Here be Dragons

There must be a million reviews of ‘The Hobbit’ out there already – I’ve seen a few myself – and opinions are fairly mixed. Some say it’s great, no problem, and some say it’s a fun film, even if it’s not quite true to the book, and some say it’s a travesty. I don’t agree with any of those. It’s not great, it’s not a whole heap of fun, but it’s not a total travesty either.

It was always obvious that changes were going to have to be made from the book’s plot to accommodate the needs of cinema in the 21st century, and I’m not one of those who objects to the introduction of the pale orc to represent a visible Big Bad over the course of the three movies. I don’t object to some lengthening of the story, although possibly with a little effort it could just about have been squeezed into two films (she said sarcastically). I don’t much mind that Bilbo is something of a passenger for most of this film. I certainly don’t object to a sexed-up Thorin – who’d have thought, after seeing Gimli, that dwarves could be so attractive? But still, I found the film a disappointment, overall.

What I liked:

Gollum – Andy Serkis and the special effects/motion capture team stole the show (again). The whole ‘riddles in the dark’ episode was brilliant. Gandalf was, not surprisingly, terrific again, as were Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman. Their meeting at Rivendell was, I suppose, the famous council, which I thought could have been made a more important moment. And weren’t they supposed to drive the Necromancer out of Dol Guldur as a result? Not sure when that happened. I liked the whole of the Rivendell action, actually. The elves riding in as the dwarves closed ranks in suspicion was a good moment. The music was once more very effective. The dwarves singing in Bag End was the one moment of the film which sent shivers down my spine. That, and the dragon’s eye. I liked the goblin king as well. And Middle Earth (aka New Zealand) was spectacular, as always.

What I disliked:

Young Bilbo. Sorry, but Martin Freeman is and will forever be that nice Tim from ‘The Office’ (UK version) and hapless Arthur Dent from ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’, roles which he was born to play. Bilbo? Not so much. He was a little too understated and human for my taste, although I may be in a minority of one on that point. The Shire was, somehow, not quite as effective as in ‘Lord of the Rings’, possibly because the director thought the audience knew all about it already. The Bag End interiors were very effective, but the exteriors lost something, I felt. Radagast the Brown – no, let’s not talk about that .

The biggest problem for me was the endless over-the-top chased-by-orcs (or wargs or goblins or whatever) moments. I withdraw all my complaints about the Moria scenes in ‘Fellowship of the Ring’; the escape from the goblins’ lair was far worse and possibly the most ridiculous piece of cinema I’ve ever seen. And it went on and on and on. Then there were the mountain giants – how long can we cling on to a six-inch-wide ledge on a mountain engaged in battle with another mountain? Oh, indefinitely, obviously. And not a single dwarf is so much as bruised, apparently. And the pine trees? No, don’t get me started on the pine trees. And then we have to have the dramatic confrontation between the sexed-up Thorin Oakenshield (with his oaken shield, naturally) and the created Big Bad, and Bilbo’s heroic moment, and all that stuff beloved of Hollywood which wasn’t in the book and is only there because the story was split over multiple films, but we still need to have resolution for this part.

This is not a bad film, I suppose. Taken at face value, it’s a big budget, special effects heavy, typical piece of Hollywood-esque action, with the wargs substituting for cars in the chase sequences, and no explosions. For those who like that sort of thing, it’s a middle-of-the-road effort. As a portrayal of ‘The Hobbit’ – well, it was only ever loosely connected to the book.

Where it fails is in comparison with the three ‘Lord of the Rings’ films. There are glimpses of the greatness of those works in the Rivendell scenes, and some more thoughtful moments with the dwarves. But it otherwise fails to capture any echoes of the magic and the majesty of the greater work. It substitutes relentless action and chase sequences for genuine heart-stopping moments. The escapes are eye-rollingly bad, and there is too much effort expended on out-SFX-ing the predecessors. There are nods to the earlier films, but they are both self-concious and self-indulgent. Worse, it’s forgettable. I came out of the theatre a bare three and a half hours ago, and already there’s very little that sticks in my mind, good or bad.

