10 January 2013

The Hobbit review (minor spoilers)

I didn't do much miniature/boardgaming during my blog break, but I did watch a bunch of movies and played some PC games worthy of a review. First out; my review of the Hobbit.

This is a movie I was rather reluctant to see, even when it was announced years back I just shrugged. The source material which I have not read but heard and read a lot about seemed rather unexciting to me. Then there was the whole 3D in 48FPS announcement which to me was just revolting, as if 3D wasn't bad enough, reports of effects and animations looking like computer graphics and obvious makeup made me cringe and din't increase my desire to see the movie at all. And also the fact that one story was divided into 3 damn movies when it had originally been just two felt as if Peter Jackson was milking Tolkien's books to the very last drop.

Jackson saying stuff like "Now I can include more of Middle Earth" to me was him saying "I can add a lot of stuff that has nothing to do in this movie to stretch it into 3 parts". A single book one third as thick of Lord of the Rings but split into 3 movies compared to Lord of the Rings which was 1200 something pages split into 3 movies? At least with Lord of  the Rings it made some sense as each part at least contained something of a complete story arc - and I think Jackson handled the transitions very well. The Hobbit is just a mess of content crammed into one movie.

I ended up forcing myself to watch it despite all of this, (in 2D). The short version of this review would be to say, "It’s an OK way to pass some time".

The longer version of my review follows here:

Since I didn't care for the movie going in, I read up on some reviews to see what other people thought. Generally I don't do this to avoid all kinds of spoilers but it just didn't matter to me. Many people had written that the Hobbit was too long and painfully boring during the first hour. I found the movie neither to feel too long nor boring, the first part of the  movie where they are still in the Shire I found to be the best part of the entire movie and the most enjoyable - mainly due to the focus on Martin Freeman as Bilbo. A focus that was later completely lost and forgotten for the remainder of the movie until a key scene with Gollum towards the end of the movie.

As I see it the movie is bound to run into problems for a couple of reasons.

1) It's one story split in 3, the original story as I understand it is nowhere near the epic stuff of LoTR but rather a small scale adventure. I keep seeing people mentioning "oooh that is from the appendixes", meaning, from the notes by Tolkien about his stories. The book equivalent to a directors commentary, blooper reel and extra scenes. And because of all that extra stuff the movie feels like patchwork of random scenes with a confused story going on in the background. There were so many scenes in this movie that filled absolutely no purpose other than A) show something mentioned briefly in the book B) set things up for later movies.

About "A", there is a scene with "stone giants" that lasts 5 or so minutes and adds an overkill of special effects and pointless CGI to the screen. This to me was a typical "director’s cut" scene, it had nothing to do with the story, didn't affect anything, wasn't mentioned afterwards - it just filled 5 minutes of the movie.

About "B", I'm quite fine with such things, but I expect the movie that I'm watching this year to at least be a 3 act movie and not feel like the first 10 minutes of a TV-show before the first commercial break. While pretty in parts, and for starved fans of well made Fantasy, just watching "Middle Earth" for 3 hours may be enough. Personally I think that you should be able to watch each of the movies alone if you want, you can watch each LoTR movie on its own and it’s still a good movie. The Hobbit: an unexpected journey on the other hand is 30 minutes of exposition and 2 hours and15 minutes of nonsense that you will watch in marathon when all 3 movies hit DVD and Blue-Ray. You remember the scene when the Fellowship saw the Elves walking through the forest and it was remarked that they were leaving Middle Earth? It could be perceived equally unimportant but added weight to the story about humans taking over responsibility, made Arwen's decision to remain behind a lot deeper and even tied in with the added scene not in the books with  the Elves coming to Helm's Deep with a small contingent to pay tribute to old alliances  (a scene I liked but many hated). Now, put that alongside the stone giant scene in the Hobbit and you can see it for what it is;  "shit happens on screen/we are spending our budget on CGI effects".

2) The characters are another problem. And here blame should probably be distributed evenly between the source material, the directors ambition and the writers of the movie.

