Monday, January 14, 2013

The Hobbit

Just saw this new grand oeuvre. It simply could not match the expectation (or hope) of the previous trilogy. That it would be stretched out to three movies totally boded ill. Still, I def wanted to see it.

As to movies upcoming, the new Star Trek looks like more of the same, and I’m fine with that. Hoping my stomach can handle all the vertiginous shots of people falling from incredible heights. A zombie movie seemed funny. A zombie falls for the unundead, and this begins a humanizing of all zombies. I don’t know if this is sustainable. It is hard to accept the zombie craze, anyway. After George Romero, where’s the fun, and how is it all cool?

Anyway, The Hobbit as movie began with Bilbo deciding to tell Frodo the Whole Story. This was just an excuse to bring back the beloved actors. Christopher Lee as Sarumann also shows up later unneeded (no reflection on the good Mr. Lee). I don’t like when marketing forces get in the way. One thing to say, tho: outside of Acme Sword and Armour, product placement is at a minimum.

The envisioning of the hobbit world is enticing, all green and sunshiney. Tolkien had his jones about the simple life—Guy Davenport claims that Tolkien took a lot of that from his time teaching in Kentucky. Kind of Thomas Hardy and John Clare, all idealized. The kingdom of the dwarfs was also finely rendered . That grand kingdom in the mountain looked awesome. I tire of the swooping shots from above, however. Apparently there’s some rule about including these shots nowadays.

Then we get down to the story. Bilbo is played by Martin Freeman, who plays Dr Watson in the recent BBC update of Sherlock Holmes. He’s okay. Peter Jackson collected good casts in both LOTR and Hobbit. The dwarfs arrive and it is a bit of a thing to deal with. Tolkien wrote as if we basically know what dwarfs look like. You figure that they all look alike. Jackson fills in the lines and gives them diversity.

Balin is ancient and looks like a jolly old elf. Dwalin is taller and younger than I expected. All the dwarfs have Scottish accents. I know it is not news, but note that the bad guys in Tolkien seem to speak gruff Eastern European languages while the good guys speak mellifluous Gaelic or good, solid English, if you catch my meaning. Each dwarf does something different with hair and beard. It’s like Braveheart but grander.

Most of the dwarfs have unfortunate prosthesis noses except Thorin. Thorin is the Viggo sex appeal of the movie. The dwarfs have a fun interplay, and Bilbo the ill-at-ease outsider trips along.

The movie would have been different if anyone involved had read the book. The scene with the trolls is one that could not be cut. Jackson plays it tunelessly. He relishes the grossness of the trolls. There’s a Shrek-y cuteness implied but they made me squirm. Well Shrek made me squirm too. And whereas Gandalf cleverly gets them bickering in the book, so that they forget to hide from the rising sun, in the movie Gandalf just stands like a backlit rock star and announces the troll’s imminent lithification. Just a deflation of Tolkien.

In a moment of flashback, some malarkey arises about a dwarf battle against the Orcs. The Orcs almost win the field but Thorin rises up and defeats a giant White Orc. This is a load of hooey. Extra slaughter for your enjoyment. The White Orc might be the brute that Brad Pitt dispatches at the beginning of Troy.

Radagast the Brown makes an appearance for no discernible reason. He’s concerned that an evil power has entered the forest. He’s portrayed as having a bird’s nest under his hat, and bird shit in his hair. St. Francis Assisi pray for us. This is part of an attempt to link the Dark Lord, here the Necromancer, to the story. Technically, it is called retrofitting.

Radagast has a super-powered bunny sleigh and there’s an improbable scene in which he lets Orcs on Wargs chase him about as the Dwarfs run merrily about. O Screenwriter, what is your darksome intent?????

Gandalf sez, dive into this hole in the rocks, and I’m like dude, what up? Only because marauding elves happened along that this wasn’t a death rap. But yo, hey! The hole goes to Rivendell.

The Dwarfs don’t like elves, there’s some tension there. Never mind that, here in Rivendell we have earnest exposition to impart. Starring Elrond, Gandalf, and Sarumann. Not forgetting Galadriel and her glinting, gimlet eyes. I really thought Sarumann might be cgi. The possibility is real, Christiopher Lee is 10 years older than his LOTR days. He has a weird flat look. Ian McKellan also looks much older. Christopher Lee is an eminence, and I bow, but his inclusion is screenwriter willy nilly. Lee complained that a lot of his scenes hit the cutting room floor for LOTR. The Hobbit must be recompense.

Okay, the dwarfs et al slip from Rivendell and enter the mountains. Here they almost succumb to collateral damage as the stone giants playfully toss boulders at each other. The dwarfs find a crack in the mountain, but it’s a trap. They plummet down a shoot and end up as Orc captives.

In the melee, no one notices Bilbo and he slips away. Again, it seems like Jackson is oblivious to Tolkien’s sense of character. The inconsequent hobbit who finds the strength is much muted in Jackson’s version. The meeting of Bilbo and Gollum runs true to the book, at least. Not many if any cgi figures top Gollum. Most seem lifeless to me. Gollum comes across as childishly funny and purely malevolent, and does so winningly. I noticed, by the bye, that Andy Serkis (Gollum) was credited as a scene director.

The dwarfs meet with the outsized king of the Orcs, whose grossness tops the trolls by at least 7, and I’m talking Celsius. This is just one more example of Jackson leaning toward the cartoony side.

Following strict deus ex machine procedures, Gandalf arrives to save the day. He and the dwarfs start running, slaughtering as they go. It’s all bumptious, raucous and stupid. I don’t see the dwarfs of Tolkien as being such balletic fighters. Gandalf likewise. Final score, Dwarfs 23004, Orcs 0.

The Dwarf cavalcade rumbles out of the mountain and Bilbo gets by Gollum. Immediately they have the White Orc and his minions on their tails. The Dwarf Crew climb some convenient trees at the edge of an inconvenient cliff. Pretty precarious, let me tell you. After some nyeah nyeah by the White Orc, Thorin comes down to do battle. Ass kicked, but doughty Bilbo prevents the killing blow. Then the gigantor eagles save the day.

And that’s pretty much it. Like how Fellowship ends with but a glimpse of Gollum, Hobbit does so with a glimpse of Smaug. Unfortunately, I can wait. Tolkien thought a lot about the back stories. Jackson’s scriptwriters figured out everything over lunch. I got a strong Pirates of the Caribbean feeling: throw everything into the bucket, see if anyone pukes. With such a clearly defined path, you wonder why Jackson wanders.