Tag Archives: The Hobbit

The Desolation of Smaug; or, Time Someone Bitch-Slap Peter Jackson

The Desolation of Smaug; or, Time Someone Bitch-Slap Peter Jackson

Despite the heading of this blog, I liked The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  It is, without a doubt, better than the first entry in this series.  Smaug is a good film.  That’s the problem.  It’s good, when it should be great.  And it is for the first half.  The movie begins back in Bree at The Prancing Pony (with Peter Jackson’s requisite cameo), where we see Gandalf setting Thorin on his path.  Gandalf does meddle, and as established in The Lord of the Rings, he will put in danger other characters in order to further his own agenda.

The film jumps back to the present, some days after events in the first film have ended.  Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves are about to enter Mirkwood Forest.  They are helped along by the skin-changer Beorn, and once they are in the forest, attacked by spiders.  This is one of the best sequences in the film, even though it seems too short.  After the dwarves are freed from their cocoons, we see Bilbo feeling the first effects of the ring.  This is one of the additions to the novel that really works.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) arrives to fight off the spiders.  With him comes Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).  This is our first encounter with the she-elf.  The character is another Jackson addition.  While some characters were given bigger roles in the Rings Trilogy (compared to the novel), Tauriel is the first flat-out Kiwi invention.  One reviewer of the film wonders if she will become these prequels’ Jar Jar Binks.  The Hobbit films will not escape comparison to the Star Wars prequels.  But the expectations for Jackson’s films weren’t as high.  And rest assured, Tauriel is no Jar Jar Binks, and even though Jackon’s films present multiple missed opportunities, I’d rather stare at a bowl of diarrhea for six hours than sit through George Lucas’ abominations again.  Tauriel kicks ass, and is very much in line with another Middle Earth woman warrior, the Rings’ Eowyn.  Like Legolas, she provides a character we can identify with amongst the otherwise nondescript Woodland Elves. 

That’s all fine and dandy…but then love enters the picture.  After coming home from seeing The Hobbit yesterday I flipped through the newest Entertainment Weekly.  The critic Owen Gleiberman gives it an “A-“.  That’s nice.  But the review itself left me wondering if we saw the same film.  Tauriel is identified as Legolas’ love interest.  Uh?  Ah, no.  She is clearly Kili’s love interest.  Yes, Kili.  One of the dwarves.  After a two minute conversation with Kili in his jail cell, the 600-year old elf becomes so smitten with him she disobeys her king and rushes off to save him hundreds of miles away after he is shot with a poisoned arrow.  Yeah, none of that was in the novel.  With good reason.  Not only is it utterly preposterous, I find it misogynistic as well.  Yes, in LOTR, Arwen hooks up with the human Aragorn, but their courtship goes on for decades.  And yes, we have an elf on dwarf bromance, but neither Gimli nor Legolas will admit their friendship for each other until they face what they believe is certain death at the battle in front of the Black Gate.  Jackson introduces Tauriel as an empowered female, an ass-kicking super hero, and the only Woodland elf who recognizes the danger of King Thandriel’s isolationist policy.  But after two minutes with Kili, who is “taller than other dwarves,” her fragile little heart goes all pitter-patter and she rushes off to save him.  She doesn’t give a shite about his quest, his friends, or the looming disaster.  Apparently, even she-elves can only be motivated by love for males.  Two minutes worth.  For a being already 600 years old.  It’s revolting.  To Peter Jackson:  want to rectify this idiocy?  Have Galadriel, a real she-elf, show up in the third film and slap the shit out of Tauriel.

Much of the rest of the film has only a passing semblance to its source material.  The best bits follow Gandalf and his quest to figure out what’s going on with this Necromancer he keeps hearing about.  Bilbo and some of the dwarves finally make it to the Lonely Mountain.  Some of the dwarves inexplicably are left behind in Lake Town, I guess so the loins of Kili and Tauriel can get all tingly together.  Bilbo and the gang find the hidden door, and the brave little hobbit makes his way down into Smaug’s lair.  This is perhaps my favorite sequence in Tolkien’s novel: Bilbo has an intense cat and mouse game with the deadly dragon while the dwarves cower in fear outside.  Given the fantastic Riddle Game sequence in the first film, my expectations were very high.

That was my mistake.  In the film, once Bilbo enters the lair, Jackson proceeds to rip out page after page of the novel and wipe his ass with them.  You want to cut things, Jackson?  Fine.  Want to add things?  Fine.  But why dramatically change one of the sequences which make the novel so memorable?  You’re not dealing with an unknown work.  The Hobbit was published in 1937, and is still loved today.  Fans want to see their favorite sequences on film.  That’s what we’re paying for, you dick!  Well, Bilbo has a bit of a cat and mouse game, but not before Thorin shows up beside him.

