The Hobbit Review
Ever feel like there is just not enough padding and filler in your life? Looks like Peter Jackson heard you!
This is another review I had to take a full day to think about before writing up. I saw it at midnight on Thursday/Friday night with a bunch of other fanboys (some of whom clapped at the end of it. Can someone please explain this phenomenon to me? You clap to show an appreciation to the performers or presenters of something. Do these idiots really think the producers of the movie are in the theater with us, or perhaps the ushers fill out reports to the studios as to how loud the clapping really was? If not than this is clearly an pretentious attempt to show the world exactly what kind of a douchy fanboy you really are).
By the way, if you are reading this review and have never read the Hobbit I don’t know what the heck you are doing here, but I am going to be pretty generous with the spoilers in a minute so be warned. I am assuming you all know the story at least half as well as I do.
I generally consider it a warning sign when a movie’s actors and producers really overmarket the film prior to release, and it looks like once again I am right. The week leading up to this release you couldn’t flip a channel without seeing one of them on some interview or talk show.
I’ve decided I need to look at this from three different perspectives; fan of the movie series, fan of the novels, and non fan who stumbled into the theater with no previous LOTR experience. Honestly, while this movie is very pretty it kind of lags from all three perspectives.
As a fan of the movies it really isn’t much when compared to any of the three LOTR films. The story is bloated and convoluted while at the same time feeling truncated, the characters grossly underdeveloped (especially when compared to the Fellowship characters), and the movie attempts to maintain the very serious tone of the three main movies while at the same time add in a ton of Three Stooges-esque slaptstick comedy. The forcing of every LOTR character and reference into this film is done with all the subtlety of using a croquet mallet to insert a catheter. They crammed in Frodo at the beginning as part of the prologue and I guess I was OK with that. It didn’t strike me as too glaring out of place and maybe there actually are Elijah Wood fans out there (and if you do exist please stay away from me and my family). When I saw Elrond I thought “Sure, he was in the Hobbit. Looks like a good move”. Then when the shoved in Lady Galadriel I thought “OK, I suppose if they are going to have one of the main Elves why not have the other one? Odds are they brought her in to add a little femininity to what is otherwise a massive sausage-fest”. But then they force fed us Saruman FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER and discuss the danger of Sauron (who got no reference in the book whatsoever) while discussing a Morgol-blade they captured from the Witch-King of Angmar (no joke. I wish I was joking) and at that point I decided I and the rest of the audience was being pandered to. I just wish I knew what brand of baby powder Peter Jackson was using when he changed all our diapers for us.
While we are on the subject of pandering and treating the audience like we are all brain injury victims, I also want to rail on the presentation of Saruman in this film. I guess they decided we are all to stupid to understand the corruptive nature of time and evil and so presented Saruman as evil and despicable as possible. It’s like watching Chancellor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith act exactly like a Sith Lord and wondering just how stupid every other character (who are all actively looking for a Sith Lord) in the film really is. If Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf (collectively acknowledged as the wisest beings in Middle Earth) couldn’t figure out that he warranted watching by is behavior at the meeting they all deserve to be crushed by Mordor for being moronic.
The last area where this movie lags behind the other three is in characters. In the LOTR series each of the Fellowship and supporting characters is a cool individual with a distinct personality that resonates well with the others. Aragorn, Gandalf, Legoalas, Gimli, and each of the hobbits is distinctive and intriging. Even Boromir was really cool, and supporting characters like Faramir added a ton to the story. In this movie the cast consists of Gandalf, Biblo, a fatter Aragorn (Thorin Oakenshield, if you want specifics), the dwarf with the white beard, the fat dwarf, and the other 10 dwarves who devolve into a faceless mass rapidly. Half of them look like they were rejected by the casting director of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for being too goofy and cartoony, and the other half look like humans. The cool thing about Gimli is he looked every inch a dwarf. In this film the dwarves look like a healthy mix of SAG extras and homeless people picked up off Hollywood Blvd. There is nothing about character here at all for any of them. Even Thorin is a 2 dimensional photocopy of Aragorn, and when you see them as a group they look exactly like a group of full sized humans.
