Look, I know the Hobbit is a book written for children. It is less dramatic than the Lord of the Rings trilogy and has a lot more whimsical content. Fine. The problem with Peter Jackson’s new movie is not the source material, it’s what he has chosen to do with it. Follow below the orange dwarvish hair fillip to read more.
As more than one person has already noted, the Hobbit is a relatively short novel. Shorter than any single book in LOTR. It probably deserved a reasonably short movie. At best two movies at around four hours, total. So how exactly does it result in a three movie series, with the first movie reaching a ponderous 166 minutes? (That’s two hours and forty six minutes for us normal time-y folks.) I can only assume the other two will be every bit as ponderous. How does such a little movie do it?
Big Feet. Yes, big feet. No, not Hobbit feet. Not feet which “grow natural leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly). Nor am I referring to troll feet (though there are those in the movie). I’m talking about big feet clad in the finest Italian leather, probably with wing tips. I’m talking about the clomping, stomping, tromping mud into the carpet, leave foot prints wherever they go, gigantic feet of marketing people.
Seriously, this movie has two parts. No not two separate episodes (and, besides, it has three of those). No, it has two distinct parts: The tale told in The Hobbit (the book), which makes a clear and well-done story, but actually felt, somehow, like Jackson’s heart really wasn’t in it. And the parts that were clearly arrived at by long, fervent discussions among people in expensive suits gathered in glass-walled conference rooms on the forty-second floor –- the people who cannot look at a movie without seeing action figures, video games, underwear, bed sheets, “graphic novels,” Happy Meals, and toys, toys, toys, toys.
It seems Peter Jackson has finally competed his transmogrification into Steven Spielberg. The Hobbit feels very much like the second Indiana Jones movie, or the second Ghostbusters movie. Or the second set of Star Wars movies. All of them based on successful movies which, upon a second installment were little more than blatant two-hour-plus commercials for the associated product lines. Mere excuses to sell “stuff” to children (and adult “collectors”).
There were so many chases and action sequences that were clearly there for no better reason than to have tie-ins to the video game. Way, way too much CGI, way, way too little character and plot.
Even the main characters in the film seem clearly there more for purposes of selling action figures than as characters in a serious movie. You can tell from the dwarves’ hair styles, which are more designed to make the action figures easy to identify on a child’s book shelf than for any reason having to do with some reasoned cultural design (and how do they keep those elaborate flips and fillips so neat travelling through the wilderness? Are there hair salons under every forest tree? There really should have been a scene with the dwarves carefully running curling irons, straight from the fire, through their hair and beards).
And that sensibility carries over into even established characters. Gandalf’s beard, in this film, which was so realistic in LOTR, seems ever ready to pop a wire off his ear and hang there like the cheap costume shop beard it appears to be. And don’t get me started on Saruman’s beard.
And then we come to the makeups. I swear, the Gandalf that appears in the initial scene in front of Bag End is another actor entirely dressed up in an Ian McKellan suit with the voice looped in later. The makeup is that bad (and so is the acting in that scene. I really have no idea what happened. Or why they didn’t re-shoot it). And Ian Holm’s makeup as “old Bilbo,” frankly makes him look like one of the plastic-skinned characters from The Incredibles. In fact, it appears that most of the makeups in this film were done to make the characters look as plastic as possible. I wonder if that has anything to do with the high frame rate (HFR) tech they used to shoot it. I wonder if they had to do full-face silicon because the edges were too visible. But it mostly looks like crap.
And the creature design. Augh. The orcs look terrible. Nothing like the orcs in the LOTR trilogy. Not to mention the main orc who has the same plastic “Incredibles” look as Ian Holm. There’s no excuse for that in a movie that also has Andy Serkis’ Gollum. The rest of the creatures also seem far more suited to a children’s movie (and the associated toy marketing) than a LOTR sequel. The goblin king is just gross enough to make the kiddies giggle, but not gross enough to scare them. Which makes him look foolish and cartoon-y. And on and on.
Look, it’s not a terrible movie, but I must admit that by about the two hour mark, I was ready to cash out and walk away. The riddle game between Gollum and Bilbo is magical. If the rest of the film had been that good I would be slavering with joy. Cate Blanchett is beauty personified and Hugo Weaving is, again, a perfect Elrond. And Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who! LOL) is fun, though a bit out of place, as Radagast the Brown.
I must have read all four books on at least a yearly basis from the time I was 13 to my mid-twenties. I was ready to accept that Jackson’s first trilogy needed to trim some fat (even if it was un-trimmable to a heart and soul fan: Where were Bombadil and Goldberry? An old, old complaint). But this film should have been concise and complete. Tell the whole tale, take two movies to do it and be done with it. More than enough time to do that.
Watching the massive padding and marketing efforts was almost painful. I’m looking forward to the next two films. But just barely. If the second one is this hard to watch, I’ll probably wait for number three from Netflix.