A screenwriter saying goes "you can make a bad movie of a good script, but not a good movie out of a bad script". It's an adaptation, the story is what it is, but that does not mean that you could not flesh out the characters a little (or go the other way and trim the fat - yes including that morbidly obese dwarf).
Who are these people and why should we care? 13 dwarfs going to reclaim their home (but mostly the treasure). Looking at that sorry bunch of weirdo’s crashing Bilbo's apartment, half of them not even looking like dwarf's, the other half being caricatures with messed up haircuts, silly hats or trademark items such as a goddamn slingshot in a failed attempt at making them memorable (the cheap way) instead of writing them a personality. After 2 hours. 45 minutes  I remembered the names Thorin (the leader), Balin (old timer telling stories), Kili (archer that had a few lines) and Dvalin (who appears as the first dwarf  in the movie). The other 9 dwarfs? No idea what their names are, I know they rhyme in a stupid way and Gandalf recite their names like Santa Claus recites the names of his reindeers before taking off with his sledge on Christmas - but it doesn't help.

I don't think the problem  is that there are 13 dwarf characters, you can tell humans apart in real world yes? Or characters in ensamble dramas - no? I can namedrop Caparzo, Wade, sgt Horvath, Reiben, Jackson, captain Miller, Upham and Mellins from Saving Private Ryan - a movie I have not seen in 5 years. You know why? Because despite them all being "the same race" and dressed identically, they had different personalities and after 2 hours and 40 minutes you knew these guys. You knew them through their banter, having scenes with each one doing at least something of value (or being worthless - Upham) and them actually calling each other by name in pretty much every scene. "Upham fetch some ammo" - cut to Upham's face, as opposed to "raaaargh.... *hack*, *slash*, Goblins !!" - cut to shaky cam of people running around.

If Tolkien wrote crappy characters it could have been fixed rather easily without even changing the story. Anyone else notice that half of the cast disappeared every time there was a fight scene? Yeah....

3) The story, the way it is told makes little sense, and is hilarious for it. Basically Gandalf just shows up at Bilbo's place, since that is the only hobbit he knows, vandalizes Bilbo's door with magic graffiti and invites a bunch of strangers to crash his home, then tell Bilbo he should tag along on their adventure because they need a person with criminal skills. W...T....F..., watching this setup I was wondering if Bilbo was the only mentally sane character.

Curiousity drives Bilbo to join the dwarves on their adventure and off they go on a trip through the countryside which is punctuated with random events, like in a game when you use fast travel and become interrupted by highwayman between point A and point B. And just like in those situations, the characters in this movie fight for a few minutes and then move on as if nothing had happened, never to mention it again.

Throw in random stuff, like Elrond "identifying" weapons like a game master at a pen & paper RPG session. A bunch of very familiar looking scenes (walking with the gang across a mountain peak, ambush by Wargs on a rocky plateu etc.).
Have Gandalf disappear for no reason - then appear 15 minutes later (every 15 minutes) to save the gang using his arsenal of magic power never mentioned or seen in LotR.
Introducing the Radagast character with bird droppings on his face who later shows up and saves the day on a sledge pulled by rabbits (WTF?).
Two very pointless "boss fights", one against a something called the Goblin king, who rules "Goblin town" , and is himself a walking Jabba the Hut inspired caricature (complete with his own Salacious Crumb) and who has a giant ball sack for a chin.

The large monsters in this movie were also rather poorly animated, and overall I'm disappointed that Peter Jackson has grown so lazy that he uses blue-screen and CGI over people in costumes and miniatures/real sets for large parts of the movie.

When the movie finally ended, after an anticlimactic fight scene that ended abruptly, I just thought to myself.. "uh-huh....".  I can wait until they release the remaining parts on DVD in 3 years time and then perhaps it will all make better sense.  Re-watching Fellowship of the Ring is a much better choice, a movie with better story, characters and a whole different passion from the people behind it. The Hobbit feels like a confused and contrived mess most of the time. It is still far from the worst movie I have seen in a while, but it is a movie that I think could have been better given the potential of the people behind it.