As a fan of the book I am slightly more pleased, but only slightly. They attempted to keep the more fanciful tone for parts, and in general kept to the story. However, they surgically grafted on a ton of parts from the Silmarillion and another ton of parts they flat out made up and closed all the sutures with a mix of used dental floss and old yo-yo strings. Remember how in the book the dwarfs were more or less wandering through Middle Earth and dealing with whatever random trolls, goblins, and giant spiders they happened across (kind of like a driving trip across West Texas)? The book is a single adventure. If it were an RPG game it would be termed a “dungeon crawl”. Travel to the Lonely Mountain, steal as much gold as you can carry, and ride off into the sunset to spend it all on good wine and bad women. There are no portents of the ultimate doom of Middle Earth. Not so here, however. I guess the film producers decided our soft brains would never accept a motivation for our main characters as simple and morally grey as just getting rich. Instead we are fed a massive undercurrent of conspiracies, evil powers manipulating things from afar, and portents of incoming doom that is totally at odds with the lighthearted nature of the book. As I have said many times before, it’s OK for a movie to not rest on the ultimate fate of the world.
Where the movie suffers the most, however, is from the perspective of a guy off the street who is not really a massive fan of anything and only wants to see decent film. For this hapless individual the movie is a huge, slogging, incoherent mess. The pacing movies like a giant amoeba crawling across the ground, getting around objects with occasional bursts of speed as it squeezes though a narrow passage but in general progressing with turtle-esque velocity. There are a ton of irrelevant scenes to pad out the script run time, including a massive block dedicated to the completely annoying Radagast the Brown as he spends 10 agonizing minutes (from the audience perspective) nursing a sick hedgehog back to life (God I wish I was joking). There are flashbacks within flashbacks (the only one which would have been really cool was the attack of Smaug. Would have been cool had they actually shown Smaug. It was pretty much just stuff burning and glimpses of giant clawed feet and wings. Thanks for wasting my time on something that was covered in the book by three lines of expository dialog). Also, if there is one thing that sucked about the books that they managed to avoid in LOTR trilogy it was the insuferable singing. I defy you to find any reader of the books who has read even most of the lines of those songs. As soon as you see the indented italic passages that is any sane readers cue to skip to the next real paragraph. In the main movies they touched on it only briefly, with elves singing in the background. Here it is the perfect excuse to kill another five minutes of screen time and some audience brain cells.
However, the thing that surprised the hell out of me was the fact that the CGI and special effects appear to have taken a serious downgrade since the last movie. I know this magical 48 frame deal that Peter Jackson is so bent out of shape about is somehow supposed to enhance the visuals, but in fact the movie looks a lot worse. The monsters all look more cartoonish (especially the trolls and the eagles), the lighting effects are from hell (take a close look at the candles when you see them), and the battle scenes play out like a really good video game. If I could go back in time I might tell Mr. Jackson that maybe a huge epic film like this is not the time to experiment with new film techniques. I know all this is supposed to be for 3D but I am not a 3D fan and a couple years from now when I am looking at this film on my non-3D TV it will suffer for it.
I’m not going to waste a lot of time on the story. You all should know it. Bilbo gets shanghaied by Gandalf and the dwarves to steal back gold from Smaug in the lonely mountain. They all get captured by trolls who are tricked into turning into stone. They have a run in with Radagast (?) who tells them about an evil necromancer (??) who is resurrecting the the dead, including the Witch-king of Angmar (???). They are being chased by Thorins old orc enemy Azog the Defiler (???? For the record, according to Tolkien Azog was slain by Dain at the Battle of Azanulbizar years before this story took place, and it was his son Bolg who fought at the Battle of the Five Armies. This was changed to give us a tangible enemy to focus our soft brains on I guess). They get captured by the Goblin King in the Misty Mountains and Bilbo finds the Ring. They all escape and fly off on giant eagles. The movie ends (at pretty much the ending of chapter 7 from the book. Pad much?).
