Tag Archives: J.R.R Tolkien

The Hobbit: A Better than Expected Journey

The Hobbit: A Better than Expected Journey.

At latest count The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has a 65% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

That’s about right.  Disappointing, but not surprising.  If critics had gone into the film without knowledge of the novel’s length or of the films’ troubled production history, or of Peter Jackson’s last minute decision to turn two films into three, they would have graded it higher.  I can’t imagine seeing the film as it is and not recommending it.  Does it measure up to The Lord of the Rings?  Hardly.  (But to be fair The Hobbit the novel doesn’t measure up to The Lord of the Rings the novel either.)  

Jackson’s film is far from perfect.  I can’t think of one scene in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (theatrical version, at least) that’s truly off the mark.  The same can’t be said about The Hobbit.  The dwarves’ escape from the Goblin King in the Misty Mountains is just plain ridiculous, an ugly hybrid of some of the sequences in the second and fourth Indiana Jones films and those crappy Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.  Jackson tries to mix terror with humor.  It simply doesn’t work.  (Much like the Paths of the Dead scenes in the extended version of The Return of the King.)   The changes he makes to the stone trolls’ sequence falls flat as well.  The novel has Gandalf throw the voices of the trolls, tricking them into a long argument, and making them forget that dawn is nigh.  In the film, Bilbo suggests different ways in which the dwarves can be cooked, thereby initiating a very short, and not terribly compelling, argument.  Before this, the dwarves all rush in and slash up the trolls in very nasty ways, but by the time the trolls start to argue they don’t seem hurt at all.

The film begins with Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprising their roles from LOTR.  The older Bilbo tells Frodo that he doesn’t know the whole story of his adventures with the dwarfs.  This becomes the hook into the film.  Problem is, at the end of LOTR Frodo adds his story to the very book Bilbo is writing in in The Hobbit…So yes, Mr. Jackson.  Frodo did know the whole story.  Logic aside, bringing back Frodo and the older Bilbo simply wasn’t necessary.  The history we get of Smaug the dragon conquering Erebor is one of the film’s strongest sequences, but we could have gotten it during the unexpected party with the dwarves.

Ironically (given Jackson’s ability to create awesome battles) two of the strongest sequences are relatively simple.  One critic pointed out that “The Riddle Game” between Bilbo and Gollum is worth the price of admission alone.  He is absolutely correct.  It’s stunning.  Even though other critics didn’t care for the appearance of Radagast the Brown, I thought it was great, especially when the wizard explores the old fortress of Dol Guldor and has a run-in with a not quite resurrected Witch King of Angmar.  In this sequence we are also treated to our first glimpse of the Necromancer, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  (Yes, Sherlock Holmes.  Martin Freeman, Bilbo in The Hobbit, plays his Dr. Watson in the current BBC series.) It’s a killer scene.  I only hope Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who #7, by the way) appears as Radagast in the next two films.

A lot of critics complained about the length of just the film, since the novel is just a slim little thing.  In fact, when all is said in down, it’ll take longer to watch the trilogy then it will to read the novel.  I just reread the novel this week.  And you know what?  As is, it’s even more “unfilmable” than LOTR was perceived to be.  There’s very little characterization, and the plotting is crude, at best.  Most of the dwarves are just names on the page.  Characters only come into play when they’re necessary to the plot.  Some might not like the inclusion of the nasty orc that begins hunting the company in the film.  No, this is not in the novel.  Well, not exactly.  In the novel we find out that the orc army that attacks in the Battle of the Five Armies is led by an orc still pissed that Thorin (leader of the dwarf company) killed is father in Moria years earlier.  In the book you don’t find this out until the actual battle.  It’s presented as an “oh, by the way, the orcs are attacking, and this is why.”  You can get away with such things in a novel geared towards a young audience, but you can’t spring that on modern day film goers.   Jackson also knows he has to spend more time building his characters than Tolkien does.  In his LOTR, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Merry, Pippin, etc. are far more rounded than they are in the novel.

 Even though this first Hobbit film isn’t great, I’m willing to give Peter Jackson some leeway.  He understands something very important about Tolkien’s novels.  They’re not character driven.  They’re not even plot driven.  They’re world driven.  The films are about Middle Earth, not about individual hobbits.  Tolkien considered The Silmarillion his major work.  The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings?  Not so much.  He hoped those novels would simply be seen as a way into Middle Earth, with its history, its gods, its peoples, its cultures, its songs, its languages.  Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a sketch.  By the time he was half-way through writing The Lord of the Rings, he was already revising The Hobbit as shown through the appendices and the expansive back story in The Fellowship of the Ring.  In order to do The Hobbit cinematic justice, Jackson has to “flesh out” the story.  In doing so he’s doing homage to the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien.  So some people think nearly four hours was too long for the first Hobbit film?  I hope the next one is four.


