Hobbit-Sized Films, Dragon-Sized Problems

“I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.”

~Tolkien

In 2001, I discovered Lord of the Rings for the very first time.

I was ten years old. I had never even heard of the books before, but my dad offered to take me to see some new movie called The Fellowship of the Ring, and, always on board for fantasy, I took him up on the offer.

mind_blown_by_yhrite-d329zgm

I was blown away.

The story was gripping, the characters engaging, and the effects were, and still are, outstanding. Just seconds after the credits began playing, I was gushing about the movie to my dad. My young mind was exploding. This was, to quote some internet commenters, “teh best movie evar! OMG!”

I could do a whole separate review on those movies, comparing them to the books or even that other LOTR movie most people probably don’t remember, but that may come at another time.

But after my dad brought me home, excited and already impatient for the next installment, the conversation with my folks went something like this:

Parents: You liked that movie?

Emma-Stone-Yes-Nod-In-Crazy-Stupid-Love-Gif

Parents: Good. Want to see The Two Towers next?

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Parents: Well then, you’d better start reading. You can’t watch the movies until you’ve finished the books. ALL of the books.

genie-jaw

Parents: Don’t worry. The second movie won’t be out until next year.

833

But you know what? I read those books and they were great.

Sure, some parts were tedious (I distinctly remember a description of a hill in the Shire that went on for too long), but I’m glad I went through them. Now I can compare scenes/conflicts/characters from the books to the movies and see the different choices made in different media by different “authors,” although, having read LOTR so long ago, my memory is plenty foggy these days. I’m still the trivia person my folks, friends, and other family members go to when they have questions from the movies. 🙂

Anyway, I read the Lord of the Rings first, then, after a bit, The Hobbit, out of curiosity. Finally, a few years later, The Silmarillion. 

Yeah, well…shut up!

But yes. I read the books backwards, not counting the first three.

So given my history with the Lord of the Rings series, I went into the Hobbit movies with great anticipation and optimism. Why wouldn’t I? It was the same director who made the adaptations 10 years prior, Peter Jackson;  a few beloved cast members (some who were not in the book…) were returning to the screen; and Howard Shore was back, working the film scores. I was thoroughly psyched.

Once or twice, I did entertain the notion of Peter Jackson “George-Lucasing,” which, for the unenthused, is when a director: hypes or bloats things to a ridiculous agree, milks his or her initial works (any connections in the new films to said works), badly directs the actors (or picks ones who can’t act in the first place), and dumbs things down. As an added bonus, the director will throw in really cheap, base comedy or comic relief.

ahem
ahem

To break that further down, “George-Lucasing” is a director trying to make his or her new creations as popular and great as the old ones without any of the same substance and quality. It’s one big facade, whether the director lost his or her touch or is just lazy or, worse, has become detached from reality.

I shrugged it off at first, my faith completely with Mr. Jackson to give The Hobbit dignity and respect while making it his own. He did it once, after all.

For the two films presently available, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of SmaugI went to see them at the midnight showings. If you’re a hardcore fan or a fan of spectacle, I recommend it for the next film; some people will show up in costume.

Some better quality costumes than you usually see.
Some better quality costumes than you usually see.

I liked the first film for a while, and even tried to defend it. “Come on, people!” I said. “It’s not LOTR!” I said. I thought people were too blinded by their love of the original movies to recognize this new one as its own thing, a separate story with separate characters and a separate tone.

Needless to say, I quickly saw the error of my ways.

So, we come to it at last. What’s wrong with the Hobbit trilogy? What can we say about it before it’s even been completed?

A lot.

Here are my biggest beefs with these bulging, big-screen baddies (note: not in any ranking order):

1. Probably the least of the films’ problems: Why do these films even have to be a trilogy? It’s a children’s book, not even 400 pages.

Seriously. I learned that it was going to be a trilogy right after seeing the first movie and thought, “Really?” I could maybe understand two movies, but three?

Apparently, all major films must be 3 hours long these days. And any good saga or film series must split the last book (or in this case, one book) into multiple, bloated parts.

"It's like printing money!"
“It’s like printing money!”

LOTR is probably to blame for the former issue, but it’s Harry Potter’s fault for beginning the trend of the latter. Even if they had a good excuse, the makers of the HP films split the last book into two movies. Now, for better or worse, everyone is doing it.

2. There are way too many scenes referencing the first trilogy (which is supposed to take place YEARS IN THE FUTURE).

And when I say years in the future, I mean it. Bilbo was around fifty when he went on his there and back again journey. In LOTR, he’s 111.

