I found lots to enjoy over the holiday season. I hope you did too. Here are four of my highlights.
First up is Peter Hamilton’s epic science fiction detective novel Great North Road (2012). The story begins with a murder in a futuristic Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, the investigation of which Hamilton tracks in exhaustive detail. Meanwhile, on the distant planet of St Libra, a military operation is mounted to determine whether or not the human colony there is under threat from previously undetected – and extremely dangerous – aliens. Are the two events connected? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Great North Road features a huge cast of finely-drawn characters you can’t help but root for and a complex storyline that Hamilton unfolds with aplomb. It’s a big book, and the pace is slow, but don’t let that tempt you into skipping pages because everything counts and, as it all falls into place, you’ll be glad you paid attention.
Next is Pixar’s 2009 movie Up. You might wonder why I’m reviewing a film that’s nearly four years old – well, the truth is I only got round to seeing it when it popped up on TV over the holidays. Shame on me for leaving it so long, because it’s one of Pixar’s best. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, but the storytelling is both enchanting and effortless, expecially during the heart-wrenching opening fifteen minutes. Pixar’s mission has always been to treat adults and children the same – the audience is simply the audience – and Up is a perfect example of their ability to imbue an offbeat idea with the kind of timeless ambience most writers would give their eyeteeth to evoke. It sat buried in my ‘movies to watch’ pile for far too long. If it’s buried in yours too, tie a bunch of balloons to it and lift it out right now.
Another book I’ve enjoyed during Christmas (am still enjoying actually, as I haven’t quite reached the end) is The Art and Making of The Dark Knight Trilogy by Jody Duncan Jesser and Janine Pourroy (2012). It’s a big glossy coffee table book that takes you behind the scenes on all three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. In a marketplace filled with cash-in ‘making of’ publications thin on content, it’s also a welcome relief. The text goes deep enough to satisfy the most ardent fan, yet manages to remain accessible to the casual reader. If it’s interviews and juicy facts you’re after, you’ll find them here. If you want a real sense of Nolan’s philosophy as he tackled these three massive projects then that’s here too. Not to mention tons of production art and on-set photos, all laid out beautifully. Highly recommended.
Finally there’s Ang Lee’s 2012 film Life of Pi. As a big fan of the original novel, I’d been looking forward to this one for quite a while. If you’re not familiar with the story, the poster gives you the executive summary: boy gets marooned on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. There’s so much more to it than that, of course, not least the extraordinary visuals, fluid editing, stellar performances and spectacular visual effects. It’s both a faithful adaptation of the source material and an extraordinary cinematic experience. For me, it lacked the emotional kick I’d been anticipating after watching the trailer (and watching the trailer … and watching the trailer …) but, on reflection, I’ve realised that’s true to the book too. Somehow the story goes deeper than mere emotion, touching chords that lie far under the surface – just like whales swimming in a phosphorescent ocean. And its resolution – again true to the words novelist Yann Martel put down on the page – is both clever and profound. A beautiful, beautiful film.