I find it quite distressing to write this. I regard ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as a defining moment of my life (both the book and the film). I was overjoyed to see the Shire realised exactly as I’d imagined it, I shivered when the Moria orcs chittered and the Balrog appeared, Helm’s Deep was just awesome, Edoras was amazing and as for the Ride of the Rohirrim – I cried. I never believed anyone could reproduce it so perfectly. There were oddities and excesses, of course, but mostly it was unbelievably wonderful. But this – it’s just a film, as disposable as popcorn. Will I watch the rest of the series? Of course, and perhaps Peter Jackson can pull a rabbit out of his hat, but I’m not optimistic.

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Comments on: "Film Review: ‘The Hobbit’" (3)

  1. I don’t object to some lengthening of the story, although possibly with a little effort it could just about have been squeezed into two films (she said sarcastically).

    You are really truly too kind. I would say a 300+ pages book fits comfortably ONE full-length movie and if somebody divides it into THREE parts then it is obvious to me he is trying to make far more profit than he should.

    I don't think I am going to watch this movie in the foreseeable future. Imagine it or not but I wasn't able to watch any single LOTR movie till the very end. The vision of Peter Jackson doesn't work for me – sorry.

  2. I thought it was an OK, fairly enjoyable film – which is more than I was expecting. It's pretty much the same as the Lord of the Rings films, but more so. They were an attempt to reduce the source material entirely to cliched popcorn, and so is this.

    The biggest problem this film has is that the original three were able to rely on the source material for a veneer of depth and significance, whereas in this case the source material is even sillier than the film. So things like the ridiculous slapstick underground chase scene didn't bother me, because they felt in keeping with the book. Where they fell down was in trying to marry that silly comedy-adventure element (the book!) to an echo of the seriousness of LOTR. The white council moment in particular was awful – it felt like we were being shown part of LOTR that hadn't made the final cut, so they'd shoehorned it into this film, even though it was completely unrelated to the main film, both in plot and in tone. It didn't help that everyone in the film was obviously ten years older than in LOTR, despite it being set sixty years earlier – inevitable, I know, but still distracting (except Saruman. Christopher Lee appears to have been aging in reverse ever since he became Dracula. Suspicious?). [OK, the comedy was far too broad, and too crap, to match the source material, but at least it was vaguely in keeping]

    I thought Freeman was great as Bilbo. Having Azog survive his wounds at Azanulbizar, and replace his son Bolg as the chief orc antagonist, and having that antagonist take a more prominent role early on in the trilogy, all seemed a good idea that made the films work better while not messing up the plot much and still respecting the mythology. Though making it Thorin who defeated him rather than Dain, while creating a stronger narrative, does give up the opportunity to establish Dain as a character earlier on, and his relationship with Thorin. I'm surprised Dain wasn't seen at all in the Azanulbizar section, actually – maybe they just didn't want to pay the actor for two films rather than one?

    As for the lengthening: strangely, I didn't mind it much in this film, but I suspect it will be a big problem later on, as will the tonal dissonance. The whole of that 'white council driving out sauron' thing is going to get shown in detail, presumably in the second film, which I think may make for an uncomfortable juxtaposition with drunken-dwarves-in-barrels.

    [The 'sexed-up Thorin' thing I didn't see at all. I didn't realise Thorin in the film was sexy (me being a straight male), but more importantly I didn't remember Tolkien specifying that he WASN'T sexy in the book. Does he? He's clearly immensely charismatic in the book (some of those dwarves aren't even related to Thorin, or from Erebor themselves, they're just following him to near-certain death because he's so damn awesome), so it doesn't seem a stretch that he might be fairly handsome.]

  3. You seemed to have liked all the things I hated, and vice versa. The majority view is with you, I think.

    Thorin struck me as an uncomfortable compromise. On the one hand, they already had a template dwarf in Gimli (the whole huge nose and even huger beard thing). On the other hand, they needed an Aragorn-substitute for the ladies. So we had Gimli-esque dwarves and we had Thorin (and one or two others) who looked, frankly, perfectly normal and not at all like dwarves. I never picked up on any charisma from the book. He always struck me as a pompous, arrogant little so-and-so who felt entitled because I-am-the-great-Thorin-son-of… etc. So I like the new improved Thorin much better 🙂

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