I didn’t think Jackson could be more gratuitous than Lucas, but I was wrong here. Yes, I said it. Jackson did something way worse than Lucas.

Many of the scenes not in the book (which I can and often have forgiven), but they’re also overblown and hyped up way too much. Any scene that features the Ring, Sting (Bilbo’s sword, which gets passed on to Frodo, the main character, in the next series), or Gollum (the creepy, bug-eyed, CGI Dissociative Identity Disorder sufferer) in particular.

Oh, and I love Galadriel’s little twirl when Gandalf comes to see her in Rivendell. As the action happens and the music swells a bit, it shouts to the audience, “REMEMBER THIS CHARACTER? THIS IS TOTALLY LOTR, YOU GUYS! SHE’S BACK AND REALLY IMPORTANT HERE!”

The scene probably looks especially stupid to those who haven’t seen the first LOTR…if those people even exist.

We get it, Jackson. LOTR happened. This is connected to it. Make these movies strong enough to stand on their own and be their own things.

Again, printing-money

 

And how are Gandalf and the others going to conveniently forget or ignore Sauron for 50 freaking years while he builds up his stronghold and army?

3. The Pacing & Other Unnecessary Changes Made from the Book.

In the book, the dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf just kind of go on a road trip. They come across interesting things, have encounters, and move on. It’s a simple but fun adventure with decent pacing. You know, as just 300-ish pages. Not so much in these movies.

The pacing is so slow, bogged down with snippets of appendices and things from both LOTR and The Silmarillion, which just ends up making the movies feel bloated and pointless for significant portions of them. This is in line with problem 2 above, as the filler and random factoids and mythos feels like it was put in to convince you it’s LOTR again, “JUST LIKE BEFORE OMG YOU GUYS!”

As much as I love my extended editions of LOTR, I understand that the extra stuff can be boring to general audiences. I was even bored by some of the pointless things thrown in. And I love Tolkien!

But Jackson stuffs a bunch of things in because he needs to meet the run time, and more importantly, remind you of his earlier films. It needs to look like LOTR (with the Elves and Men and all manner of evil minions interacting with the Dwarves on their journey). Jackson even goes so far as to shove Sauron fully into this story, trying to tie the trilogies together. Between the dark lord and the dragon, both are pretty big threats that should be dealt with immediately.

If you’re curious about all the little changes made between the book and the films, check this out!

The tone whiplash varies both during and across the movies, too. An Unexpected Journey feels very upbeat, goofy, and (for lack of a better word) cartoony, whereas in Desolation of Smaug, everything is very grim and dark. And that’s before they get anywhere near the mountain.

4. The Humor.

I know it’s based on a children’s book, but dear lord, Jackson, pick a tone and stick to it!

I don’t think he can decide whether he wants the movies to be all dark and full of drama, or goofy and juvenile, or a light-hearted adventure story. It’s trying to be everything in one big, nostalgic, money-printing romp. A lot of the humor looks like something you’d see in The Smurfs movie abominations, with barely a scrap of dignity saved by the ye old speak. But not even that can work miracles; dwarves burp and fart and pop out of toilets in these stories!

aaaaarrrgh-why-just-why-

I wouldn’t mind so much (or maybe I would. The jokes are terrible enough) if the movies would stop trying to be what they aren’t. Or would at least, you know, commit to trying.

5. The Eagles.

"Fear not! My shamefully obvious CG shall carry you to safety!"
“Fear not! My shamefully obvious CG shall carry you to safety!”

You can’t go into a Hobbit or LOTR forum anywhere and not see this little gem pop up. Which irritates me, because there is a huge freaking ghost army just sitting in a mountain until Aragorn gets up off his royal @$$.

“Why don’t the eagles just take them all the way to the Lonely Mountain?” “Wouldn’t that make the journey quicker and less perilous?”

Yes, yes it would.

Us nerds will argue this all day long, quoting the book as if it translates perfectly into the movies and therefore justifies or doesn’t justify how Jackson handled it.

Some say, “Well, if the eagles did that, then we wouldn’t have movies.”

Correction: We’d have shorter movies.

I agree that it is a distracting plot hole and could be easily solved by a throw-away line somewhere between movie 1 and 2, if Jackson wasn’t comfortable changing the story that way.

“Why can’t the eagles take us right there?” says Dwarf #5. “Because (insert magic forcefield or them being scared of dragons reason here),” Gandalf replies. “Oh. Okay then.” There. PROBLEM SOLVED. GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME.

6. The Dragon.

la_ca_1217_the_hobbit

Really? The whole story is about them going to slay this thing and winning back their mountainful of treasure, and we only get to see Smaug for the last 1/6th of the second movie?

