So the other night, my wife and I trundled the kids off to a relative’s house, and we took ourselves off to a movie theater and saw THE HOBBIT. I wasn’t exactly bouncing up and down in my seat waiting to see it, because although I enjoyed the three Lord of the Rings films a great deal, everything Peter Jackson did after them was a disaster. King Kong was endless and tedious. The Lovely Bones remains one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The best thing I saw with his name attached to it was TINTIN, which was Peter Jackson and Stephen Spielberg both riffing on early Spielberg (to fantastic effect).
I was furthermore nervous because frankly, the Hobbit’s not that huge a book, with a pretty simple story. I wasn’t keen on the idea of turning it into three movies, each of them a zillion hours long. And then I was even more nervous than that because roughly half the people on twitter were complaining that it was terrible.
So what did I think of it?
I liked it.
I had mixed feelings about it. Typically when we use that phrase, we mean it in a negative way, I think…but for me, the positives outweighed the negatives. I didn’t leave regretting the money or time spent, and I left not blown away, but planning to go see the future films.
THE HOBBIT lacked any of the narrative push that the Lord of the Rings movies had built-in. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo gets the ring, the Ring Wraiths appear, and pretty much instantly we are running for our lives, the intensity and the plot have kicked off.
There’s none of that in The Hobbit. What narrative push appears takes most of the running time to surface, as the momentum of the film itself passing — not the situation — eventually causes some.
So: The Lord of the Rings was driven, and The Hobbit was indulgent.
I don’t find that to be a bad thing, though, although I thought I would. For one thing, there’s a reason the Lord of the Rings stories have endured for so very long now, and that’s because the world of Middle-Earth is intoxicating to spend time in. The Hobbit lacking any driven plot means that we DO spend time there, and I enjoyed that. The Dwarven dinner at Bag-End went on and on and on, and I never minded.
There were definite problems with the film, though:
1) The Emptiness. I’m beginning to think of this as “fourth film syndrome”, because the last time I noticed it was in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The first time I noticed it was in a Babylon 5 direct-to-dvd set of mini-films, in which there is clearly no budget, and therefore virtually no actors. The Hobbit had this. Compare the Hobbit to, say, The Two Towers, and it feels empty. I grant you it’s a smaller story, but there were a lot of major actors on bluescreens-and-sets and not a lot of anyone else around them.
2) The Callbacks. The problem with the Hobbit was that they felt the need to hit all the same points as the Lord of the Rings movies, as often as they could…and also to stuff in as many recurring parts as they could. Sometimes that was okay (I will never object to someone putting Christopher Lee in a film). Sometimes it was awkward. Ian Holm as Bilbo and Elijah Wood as Frodo turning up at the beginning was unnecessary…but also awkward. They were both older. THat meant that Ian Holm looked OLD compared to “The Fellowship…” and Elijah Wood had grown-out a little, added some muscle and bulk. They looked odd.
3) CGI. One of the joys of the Lord of the Rings was that the Orcs, the Goblins, the Uruk’Hai, they were all (or some) people in brilliant makeup and outfits. Here, the White Orc, and everyone else was CGI. I don’t enjoy that nearly so much. THey don’t feel like real threats half the time. The other problem was, they had clearly done it with the same technology they used for Gollum, and if you watch the White Orc, he has the same facial expressions.
4) RADAGAST. He should have been consigned to the same editing room floor as Tom Bombadil. ALSO HE HAD BIRD SHIT ON HIS FACE IT WAS RIGHT THERE ALL THE TIME WHY DID NO ONE TALK ABOUT THE BIRD SHIT DRIPPED DOWN HIS FACE
So what did I like? Well, the whole film, really. I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t.
– the opening scene with the ancient history of the Dwarves losing the kingdom to the dragon looked REALLY “World of Warcraft” to me. But then, the Goblin mines looked really “Skyrim” so possibly I need to get out more.
(the Goblin King reminded me of nothing so much as Boss Nass from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace)
(while we’re on the topic, how come ALL the Orcs, Goblins, trolls, all chatter away here and then say nothing much in the LotR films?)
I thought you could tell how they were reaching to find a “big epic” narrative plot for the films based on how many villains they kept throwing into the mix. WE’ve got the Pale Orc, the Goblin King, the Necromancer, the Spiders in Mirkwood (eventually I assume) the Dragon, Sauron is mentioned…
– Gollum was fantastic. They have got him nailed. The scene between him and Bilbo was brilliant. Martin Freeman was really really good.
– The Soundtrack was glorious, as I hoped. I particularly liked the Dwarven song they sang in Bilbo’s house, which then became the refrain for the orchestration throughout the movie.
– “Hey Gandalf thanks for finding us this Hobbit thief that’s really– WAIT WHAT THE HELL. YOU CAN SUMMON GIANT EAGLES. WHY DIDN’T YOU FIND US ONE OF THEM INSTEAD!?”
(More Giant Eagles, thus raising the old question from the Lord of the Rings of “why the hell did they have to walk there?)
A plot glitch I’ve been thinking about:
in THE FELLOWSHIP, Bilbo passes the ring to Frodo. He then goes off to stay with the Elves. A short time later, when Frodo and Gang show up, Bilbo has aged a great deal, because the Ring is no longer prolonging his life.
So when Gollum lost the ring, why did he remain unchanged for SIXTY YEARS without it before encountering Frodo? Why didn’t he more or less drop dead in a heap?
So all and all, I enjoyed it. Mixed feelings, but not in a bad way, as I said. I’ll go see the next two. They spent so long getting things going in this first film, I hope the next two will be more exciting, or at least more focused. I don’t mind if they aren’t, though.
And those be my thoughts.