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The Hobbit

This isn't a review--and it'll be full of spoliers.

Early on in The Hobbit we see the elder Bilbo writing his memoirs of his adventure ("There and Back Again"--which i exactl the kind of title a hobbit would give that adventure--it wouldn't be "How I Pwnd Smaug"). The narration has us hear him write the opening line of the actua book The Hobbit about there being a hole in the ground where there lived a hobbit. We are told (by the actual book) that it's not a nasty wet hole in the ground--it's a nice one.

To whom is the character Baggins supposedly writing this to? Frodo? Who lives in the same hole-in-the-ground and therefore knows exactly how nice it is? Potential future hobbit children? It seems unlikely--I think there's no rational explanation for this in-story. Tolkien wrote it because he was going to explain to children that there are these little-folk who live in cozy hobbit cottages, therefore making the statement make sense. For the little folk in the cozy cottages it doesn't make sense.

So why's it there?

The easy answer is this: nine-hours of hobbit (the audio book is apparently 11 hours long) won't fill itself up. If dwarf-singing won't do it, narration-quoting will have to. This is bunk, of course: Jackson can fill those seconds with twelve more goblin murders and while the cost will be higher, money's no object.

I think the reason he does it is because the first line of the book is pretty darn good--iconic, perhaps, by first line-standards. I'm not sure if it's up there with "Call me Ishmael" but I've never understood why Ismael got top-billing anyway. I think Jackson knows that his viewers--who all read The Hobbit 30 years ago or more in grade school--might remember that line and won't remember any other (such as the GREAT line about how Smaug gets mad when his cup is stolen because he's so, so, so rich that taking ANYTHING from him provokes indignant apocalyptic outrage: not just clever ... politically topical!).

We can see where Jackson goes through the rest of the first movie making the same sorts of decisions. He knows Cate Blanchett is hot so, hey, invented scene! He knows that Serkit's gollum is getting some people to the movie all by himself so, he gives us the most well-lit bottom-of-the-mountain caves in cinematic imagination. He knows you can never get enough goblin slaughter ... and so on.

Unlike many of the viewers, I really, really liked the Hobbit and I even appreciate making it three movies. How could this be? Well, the answer to the first part is low, low, low expectations. From what I had heard I was in for 3 hours of Dwarf-singing and so I was pleasantly surprised when there was other stuff. Ian Mckellan's Gandalf is watchable all by himself and the rest of the casting (including all the returns from LotR) are wonderful--so, you know, about 2 hours in I was very happy.

Even if it's slow, looks kinda (inexplicably) fake in some places, and is, well, padded.

I support the making of three movies because it will be a poorer universe when ALL the Lord of the Rings movies are made. Until that time--what? 2014? 2016?--we will have more returns to middle earth to look forward too. I know, I know: the Silmarillion--but really? I'll take six more hours of padded trekking Tolkien if I have to in order to keep coming back. And I'm not even that big a fan.

No--I think the success of The Hobbit (and I think it ultimately will be) as an artifact will give us things the same way that LotR gave us Game of Thrones. I think it will give us more Hunger Games style movies where the studios take a spec-fic property and give it the gold-plated treatment. Basically, if there's gold mine there people will keep digging.

I listened to the Slate Culturefest pod-cast where they all railed against The Hobbit especially the opening scene where we see parts of Smaug attack the dwarvish kingdom. They hated it: I dug it. Why?

There is no question that 20 minutes of CGI narration at the start of your movie is a HUGE risk. I remember The Kingdom opening with the thesis of Diary of an Economic Hitman--and it was fascinating--but, man: what a risk (although that was a serious movie and I r a serious cat--so maybe they were taking a lower risk with their target audience). In this case, the Slate-crew hated it--but I was like " ... view of the darven kingdom at it's height!? That's one of the the things I pay Peter Jackson to show me!"). I also felt that since the story is about the re-emergence of The Ring rather than being a children's introduction to Middle Earth that becomes progressively more mature until it's an adult work by the end they needed to set up the "We're going to raid the mountain to re-establish the dwarves" thing before having 13 comical dwarves drop in on Bilbo. It's actually less confusing and it makes the stakes higher than a hi-ho-hi-ho, it's off to the mountain we go--adventure--which is what it looks like from the Bilbo-eye view at first.

As to the action and everything? It was watchable and, I felt, true enough to the books to earn its keep. Where Jackson diverged he did so for good reasons. Where he had to innovate things (a describer, Tolkien was not) he went big. I liked that.


Jan. 6th, 2013 12:47 pm (UTC)
I find The Hobbit to be a bit of a slog as a book. It's written for kids so a lot of the language is dumbed down. And it's very simplified in terms of plot. I feel pretty strongly that what Jackson et al did is take the children's Hobbit and rewrite it for adults with extra background and better dialogue and more mature concepts, and then film THAT. And it totally worked for me!