What was wrong with The Hobbit?
I love, and emphatically repeat the word love, J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and world of Middle-Earth. They shaped and molded my imagination when I was twelve, awkward and completely unsettled as a human being. I absorbed them: Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Silmarillion whole. I never went on a family vacation for many years without one volume or the other.
And so, I waited until I saw The Hobbit for the third time before sharing my thoughts on the movie. My sister, best mate, and girlfriend all agreed with me en toto about the film. We thought it was beautifully brilliant, an entertaining film, and completely in line for what we were expecting for this adaptation from Mr. Peter Jackson. I am an unapologetic Jackson fan. The man makes what I want to see.
So, why was I hearing and seeing awful reviews and absolute pans of the movie all over the place? Reviews from the Atlantic and Denver Post were abysmal (the Post gave out 1/2 star out of 4!) and general consensus was that reviewers were not impressed. My sister and I were concerned. Sure, people like us (read: nerds) were going to flock to it, but would the rest of the country like it? Would the franchise suffer backlash? Would New Zealand’s GDP crash after such a glitzy gamble?
So I went today to the movies with this in mind: what’s wrong with this movie? Why did the Hobbit, which I will acclaim higher than Fellowship of the Ring as it is the originator/patriarch/alpha centauri of nearly all that is the Fantasy genre, Dungeons & Dragons, role-playing games, video games and the like – why did the Hobbit not receive world-wide praise?
Observation One: this is an awful preview season. Is EVERY movie in 2013 going to be about the world ending and rebuilding on an abandoned Earth? After seeing the coming attractions for Stark Trek: Into Darkness, After Earth, Oblivion (starring Tom Cruise as Jack Verb-er, sheesh), and Pacific Rim, my cousin turned to me in the theater and said, “I don’t think they want us to live on Earth any longer…”
Seems the only thing the Mayans affected was Hollywood.
So I’m trying to analyze The Hobbit. The beginning has all the same great music, Shire appeal, rich palette, and adventurous panache I’ve come to expect. I love everything about the first ten minutes of the movie. The backstory of Erebor, Smaug, and Thorin Oakenshield is rich, unexpected, and particularly well done. The dwarfs arriving at Bilbo’s house? Giddy. The conference of Thorin & Company plus Burgler and some dwarf-dirging? Lovely. I’m especially impressed with how well they’ve mixed in the Tolkien songs (which I admit to skipping over while re-reading as I am particularly unmelodious) and creating this haunting dirge that plays over and over and over in my head like chippy 80’s pop songs often do.
In comes the walking. I like it. New Zealand needs it. But there’s a lot of walking. It can’t be an epic Middle-Earth movie now without fifteen different scenes of a group of people crossing a mountainous prairie, but I still forgive these. I like looking at New Zealand and counting off in my head, “OK, that one’s Kili, Bifur, Bofur, Gloin, Ori, Dori…” It works for the fan, maybe not everyone else. I accept a 1/2 point loss for these on the review scales.
Then there’s the problem of the dwarfs themselves. How many people have difficulty recalling the Seven Dwarves of Snow White? And those are at least English names with corresponding states of being – not 13 rhyming names of Tolkien’s own linguistic origin. Non-book readers won’t get the dwarfs’ names, figure out who was who, nor which ones they liked most and least. I could tell you each of their occupations… what a damnable nerd. (Aside: poor Nori has one line in the whole film! Bifur at least has the ax-blade wedged in his skull to differentiate him as the “weird dwarf”) That was going to be an issue ANY adaptation of The Hobbit, let alone this adaptation. I cannot accept loss of points/stars here.
But then I came upon the film’s over-arching problem in its last hour: CGI.
Amazing and breakthrough things have accrued through the development and production of Peter Jackson’s interpretations of Tolkien’s books. Whole systems and software were created that made these movies as possible and successful as they’ve been. Gollum is more life-like a character than anything Hayden Christensen has ever attempted (including any meals he’s tried to order, awkward teenage experiences, or awful family gatherings he’s had). The three trolls (Bert, William, and Tom) are wonderfully warped & dim and their interaction as humorous and comical as I wanted it to be without going over a line.
The real problem is when the main characters, fourteen of them, are running through a completely CGI wooden shanty town fighting off 7,419 pale, grubby goblins. For twelve minutes. With little to no dialogue except for battle grunts.
The twelve year old in me loves dwarf on goblin violence. OK, I lied. The twenty-nine year old in me loves dwarf on goblin violence, too, but it can get old, repetitive and over-engrossed. Not only are you asked to suspend disbelief over a fantasy setting with dwarfs, goblins, wizards, and hobbits, but then asked to do so again for thrilling chase stunts where the heroes time perfect leaps, defend themselves without loss while on the run, smash arrows out of the air with their swords, and survive ramshackle avalanches of debris. All made in post-production after the actors staged it in front of that ugly shade of green. Loss of a full point for leaning too heavily on the CGI crutch.
Now, if there was one bone for me to pick, and I had this problem from the first viewing, its the “main” bad guy in this film, Azog the Defiler. What a smooth, albino mess of CGI. I fear nothing about this bozo orc because I see no cunning or emotion, just a fourteen year old geek’s very descriptive essay on the most awesome bad guy ever (Never mind the fact that this is Thorin’s cousin Dain’s nemesis, not Thorin’s. Nor do I care now[I did get “miffed” initially] about Azog and Thorin’s very protracted duel in the film’s climax). Somehow they goofed on this guy when they already had wonderfully done Gollums, Trolls, Balrogs, Nazgul, Eagles, and Ents. But that’s only one poorly done monster out of …..300?
This film is at its best when the camera is directed at the wondrous weapons, armor, props, sets, hairdos (even the fake ones for the dwarf ponies), and food that were created and crafted by hand for this movie. Every detail is pain-staked and exquisite.
When CGI is called for to recreate a thousand rushing goblins and twirling dwarf fighters, the movie suffers. A bit. Not 1/2 a star outta 4, but a bit.
It’s a great movie. I’m waiting for the next two and already loving everything about them.
Seriously, I would watch Gollum fishing for eyeless trout underground in the dark for days on end rather than watch Hayden Christensen give me money.