The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Hobbit Review: Too Much Frog, Too Little Dinosaur

All, right, just got back from a midnight show of The Hobbit. If you follow this blog, you probably read my piece on what was worrying me about the movie ahead of time...I was hearing and seeing a lot of things that seemed really screwed up, although I was expecting some stuff to be cool. Well, in my opinion the cool bits were few and far between, and the awful stuff predominated to a fairly astonishing degree. I liked it less than I liked Peter Jackson's King Kong, and I really hated that. I think Jackson has turned into a megalomaniacal self-indulgent nincompoop who thinks that every idea he comes up with is fantastic. The first installment of his coked-out new trilogy reminded me, by turns, of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the Star Wars prequels, and Michael Bay and Stephen Sommers shit. It's just jaw droppingly awful for long stretches, and whenever I started to get into it, something moronic would come along to take me right back out again. After a while I just got bored, because I knew I was never going to warm up to it.

Of course, aside from the huge doses of preposterous bombast, the biggest problem is the padding. As I made clear in that other piece, I was extremely skeptical when I heard they were making three movies, and it turns out I had every reason to be. The original material simply doesn't justify this sort of treatment. The movie clocks in at two hours forty-five and only covers about a hundred and twenty pages of the book; moreover, Jackson sticks in all sorts of stuff that he and his collaborators simply invented out of whole cloth, or pulled ill-advisedly from Tolkien's LOTR appendices. It's almost like one of those horrendous Dr. Seuss adaptations. I keep reading reviews that bitch about the film being ludicrously faithful to the novel. Well, don't you believe it. A huge proportion of this dinosaur is frog DNA, just as I predicted. There's just scene after scene which has very little to do with the book, and even when you get a something that's actually from the novel, it's distorted and stretched and lengthened until a Tolkien purist like myself wants to scream. The other movies just weren't like this.

Of course, there are all sorts of things that suck besides the adaptation. For one thing, the special effects simply stink in a number of scenes...just as in Two Towers, the wargs this time are dreadful, but they're much worse than the ones in TT, badly designed and incredibly fake-looking. There's a chase sequence involving Radagast in which the wargs and Radagast's CG rabbit-drawn sleigh are sliding around in the landscape as though they don't have any contact with the ground whatsoever. Almost all the orcs are CG, and that's a real bad idea...the ones in LOTR were guys in really good Richard Taylor makeup, and they were just fantastic. Here they look like video game rejects, with Azog and the Great Goblin being especially cartoony. The trolls are lousy designs fact, the only good creature effects are the stone giants, the eagles at the end, and Gollum, who's better than he was in the first trilogy.

I'd also been worried about the whole approach to the dwarves...when I first saw advance stuff featuring all those beards and hairstyles, I thought they were extremely goofy-looking, and boy they turned out to be. Actually, most everything connected to the dwarves was bad. I disliked Jackson's manhandling of Gimli...well, for the most part, the dwarves in The Hobbit are about as lousy, although in different ways. They butt heads, have burping contests, and talk about things getting shoved up jackses...but the main thing is that most of them don't have any real personality. Now, my chief fear going in was that we were going to get a lot of character-arc stuff and wheel-spinning about the dwarves...well, the film does spin its wheels like crazy, but only a couple of the dwarves come through even remotely, most notably Thorin, who's turned into a hunky heroic type quite at variance with Tolkien's version...I didn't think it worked.

Unsurprisingly, Ian McKellen's Gandalf is good, and Martin Freeman's Bilbo is was nice to see Hugo Weaving again as Elrond. Of course, Elrond has a genuine part to play in the story. But we also get senseless cameos from Cate Blanchett and Chris Lee, and while I really love Chris Lee, there wasn't any reason for him to be in the film. Nor did we need the simply stupefying Radagast, who drives around in the aforementioned bunny-sleigh, has a bird-nest in his hat, and a giant streak of birdshit down the side of his face. Jackson really lingers on the birdshit, by the way. He also seems to think troll-snot is fabulous...after sneezing a big splash of it onto Bilbo, a troll mistakes him for one of its boogers, and Bilbo spends the rest of the scene glistening.

I'm not making this up.

Let's see.

I was pretty sure Howard Shore's music would be nifty, but he overscores a lot of the scenes, most of the music is a retread of his LOTR  soundtrack, and the only effective original theme is the Misty Mountains song. The scenery is frequently gorgeous, although a lot of the production design is wacky...the goblin-city is particularly ridiculous. One of the things I loved about Jackson's LOTR was the way certain settings looked like you were just hallucinating the settings in the book...none of that here, except for Bag End, which, of course, was in in the first trilogy. Tolkien himself never described much of Rivendell, so Jackson always had a certain license with that...but it looks even more gingerbready and silly this time around.

It was fun, however, seeing Bret from Flight of the Concords in a bigger role than he had in LOTR.

As for the action sequences, I'd thought there was a good chance they'd be great, and there are some snippets that remind you of the best action in the other movies. But mostly they just get unbelievably over-the-top and stupid. Again and again we have our protagonists falling prodigious distances and not getting hurt. At one point, the gigunda Great Goblin lands on them from a tremendous height, and they're fine. There are all sorts of slapsticky things that I can't even describe...the climactic orc-fight (involving our guys climbing up pine-trees which knock each other over and hang out over the side of a cliff) goes on forever and is reminiscent of the awful tyrannosaurs-in-slings vine fight in Jackson's Kong.

I have to say, the only part of this thing that I thoroughly enjoyed was the Riddles in the Dark sequence...Andy Serkis is great, and the scene hewed very close to the book. But boy you have to wait forever to get there, and it doesn't last long when you do.

I didn't see the movie in the 3D 48 frames per second version...since 48 FPS apparently makes everything look  videotaped, I'm pretty sure I'd loathe it...there are enough things for me to loathe about this movie as it is.

Oh yeah, that scene with the Great Goblin landing on the dwarves was in one of the trailers, and I mistook him for a troll in my previous piece. Mea culpa.