Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Why The Hobbit And Peter Jackson Are Going Underhill and Overhill

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is easily the worst of Peter Jackson's Tolkien films yet.
English: The location of Hobbiton, as used in ...
English: The location of Hobbiton, as used in the Lord of the Rings films. Near Matamata in New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’m mystified by critics who say the film is lousy--but better than the first. Ty Burr of the Boston Globe typifies this. He gives the film 3 out of 4 stars, but spends most of his review (quite rightly) mocking the film for all its shortcomings.

With apologies to readers not familiar with the story or the genre: here follow some gripes, picked at random:

Halfway through the film it takes 10 minutes for Bilbo and Company to escape their Elvish captors, careening about half a mile down a river in a crowd of floating barrels while chased by villainous orcs. This sequence is lots of fun.

But scaling the Lonely Mountain, a peak that must be at least 15,000 feet high from the looks of it, and the most important goal for Bilbo and the 13 dwarves since the very beginning of the story-- takes all of 30 seconds.

This is typical of the film director's problem: Making too much of the minor events and not enough of the major events in the story.

After hours of hearing about the importance of finding the secret keyhole to the secret door in the side of the mountain, so that the dwarves, led by the grim Thorin Oakenshield, can enter and retake the mounds of gold usurped by the treacherous dragon-- it takes less than a minute of screen time for Thorin to completely give up and exit stage right. (It also takes his crew just 5 seconds to pass down about 100 feet of treacherous mountain pass in their despair, but whatever.)

In the end, it is the intrepid hobbit who figures it out for them. All joyous determination is instantly restored.
Bear in mind, these guys know their own mountain inside and out--but Jackson falls back on the same cheesy template over and over again: induce an unearned emotional despair in the characters, then cash out an equally unearned emotional peak for cheap cheers--instead of mining the interesting drama and exchanges that could have attended a real problem facing the company. They’re dwarves, right? This is where they freakin’ belong.

This is not a momentary lapse of judgement on the part of the director. This is apparently all Jackson knows and can translate onto the screen at this point: Bring the audience down and up, down and up, keep the rollercoaster going, no matter how increasingly stupid the whole plot comes across. Even my young daughters, huge fans of the Lord of the Rings films, were exasperated.

Another example: The Elf Tauriel, a cut and paste job if ever there was one (probably fully repeating half of the dialogue originally written for Liv Tyler for her scenes in The Two Towers before she was cut) has to utterly loathe all dwarves before the cutest one gets wounded with a poisoned arrow and she decides hundreds of years of prejudice against the greedy miners can be tossed in a moment of revelation and daring so she can come to his utterly unbelievable rescue.

Then there’s the conscious decision to imprint the entire story--written originally by Tolkien for his children-- with the same metaphysical stakes as LOTR--essentially vitiating the power of the latter in the attempt to make the more light-hearted prologue as equally serious. The fate of Middle Earth has to hang in the balance. Why? Doesn’t a perilous trip to rescue a hoard from a slimy dragon pose high enough stakes for the characters?

Thus the coveted Arkenstone, alone among all the jewels in the dragon's hoard, becomes Thorin’s deep obsession, driving him to dark moments of wordless brooding, and hints that he may turn on his own friends. And he hasn't even set eyes on it yet. Yawn.

And Bilbo similarly begins falling prey to a power of his magic ring that is never even hinted at yet in the actual book. Nor does it make any sense, since Sauron the Necromancer who devised it is not even aware the ring has been found, let alone that it still exists. But whatever.

Instead of having fun --as Tolkien did--with the talisman’s ability to make Bilbo invisible and to help his friends escape from their various travails--we’re treated to the same tedious screen filters and sounds of what the eerie twilight zone appears like to Bilbo as he wears the ring--again imbuing the whole story with a ponderous gloom it does not merit.


The Orcs--basically all CGI--are a bore.

It may be that the final chapter restores some integrity to the entire story--but I'm skeptical after this installment.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to my Vimeo Channel.