Monday, December 17, 2012

An Expected Self-Indulgence

The more I heard about The Hobbit in the lead up to its release the more trepidatious I became. The Lord of the Rings, overall, is an excellent adaptation of the book. They're great movies, but they are also great adaptations. Mostly. Except for the few places where Peter Jackson got all self-indulgent and added stuff in just because he liked it better that way. Like the elves at Helm's Deep, which still just makes my ears steam. To hear him say in an interview that he added them in there because he just wanted there to be more elves because he loves elves so much just makes me want to smack him, because what he did completely undermines Tolkien's purpose for that battle.

And let's just not even talk about King Kong, because that was three hours of the most self-indulgent crap ever.

At any rate, the more I heard about what Jackson was doing with The Hobbit, the more I worried that that was what he was doing, making a completely self-indulgent movie. But my wife kept telling me to give him the benefit of the doubt because he'd done such a good job with LotR. >sigh< It turned out I was correct. Jackson needs three movies for his version of The Hobbit because it is exactly that: his version. And his version is not a better a version. In many places, it destroys what Tolkien did just so that Jackson could shove The Hobbit into his version of Middle Earth. [And now I know why the Tolkien family has restricted Jackson from any more of Tolkien's material than he already has access to (meaning he was only allowed what was in The Hobbit and LotR and denied everything else).]

The biggest problem, though, was that, while watching the movie, it was amazing. I mean, it really was amazing! But I couldn't get immersed in it, not completely, because the back of my head kept poking at me, saying, "But it's wrong!" And the problem with that is the farther away from actually watching the movie I get, the more the wrong parts bother me. So, although I enjoyed it while I was actually watching it (most of it, anyway -- the part with domino trees was just DUMB (and took me back to the swinging dinosaurs in Kong, which was also DUMB)), the more I think about it, talk about it, read about it, the more upset about it I get and the less I like it. Which will not keep me from seeing the others and, probably, owning all of them. And that bothers me, too!

And speaking of reading about it, my first impression upon walking out of the movie was that people who have not read the books would probably find more to like in the movie, because they wouldn't have the feeling of wrongness about it that I have. However, the more reviews I look at from people that have no other exposure to Tolkien than the movies (and some that haven't even seen LotR), the more I'm finding that people that don't already like Tolkien don't like this movie. So... if you haven't read Tolkien, you won't like this movie. If you have read Tolkien... well, you might like it if you read Tolkien a long time ago and aren't really "into" it, but if you are really into Middle Earth, I'm not seeing how you can really like what Jackson's done to it.

My sons are good examples of this. My younger son is most upset about the lack of the songs, because they are mostly excluded. And he hates the inclusion of the pale orc. As does my older son. (As do I.) They both have complaints about the movie that are at war with the fact that they enjoyed watching the movie. You shouldn't come out of a movie feeling both "I loved it!" and "I hated it!" You just shouldn't. The short of that is that we are all conflicted about it. Everyone except my daughter, I suppose, because she hasn't read any Tolkien, yet, but, because she lives in a Tolkien-ish environment, she has a predilection toward it.

Or, maybe, people who are really into LotR but not The Hobbit, people that read the trilogy because of the movies but never bothered with Hobbit, will really like it, because Jackson really did everything he could to make this (series of) movie(s) as epic in scope as LotR. But, see, that's not what The Hobbit is, so the movie is continuing to just bother me.

In fact, Jackson just mapped Hobbit onto his LotR template, so it's wrong from the very beginning: the prologue. It worked in Fellowship, because there is so much back story in LotR that the prologue gave us a sense of history that lead up to the events in the trilogy, but it fails completely in An Unexpected Journey. For one thing, Bilbo doesn't all that stuff before he goes off on his journey; he finds out as he goes along, so we lose the sense of discovery that Bilbo had, because Jackson just lays it all out for us at the beginning. I squirmed in my seat during that part, but I was still reserving judgment. By the end of the movie, though, I was annoyed with it.

I was annoyed with it because Jackson uses that bit of prologue to introduce Thorin's non-existent nemesis. Non-existent in the book, I mean. This piece of plot that has been woven in is the biggest weakness of the film. I say that because every member of my family (except my daughter) came out of the movie hating the pale orc. Not necessarily for the same reason, but we all hated him being in the movie. He is so NOT needed.