The stars. The riddle scene between Bilbo and Gollum was really, really well done. Two stars. The acting was exceptional from the characters that had any kind of development. One star. Andy Serkis was brilliant again (if you don’t know who Andy Serkis is, shame on you). One star. For all my issues, it’s still a Tolkien movie. One star. The only CGI that didn’t make me want to fix the film with a set of crayons was the Goblin King (either that or we meet him so far into the movie that by then my eyes had gotten used to it). One star. Two of my favorite character will always be Gandalf and Gollum, and both were used to great effect here. Two stars. I know I am being kind because I am a fanboy, but I will have to give two more stars for it being generally entertaining as long as you can stay awake. Total: nine stars.
The black holes (each one of these feels like a kidney stone made of burning coal, BTW). Padded. Pad pad pad pad pad pad pad. One black hole. For all the padding, the story felt really shortened and underdeveloped. One black hole. No real character development or interaction to speak of. One black hole. Twisting the story in order to give it a bigger meaning and darker overtone (completely unnecessary). One black hole. Lack of a real tone. Trying to combine slapstick with LOTR seriousness. One black hole. The fact that the dwarves never looked like dwarves, even when surrounded by elves. One black hole. Shoving in Azog for no reason. One black hole. In a lesser movie I would give a separate black hole for forcing in each of Galadriel, Saruman, Sauron, Frodo, and the Witch-King in order to forcibly remind us where this movie comes from, but here I will just do one. One black hole. The movie more or less ended at what felt like halfway through Act 2. One black hole. Special effects and CGI that weirdly reminded me of the Never Ending Story (1984). One black hole. You feel every one of the 169 minutes, with lots of worthless boring scenes that afford you the time to reflect on how lame all of this is compared to the LOTR. One black hole. Total: eleven black holes.
If you had told me two years ago that when I reviewed the Hobbit I would end up giving it a total of two black holes I would have laughed in your face. I’m baffled as to how much they could have missed the mark given the source material. I am going to do a separate blog on this, but the parallels between this series and Star Wars is pretty astounding (Old Republic logo courtesy of the Star Wars T shirt category). A talented director (or his supporting staff) creates an epic three part series that draws in millions of fans from accross the globe and then, given an unlimited budget opts to make a prequel series that spends more time highlighting the advancements in technology than story and is rife with either flat (Anakin) or annoying (Radagast=Jar Jar IMO) characters, all of which more or less ruins the franchise. Should you see it? Absolutely. It is a Tolkien movie and definitely is a must see for any nerd. That really isn’t the question. The question is will you want to see it a second time. I saw each of the LOTR movies at least twice in the theater (the Two Towers is saw three times I think) both in regular and IMAX, bought the movies when they came out in DVD, and the bought them all again when the super deluxe extended versions came out. I feel no need to see this one again. In fact, on some levels I am kind of dreading the next two movies now. It’s kind of like taking a college class on a subject you are REALLY interested in but the professor is the most boring teacher in the history of education and has a giant, gross mole on his face that you can’t help but stare at.
Date movie? Yes if she is a fan, hell no if not. She will fall asleep, I promise you. Bathroom break? Your don’t want to miss the riddle scene. Pretty much anywhere in the first 45 minutes (this slow movie takes it’s time ramping up to a snails pace) works. There are a couple camping scenes in the last half, and the scene where the dwarves are walking out of Rivendale (cough cough) could be missed.
Thanks for reading, and my apologies for harshing your buzz if you were looking forward to this. This honestly has been the most painful review to write I have done to date. I really wanted to like this film, but Peter Jackson appears to have been drinking from the same Kool Aid that George Lucas quaffs, and I’m not here to lie to you. Post your comments on this film or my review here (please, if you can convince me I am wrong and this film is actually more than the messy afterbirth of the LOTR I will thank you). Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu, and if you have off topic suggestion or questions feel free to email me at email@example.com. Talk to you soon.