And therein is perhaps the biggest problem in Jackson’s films.  Jackson’s Thorin is not a dwarf.  He’s nothing like the other dwarves in the company, let alone Gimli.  He doesn’t look like a dwarf.  He doesn’t talk like a dwarf.  He doesn’t act like a dwarf.  He’s a dude with a height deficiency.  That’s it.  Jackson concocts some ridiculous plan for the dwarves to encase Smaug in a pool of molten gold.  This entails getting a bunch of mining equipment working again after rusting in a dank mountain for sixty years.  The whole sequence is implausible and poorly conceived.  Why does Jackson do it?  In his mind, Thorin is a Bruce Willis type of action hero.  Action heroes do things; they don’t cower outside the mountain while little hobbits do their dirty work.  His fear is one of the things that make Tolkien’s Thorin so interesting.  Jackson flattens him into a cartoon character.  I can’t wait for him to die in the third film.

By the way, Smaug is impressive, as his the pile of treasure he sits upon.  Problem?  It’s nitpicky, but there’s so much gold in Smaug’s lair that even it represents 99% of the gold in all of Middle Earth, it would be totally worthless.  There’s simply too much of it. You might as well trade in blades of grass.  Bigger isn’t always better, Mr. Jackson.  Don’t worry.  I’ll be amongst the millions waiting in line for the third film next year.

 

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On Pacfic Rim, or why humans are, lke, the most awesome species in the universe.

Twenty minutes into Pacific Rim I thought, Guillermo del Toro gave up The Hobbit for this?  And that was before the forced melodrama and unspeakably bad acting in the final act.  Heartbreaking, really, because I love a good science fiction flick.  Unfortunately they’re few and far between.  The trailers often look good, don’t they?  Good enough to fork out 10 bucks for the incredibly stupid Looper, or that bucket of diarrhea known as Prometheus, a film so gutted with inconsistencies and lapses in logic that it’s hard not to conclude that  Ridley Scott made it for the sole purpose of testing the intelligence of critics.  (Given its 74% score on the Tomatometer, I’d say 74% of critics failed the test.) 

But it’s not the quality of Pacific Rim I want to rag on.  It’s certainly better than the latest Tom Cruise vehicle, or the most recent pathetic attempt of Will Smith to turn his dopey kids into movie stars.  It’s the whole “aliens invade earth scenario.”  In Pacific Rim, giant lizardy things, the foot soldiers of smaller lizardy things, travel from their planet to Earth through some kind of vortex in the Pacific Ocean.  They had tried to use the vortex millions of years earlier, but the atmosphere on our planet wasn’t right; humans had to first pollute the air sufficiently.  Why they need to colonize Earth is never revealed.  Through an idiotic mind meld, humanity only knows that the invaders want to colonize.  Is the lizard home world overpopulated?  Used up?  Didn’t the lizards figure out how to solve whatever problem they had over the millions of years between 1st and 2nd contact?   Who knows.  It’s very rare for a filmmaker to supply a reasonable and logical explanation for alien invasion.  The aliens usually just want our stuff.  In Independence Day, for example, the aliens burn through a massive amount of fossil fuel to get a fleet of ginormous ships millions of light years to Earth, bypassing all the good stuff on the other planets and in our solar system’s meteor belt, and then expend a shitload of more resources blowing up Earth’s buildings in spectacular fashion, only because they want our pathetically small bit of resources, which probably couldn’t fuel even one bad-ass space cruiser… Perhaps Del Toro’s lizards want beach front property in Florida, because the price of real estate on the lizard home world is just ghastly.  Despite technical superiority, invading aliens are usually stupid, parasitic, and lacking a moral compass.  Human beings, of course, are the exact opposite.  That’s why they always win.  Aliens don’t need motivation for their actions.  They appear in our skies only to reveal the superiority of human beings.  Nothing significant is revealed about humanity in Pacific Rim.  There’s no moral quandary, like we see in the superior fare District 9.  Like Independence Day, Pacific Rim is just one big circle jerk.

Actually, Pacific Rim might be even more insidious than Independence Day…Del Toro’s humans fight the giant lizards in giant robots manned by two pilots.  The most awesome pilots?  Let’s see:  we have Americans, Russians, the Chinese and Australians.  These are the Earth’s saviors.  I’m sure it’s a coincidence that in that quartet we have some of the Modern Age’s most brutal, most notorious colonizers…Might makes right.  The best come out on top.  Del Toro’s robot pilots are (at least ultimately) super smart, super selfless, and super moral.  Ah.  That’s how we beat back future invasions.  In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond sets out to answer the question, “Why did the Spaniards conquer the Incas instead of the other way around?”  He ultimately concludes that the Incas, like the rest of America’s natives, as well as the peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa and Australia, were the victims of an unfortunate geography.  They were no more dumb, immoral or greedy than their colonizers.  Kind of like the Earthlings in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when their planet is atomized to make way for a Galactic Highway.  But alas, more people will watch Pacific Rim than read Jared Diamond.  So to the remaining Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals,  Tibetans, and various peoples of the formal Soviet Bloc, take a hint from Uncle Del Toro:  you lost, you pussies, because you were stupid, greedy and lacked a moral compass.  But don’t worry:  when the aliens land, us winners will have your back.   

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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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