this estimate may not be entirely reliable due to the sparse data available.
Bay Cats are endemic to Borneo but populations seem to be concentrated in two main areas, based on the amount of reported sightings. They are well-adapted to live in different types of island habitats, from swamp forests, lowland forests, to hill forests at much higher elevations. This cat is so rare that only 12 individuals were captured and measured between the years 1874 to 2004. A camera trap study conducted in 2003 to 2006 yielded only one photograph of a Bay Cat out of 5,034 trap nights.
The Bay Cat is secretive and nocturnal. Nothing is known about its mating habits or reproductive cycle. Very little is known about its hunting habits and diet, although it is likely that the cat feeds on small prey items like rodents, birds, lizards and amphibians.
As of 2007 it was estimated that the Bay Cat population consisted of no more than 2,500 individuals, and it based on the rate of Bornean deforestation it is expected to decline by 20% by 2020. The IUCN has listed it as Endangered for this reason, and more study is needed to determine exactly what can be done to preserve this species.
While there are 25 proposed wildlife reserves in Borneo, only three of them are officially in existence and all of them have been encroached upon by human development, the logging industry and the illegal animal trade, which is rampant in Borneo.
It’s Wednesday somewhere. I couldn’t write this yesterday because I and my boyfriend were busy going ridiculously out of our way to see The World’s End, which wasn’t playing in our town for some inexplicable and probably very stupid reason. We made a trip of it, though, eating dinner at Chipotle and seeing the movie straight after. It was a good time.
Blanford’s Fox (Vulpes cana) is a small (seriously, tiny) fox that can be found in the Middle East. Identification is sometimes difficult because it is also called the Afghan fox, the royal fox, dog fox, hoary fox, steppe fox, black fox, king fox, Baluchistan fox or cliff fox. These common names are also applied to two other species (Corsac Fox and Hoary Fox) that inhabit the same region, so it’s hard to know when you’ve got the right fox.
Typical of desert foxes, Blanford’s Fox has large ears that help it regulate its body temperature by dissipating head. Unlike most desert foxes, however, it does not have any fur covering the bottom of its feet, which protects the feet of other foxes from hot desert sand and rock. This could be because Blanford’s Fox is not only found in arid desert and semi-arid climate, but also steppes and mountains (Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkestan, Iran, Pakistan, the West Bank and Israel).
Blanford’s Foxes are astonishing jumpers, and have been observed to make vertical leaps of 3 meters to rock ledges above them. They weigh only 1.5 Kg, and measure 42 cm from nose to the base of their tail. Their fluffy tails are about 12 inches long and are used as a counterbalance when navigating rocky slopes.
Female Blanford’s Foxes will give birth to 2 to 4 kits after a gestation period of 55 days. They are omnivores that tend to favor grapes, melons, chives and insects. Little is known about this fox other than their range and distribution. It’s currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, but is a protected species in Israel, and it is illegal to hunt them in Oman and Yemen.
The Asiatic Wildcat (Felis silvestris ornata) can be found in many parts of Asia, from the Caspian Sea to Mongolia, to India, to Kaszakhstan and western China. Its range is so wide that it’s also known as the Asian Steppe Wildcat and the Indian Desert Cat.
The coloring of the Asiatic Wildcat varies slightly depending on where it’s found. In India and Pakistan, their base coat color is a sandy yellow. In Central Asia, their coats have more of a grayish or reddish hue. Their coats are spotted, although the spots are so close together that they can appear to be striped. Asiatic Wildcats are small, with the males weighing only 3 to 4 Kg and females averaging 2 to 3 Kg.
Though the Asiatic Wildcat’s range borders that of the European Wildcat, the dividing line between the two subspecies is considered to be the Caucasus. Because they are such hardy cats, they are able to specialize their survival in deserts, forests, plains and mountains.
Female Asiatic Wildcats will give birth to a litter of about three kittens on average (although they have been known to have litters as large as six kittens) after a 58 – 62 day gestation period. Female Wildcats have also been known to mate with male domestic cats, so hybrids tend to be found when the Wildcat range borders that of human settlements. Their diet is as diversified as their habitat, and can include rodents, hares, birds, bird eggs, reptiles, fish, insects and arachnids.
