Peter Jackson: hits and misses on the “The Hobbit.”

Posted: 01/01/2013 in Movies
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Prepare for nerd rage?

That is how many people feel about Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit: nerd rage.  Personally, I felt the movie was generally enjoyable.  It was not a train wreck or a disaster.  But then again, I might have gone into it with different expectations.  Without further introduction, here’s my take on the film.

What did you expect?

Before going further, let’s remember a fundamental premise: books are always better than movies.  This seems intuitive, but it is especially true with Tolkien’s work.  JRRT did not just write fantasy.  JRRT created the platonic archetype of fantasy.  He is to fantasy literature what the the Beatles are to pop music.  So if there is any disappointment in the film adaptation, it is because we measure against a standard of perfection.  Any adaptation of JRRT is going to look a bit tarnished.

So this raises another question, what about Jackson’s embellishments of the story?  I know that there is nerd ragers out there that anathematizes this outright.  I am not one of them.  Let’s go ahead just admit this: you can’t really get something as good as the hobbit “right” when you put it on film.  Therefore, I prefer to judge the embellishments by effectiveness in the film, not whether or not they are factually true to the book.

The Dwarves

Let’s start with a favorite of mine: the dwarves.  Thorin Oakenshield was ambitious, embittered, and peppered with a little bit of greediness.  In the prologue, we a saw a dwarf prince humbly black smithing away for human masters.  We got a feel for how he felt about the Elves and why.  They did not lift a finger when his people needed him most.  We got a chance to see the rage he felt when he saw his father killed by the white Orc.  You also got an impression of what kind of leader he was.  Someone who asked for loyalty while keeping his emotions close to his chest.

The opening scene with the unexpected party was very effective too.  The dwarves were rowdy, crude, and foolhardy brave.  Then, they shifted into a somber, baritone-ranged, song of their lost homeland.  It was dark music for dark businesses.  Furthermore, throughout the movie, I got the impression that the dwarves weren’t just foolhardy, gold-lusting adventurers.  They were also homeless and exiled.  Jackson did a good job in drawing this scene in Biblo’s conversation in the goblin caves.

One commenter complained that the dwarves were a bit too much warrior adventurers instead of the hapless, trouble prone, group that Tolkien originally portrayed.  While there is some truth to this (keep reading), I don’t feel like the added fight scenes ruined the books’ vision.  We still got to see the dwarves tied up and roasted by trolls.  We still saw them nearly pee their pants before the stone giants.  Were they a bit more “warrior” than in the book?  Yes they were.  Did it work effectively in the movie?  Mostly.

The Goblin King Boss fight

If I had to pick one thing that was very wrong, it is the entire sequence of the Goblin King’s caves.  It started off okay.  The poor dwarves all fall into a trap, and then are scurried away to certain enslavement or worse.  I was even convinced by the Goblin King’s sudden from overconfidence to sheer terror when he saw Goblin Cleaver.   Sadly, that’s about all that can be said about this scene.

At some point in this scene, every dwarf transformed from a fantasy character to a video game avatars.  They ran the gauntlet of the goblins minions, killing each with their special abilities.  Eventually, Gandalf faces off into a boss fight.  The troupe then falls to their apparent doom, before breaking into the next level.

This sequence had no sense of danger.  No feeling of mortal peril.  No tension at all.  In fact, the 1977’s animated version was scarier than Peter Jackson’s version and did it less time.  I hate to say it, but it looks like Jackson drank the George Lucas kool-aid on this one.  Brilliant CGI and special effects don’t make a scene exciting or tense.  The excess turns a movie sequence into some else’s video game.  Nothing is more dull than that.

The Infamous Albino Orc

The most notable embellishment was the infamous albino orc.  He did have an evil sounding name, but I’m just going to call him whitie.  Thorin cut off his forearm in that epic, Boris Vallejo, worthy battle ages ago.  Now, whitie has been out to get him ever since.  In this film, he played the role of a sub-plot antagonist.  He was Thorin’s shadow.  The white orc after the black bearded dwarf.  Not a bad concept.  He certainly was nowhere in the book, though.

In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with this additional character in itself.  The problem was with the execution.  Whitie the orc is a pitifully written character.  He throws henchmen off cliffs.  He snarls and barks.  The prologue ruined any surprise.  What we have is cliched, generic, nasty villain that actually reminds you that your seeing a movie, thus taking you out of the story.  How so?  The entire “slay the henchmen” thing is overdone.  It doesn’t really make the villain nastier.  It makes him less believable.  How long before a subordinate decides he’d rather fill your shoes?  Whitie the orc belonged in a comic book.

I reiterate that I don’t have a problem with this added character.  The problems was not the idea.  I think it was possible to give Thorin and the party an intermediate enemy.  Problem is, whoever wrote this character didn’t put much work into him.

Riddles in the Dark

There is one last scene that deserves some serious praise.  The famous scene of Gollum, Biblo, and the riddles could not have been better done.  Amazing props to the Martin Freeman.  His amateurish, panicked sword swinging had me completely convinced that there actually was Gollum there.  Props too, to Andy Serkis. Remember when Gollum cheerfully sang while bashing an orc to death?  Only Andy Serkis could’ve made that darkly comical.

Equally good, was the scene in which Biblo spares Gollum instead of killing him.  In fact, I’d say that riddles of the dark sequence really outweighs the bad parts of this movie.

So for those of who are on the fence between seeing the movie and clinging to that $10, I’d say this.  Grab a friend or two, and go see it.  This is not a perfect rendition of Tolkien’s vision, but it is a fun, enjoyable, and exciting movie.  For those of you nerd ragers who are upset, go grab a hardback copy of the Hobbit and re read it.  We all know that books are better than movies.  Even if you think Peter Jackson’s version fell short thematically, it is not as if there are not enough good scenes to make the movie still enjoyable.

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