You might guess from the title that I just got back from the new Hobbit movie. Now at last I know how one simple little story could be turned into a three-movie monstrosity, where each movie is 2½ hours long. They added superflous action scenes, chase scenes, hot elf fanservice, odd sideplots, random bad guys who do nothing but look menacing, a bizarre elf-dwarf romance, the return of the flaming vagina, a giant hugely clumsy dragon, and of course, multiple fiery explosions with Our Heroes leaping to safety just ahead of the blazing wavefront. And then it just ends. Come back next time!
My summary: bloated, hot mess. Not worth the $5 I spent to see a clean, old-fashioned fantasy story turned into the usual big budget CGI-driven tale of extravagant explosions.
I have been chastised for always being so negative about much-anticipated movies. So let me leaven my criticisms with a few positive comments…although, of course, I’ll then have to expand my negativity a bit.
What I liked:
It was obvious from the moment Tolkien published his trilogy that the previous slight story about the hobbit and the dragon was being seriously retconned to become a portent of his more epic tale. I think it was right and proper, when redoing the story as a movie, to add more elements that link the prequel to the fuller story. Seeing Sauron emerge in Dol Guldur? Good addition.
Let’s not have any illusions that Tolkien was a great writer. He was a good storyteller. Unfortunately, his characters were dull people, animated largely by interesting names and elaborate backstory. The movie let actors flesh them out — this isn’t a story of 12 fully interchangeable short people with funny names, plus one short person with hairy feet. Finally, the mob has an identity. Also, Martin Freeman as Bilbo was actually really good.
Another huge deficiency in Tolkien’s world: the near-total absence of women. Jackson has at least made an effort to graft on a few heroic women. They’re kind of slapped on, but that’s not Jackson’s fault, it’s Tolkien’s obliviously masculine source material.
Tolkien takes himself very seriously. The light moments in the book are filled mainly by characters reciting poetry, sometimes interminably. Jackson adds some needed humor to the story.
Now where did that go wrong?
Increasing the menace and the weight to lead in to Lord of the Rings was good, but it was inconsistently done. Suddenly the world is full of evil orcs — who are somehow so competent that a whole army of them neatly navigates Mirkwood, where the dwarves are confused by magic and lost and captured by spiders. These orcs somehow neatly end up waiting for the good guys just outside the elf city, and are then nearly totally destroyed by twelve unarmed dwarves, a hobbit, and two super-duper elves in a long battle along the shores of a river. It made me think of a bad D&D campaign run by an indulgent DM, where all your problems could be solved by shouting, “LEEEEEEROY!” and charging into the horde.
Also, come on. Just turn Legolas loose an the evil army, all by himself, and he’ll ping-pong about like a demented Yoda, only tall and slender and blonde, and the war will be over.
Compare the casualties. Dwarf-side: one takes an arrow to the knee (nursed back to health by hot elf woman), and one cloak gets burned in the battle with the dragon. Orc-side: the leaders walk away (no doubt to be satisfyingly slaughtered in the concluding episode), but the grunts get mowed down two or three at a time by Blondie, and even the hobbit manages to butcher a couple, without even getting scratched.
The actor playing Bilbo was great. Too bad most of his screen time seemed to be spent running. Jogging to the Lonely Mountain, running away from spiders, running away from orcs, running away from dragons, outrunning gouts of fire from the dragon’s mouth.
Eowyn’s expansion in the trilogy was great, and I expect to see Tauriel cosplay everywhere now. I can’t complain at all about adding interesting women characters to the story.
Yeah, but did Jackson’s sense of humor have to be entirely inspired by the Three Stooges?
I have little hope for the third movie. It’s going to begin with an epic battle against a dragon, followed by an epic battle between 5 armies (with another deus ex aquila), and all of Jackson’s favorite excesses will be given free rein. At least a few of the dwarves will finally get killed.