But, see, the prologue is not the only way we see Jackson trying to harmonize the movies. The fight with the goblins and the Great Goblin is just like the flight through Moria with the falling stairs and all of that with the Great Goblin subbing in as the Balrog. Bilbo puts the ring on for the first time in the very same way that Frodo does. The elves come in and rescue the dwarves from a fight that doesn't even exist in the book. The stone giants... oh, well, I don't know where the heck that crap came from, but it was dumb. Having them would have been great, but having the party end up climbing around on them was ludicrous. And since when were they actually made from stone? Did I say self-indulgent? Oh, yeah, I think I did.

Having said all of that, the movie was still beautiful and wondrous to behold. The acting was... well, Martin Freeman was ohmygosh awesome. And it's a good thing, too, because Jackson gave much of Gandalf's role in the story to Bilbo in order to increase Bilbo's importance at an earlier stage in the story. (Bah!) Richard Armitage (whom I loved in BBC's Robin Hood) was dashing as Thorin and completely not what I expected but in a good way as opposed to the rest of the movie. Dwalin and Kili are the only two other dwarves that get large enough roles to actually comment on beyond the fact that they are there and they are dwarves, and both of them do just fine. If you've seen the other movies, the rest is as should be expected. Oh, the scene with Gollum was excellent in that Andy Serkis was, again, incredible.

Of course, there's Radagast... Sylvester McCoy (a previous Doctor, so I'm pre-disposed toward him already) did a great job with the part he was given; I'm just not quite sure how I feel about that part. On the one hand, I really liked it; on the other, really? Really? That's what Jackson came up with?  He had the opportunity to bring Radagast, a character hardly mentioned in any of the books, to life for the first time, and that's what he came up with? Seriously? He had freaking bird poop running down his face! Of course, he had a sleigh pulled by rabbits, too, which was really cool.

I think the real problem with the whole thing is that Jackson didn't have anyone standing next to him during all of this to say, "What the heck? Is that seriously what you're doing there?"

And before anyone starts comparing this with Lucas and the prequels, there is a huge difference: Star Wars belongs to Lucas. He wasn't screwing around with something that belonged to someone else. Middle Earth and The Hobbit don't belong to Jackson, so all the screwing around he did is rather disrespectful to the source material.

Oh, and speaking of Star Wars, there were parts where I felt like I was watching that instead. The Great Goblin was so much Jabba the Hutt. And, actually, the part where the Pale Orc is demanding Thorin's head made me feel like I was at Jabba's court. And, then, there was the line by Galadriel, "The riddle of the morgul blade..." >sigh<

My general reaction to An Unexpected Journey has been much the same as my reaction to The Dark Knight Rises: I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but the more time I have to think about it the more it gets under my skin. Like a thorn. And I'm just picking at it and picking at it trying to get it out but succeeding only in working it deeper. And there are two more of these movies to go! But I really want to see Smaug!

Let's just not talk about the moose, okay. We're gonna try to forget about that altogether.
Now I want to go watch "A Room with a Moose" from Invader Zim, the only place we should have a moose, I'm sure.


  1. It's been years since I read the book, so i thoroughly enjoyed it. It could've been trimmed in several sections, especially in the beginning, but it was just so cool to watch that I didn't mind.
    Tolkien added things in the appendix after writing LOTR so The Hobbit would tie in with the other books. Jackson just added it directly into the movie.
    And glad there wasn't more singing. I didn't want a musical.
    I wonder what del Toro would've done with the movie?
    Overall, I still really enjoyed it despite the changes.

  2. I haven't read the book since 4th Grade so maybe I'd like it, though a voice in the back of my mind would keep saying how I'm being exploited by turning a 300-page book into 9 hours of movies. If I want to see it in a theater maybe I'll wait until it gets to the second-run theater so I can feel better about being exploited.

    Anyway, ever since LOTR it seems Jackson forgot that not every movie has to be nearly 3 hours or more. In fact most movies should not be that long.

  3. I probably won't get to see this movie while it is in theaters, it is on my list to check out when it gets to Redbox.

  4. IF I see this, it will be on DVD. I tend to sleep in dark rooms if left in there too long.
    I absolutely loved your critique. I'm thinking the way the movie was done annoyed you somewhat. And it is doubly annoying to enjoy parts of the annoyance. I can see your point. I just reread "The Hobbit" recently when my daughter and I did a LDOLMDBS (long distance on line mother daughter book share) so I'm pretty sure I'd find it annoying too, being that fresh in my mind. I hate when a movie isn't true to the book.
    BTW: Thanks for the quick delivery of "The House on the Corner". I can't read it until after Christmas. My husband is wrapping it up for me! This is how I get my best gifts!

