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As I mentioned before, I think, I’ve been working from wake to sleep on Kickstarter stuff, and I needed a break. Luckily, there was a movie marathon of all three Hobbit movies yesterday, so I slipped away for an afternoon and evening to see them all in one go.

I’d deliberately decided to skip the first two movies when they were released, figuring I’d have an opportunity to see them all at once. I’m sorta glad I was right, but only sorta.

(Spoilers for the first two films)

Here’s the truth: the movies don’t work. It’s obvious they’re meant to be seen together, and while that unity helped, I can’t imagine sitting down for part one, knowing part two was a year away and part three a year after that, and being content with that endless dinner scene. I could bear it because I knew I was seeing a seven(ish)-hour movie, but wow, those scenes were slack. Really slack. And they weren’t alone.

And the dialog… Okay, the Lord of the Rings movies had plenty of shitty dialog in it, but it also had amazing dialog, too. These two examples are pasted right out of imdb:

Theoden: Simbelmyne. Ever has it grown on the tombs of my forebears. Now it shall cover the grave of my son. Alas, that these evil days should be mine. The young perish and the old linger. That I should live to see that last days of my house.

Elrond: If Aragorn survives this war, you will still be parted. If Sauron is defeated and Aragorn made king and all that you hope for comes true you will still have to taste the bitterness of mortality. Whether by the sword or the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die. And there will be no comfort for you, no comfort to ease the pain of his passing. He will come to death an image of the splendor of the kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell bound to your grief under the fading trees until all the world is changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent.

Quibble with that if you want, but even if you don’t like that sort of dialog, it’s head and shoulders above “Do not think I won’t kill you, dwarf!” or “I am fire! I am… DEATH!” or

Thranduil: [to Thorin] Where does your journey end? A quest to reclaim a homeland, and slay a dragon!… I suspect something more prosaic. Attempted burglary, or something of that kind. You seek that which would bestow upon you the right to rule: the Arkenstone!

Which… ugh. Lee Pace is great in the role of Thranduil, giving him a complexity that the other characters desperately needed. And that’s the odd thing about this adaptation: So much stuff has been added to the story, and very little of it serves to make the characters interesting. (Sidenote to the woman in the row in front of me: I actually liked the love story Jackson et al added to the films).

And it’s all this added bullshit that people have hated about the films, and it’s easy to see why. The Hobbit, as a book, is a children’s story set in the same world as LOTR. It’s a prequel, too, but the tone and the language are very different.

With these movies, Jackson is trying to create a prequel trilogy that matches the tone and style of the first movies. If you were hoping for a children’s movie version of a children’s book, you’re not getting it.

So, the company of dwarves can’t be hapless regular folk who cower before every enemy, they have to be high-level PCs who plow through orc mooks. And, obviously, we need an extended scene where Thorin et al make a serious effort to defeat the dragon with his golden not-jaeger. (I swear I thought that thing was going to open its eyes, and I would have been really disappointed. I mean, even more disappointed than I already was.)

Not that this fits with the dragon’s decision to *run away* from those dwarves and burn Laketown, but the new stuff has to be shoe-horned in, right?

And the dwarves can’t just be sealed in barrels and floated away, complaining about being cramped and bruised. Instead, there has to be a running battle with orcs on the shore, with weapons flawlessly passed between them like the dishes in Bilbo’s kitchen. In other words, they have to be exceptional.

And there’s all those scenes at Dol Guldur. From overhearing other audience members, I guess they came from unfinished stories. They would have been enjoyable enough, if only they hadn’t been filled with all these Tolkien characters. Those were the parts (along with the forges and molten gold) that felt like fan fiction: characters we recognize but creative choices we don’t, as though someone wanted to play with Tolkien’s stuff and fill in all the blank spaces.

The thing is, whether or not you like Tolkien, his work was heavily informed by epic grandeur. He would never have created a conflict scene that played like a Rube Goldberg machine that so many modern movies expect us to watch. They’re like amusement park rides or video game levels: the toppling stone stairs of FELLOWSHIP have been transformed into ledges on the body of a giant in the midst of a fight. Jump here, grab this, cut this rope, swing here, now push this fucking wheelbarrow into the stream of molten gold and ride it to the waterfall, then jump onto the come on, people. Come on.

There’s an undeniably visceral excitement that comes from this shit. The music, the camera swooping past a dizzying height… one a very basic level the body responds to this stuff. But when it’s over, the feelings don’t stick with you. It’s like riding a roller coaster without even the feel of the wind on your face. It certainly doesn’t match the scenes where the people in Helm’s Deep prepare for a fight no one thinks they can win. It’s not enough for characters to bash a shitload of mo-capped cgi monsters. It has to mean something more.

Worse, the parts of the children’s book that remain unchanged (like the amazing survival rate of the dwarves) just didn’t mesh with the new tone and design. Why is it so hard to write decent dialog for a dragon? And why did they add so many extra scenes but cut a bunch of Bilbo’s riddle contest with Gollum?

The first movie was not good. The second was even worse. The last one was the best of the bunch, and I’m reasonably glad I stuck with it. Thorin’s dragon sickness was portrayed very well, and since there are a few characters who don’t survive the final war, the violence finally carries a sense of risk to it.

Plus, there’s much less Rube Goldberg bullshit.

Here’s a shocker: adding genuine mistrust within Thorin’s circle, terror and tragedy for the people of Laketown, and Thranduil’s grief-driven reluctance to lose his own people in war, actually turned the third movie into a story I cared about.

There were definitely low spots and a prequel-ish urge to fill in back story, but it mostly worked. Of course, maybe it just looks good because it came on the heels of Desolation of Smaug.

