Sunday, 13 January 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit

I don't see many movies, especially in the theatres. Still haven't seen The Avengers, about which I hear almost exclusively good things. But a friend was visiting from overseas, and we decided to go and see The Hobbit.
I have to say, I had the Randy Jackson response. "Dogg, it was just OK for me, you know what I'm saying?"
I've come to the conclusion that I like Peter Jackson's Tolkien best when it's mainly Tolkien with very little Jackson. The other way round... not so good.
This is also one of those creative works where less would have been more. The movie was about two and three-quarter hours, and was a firmly three-star movie. If it had been trimmed to two hours, it might have been four stars. There may even be a five-star movie in there, but it's probably an hour and three-quarters long.
Length isn't the only problem, either. Take, for example, the scene with the trolls.
The book version of this scene establishes Bilbo as the trickster and rogue. It harks back to Jason throwing the stone among the dragon's-teeth warriors, to Clever Jack fooling giants, to Odysseus in the Cyclops' cave. The movie version doesn't have the same resonance. Tolkien's writing, despite its flaws, has tremendous power because he was well-read in classical literature and knew an archetype when he saw one. Messing with that made the scene fall flat for me, especially the Gandalf-ex-machina at the end. It's bad enough that Gandalf gets them out of the trees by summoning the eagles (Tolkien's mistake, not Jackson's). He shouldn't be taking Bilbo's first protagonist moment. Bilbo's arc is from a timid, conventional stay-at-home hobbit to an adventuring rogue, and this is his first pinch, where he has to rise to the challenge to save himself and his friends.
As for the scenes that are pure Jackson, they are basically ridiculous. Radagast's absurd rabbit-drawn sled that doesn't catch on something in the forest every two seconds, for example, and the Michael Bay moment (yes, I said it) where the dwarves and Gandalf fall on a wooden platform through hundreds of meters of goblin cave and emerge completely unscathed, protected by their character armour from the laws of physics.
There was an awful lot of prologue before the story got going. The Old Bilbo and Frodo prologue was completely unnecessary. I can see including a prologue of the original fall of the Lonely Mountain. I can even see including the meeting of the White Council on screen, though again, Gandalf's lines about Bilbo giving him courage fell completely flat for me. Bilbo hasn't shown courage himself yet. And, while I think leaving the songs out of LOTR almost completely was the right decision, the Misty Mountains song has something to contribute to the emotional tone and the sense of who the dwarves are and what they've lost and how determined they are to regain it. (The dishwashing song, though, needed cutting.)
Here's what the movie leaves me with. It leaves me with profound skepticism that the other two, especially the middle one, will be good, and not overpadded like this one is. It leaves me wondering if Martin Freeman, who can do hapless like nobody's business, is also up to doing heroic. And it leaves me wanting a cut-down version that just tells Tolkien's story more-or-less as written, minus the silly bits (like the dishwashing song and the invention of the game of golf, both of which were in the movie) and with no added silly bits (like Radagast and the Michael Bay platform fall).
TL; DR: Meh.

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