  5. First, I initially was going to see The Hobbit but then heard it was being turned into 3 movies and I'm not sure I want to commit to that, so I'll probably never see it. I will one day Netflix it, and then the DVD will sit on my dresser for two weeks until Sweetie sends it back to get "Step Up: Revolution," which is what happened to Thor.

    But, as to your criticisms, I guess it boils down to whether you want a cover version of the song or a remake.

    (I know it's not a song, but I used that to make a point.)

    If you want a cover version, then you are looking for the artist to bring his or her own perspective to the work, and interpret it for you, showing you what he or she thinks of this work and how it relates to the story that person is trying to tell.

    A remake, on the other hand, is simply that: Here is what THEY did, and I have recreated that.

    Imagine if I was going to start sculpting, and wanted to re-create "David." I could learn to do it exactly as he did and thereby re-create it, and people would view that, probably, as quite an achievement.

    Or I could interpret it myself: I could create a sculpture of the scuptor creating David. Or I could do David in cubes, as a three-dimensional pixellated image. Or David as made up of thousands of tiny doves that I hand-craft and then mold into a human form. Why doves? Because that's what I wanted to do.

    Each of those would also be "David," in a sense, but might be disappointing.

    If you look at 'The Hobbit' not as Jackson's attempt to re-create the story, but as Jackson's attempt to interpret the story and show people what HE took out of it, then you might like it better.

  6. I liked the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it despite the fact that I was in constant pain and did a face plant on the concrete in the IMAX theater.

  7. Alex: I'm fine with him adding stuff from the appendices, but he changed that stuff, too. Like, Azog -was- actually killed in that battle, and Thorin wasn't even present for it.

    PT: Yeah, most movies shouldn't be that long. Jackson could have kept this to 3 2 hour movies or, better yet, 2 3 hour movies.

    G_G: It's definitely worth seeing. Actually, it's even worth seeing in the theater. It's that kind of big movie.

    Donna: Oh, no problem! I hate to have that kind of thing hanging over my head, so I like to take care of them right away.

    I really tried to go into the movie with a "clean head," but it just didn't work. Especially when my son started nudging me, saying "that's not right."

    Briane: You still haven't seen Thor? Oh, man! I kind of feel responsible for that. You should try renting it again.

    Michael: Dude! Ow! But you're okay, though, right?

  8. My son read the book last year and really wants to see the movie. For me, it might be one of those times where he sees it with a friend and I slip out the back and see the chick flick at the theatre next door.

  9. JKIR,F!: Well, Les Mis is coming up...

  10. Good review. I came away with much more of a positive vibe than you did, but I can understand why you'd get annoyed with changes that you don't feel add to the story.

  11. Rusty: I probably wouldn't even get annoyed with them if Jackson wasn't always on about how true to the source material he always is.

  12. J and I loved Radagast. I was pretty disgusted by the bird poop, and Sauraman's line about Radagast eating "too many mushrooms" just just a BIT cliche. (I wanted to Force-choke him for that line.) The actor really did a great job, and I loved the hares or rabbits or whatever they were. He was a cool character.

    I thought the movie was OK, but definitely not worth getting all excited about, and I'm not in tenterhooks waiting for the next one. It was an OK way to spend an evening, but I'm not likely to watch it again, and it's not going into the list of movies my kids should watch, should I ever have kids.

  13. Callie: But, see, I WANT to be excited about it. It's The Hobbit, and I want to be as excited for it as I was about each of the LotR movies. It's disappointing that I'm not, now, going to be excited for the other two.

  14. This is ironic, because it was your post about Tolkien's real passion being for the Middle Earth lore and the Hobbit being more of a fluke that made me okay with the movie departing from straight Hobbit. But then, I'm no expert on the lore, so I was happily oblivious to infractions and thought the movie nicely bridged the lighter fare of The Hobbit with the darker LotR.

    It makes me sort of sad that you're not excited for the next two movies. You said you enjoyed The Hobbit while you watched, so...what Briane said. Yeah, I second that. ...and now I have a hankering for a dove David.

  15. Nicki: Unfortunately for me, part of my problem lies in stated intentions. If Jackson had ever just said, "I'm gonna take The Hobbit and incorporate it into my LotR world that I created, I would have been okay with that. Instead, he spent years talking about how loyal to the story he was being and how they weren't changing anything just to find out that he was lying that whole time.