I Love Karl Urban: The Glorious Frown We Don't Deserve
You know something?
You lot disgust me.
Every year we here at Pajiba run the annual Pajiba 10—a celebration of the most swoon-worthy celebrity favourites; and every year you lot argue and debate and nominate and vote until the cows come home.
And every year you lot fail to deliver the goods.
We often talk about the election of the fat-faced orange racist as an example of democracy failing, but back the fuck up a minute cos I’m here to talk about your boi Karl Urban.
Who you people have never once got into the Pajiba 10!
I recently moved flat, and one of the features of my new abode is that it has an old-fashioned telly in it. And by that I mean a telly that isn’t just a monitor attached via life-giving HDMI to either my PlayStation or laptop. I mean, yes, of course there is a monitor on a raised surface at the foot of the bed with a free-floating HDMI attached to it—what am I gonna do, not watch David Attenborough while nursing an ice-cold Baileys just before/after/in-between sleep?
But the living room telly—the main event—is just that: A proper, old-school telly. With TV channels and everything. One of those where someone else is essentially choosing what you might be watching. I grew up with them, but it’s been a good decade or so since I’ve been dependent on that kind of arrangement. And you know what—while the adverts are about as welcome as a late noticed, too-late-to-jump-back-out-the-doors elevator fart, there is something strangely refreshing about this limitation of choice. Because there is a perplexing paradox to the freedom that unlimited choice appears to provide, and when you have an overabundance of choice, often a paralysis ensues. God knows that far too many of my evenings have gone like this:
1. ‘Right! In between writing and cooking I’ve got about 3 hours of media consumption time tonight. I’ve managed to manage my schedule very well today, so let’s make this shit count!’
2. *Boots up Netflix or opens up the computer to access the hundreds upon hundreds of media titles available for instant consumption*
3. *Licks lips in anticipation at the feast that the smorgasbord will provide*
4. *Starts perusing*
4. ‘Hmm. Nah. No. Nope. No. Nah. Nah. Nah. Nnnnahh. Oh! No, wait. No. Not now. Nah. Nope. Nope. Nah. Nope.’
And before I fucking know it, an hour has gone by without me being able to decide on anything. A third of the time allocated for watching shit has been spent in the doldrums of indecision. Not because there’s not enough good to choose from, but because of the precise opposite: So many shiny, beautiful things! How could I possible commit to just one?! What if I make the wrong choice?! Because yes, checking out something new like Gerald’s Game sounds like a great idea. But then what about re-watching something you already know is great? Like Force Majeure. You know, just to further your understanding of it, or maybe reveal something new. After all, it is right there in the selection screen, a few clicks away. Or, shit, maybe this is the time to do what you’ve been meaning to do for about a decade: Actually start The Sopranos…
All that faff, and eventually it just ends up being another episode of It’s
Always Sunny anyway.
All that is to say: The severely limited choice given by a normal television receiving the bare minimum of channels, largely full of absolute dross, can sometimes turn out to be a liberating blessing. The same way that hearing a song you love on the radio has much more impact than simply putting it on yourself, when something good comes on in the middle of the endless stream of crappy fuckpunch that is basic television—which, by the way, in Britain consists mostly of stuff like this:
—then you value it all the more.
Case in point: The recent airing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy on three consecutive nights. Now, I loooooooooove these movies, and I’ve seen them an unhealthy amount of times, but it had been quite a long time since I had put one of them on myself. After all those years, and all those viewings, some of the sheen had started to wear off. These days, I just couldn’t be quite as excited by the LOTR trilogy movies as I once was. Until, that is, the Television Fairy decided to bless me with them! Because holy shit was I excited when the TV Announcer Woman declared that that’s what was happening, like, right now; when that Howard Shore soundtrack started to swell, and especially when Cate Blanchett’s otherworldly narration kicked in.