Let me just say one thing, though: On my birthday, I took a day to watch all three extended editions of LOTR, and for weeks afterward I had the urge to watch them again. For all their flaws, they’re terrific movies. I had no urge to watch the Hobbit movies again. At all.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 17th, 2014 03:49 am (UTC)
As usual, mileage varies. I've watched the first movie at least three times, Desolation twice, and not more because I can't afford the time. I LOVE the extensions he did for these movies.
Dec. 17th, 2014 08:19 am (UTC)
I agree Ryk. For the most part they follow the available material in the supplemental works. I'll even grant him some lea way for the differences between film and book simply because Peter Jackson generally does a very good job of sticking to the material where he can.

Yes there are shortcuts taken here and there but they are I think needed for the film or it would be a 4 or 5 hour extravaganza for each one. As it is I'm buying the extended cuts released about 9 months later as they have material cut for time but that adds to the overall story.
Dec. 17th, 2014 09:58 pm (UTC)
Knowing me, I'll probably give these another try at some point. I completely fucking hated THE FIFTH ELEMENT, but I gave that another watch last month.

Still, the poor word of mouth lowered my expectations quite a bit, and the movies didn't surprise me. It's too bad.
Dec. 17th, 2014 09:54 pm (UTC)
I love the *idea* of extending the movies, but not these.

Not that I have a better idea what should have been done.
Dec. 17th, 2014 04:50 am (UTC)
I just like when the Ents go to war
Dec. 17th, 2014 09:58 pm (UTC)
Me, too. Especially when the little ent dunks his burning head in the water. The crowd in the theater cheered at that bit.
Dec. 17th, 2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
Ents also float orcs dont
Dec. 17th, 2014 08:05 am (UTC)
I have a faint hope that one of the Director's Cuts will be one that's Just The Hobbit. It won't happen, but I hold out hope.

I'm not going to the 3rd film. I was infuriated at where they cut the 2nd, and everybody I like (including, I presume, Tauriel) dies in the 3rd, so :p
Dec. 17th, 2014 10:27 pm (UTC)
Having seen the third movie already, I can PM you spoilers, if you like, esp re: Tauriel.


They can't do a "book edit" because they'd have to cut things like the dwarves kicking troll ass (only to surrender when Bilbo gets caught, because once his life is threatened, everyone has to die).

I doubt they have the footage for it.

Edited at 2014-12-17 10:32 pm (UTC)
Dec. 18th, 2014 09:08 pm (UTC)
Since you're not going -- Tauriel does NOT die. The three who are supposed to die (Fili, Kili, and Thorin) die. No other significant (good guy) characters die.
Dec. 18th, 2014 09:10 pm (UTC)

I'll be damned.
Dec. 18th, 2014 09:52 pm (UTC)
So much for messaging spoilers if you want them.

The characters who die in the book die in the movie, but it doesn't happen off-screen.
Dec. 19th, 2014 06:50 am (UTC)
I'm okay with the spoiler, fwiw. Surprised as heck, but okay. :)
Dec. 17th, 2014 08:22 am (UTC)
It partly the differences between film and book and partly just a difference in approach. That said Peter Jackson has overall done the most true adaption of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit that anyone has done.

Yes the chasing around the lonely mountain of the dwarves by Smaug is just gratuitous but it is still awesome mammography. And I'll forgive Peter Jackson doing that sort of thing for the overall capturing of the spirit of the books on film.
Dec. 17th, 2014 05:36 pm (UTC)
"Awesome mammography"?????

I don't think I saw anyone x-raying breasts anywhere in that film.
Dec. 17th, 2014 10:10 pm (UTC)
Filmography, filmography....... Gah .... Just Gah......
Dec. 17th, 2014 10:20 pm (UTC)
No worries, dude. I liked Tauriel, too.
Dec. 17th, 2014 10:57 pm (UTC)
Dec. 18th, 2014 09:09 pm (UTC)
I admit to being impressed -- how did that happen? Did you actually *type* "mammography"? Or was this one of those "damn you Autocorrect" moments?
Dec. 18th, 2014 10:35 pm (UTC)
I honestly don't know why my brain substituted mammography for filmography. My only guess is that I wrote that late at night just before heading to bed and was tired. It is possible nay even likely that I mistyped the word filmography and when I right clicked to correct it offered me mammography as an option. And being tired and heading to bed next .... it would have been easy to click the wrong choice from the selections offered by Firefoxes spell checker.
Dec. 21st, 2014 09:11 am (UTC)
Ah ha, I have confirmed that if you typo filmography in firefox and then use it's spell checker that firefox will offer you two options. Filmography and mammography as valid choices. Chrome doesn't do that by the way it seems to realize those words are really far apart. So anyway I blame it being really late at night, being tired, and clicking option 2 on the two options for spell checking.

It makes a good story anyway. And the original typo up there is kind of glorious all on its own. ;)
Dec. 17th, 2014 07:04 pm (UTC)
It was the Rube Goldberg crap that really put me off the films. The awful collapsing-bridges fight in the Misty Mountains in #1 and the just-as-bad barrel fight in #2. But #2 was overall so horrible that it made my wife and me give up on the sequence. Especially bad was #2's dwarf healing scene, where the entire theatre broke into (unintended) laughter at its orgasmic end. (I was quite shocked that the critical field seems to think #2 was the best of the series, because it was terrible.)

Maybe we'll see #3 when it hits DVD, but I'm not sure I want to waste the time. (We always see a film for Christmas, but this year I think it's going to be _Into the Woods_ instead of _The Hobbit 3_.)
Dec. 17th, 2014 10:31 pm (UTC)
Rube Goldberg action scene are everywhere in movies now. It's really disappointing.

That said, I thought #3 was the best of them.
Dec. 17th, 2014 11:18 pm (UTC)
I blame video games!
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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