Friday, December 14, 2012
Day 174: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
"You were born to the rolling hills and little rivers of the Shire, but home is behind you now. The world is ahead."
Yesterday, my esteemed colleague Andrew brought you his review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. If my opinion didn't vary so vastly from his, I wouldn't burden you with it, but I feel it only fair to give you, my dear and faithful readers, a second opinion on what I feel is one of the absolute worst movies I have ever laid eyes on.
Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy has taken on mythic status in the worlds of film & pop-culture, and rightfully so. As a bold experiment, they were worthy of your time and attention. They artfully condensed three dense fantasy novels into three action-packed films with tons of characters to relate to. The fact that they haven't aged well in the decade since their release does not preclude them from consideration as major milestones in the serious advancement of fantasy filmmaking.
The most significant trend that those films birthed, however, was the notion that any filmmaker could bloat any adaptation of any book up to interminable lengths. Even trifles such as Eragon & The Twilight novels were turned into two-hour plus unwieldy monstrosities. Now the man that started the whole trend returns to the scene of the crime. Peter Jackson took the directing reigns away from Guillermo DelToro & gives us his film version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit. Where he previously gave us a book to film ratio of 1:1, he has inexplicably decided now to increase that ratio to 1:3. Now, I understand very clearly what he has said in regards to this decision, I just don't accept his reasoning as sound logic. Cramming in superfluous & ancillary material from appendices and minor works by the same author does not give you license to bloat an otherwise jaunty little novel.
The other fundamental problem is that he's working in reverse. By having already given us the main course (LOTR) with stakes that went as high as the destruction of Middle-Earth, to now go back and try and give what amounts to an appetizer the same sense of import is just nonsense. The stakes involved in the novel and story of The Hobbit couldn't be lower in the grand scheme of things, but since ravenous audiences are demanding of more, bigger, faster, louder, crazier... the follow-up films need to deliver. It's a chicken and egg situation, but ultimately I fault Jackson for his need to turn The Hobbit into something it isn't.
The film opens with another flashback sequence designed to get audiences up to speed on the plight of the once proud race of Dwarves that dwelled in the Lonely Mountain of Erebor, until their home was usurped by a dragon named Smaug. That's all well and good, but the film then gives us the equivalent of a 1970s Christmas Variety show scene where old Bilbo (Ian Holm) & Frodo (Elijah Wood) give us a new perspective on the events of the day leading up to Bilbo's 111th Birthday from The Fellowship of the Ring. Setting up this thoroughly unnecessary and absurd framing device was the first sign that I had that something was afoul in Hobbiton.
Soon, we're flashing back to see young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his first meeting with Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Gandalf has selected Bilbo to be the fourteenth member of a party of dwarves that will be following their pre-ordained leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on a quest to reclaim their home. The fact that this sentence more or less encapsulates the entire plot of not just this film, but all three, can give you some indication as to how much filler we're going to be dealing with. It's never a good sign when I can sum up the plot of three films in one sentence.
Such dalliances away from the main plot include several prolonged sequences involving one of Gandalf's fellow wizards Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) that do nothing to further the plot. In fact, his only purpose is to alert Gandalf to the fact that an ancient evil has come back to Middle Earth, but since we already know how that all shakes out thanks to the LOTR trilogy, the stakes couldn't be lower. I understand that in the future, watching it all in sequence may make these scenes but important, but as a counter argument I present this thoroughly unnecessary sequence involving a meeting at Rivendell between Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee). The scene exists only to get nerd boners pumped up because there's no proper introduction to any of them. We already know who they are because of the previous trilogy, so what exactly is happening here? I just want to know what the intended order should be for these two trilogies.
Those of you jonesing for a bland but messianic leader will get your rocks off on Thorin. He's got all the nobility and bluster built up that Aragon has in the previous trilogy, with a healthy dose of heavy-handed backstory to ensure that you root for him. The most egregious issue that this film has, though, is its never-ending series of climaxes. If you thought Return of the King had too many endings, it seems downright full of restraint in regards to the number of climaxes in this film, all of which, I might add, are resolved through increasingly ridiculous Deus ex Machina. Not one predicament that these characters get in can't be solved by someone or something literally coming out of the blue to rescue them.
The dwarves of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth are a bunch of over-the-top, helpless, comic relief hounds that serve no other purpose than to get themselves into predicaments where they either require rescuing or end with a "fatty make a funny" punchline. This contempt for the dwarves is nothing new, it was prominent in the original trilogy, but it's just getting egregious now. Shoehorning in burps and cutaways to fat dwarves falling down seems to be the only thing amusing Jackson in the editing room.
I got to see the film in the highly touted 48 frames per second projection and I cannot stress enough how much you should avoid this. It was quite the curiosity for me as a film fan, but it caused everything to look like a Discovery Channel documentary. It didn't look like a film at all. It looked like the most expensive documentary on Larping ever made. On top of that, people moved with a sped-up eeriness that recalls old footage of Babe Ruth running the bases after hitting a home run. It serves only to distract and made the cgi characters look like video games. The evil Pale Orc ended up looking like Kratos from God of War, and I don't mean that as a compliment.
While the film is not a total debacle on par with the Star Wars prequels, it reeks of being inessential. Had he devoted one film to The Hobbit and then another to Gandalf's stupid side quests and elf lineage, there might have been a reason for all the bloat. As it stands now, I cannot fathom what they're going to do with another six hours of film time to go. The final shot of the film puts Erebor at such a distance, in spite of how far they've already traveled, that it made me roll my eyes at how much they're desperately trying to keep this thing going.
There's a great film that can be made from The Hobbit and the assorted other stories from the Tolkien ephemera, but Peter Jackson is not the man to make those films. Handing him back the reigns was the worst decision anyone involved with these films made. He is not the genius everyone makes him out to be, and he doesn't have enough perspective on the material to know what should stay and what should go. His love for the source material makes him the worst possible choice to turn it into a film. The fact that this film runs the exact same length as Cloud Atlas which managed to condense a much denser novel into one film, lets you know what my gripes are pretty clearly.
I'll end up seeing the other films in this series, I know I will, but the bar may as well be buried at this point. I don't hold out any hope that things will get better, but as far as I'm concerned, I really dread them getting any worse.
GO Rating: 1/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]