6/10 (but only because of the "Misty Mountain" song by the dwarves, Martin Freeman as Bilbo, and the Gollum scene)





8 comments:

  1. Thanks I think I will wait for the DVD.

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  2. Well it sounds like the Hobbit is exactly what I thought it would be. Ie Jackson padding his wallet with 3 cack films instead of one good true telling of the book.

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  3. I do see where you're coming from, though I don't agree in every respect. I agree that the dwarves are poorly animated and the CGI / increased framerate makes it look like a video game. I don't really agree about the stone troll scene as being superfluous - for me that scene is one of the most memorable in the book - it is comical and the first we see of Bilbo using his cunning and showing the dwarves that he might have value to the group. If anything, I think so much is packed into thr film that the development of Bilbo as a character and the main plot gets a bit lost. I suspect the success of the film will be affected by the nature of the book itself (a lighter hearted children's book, though with dark and serious undertones) and the fact that it is following the lotr (epic, serious and dark). Add to this the fact that there is no longer the novelty of seeing the world realised on screen, for me the experience was probably always going to be a bit less special.

    Two films would have been better I think :) cheers for the review Anatoli

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    1. I did not mean the trolls that turned into stone, but the stone giants/rock giants/moving mountains. Didn't have any problems with the troll scene, though they were animated quite poorly, the scene itself was quite ok.

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  4. The only odd thing about the Troll scene is, as I mentioned in the review, how they were able to move like ninjas and steal the horses without anyone hearing/seeing them or feeling the ground tremble as they walked 10 meters from the dwarf camp.

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  5. I agree 100% with your comments.

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  6. I think part of your negativity arises from your initial point - you don't appear to have read the book!?

    If you had you would realise that PJ was trying to follow the story, which is a childrens tale remember - so a lot of light hearted and silly scenes occur... the dwarves falling through the door at the start etc etc...

    Yet he is also trying to blend this tale into the greater picture of the Lord of the Rings saga, as Tolkien actually ended up doing in his writing too afterwards! The whole back story from the appendicies is what blends the whole, and really is what the whole feel of Middle-Earth is about... Its what sets it far apart from other fantasy works - its has a background, a sense history - dare I say 'reality' from this feel?

    And of course PJ is in a dilemma and a no win situation - do you slavish follow the book because people will expect to see everything mentioned (the stone giants - I agree a pointless scene to the story, but they are in the book), or do you trim the fat, and be criticised for missing iconic bits of the book out?

    I really didn't mind any of the CGI, in fact thoroughly enjoyed it. There are times when an actor in a monster suit, looks just that, no matter how well done...

    At the end of the day, each to their own. Everyone likes different things for different reasons...

    As a Tolkien fan who has read all the books including Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales several times over, I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if PJ did drift from strict canon here and there, he gave across the right feel and spirit.

    We have see it twice at the cinema now, and my wife who is less of a fan than I am, is 'nagging' me to go and see it with her again!

    And as for making it into 3 films - I am thrilled he has - it means I will be able to enjoy Middle-Earth 6 times over by the end of it all...

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  7. Agree with all your comments. It's ridiculous a book smaller than any of the 3 LOTR books merits the same screen time. It should have been a single 3-hr movie.

    LOTR wisely "cut" what was unecessary (Tom Bomnbadil scenes). Hobbit adds EXTRA un-necessary stuff.

    For example the scene where the dwarves come to dinner lasts 30 minutes and doesn't really add to character development besides that dwarves can throw plates well. The goblin king fight scenes go for aaaages and while the stone giants ARE part of the book, but add nothing to the story and thus could be edited to "tighten" the story. The Radgast scenes could largely be deleted - eg his "rabbit sled" distraction seemed pointless as they were saved by elves anyway....

    A fun romp through middle earth, but rather bloated and in need of a good editing... its like most modern fantasy books which are a mandatory 500+ pages- not because the story merits it but because "they can"

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