So here is part two of me review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This time, I’ll be moaning and griping about all them things that are wrong with the movie! Some of this will be me picking nits, while other flaws are more fundamental.
WARNING! SPOILER ALERT!
If yer haven’t seen the movie yet (or even the Lord of the Rings movies from 10 years back), there are many spoilers here. So this is best suited for folks who have already visited their cinema and had a look at the movie.
If yer haven’t yet, yer should take a look at the first part of me review, which outlines the things I liked about the movie.
All set then? Here we go!
I am rather passionate in me loathing of 3D in movies. 3D glasses are uncomfortable. Sometimes the projectionist (or the digital button-pusher in the lobby) forgets ter enable the 3D lens, so yer have to start the movie over again. Some people are even unable ter see the 3D effects because of eye conditions. And worst of all, 3D glasses dim the image (up to 30 %), so yer are in danger of losing vibrant colours and visual pop in the picture. Me own first viewing of An Unexpected Journey was slightly ruined by this. Everything on-screen looked washed out, nothing like the remarkably colourful images I remember from the LOTR films.
And yet, them cinemas expect yer ter pay extra fer 3D tickets. Oh dear.
The worst of it is, 3D in its current state adds sod all to the feeling of depth in movies. Think back to the first LOTR trilogy. Cameras roaming around mountains tops and lit beacons. Gandalf falling from the bridge of Khazad-dûm. Arrows flying in Helm’s Deep. Rohirrim riders descending upon the orc horde on the Pelennor Fields. Hand on yer heart, did any of yer ever complain about not being drawn toward the screen, about not feeling the depth in the picture? Naw, didn’t think so.
One could of course argue that this is not a flaw with the movie itself, given that there are some 2D copies on release too. However, there are significantly less of them than their 3D counterpart, and it is obvious which format Peter Jackson champions himself. I look forward to finding a 2D screening meself. Hopefully, that’ll give a brighter picture than the vaseline-smeared haze I experienced two days ago.
Why so serious elves?
How come them elves in Jackson’s movies are such humourless sourpusses? Tolkien’s elves are often jokey and prone to singing silly, merry songs. Even the gloomiest of elves at least display a sense of irony. In the movies, though? Doom and gloom, mood and brood. Thankfully, at least Galadriel is able ter crack a smile at times.
This more or less killed the Rivendell sequence in An Unexpected Journey fer me. In the books, this was a place fer jolly recovery, where even them dwarves relaxed and regained strength fer the journey ahead. In the movie? No bursts of song like laughter in the trees here, just a menacing welcome to the rag-tag adventurers, and endless scowling between elves and dwarves. Ending with the dwarves just sneaking away while Gandalf keeps Elrond et al busy. From such a well-guarded valley like Rivendell? Hm…
Although, I suppose this has something to do with the screenwriters endless attempts to…
Amp up the conflict levels to eleven
Them characters in the movies sure has a way of falling out with each other. The screenwriters have made it their mission to find any subtle hint of disagreement between characters in the source material. These are ramped up ter decribe quarrels, conflicts and stareoff scenes to drive the story along.
The best example is likely the sequence in Return of the King, when Frodo sent Sam packing just before reaching Cirith Ungol. An Unexpected Journey has a fair share of them scenes as well; Gandalf running away in a huff just before the company meets the trolls, the scowling between elves and dwarves in Rivendell, Thorin ripping into Bilbo for not really being a part of the company, Bilbo getting up to leave the company in the mountains. Etc. etc.
Yer can find some motivation for all of this in the books, but Jackson uses a sledgehammer approach of presenting it. After witnessing it a few times, the trick loses its impact. It just gets annoying.
Chases, bunnies and wargs
Radagast and the bunny sled. Now that got a few people grumbling when them saw the first shots in the trailer. Personally, I have no real problem with it. While not in any way a necessary addition, it fits somehow with the slightly whimsical tale of the book.
That is, until Radagast takes it upon himself to lead a pack of wargs away from the company.
I can understand that Radagast, being a somewhat quirky and unpredictable feller after eating all them mushrooms, may be somewhat directionally challenged. But at least him and his sled-pulling bunnies managed ter traverse both the river Anduin and the Misty Mountains in order ter bump into Gandalf deep in them Trollshaws, a navigational feat worthy of some admiration. However, the chase sequence between the wargs and the bunny sled must be the silliest piece of digital celluloid I have seen in ages.
Because no matter which direction Gandalf, Bilbo and them dwarves are running, up ahead Radagast comes zipping into the picture, wargs in tow. Run a different direction, Bilbo, and lo and behold who shows up ahead? Turn and run the other way, and yer can guess who crosses yer path the next hill up? Radagast makes a, shall we say, less than stellar job of leading them wargs away. And seconds turn to minutes, five minutes and more… in a movie that wasn’t the shortest to begin with.
I know that Jackson loves his chase sequences. Them can be spectacular and grand fun. This one was neither. Keep them scissors near next time.