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The Two Towers: Extended Edition

Never before did I have such high expectations for a film than the second in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. I was nervous before seeing The Fellowship of the Ring, but after discovering its greatness, its clarity of vision, my hopes for the second in the trilogy soared.
The first scene in The Two Towers doesn’t disappoint. Gandalf’s pursuit of the Balrog down into the depths of the Misty Mountains is one of the greatest opening scenes of any movie I know. I was mesmerized that first time, and still am. By the beginning of the closing credits, however, had I my Faramir action figure I would have whipped it at the screen. The film contains too much Arwen, and too many seemingly nonsensical changes to Tolkien’s text, which often create holes in logic. (The elves fighting at Helm’s Deep? Where’d they go after? Are we to believe that every single one of them died??? And if they were free to fight there, why don’t they join the battles at Pelennor Fields and the Black Gate? The silly “telepathic” conversation between Galadriel and Elrond leading to the decision to send the Elvish army is overly expository, and nearly kills the tension of the middle act of the film. And Faramir? Tolkien’s character is a philosopher/warrior. Jackson’s is a bit of a weasel-dick. And even though the second film is a bit longer than the first, it covers about half the text. Many of Jackson’s scenes don’t appear in the novel. Instead of being disappointed of what was left out, many fans of the novel were disappointed in what was added.
But I was willing to give the film another chance, and I’ve learned to appreciate more with each viewing. Of three films The Two Towers benefits the most from the new and extended scenes in the cut playing in theaters this Tuesday. Flashbacks help to broaden Faramir’s character. While he’s still not the spiritual being he is in the novel, his treatment of Frodo and Sam now at least makes sense.
The most memorable new bits involve Merry, Pippen, and the Ents. Jackson pays homage to Tom Bombadil and Old Man Willow in a new scene when a Huorn (a wild tree without the consciousness of Ents) tries to ingest the two hobbits. In order to free them, Treebeard invokes the same command Bombadil uses in the Old Forest in the novel. The Huorns don’t appear in the initial cut of the film at all, even though they finish off Saruman’s army after the battle at Helm’s Deep. The extended cut contains that scene. (On Leno, Elijah Wood admitted that he didn’t understand why Jackson cut the scene. It’s really short, and really, really cool.) We also get to see Merry and Pippen discover all kinds of goodies in the ruins of Isengard.
So should you see the extended cut in the theaters? Absolutely! Sure, it’s the weakest of the three films. (Not all agree with this. In fact, for many of my friends who haven’t read the book, The Two Towers is their favorite of the three films.) But it still captures Middle Earth to the letter. It has a very different look than The Fellowship of the Ring. The plains of Rohan seem so much brighter than the Shire and Lothlorien. While there are weak bits, the hunt for Merry and Pippen is really well done, and our first real experience of Gollum is unforgettable. Sure, the siege of Isengard is way too short, but at least we get some of it. And the battle of Helm’s Deep? That alone is worth the price of admission.

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The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition

The Lord of the Rings will be hitting theaters again, one film over the next three Tuesdays. If you’ve seen the films already, should you go? Absolutely! These are the extended editions of each film, meaning each contain finely incorporated additional and extended scenes. Plus, the films will be introduced by director and co-writer Peter Jackson.
I’m going, despite the fact I’ve seen the extended trilogy dozens of times. Sure I have surround sound at home, a large flat screen television and all that, but nothing compares to seeing these films really big.

Tonight is The Fellowship of the Ring. This extended version includes about 25 more minutes than the original theatrical version. Arguably, of the three theatrically released versions, FOTR has the fewest flaws. The changes and most of the omissions from the novel Jackson made were logical. Many Tolkien fans were disappointed that there’s no Tom Bombadil, no Old Man Willow, no Barrow-Wights. But had Jackson dramatized those sequences the film would’ve been twice as long. (I wouldn’t have minded that…) You won’t see those sequences tonight, either. But the new and extended scenes you do get, by and large, are lifted straight from the novel, most notably at the beginning of the film, and during the Fellowship’s stay in Lothlorien. After the same brief history of the One Ring, we get a new start: Bilbo writing the chapter of his book, “Concerning Hobbits.” Much of this scene comes from the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings. It is a welcome addition for fans of the novel.

The other major extension deals with Lothlorien, an elf-realm, home to Galadrial, one of the oldest beings in Middle-Earth. When I first saw the theatrical release, I was disappointed that there was no gift-giving scene; the elves give the Fellowship some really cool stuff. The extended version restores the sequence. We find out about lembas, the elven rope, and the cloaks, all of which play important parts in the 2nd and 3rd films.

Many other cool little tidbits are sprinkled throughout the film, including Sam’s first sight of elves, the trolls turned to stone from The Hobbit, and Aragorn’s singing of the Lay of Beren and Luthien. The additions make a great film even better.

Be there! But please, no costumes…

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