I go full-on Maximum Nerd when it comes to the Lord of the Rings. I could probably do what I do with some Golden Age episodes of The Simpsons, and quote my way through the entire thing. The phrases and expressions from the trilogy form a part of my daily vocabulary. I have WhatsApp groups named after obscure lines from the movies (don’t knock ‘Maggoty Bread’ as a group name until you’ve tried it). So when The Fellowship started playing, naturally a cavalcade of lines started going round in my head in anticipation. But more than anything from the first movie my mind kept looking ahead, and specifically to one character.
Because everyone knows and does not question the two truths:
1. The Two Towers is the best of the Lord of the Rings movies.
2. Karl Urban’s Eomer is low-key the best thing about the whole trilogy.
Eomer has limited screen time, but limitless screen presence. Karl Urban is constantly surrounded by actors of the highest calibre (and Orlando Bloom), but whenever he’s onscreen your attention can’t help but be drawn to the glowering Kiwi actor. He has a tremendous impact on the plot, of course, but he does not get to say all that much. The little he does say, though, is dynamite. Eomer’s lines are like nuggets of gold, and hearing Urban’s line readings is akin to savouring chunks of the most delicious, sumptuous chocolate melting in your mouth. The man imbues that shit with gravitas. With real human feeling. He rolls the lines around and delivers them with a beguiling cadence.
You can hear them in your head now:
‘What business does an Elf, Man, and a Dwarf have in the Riddermark? Speak quickly.’
‘Look for your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.’
There’s a gruff authority to it, as well as glimpses of a well of empathy.
And for god’s sake, in a trilogy that is essentially a mounting series of epic moments, each attempting to outdo the ones that came before, not much is better than Eomer’s retort to Gandalf’s, ‘Theoden King stands alone.’ I don’t care how many times they rehearsed that arrival on their way to the liberation of Helm’s Deep, his, ‘Not alone!’ followed by the best bellow ever, justify any delays.
Eomer is an angry character. He has every right to be. His king’s mind is being leeched away; his sister’s safety threatened by a treasonous lech; and for daring to stand up to these devilries he is exiled. With all of that, one might justifiably be a little bit miffed.
And when you want A Little Bit Miffed, you hire the best frown in the business.
Karl Urban’s frown is the stuff of magic. It’s one of those physical attributes that a person can be lucky enough to be born with, and—should they then decide to go into acting—can be deployed to great effect onscreen. Like, let’s say:
These are actor hallmarks that in lesser hands can become crutches. One-note tricks that casting directors might use as props should the actor in question not be capable of delivering more. But Urban’s frown does what both Ford’s crooked smile and Dafoe’s (I’ve never found a way to express this that might not be seen as somewhat insulting) fantastically twisted parallel dimension face do: It enriches his performances, instead of dictating them. He can deploy it when it is needed most, but he has so much more to give. The first movie aside I am not much of a fan of the rebooted Star Treks, but Urban’s Bones is reliably one of the strongest parts of the series. He brings humour and pathos along with that frown, and it’s difficult to imagine else doing the kind of job he does with the role. I don’t care for Star Trek, but I love me some Bones.
So too 2012’s Dredd—a silly but well-made great bit of B-movie fun that Urban completely committed to and treated with respect. Dredd was a much better movie than anyone was expecting. And the Urban frown? Shit, he turned that up to 11. You could see that brow through the helmet.
So here we have an actor who manages to stand out in one of the most bombastic, fantastically cast trilogies of all time. Who keeps a weak-sauce rebooted series from being completely worthless. Who helps a no-hoper attempt at a previously written-off comic book character become a surprise delight.
How can anyone not love Karl Urban?
And yet You People never get him in the Pajiba 10.
And yet he still does not get nearly enough quality roles. The man deserves top billing in a long-running, critically revered TV show. He should be in ten movies a year, not the three or so that he’s currently averaging. I mean: Yes, sure, that’s a perfectly respectable career.
But the Urban deserves more than perfectly respectable.
It’s a goddamn travesty I tells ya. We don’t deserve that frown.
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