Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Impulsive Review of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit

Editor's note: This past weekend, two of our regular contributors went to see Peter Jackson's movie version of The Hobbit--and both were inspired to share their thoughts with us.  Given the epic nature of the film, we will be running both reviews: one today and one on Friday.  After reading both, you can then contribute your own thoughts to this conversation about the season's most fantastic film.

Understand that the scrutiny with which the live-action film The Hobbit is described here comes from more than just a fan but a Tolkien-ologist that has coveted and studied the book with love for over twenty years.

Suffice it to say, the Peter Jackson movie adaptation was extremely entertaining and funny, but utterly devoid of the spirit, realism, and meticulous attention to written Tolkien details that made The Lord of the Rings film trilogy such a masterful blend of on-screen magic and incredible story-telling.

[this review contains spoilers about the film]

Peter Jackson and company’s loose interpretation of The Hobbit was fun as a return to Middle Earth but continually disappointing as the novel’s story was repeatedly ignored or trumped by blatant disregard for reality or seriousness and replaced by overtly cartoony CGI and terrible Hollywood writing throughout the entire three-plus hours of film.

This movie was made to be visual eye-candy and comedic relief, thus utterly dumbing down, chopping up, and replacing the background, the history, and the legendary story with a mishmash of disjointed Hollywood ideas used purposefully to stretch one story that would have filled one three-hour-plus movie beautifully to three greedy shells of Tolkien's original story.

What comes to mind, and causes great pain, is that this new Hobbit edition trilogy reminds one of the Star Wars prequel saga in both its harsh lines, as well as its complete disregard for the original films’ non-green screen special effects where actual physical sets and locations made the wonder real to the eye. Now, the Episodes I, II, III from George Lucas are enjoyable and entertaining and give hungry Star Wars fans more time to spend in the amazing mythic universe that they long for, but the original trilogy is pure art and myth done to near perfection.  The newer versions overly relied on new technology as an easier way to film expensively (without all the brick and mortar building and carpenters) and utilized eye-candy marketing to appeal to really young kids with cartoon-like characters and laughs--both of which dumb down the entire series.

So it is now with The Hobbit trilogy. What was once a cornerstone of Jackson’s career – his amazing makeup and effects team – gave way to a cheaper and easier method of CGI as is seen most clearly in the cartoon character of the White Orc Azog.  While Tolkien had Azog die in battle, Azog now miraculously survives the fight so that we, the moviegoers, have the visual 3-D stimulation of seeing a sled pulled by rabbits and the poorest visualization of Radagast the Brown ever (let’s make him an idiot that lives with bird crap on his face) running in circles, so that Azog’s mindless minions follow them around and forget the dwarves they are hunting (none of which happens in a Tolkien book).

The book’s story was stripped and overwritten with Tolkien allusions so that three movies could be made to gain more profit by the studio than one film. The screenwriting that Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson so arduously went through to use Tolkien lines in almost every instance of dialogue in The Lord of the Rings is totally forgotten; Guillermo del Toro (who I love, as Pan’s Labyrinth is not just great but amazing) and Jackson and the other writers here went for the quickest and easiest way to achieve the goal of bastardizing the great story for three lesser ones to appease the powers that make money in the film company.

The lines are often so awful that whole scenes often seem to stop and crumple in ruin, like when the Great Goblin (which also looks awful in its carton CGI) gets cut by Bilbo and says something to the effect of, “That did it!” as he falls to his death.

Lastly, Bilbo’s great character arc from the book is trampled, quite like Peter Parker’s in Spiderman 3. In the movie, he is Thorin’s doormat until he earns the dwarf’s respect by saving his life . . . yet this never happens in the book!  Instead, in the novel, Bilbo slowly finds his own courage and begins to get the dwarves out of jams (such as the excellent barrel scene, which I can only assume will be ignored in the next film); this growth and reception are natural progressions that eventually pit his wit and fear against the wicked and cunning dragon Smaug.

To sum up, not only does the look, feel, and writing fall far short of anything pertaining to Jackson’s first trilogy, but the protagonist is ruined as well, so that the stellar acting – and it was stellar with Martin Freeman and Sir Ian Mckellan and the rest – becomes wasted amidst this flurry of outside story plots, twisted Tolkien ideas, and an overall 2-D, IMAX, 3-D, 3-D 480FPS film experience made specifically for five-year-olds and extremely stoned human beings who will sit with short attention spans and soak up the computerized-eye-candy version of Middle Earth.

Impulsive Review Grade: B-

By R.J. Huneke

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the Hobbit is a mediocre movie, that would have been far better had the original story been told in one movie. It does have its highlights and many, many weaknesses.

    But I do not think that the gap between the original trilogy and this movie is that big. I am by no means a Tolkien scholar, but I do distinctly remember leaving the Fellowship somewhat disappointed. It, too, had butchered important strengths of the book in exchange for cheap thrills (the chance encounter with Merry and Pippin in a pointless chase scene), had omitted aspects of the book that are in my view vital (Tom Bombadil) and had showed Jackson's tendency towards annoyingly cartoonish scenes (the pits of Isengard) - the higher production values notwithstanding.

    So I went into the Hobbit with modest expectations and came out reasonably satisfied. In particular, some of the highlights were better than I had hoped for. I was very happy that the songs were given some room and that the key encounter between Bilbo and Gollum was played out in all its glory. And the cast is truly great, so I did not mind that the story was turned into more of an ensemble piece.

    For me the takeaway is that the Jackson movies are very different than what I see in Tolkien's work. But that is fine. The original trilogy grew on me over time (even though I still don't like the Two Towers) and I hope the Hobbit trilogy will do the same - if it is not stretched all too thin, that is.

    Here is a thought: After the dust of the Jackson movies has settled, I would love to see a small independent adaptation of the Hobbit that focuses on the poetry, wonder and beauty in Tolkien's book and that does almost without action scenes.