I feel so cheated!

They were building up this guy from movie 1! Sure, his design and voice were cool, but because of the wonky pacing and “totally necessary” insertion of extra-racist Legolas and his written-for-these-movies, equally necessary and controversial love interest, among other things, Smaug practically got pushed to the wayside and his desolation will have to wait until the next movie! What the what?!

And speaking of the love interest…

7. Tauriel.

Name: Token Chick Catchphrase: I'm just happy to be here!
Name: Token Chick
Catchphrase: I’m just happy to be here!

I’m not quite sure how to feel about her.

On the one hand, “Yay, butt-kicking female!” On the other, “Yay, another cliché love triangle!” This movie not only fails the Bechdel Test, it doesn’t even come close, considering there aren’t many other main females to be found, butt-kicking or otherwise. And Tauriel mostly talks with the elf dudes. About dude things.

Seriously, though. Brief rant here. LOTR had some cool, distinguishable chicks among its plethora of dudes. No problem there. This movie has one major girl, and of course she’s focused on all the men in her life. And is promptly made into a love triangle. giphy

“But she and one of the few cute dwarves are bridging the gap between their races!”

The prejudice is still there in LOTR, so I doubt it will do much for Dwarf-Elf relations. Inter-racial marriages will still be frowned upon, definitely. And then there’s the very real possibility that Tauriel and/or Kili will die…

I’m sorry. It does kind of bother me.

8. The Dwarves.

Labeled for your convenience
Labeled for your convenience

We’ve got Thorin, Gloin, Dorin, Balin, Fili, Kili….uh…Dopey, Sneezy, Doc…Grumpy.

At least those last few dwarves we could recognize by their names matching one defining character trait.

Of all the races in these films, Dwarves get the most crap. They are the buttmonkeys of Middle Earth, if you will.

It was there in LOTR too. What was Gimli but an awesome, butt-kicking wood stump chock-full of comic relief?

640px-Gimli_-_drunk

He had almost all of Legolas’s lack of personality, but was short, kind of fat, and hairy. Comedy gold!

The new dwarves…really, Jackson? Once again, pick a tone and stick with it, please!

Why do half of them look like short near-humans and the other half look like they should be washing up to go eat with Snow White? At least Gimli didn’t have a long beard necklace braid thing. Or a dorky deer-stalker cap. Nor did he style his hair like a star. Or look like this guy:

Ori

 

LOTR was not perfect (the book or the movies), and neither are these (book or movies). But the LOTR movies were trying, and it changed the movie industry in so many ways, awing audiences with its sheer scale and effort. And the book, to quote the Nostalgia Critic, became “the holy Bible of geekdom.”

Enough said.

The Hobbit movies, by contrast, feel small despite their attempts at grandeur and are pretty underwhelming when you get right down to it. And that’s not just because they stand in LOTR’s shadow, although from the beginning they were piggybacking off LOTR’s hype and credibility. And that is personally my biggest issue with them.

They are underwhelming (dare I say it, even bad) because Peter Jackson is nostalgic and greedy, so much so that he doesn’t want to end his legacy with just the first trilogy. He clearly wants to make a splash with these movies and have them be just like the good old days, but with new content and a fresh story. Not a bad goal, but the delivery was pretty botched.

The effects feel like old hat these days because every movie has them, and they don’t always look that great anyway. The characters aren’t fleshed out enough and often blur in with the background (which was a problem in the book as well); with LOTR characters making cameos and glorified easter eggs that barely added to the greater story. Like the skin changer in movie two, Beorn. Yeah, it’s cool that he can become a bear and hearing more of his  and his people’s story might have been interesting, but his abilities were kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things. He was in the movie for five minutes, then poof! Gone.

Any normal person could have helped the dwarves in his place, and to the general audience, nothing of substance would have been lost. As a fan, I thought it was cool but could have been easily relegated to the extended cut. They cut all the significance from the book out and made it seem like an arbitrary footnote anyway.

Adapting any media to other media is a difficult process. I can understand that, and appreciate the hard work that goes into it. But as much as I wanted to like these movies and give them a chance, a part of me can’t help but wish he’d left well enough alone.

I’ll go see movie 3 when it’s out, but unless it really wows me and makes this whole trilogy worth it, I’ll be forced to conclude these particular adaptations did not need to happen. Fans and general audiences will probably still enjoy it. I just have to turn my brain off a bit…or go watch the films I liked off the bat.

Thanks for reading. None of the pictures belong to me, but to Disney, Valve, Peter Jackson, etc.

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