Sad, Sad Truths

Posted by on August 27, 2014 in movies | 10 comments

The Hobbit might be the most important book in my life.  It’s the book that introduced me to adult (more or less) fantasy fiction.  It opened the door to The Lord of the Rings.  It made me start my first novel (a horrible fanfic-y tangle of a book, started with my best friend in eighth grade, and the less said about that, the better.)

I recently re-read The Hobbit, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it held up.  I laughed at bits of humor (the dwarves’ staged approach to Beorn’s house, for example), and I enjoyed Bilbo’s clever solutions (shutting the dwarves up in the barrels that were destined for Laketown).  The book was a picaresque (well, except for the last few chapters), and those types of episodic adventure stories can be pure candy.

Alas, I wasn’t a fan of the first Hobbit movie.  I thought it was over-long and under-storied, even though it brought in vast swaths of story that had nothing to do with The Hobbit.  At the time that I watched it, I hadn’t read the book in over 20 years, so I assumed that I’d forgotten some of the diversions (but I was wrong — they just weren’t there in Tolkien’s book.)

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When The Desolation of Smaug came out, I decided to save my pennies and rent the movie when it was available.  When it became available through Netflix, I wanted to watch other things first, so I waited a few months before getting to Smaug.

And that brings us to last night.

Last night was a perfect night for Hobbit-watching.  We had an open swath of time, with no other commitments.  We had popcorn popped.  We were looking forward to the film.

And that enthusiasm lasted for about 10 minutes.  Where was the funny staged approach of the dwarves to Beorn’s house?  Where were the magical animals who waited on the weary travelers?  Where was the eccentric host who taught vegetarian dining to his guests well before vegetarian was a trend?

Okay, so the movie decided to elide Beorn.  There was a lot of story to be told.  Including a half-hour (I think — maybe it only felt that long) river escape from orcs.  And a dwarf-elf maybe-love story, featuring Kate from Lost (who’d clearly wandered in from another movie, because she sure as hell wasn’t in the book.)  And, and, and…

We turned off the movie when we got to the Master.  I didn’t care about dwarves getting hit with fish.  I really didn’t care about Laketown politics, involving characters I’d never really met.  (It was like George Lucas’s interminable Senate scenes, all over again.)

We actually fast-forwarded to two scenes with Smaug.  Great CGI.  Great voicing, by Mr. Cumberbatch.  Of course, those furnaces and that molten gold and all, those belonged to a different movie.

So, yeah.  With regret, we won’t be watching the last of the Hobbit movies.  I once joked that I wanted to see the Director’s Cut of this one — all nine hours cut down to a two-hour film based on the book.  But I don’t know if I’d even watch that.

Sigh.  I know that movies are different from books.  I understand that changes need to be made, to make things film-able, to capture a traditional screenplay structure, to feed the movie-making beast.  But those challenges are different from writing an entirely different film, from creating a fanfic movie that happens to take place somewhere that resembles Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  And that’s the sad, sad truth.

10 Comments

  1. Smaug is a CGI wonder, and watching Cumberbatch/Smaug and Freeman/Bilbo interact was fantastic, the only joy I gleaned out of the, what has it been so far, six hours of film? For a 200 page book? And they’re only 2/3 of the way through? Three films was entirely appropriate for the three novel LOTR saga (and I happily sit through all 11+ hours of the extended version wishing for more). For this (mostly) light-hearted children’s book, it’s shameless and shameful. I have only gone to see them because my kids are so intent on making these a family thing. I hate what this has become.

    Oh, and then there’s the squirmy-odd feeling of attraction to Richard Armitage’s sexy dwarf, who is nowhere near as small and ugly as he ought to be.

    • Yeah – lots of people found themselves unexpectedly attracted to dear old Thorin.

      And I agree with everything you say in your first paragraph! Sigh…

  2. Mindy,
    My husband wants a director’s cut like that too. He loves Tolkien, but we haven’t any of the movies because they sound so overstuffed and needlessly stretched out.

    I liked the Lord of the Rings movies a lot ( which is saying something because I’m not a big fantasy person ) but I’ve been disenchanted with Peter Jackson ever since King Kong. There was no reason that movie had to be that long.