Hang on fer yer life
Jackson likes chases, but there is one thing he loves even more: Stopping the chase and letting the characters be helplessly stuck on a piece of rock/in a tree/on a bridge/on a piece of scaffolding. The story just grinds to a halt, while the rock/tree/bridge/scaffolding starts to sway, bend and creak, tossing them heroes into situations of inevitable doom. Only ter be miraculously saved before it all goes haywire.
The escape through Moria in Fellowship of the Ring had perhaps the ultimate such sequence (including dwarf-tossing and beard-pulling), but Jackson sure tries his best to top it this time. I counted at least three such scenes in An Unexpected Journey.
One of them is based on a one-sentence passage in the book about stone giants in the Misty Mountains, who hurl rocks at each other for game during a thunderstorm. Jackson converts this into a massive set piece which seems ter have escaped from the latest Transformers movie. The mountain more or less comes alive, and our heroes end up clinging to a ledge in the midst of a battle between them giants. After swaying around and smashing helplessly into the rocks for five minutes or so, without being able ter do anything but yell and scream and hang on fer their dear lives, our heroes finally bounce off into a cave. Then the story sees fit to continue. Although them effects are grand and the sounds are loud and lively, there is no real excitement involved. It just seems like a waste of precious screen time.
As I discussed in me review of the good things, An Unexpected Journey includes stories fleshed out in the LOTR appendices. I can’t fault the individual scenes, because them are skilfully made and quite exciting at times. However, they do serve the purpose of setting An Unexpected Journey up as a stronger prequel to the story of the one ring than the book ever was, and there are some problems with this.
The Hobbit is a simple, fast-paced, sometimes whimsical adventure story, primarily written for children. Lord of the Rings was a massive, slow mythology of despair and sometimes utter seriousness, made for more adult readers. Mesh them together in the same film, and the effect is jarring at times.
So yer get them dwarves throwing Bilbo’s porcelain around while burping out a merry tune. Switch to evil necromancers in crumbling old ruins in Mirkwood. Back to a jolly romp involving some snotty-nosed trolls using Bilbo as a handkerchief. Fast forward to four of the more powerful characters in Middle Earth deliberating over the eventual return of Sauron and the dark times. Rounded off with Bilbo and the dwarves defying the laws of physics, sliding down mountain tunnels and falling down massive distances, without getting so much as a scratch or loosen a stitch in their clothes. In fact, Bilbo only loses his buttons after trying to squeeze through a narrow crack escaping from Gollum. I suppose the previous 20-meter fall loosened them somewhat.
The endless tonal shifts makes fer an odd pacing and rhythm to the movie. The Hobbit stuff zips along quite merrily, while the LOTR add-ins are slow and moody. While them individual parts are grand, I find that them don’t always add up to a coherent and grander total.
Editing the opening
My, that opening was impressive, hm? Zooming around inside the Lonely Mountain and the village of Dale? Generations of dwarves digging for ore and Arkenstones? Seeing Smaug arrive? Good times, surely?
I can see what Jackson tried for here. He did an admirable job with the prologue in Fellowship of the Ring, condensing the main arc of the story into the seven minutes concerning the ring.
So he tries to do the same here. And he fails spectacularly.
In a story called “The Hobbit”, why on earth does he spend the ten first minutes describing dwarves digging below the earth? The LOTR prologue worked because it was critical to the further storyline in the movie. As for An Unexpected Journey? Running a setup with a dragon stealing a lot of gold from dwarves and setting fire to their buildings doesn’t give quite the same impact. It is somewhat of a lesser tale. But by putting it up front, Jackson undermines the suspense of the first hour.
Worst of all, though, when the movie finally gets to the Shire, it spends an extra five minutes with Ian Holm and Elijah Wood pottering around doing nothing at all to pull the story along. Near fifteen minutes, it takes, before we get to the start of the book: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Which would have been the perfect place to start the movie as well. Snip away anything Elijah Wood-related. Start with Ian Holm writing in his book, but then go straight to Freeman and McKellen meeting for the first time. This would provide that gentle, cozy start yer need, before the dwarves arrive and throw Bilbo’s life into chaos and despair. And as them dwarves reminisce about the tragedies of old over Bilbo’s finest foods, this is where the shots from the prologue could have added some urgency to their deliberations, by breaking up the relatively long Bag End sequence. Now THAT would have been a suspenseful build-up. Now THAT would set the movie up proper for the further adventure.
In the current movie, though? The scenes are mostly there (although, cut the Frodo stuff). They’re just in the wrong order.
As yer can read from the above text, I am not amused by the length of the movie. Simply put, them could easily have trimmed at least 30 minutes of blob and fat and made a slimmer, faster and more enjoyable story, more in line with the book.
Now though? With three movies lasting three hours each? It’ll take twice as long watching them movies than reading the book. That seems somewhat wrong ter me.
Flaws aplenty here, then. That being said, so is the case with all of Jackson’s movies in Middle Earth. So how does it all balance up fer The Hobbit in the end? That’s something I’ll summmarize in me third and final post, coming soon!