The first is The Hobbit. I had high hopes for this movie…right up until I heard they were making it into THREE movies. The Hobbit is NOT the Lord of the Rings. LOTR really required three movies. The Hobbit does not. That bloat will come back to haunt us but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The movie is directed by Peter Jackson, which is good. The man hit it out of the park with the LOTR movies. There was a lot of drama getting him to direct The Hobbit. And, sadly, I think that shows. Now, I don’t know who made the decision to spilt the movie up, to pad it out and botch the tone but….well….Jackson is the Director and Producer and the writer. So the blame has to fall on him. Or the other four writers, the other nine (NINE) producers or perhaps New Line’s besuited tools. But mostly Jackson.
The Hobbit is a wonderful children’s story. It is literally written to be read aloud to children to entertain them and anyone else who might be in earshot. There is drama and adventure and character growth. But it is not an EPIC fantasy story. It’s more like a fairy tale. There are goblins, magic swords and rings (the latter gained a certain greater significance in the retelling that I’m not sure was intended in the Hobbit.), there are dragons and elves and songs. There is not a feeling of doom and impending disaster. There is not a Loony Toons cartoony feeling. Not in the book.
But first, the good. The costume design and music are top-notch. WETA, regardless of the movie’s flaws, is a treasure. The scene between Bilbo and Gollum is magical, just as good if not better than the book. The 12 dwarves are personified enough to keep them apart, no small task and some of the dwarves were pretty cool, prosthetic noses or no. Most of the actors were good, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett and Richard Armitage stood out to me. Martin Freeman was very…English. Which fits. But he didn’t really carry the movie, so let’s go on to the bad.
The movie is called the Hobbit and the book focuses on The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. We see the story through his eyes…in the book. In the movie, we get a more omniscient point of view that we don’t need and that breaks up the flow of the story. For long periods of time in this very long first third of the story, we don’t see any hobbits at all. The Hobbit book is very clear who the protagonist is (hint: it’s in the title), in the movie, it is unclear if Bilbo with protagonist or if Thorin is. Or possibly Gandalf is. Thorin gets most of the backstory, via a tacked-on prologue that really, really, really isn’t necessary. Gandalf makes all the big decisions and saves the day. Bilbo just sort of gets dumped on and winges and talks about going home…when he’s allowed to be on the screen at all. So, no clear protagonist. Bad storytelling, movie.
Next, the tone of the movie is inconsistent. The Red Letter Media folks really hit this well (check out their review, www.redlettermedia.com) but I want to echo this as well. The Hobbit can’t decide if it wants to be EPIC or slapstick. Now, there’s nothing wrong with comic relief in a movie. It’s essential, as I’ll talk about in my Les Miserables review. But the Hobbit whipsaws between EPIC drama and goofiness so much that the audience isn’t sure what to do or think. This is not a good thing in a movie that already requires some suspension of disbelief. It trivializes it. You can’t expect us to take dragons seriously when you’ve got stoned, shit-smeared wizards mooning over hedgehogs and riding on sleight pulled by rabbits. It makes the wargs less scary when they’re chasing RABBITS. Same with the rock giant scene. Somehow, Jackson managed to take all the drama and wonder out of immense giants fighting each other with hurled boulders. He does it by putting the Company ON the giants (see…they’re made OUT of rock). This makes them seem less like monsters and more like…CGI animated…things. They aren’t personified, so there’s no wonder there and putting the Company ON the giants just doesn’t work. We go from silly to serious in a heartbeat. Ragdagast the shit-smeared…sorry, the brown (though the bird shit is white) confronts a wight or rather a cameo of the Nazgul from the LOTR. He captures one of its weapons as proof of dire doings in the ruined fortress which is…somewhere. (The movie isn’t clear about its geography…which is odd considering how famous and plot-relevant Tolkien’s map is in this story) The wizards and high elves all gather and ponder what to do about this troubling news and everyone is very troubled….except Gandalf and Gladriel who share some really weird sexual tension. Seriously weird and out of place. I’d think I was mis-reading something but I’m not the only one to pick up on this.
Next, the antagonists. We have one very-serious revenge-driven orc that looks a LOT like the Uruk-Hai from the LOTR. He doesn’t fit the story, either in tone or in source material. In another movie - called ‘The Dwarves’, say- he’d have been fine, driving the narrative and acting as a threat. But he doesn’t belong here. Next we have the trolls and the Goblin King (or throat scrotum, as some have dubbed him). I’m grouping them together because, for all the fine design work, they come off as being more comedic than scary. Which is fine, in a way. They sound like something from the Hobbit, but the lower-class British dialog makes them more amusing than terrifying. Especially the Goblin King’s dying words which would fit more in a Daffy Duck cartoon. The Necromancer is barely mentioned in the book. Now, Simarillion fans and fantasy geeks like myself know that the Necromancer was actually Sauron, re-establishing himself in the world. He’s supposed to be chased out by the White Council and flees to Mordor to grow even more powerful. All good and interesting stuff but it doesn’t belong in the Hobbit and I’m very much afraid that this is where much of the padding for parts 2 and 3 are going to come from. Finally, we have Thorin. Yep. Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the Company is an antagonist…to Bilbo. He’s mocking him and needling him and belittling him constantly. It gets old and it really isn’t necessary. It’s sloppy screenwriting, designed to give Bilbo more of an arc in this movie and to me, at least, it stood out like a sore thumb.
Let’s talk about the action in the movie, really briefly because I’m guessing this is going to be a two-parter review (I’ll put my thoughts down on Les Mis later). This, like Les Miserable, is an oddly bloodless movie. Despite all the arrows shot into heads, decapitations (often played for laughs, oddly) and sharp melee weapons in use, no one ever bleeds. I’m not saying I want to see a slasher movie here but I recall more bloodshed in the LOTR. It feels more PG than PG-13. The fight choreography is mostly good but that sometimes doesn’t work, either. Bilbo makes a big deal about not knowing how to or being willing to use a sword. But he can parry like a bat out of hell, somehow. Trust me, when you’re not good with a sword, parrying is really hard. It’s what gets you killed/cut/maimed (ask me about my hand scars!). The entire underground goblin fight looks more like a level in the video-game-adaptation of the movie than anything believable. It contrasts very badly with the desperate fight in Moria in Fellowship of the Ring. The falls in this movie really put it over into video game territory, though. Falling hurts. Falling kills. But in this movie, you can fall from any height and get only the wind knocked out of you. I was expecting Wile E Coyote to land next to Bilbo or some dwarf. That’s all that was missing to make this true Loony Tunes territory.
It took a lot of hard work and only a few bad decisions to ruin this movie. I know people busted their hump to make this movie, that they cared about the story and the source material. But they didn’t trust it. They didn’t trust in the story and they had to tinker. So what could have been an awesome two to four hour film has become a nine hour muddled monstrosity. I truly think that Jackson has strayed into the sad territory that Robert Jordan, George Lucas and George Martin set up camp in: where you can’t tell them what to do. This movie needed a good, hard edit and I say that as someone who really doesn’t like editing.