Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Hobbit, Part 2

. . . . you know, the one with the dragon.

Peter Jackson's decision to turn J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit into three movies has been (justifiably) criticized.  The book focuses on Bilbo Baggins, the meek hobbit who has any number of adventures, including obtaining the infamous One Ring, which he later gives to his cousin Frodo, an act that would launch the Lord of the Rings ("LotR") adventures.  It's worth noting that the novel, which was originally written for a younger readership than LotR, is roughly the same length as any one of the three LotR novels, all of which were a single film each.  (Side note - and they were masterful!)

Herein lies a problem.  In order to stretch the story - which is a straightforward "hero's journey" tale; I've referred to it as "Campbell for beginners," and I mean no disrespect by that - Jackson has to pad the story.  In the first film (reviewed here), that was done primarily by having lots and lots of scenes that were quite possibly described in the script as "They walk through New Zealand.  A long way.  And they keep walking."  Jackson expanded the source material to include Tollkien's numerous appendices and The Silmarillion - the man created an entire world for these tales and he was nothing if not thorough about it.  Even so, this film felt long in places.  I enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug a bit more than the first film; probably because I was ready for the padding.

Dim spots - some woods elf scenes that feel just wrong.  I tried to just let go and enjoy without my Inner Grump saying, "But that's not in the book!"  I had a hard time.  Also, some of the action scenes are long and unnecessarily complicated - too much whirling and slashing without any accompanying thrills for the characters.  I want to at least think the characters are in danger and here, I just knew that everybody was going to be A-OK and the orcs were nothing but practice-meat.  That said, be warned against taking the very young.  I think you could read the book at an earlier age that you could see the movie.  Also, Jackson's cameo as "Carrot-Eating Threatening Guy" is a bit too telegraphed for my taste, but that's a minor nitpick.  The bigger problem is that this isn't really Bilbo's story - there are too many competing storylines happening here.  Bilbo needs to be the focus of The Hobbit and he's just one part of the story - to the point that I was thinking several times during scene shifts, "Meanwhile, in another movie . . . "  Martin Freeman does a yeoman's job here, but he needs more material.

Bright spots - Smaug.  Jackson has done a wonderful job here.  Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock to Freeman's Watson on the BBC, remember) is cast exactly right as the dastardly dragon (Necromancer, meh) and the way the audience is introduced to the sheer size of this beast is a spot so bright that it throws me over to the "go see it on the big screen" camp.

In short, an improvement over the first, but still - three movies is too much for this one book.

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