    • What? You didn’t think a half-hour run with dinosaurs fit into King Kong? Or was it the Ice Capades that ruined it for you? Sigh… Another film with great potential, over-indulged in and ruined…

  3. I also saw the first The Hobbit movie in a theater and the second one at home. When you find yourself checking your watch multiple times during a movie, it is so not a good sign. I think they abandoned the overall feel of the book, which was really very cheery in many ways, in favor of making a movie that was full of dark portents and impending evil. The LoTR books are much more true to the original, and these new movies are more LoTR than they are The Hobbitt, which was a children’s book and only incidentally a prequel to the LoTR trilogy.

    I plan on watching the 3rd movie, but only at home.

    • I think part of my real sorrow was realizing I won’t watch the third — because I could only watch half of the second.

      I wish Jackson had embraced the challenge of creating a different type of movie, of keeping Middle-Earth, but adjusting to Tolkien’s tone in THE HOBBIT…

  4. I think a lot of the issues people are having with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies is that he wanted to set the stage for The Lord of the Rings, not just adapt the Hobbit book.

    Thus, he included a lot of material from the appendices of The Return of the King, which included all that stuff about Gandalf poking around Dol Guldur and meeting with the White Council. We find out why it’s so strategically important to get rid of the dragon.

    And then, at some point, the original planned two movies became three, and Peter threw in a lot of filler material.

    While I’m sure for the studio it was all a cynical ploy to make more money, for Peter (and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) I genuinely think they got carried away with all these “great” ideas they were having. No one was in a position to give them a reality check.

    (Of course, the movies did make lots of money, so maybe that’s all the “reality” they need.)

    It doesn’t help that Peter must be feeling quite a bit of pressure to live up to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which truly was a masterpiece. That’s why, originally, he wasn’t going to direct The Hobbit at all. But, the original director quit, and Peter ended up stepping in.

    On top of that, Peter loves making PG-13 movies filled with mayhem (aka violence). I don’t think he could have done The Hobbit as a children’s movie if his life depended on it.

    I was pretty OK with the first half of the first movie, because it stuck pretty close to the book and it was a real joy to watch. I loved the slow pace. The same is true with the “Riddles in the Dark” sequence with Bilbo and Gollum. Peter pretty much got that right.

    But that whole pale orc business drove me nuts, and the frenetic pace of the second half of Film 1 left me feeling exhausted. I’m very sensitive to music, and them recycling the Nazgul Theme on that pale orc made the soundtrack feel like a cheap hack. Composer Howard Shore did write better music for that particular scene, but it didn’t end up in the film.

    Oddly enough, when I went to see the second movie, I was prepared to hate it — but actually ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Some of those scenes were so over the top, they were actually funny. Once I accepted that the book was being thrown out the window, I just sort of went with it.

    So, we’ll see what happens with the third movie. I actually liked that female elf character, and have a hunch she’ll come to a tragic end along with certain dwarfs, as you’ll recall from the book. If done right, it could be a real tear-jerker. Thorin’s descent into madness could also be pretty powerful.

    But, time will tell.

    Bob Shepard from Denver

    • Bob – thanks for weighing in! I’m always *astonished* by the failure of major studios not to rein in directors who go so far afield from ideas that “seem good at the time”. To me, it seems to happen most often with comedies (“Really? That was supposed to be funny?!?”) We’ll see what happens when they get to the more serious matter of the last couple of chapters in the book. There *is* potential for real emotion, *if* they don’t exhaust the audience by 30-minute long fighting sequences that add nothing to the story!

      • Well, Mindy, the fact that they retitled the last movie “The Battle of the Five Armies” (instead of “There And Back Again”) tells you that there will be a lot more than just a half an hour of fighting. BUT they’ve been building the relationships enough, and chose talented enough actors, that I think the emotional component can shine if Jackson lets it. Armitage can handle Thorin – I can’t wait to see him do it – and Freeman has been this train wreck’s emotional core from the first frame. I still have hope that when it comes down to it, Jackson will remember what this book is supposed to be. At least for a few moments…

        • Yeah, the title leaves me … chilled. I *do* think that Armitage has the acting chops — if he’s given a script to work with!