No information is available on the overall population of the Asiatic Wildcat, but populations in specific regions have been observed to be on the decline. At present the IUCN has it currently listed as Least Concern.
Also called the Silver-Backed Jackal or the Red Jackal, the Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas) can be found in two areas of Africa – in the southern portion (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) and along the eastern coastline (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia).
Studies of the fossil record indicate that the Black-backed Jackal is the oldest extant member of the genus Canis, with fossils dating as far back as the Pleistocene Epoch. It seems that while proportions differ somewhat, modern Black-backed Jackals are roughly the size of their ancestors. They can grow up to 35 inches (90 cm) in body length, with a 16-inch (40 cm) tail. The larger Jackals on the eastern coast can weigh up to 30 pound (13.8 Kg), while their smaller relatives in the south weigh only 21 pounds (9.5 Kg).
The Black-backed Jackal’s bi-colored coat is striking, and males tend to be more brightly colored than females, especially during the winter. They will typically adopt dens and burrows dug by other creatures, although they have been observed to dig their own. Being omnivores, these Jackals eat invertebrates like scorpions, spiders and insects, as well as small mammals like rodents, hares and small antelopes. Jackals on the coast add some marine life to their diet, like seals, fish and mussels.
Black-backed Jackals form monogamous pairs to mate, and unlike other species of jackal, the older offspring help to raise new litters, which aids in pup survival. Female Jackals will give birth to a litter of about three to six pups after a 60-day gestation period. The pups will start to leave the safety of the den at three weeks, and are fully independent by the time they’re eight months old.
Natural threats to the Black-backed Jackal are leopards, spotted hyenas, golden jackals and eagles (which will carry off pups and even sub-adults). They are not considered to be under threat from human activity, although they are targeted as a livestock predator and potential rabies vector.
The Black-backed Jackal population consists of two recognized sub-species, based on their territorial range:
- Canis mesomelas mesomelas (southern Africa)
- Canis mesomelas schmidti (eastern coastline)
The Black-backed Jackal figures prominently in the folklore of the Khoikhoi. Its archetype is a clever and intelligent trickster, which frequently outsmarts or betrays the lion archetype. One legend attributes the Jackal’s coloring to a time when it offered to carry the sun on its back.
Though I’d intended to proceed with Caturday alphabetically, I realized after I posted about the Asian Golden Cat last week that I’d accidentally skipped one. I guess it’s understandable, since the rare Andean Mountain Cat is easy to miss!
The Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita or Oreailurus jacobita) is a medium-sized cat which looks like a smaller version of the Snow Leopard with its long tail, thick fur and coloring. It can be found only in the high Andes Mountains in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru, and studies of population confirm that it is in fact a rare cat, with no subpopulations greater than 250 mature cats, and only about 2,500 mature cats estimated to exist in their entire range.
Andean Mountain Cats are only about 25 inches (64 cm) in body length, with a 19-inch (48 cm) tail. They can weigh up to 12 lbs. (5.5 Kg). It’s believed that the bulk of their diet consists of viscacha, a rodent in the Chinchillidae family. It’s likely that they used to also feed on true chinchillas, before its population was severely reduced due to the fur and pet trade, and which can now only be found in the Andes of Peru and Chile.
In competition with the other five carnivores of the Andes, two of which are other cats (the Pampas Cat and the Puma), the Andean Mountain Cat is most often in direct conflict with the Pampas Cat, which hunts in the same range for the same prey. Indeed, there is much confusion in species identification, since juvenile Andean Mountain Cats look very similar to Pampas Cats.
Not much is known about how Andean Mountain Cats mate and raise their young, but observations from residents of the Andes suggest that they pair up to raise their litters, and that the mating season is in July and August. Observed litter sizes are usually one to two kittens.
The Andean Mountain Cat considered to be Endangered, and appears on the Red List of the IUCN. Because the cat’s range is spread over four countries, it’s difficult to take a unified approach to protect it. However, the dedicated efforts of biologists have resulted in a collaborated strategy that could be the key to the species’ survival.