Honey, I think I flushed a fiver down the toilet – “The Hobbit – An unexpected journey”

It took me much longer that I would like to admit to actually sit down and write a few words about “The Hobbit”. I’d like to think it’s because I had been otherwise preoccupied with important tasks and what-not, but truth be told I just couldn’t think of anything nice to say on the subject. And one of the rules I carried on from my childhood was “if you can’t say anything nice about someone, you’d better shut your pie-hole altogether”, or something to that effect. But then again, I’ve been waiting for so long to see it, it almost seemed inappropriate not to write a few words about it.

I shall begin by noting that I was/am a big fan of “Lord of the Rings” (the book) and actually loved how Peter Jackson adapted one of Tolkien’s biggest achievements for the big screen. Even though the hard-core nerd community would have a different view on the subject, I found Jackson’s trilogy amazingly good and most importantly capable of conveying the spirit of the book. Of course, many things here and there just did not add up (and several things were brutally changed to fit better on a silver screen, much to everyone’s dismay), but hey, you couldn’t have it all. The overall impact of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” was good enough to make me turn a blind eye on gaping discrepancies, missing details and scenes and raging plot holes. It was just that good an entertainment. Also, that’s what the director’s cut is for when it comes to missing bits and bobs, so I can’t really complain. I wouldn’t imagine having to sit through nearly 4 hours of Two Towers in the cinema even if I were paid to do this.

(Note: I recently learned, as brought to light by Comic Book Movie Blog here, that Christopher Tolkien – author’s son – utterly despises what Jackson did to his father’s legacy)

So, the minute I learned of the impending adaptation of “The Hobbit”, I have to say, I got a bit excited. I got even more excited when I learned that Jackson was taking over the steering wheel (I believe Guillermo Del Toro was the first to sit in the director’s chair) because at that moment it meant I would be granted a second chance to enter the fantastic world of Tolkien’s imagination through the eyes of Peter Jackson. It came to me as a shock when the news of Jackson making “The Hobbit” was followed with disturbing “oh, and by the way, it’s going to be a trilogy”.  <Slowly takes glasses off> Mother of God… really? I mean, really? Boy, I gotta see that, because not every day you can see a 250 pages worth of a novel stretched into three (knowing who’s making it – rather long) films.

So there I was going to the cinema on a slow Wednesday evening, looking cool and slick on the outside but waging internal war between my inner boyhood nostalgia and my adult cynicism that I developed over the years. I bought the ticket – Higher Frame Rate and 3D, because that’s how the authors would want you to see it and apparently its ‘terrific’, bought some diet coke and went on to watch it.

And this is the hard part: because in a nutshell, “The Hobbit” was just exceptionally weak. I left the cinema with my buns completely numb and I felt nothing, nothing at all. My inner nostalgia-tinted glasses got crushed by an onslaught of CGI, plot holes and mind-numbing action sequences that more often than not, were dragged ad infinitum for the sake of the so-called entertainment and/or simply out of place.

First of all, the HFR 3D is an utter disappointment. Sure, I may see everything a bit more clearly and the details are crisper, but do I really mind at all? And the 3D? My god, that’s just there to annoy you, especially when you wear prescription glasses, then it’s a regular torture. And to add insult to injury, the fact they were shooting in 3D gave the film-makers the perfect excuse to include some completely irrelevant sequences that were there to elevate the three-dee-ness of the film, i.e. a close-up of a butterfly flying about, a bird, a rabbit-sled or what-have-you. Those things contributed nothing to the overall impact of the film, if anything they kept me slightly annoyed. On top of that, the general feel of the film was as if the third dimension was sort of forced and didn’t belong there at all. Had I been granted a chance to go back in time to make a choice once more, I’d rather go for the normal, 2D, regular frame rate version – assuming I would have gone to see this film again at all.

Now that’s off my chest, I can move on. So, for those who don’t know, “The Hobbit” is about a young hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who gets tricked by a wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) into hosting a dinner party for a bunch of dwarves, who then convince him to join their quest to reclaim their lost kingdom (that has been taken over by a dragon Smaug). Despite Bilbo’s initial reluctance to the idea of risking his life for people whom he barely knew, he decides to join the party. So the team marches on to face myriad of foes. During their adventures Bilbo comes across Smeagol/Gollum, from whom he steals a ring (the ring). In summary, “The Hobbit” is a prequel to “Lord of the Rings”, however it was written earlier. So, in reality, “Lord of the Rings” is a sequel itself.

That’s more or less it. The film doesn’t even go halfway through the book and it takes Jackson almost three hours to get there. Somehow I’m not surprised because in order to get through the film we are treated with excruciatingly long sequences of running from orcs, then running from goblins, then orcs again. It’s just a constant stream of action which after a while becomes irrelevant. I just sat there going “oh, now they’re being chased again, that’s nice” literally every 30 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, the CGI is perfect and from a technical perspective the action sequences are executed well, but being exposed to that volume of action for that long would make anyone indifferent.

Things I genuinely liked in the film were the scarce moments when the action slowed down for us to meet the characters. I loved the long feasting sequence at Bilbo’s house, the singing and dancing and everything. I loved Thorin’s tales of his past. These are the gems I crave in a fantasy film, because they allow us to see past the shallow waters of the actual film and discover the depth of the story, thus decorating it with the proper epic feel. Sadly, these sequences were few and far between. It actually felt like they were there specifically to allow the viewers to take a bathroom break and while I really tried to savour them, I truly couldn’t because deep inside I felt that yet another mindless CGI-ridden action sequence was in store.

Overall, this was not what I thought I’d see. “The Hobbit” clearly failed to live up to the expectations, but the bar was pretty high, I’d have to say in Jackson’s defense. I was promised an epic adventure into the stunning world of Tolkien’s fantasy, but in return I was given only a mediocre action flick that focused more on “how cool a three-dimensional butterfly is” instead of what is the most important in a fantasy film – the story. In that regard, “The Hobbit” is an ocean of ankle-deep water. But who am I kidding? You cannot have an immersive story with proper character development while throwing plagues at your characters the whole damn time. The net result is as follows: it’s not what it could have been, the story is ruined, but the children are happy. Did the producers really think we’d get bored if the adrenaline rush stopped for more than a few minutes?

Because of that decision of putting action before the story, “The Hobbit” is just a sad show. I can really live with stretching it to two (hell, have the trilogy, I’ll live) films, but instead of listening to the producers so much, why not try to pay due homage to the great mind that brought us all this. I do realize that big budget productions need to bring revenue in the box office, but let’s be clear here: this is not Die Hard we’re talking about. However you think about it, Tolkien’s work has got one of the biggest (if not the biggest) fan base in the world. Build it and they will come. For once, don’t cater to the masses that need constant action to keep their ADHD under control.

But this is not a perfect world and “The Hobbit” is not a perfect film, far from it. It’s a mediocre, self-indulgent, shallow, action-packed film that did not live up to the promise. Instead of showing contemporary youngsters how phenomenal high fantasy can be, “The Hobbit” by Peter Jackson did just the opposite. You can’t just take a classic off the shelf, cut the boring parts, smear it with CGI, slap a 3D sticker on the box and expect to get away with it. If it was any other film, I could live with what I was presented in the cinema, it would be ok at best. When you take a material of that magnitude and turn it into a brain-dead mush, I think I have to look for my torch and a pitchfork.

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