These Use To Be Fun
It has remained this weird mystery as to why (and how) Peter Jackson and his team decided on making ‘The Hobbit’ into 3 films. He had enough trouble cramming ‘Lord of the Rings’ into 3 movies and it gets very rushed towards the second half of the earlier trilogy. This time he’s expanding out the rather diminutive book into am epic of equally long 3 films. One thing is for certain: short-and-sharp won’t be figuring into these at all.
What’s Good About It
Peter Jackson is getting better at these. The thrills and spills are more elaborate and convoluted. The film really does have a lot of action cues that make good use of locations and props. When it comes to directing action, Peter Jackson is every bit as sharp as Steven Spielberg in his heyday when he was making Indy Jones movies.
The film also has a lot going for it in being consistent in tone with the 3 ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies and the previous installment. By the time he is done with the Hobbit movies, it’s going to be a grand Wagnerian monument in the history of cinema. There are rumours that Jackson is also looking at ‘The Silmarillion’ for more film material. It kind of makes you ponder how good that might be.
Oh, before I forget, the dragon Smaug is pretty spectacular. It might even be better than the dragon in Zemeckis’ ‘Beowulf’. it’s certainly much bigger and lithe and slithery. The only problem is that it is still a little too CGI in parts, and it threatens to ruin the mimesis of the rest of the images.
What’s Bad About It
Those same beautiful action sequences do go on a bit. By the 10th Orc that cops an arrow to the head or gets its head chopped off, I’m kind of wanting the film to get on with it. If it’s going to be three movies because Peter Jackson wants to lovingly render out Orcs copping arrows through their heads and getting killed in all kinds of interesting, inventive ways, then I’m sort of longing for the story to get on with it.
If Jackson is indeed doing the Silmarillion, I hope he does it in simpler bite-size chunks. These epic 3 movies are pretty imposing and borderline sadistic grabs for the wallet.
What’s Interesting About It
For a film that has very little plot surprises in it, they manage to creep you out a bit. They invent a character called Tauriel – that’s okay. She’s the love interest of Legolas – You find yourself saying “Oka-a-a-a-ay…”. Then there’s this dwarf Kili who puts his moves on her – “hmmm”. So this creates a love triangle that wasn’t in the book and as far as one can tell it’s going to be Elf Prince, Elven shield maiden, with a Dwarven warrior kind of thing.
It surely is interesting – you have to hand them that – but I kept thinking, isn’t that a bit like Prince Harry being in love with a female captain of the Guard – one of those Beefeater types, but a pretty young female one, but the said captain of the Guard is in love with a Neanderthal or a chimpanzee? Yes, they’re all sentient humanoids and stuff but we’re talking inter-species sex here, aren’t we? Isn’t this all a bit closer to bestiality?
All this brings me back to the argument about race politics in Tolkien’s work. There’s a certain level in all this Tolkien fantasy land that is so Eurocentric, it makes you blanch a little bit (pun intended!). The dwarves, for all their interesting attire an appearance are so much the product of a European kind of cultural inflection, it’s hard to see any sense of a multicultural sensibility in any of this. The elves… well, all the platinum blonde on pale skin is Eurocentric as hell. And the humans in the Lake settlement are like groundlings from ‘Shakespeare in Love’ with nary a dark skinned person.
But it’s not just the skin colour thing. There are characteristics assigned to races that are essential characters of those races. So when the elven king slams Thorin for being greedy, well, he’s okay with it because greediness is what makes him a dwarf. And if he is a king of dwarves, it stands to reason he is justifiably king of the greedy things. and that’s okay because that’ the essential nature of dwarves, reason be damned. In one sense, the elven king is wasting his breath because no amount of logical persuasion is going to overcome the essential greediness of a dwarf.
The essential nobility of elves is just as troubling as the assignment of the hobbit Bilbo as the burglar, pretty much on the strength of his racial characteristic as a hobbit. Forget his natural temperament and desire to stay at home in his hole in the side of a hill. The essential hobbit-ness includes the burglar talent (and if you read the second edition AD&D player’s handbook, they get a higher ‘magic resistance’). And all of this is at once interesting as well as worrying.
I’m led to believe Tolkien spent considerable time defending himself from accusations of racism, but you could equally ask Peter Jackson and his production and casting crew the same thing. Are they racial essentialists? Is this what we’re watching here? I would say the answer is staring right at us in this concocted love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel and Kili. In Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, characters can overcome the inbuilt prejudices and essential characteristics and that’s the good news. The bad news is that it cavalierly opens the door to inter-species sex, and through that door, Pony the Orangutan says ‘hi’.
The Prequel Trilogy As One Big Exposition
It happened with the Star Wars movies where the second trilogy went back up in time to tell the earlier story, and ended up sort of making the whole thing a lot less grand. By the time ‘Revenge of the Sith’ finished up, it was clear the 6 movies taken as a whole was about how Yoda really screwed up once and then almost screwed it up again. I’m pretty sure that’s not what George Lucas had in mind when he started writing the whole damn thing.
What I’m worried about is that maybe when we’re done with the Hobbit movie trilogy we might see the 6 films as the story of how Gandalf fucked up in not noticing Bilbo picking up the One Ring, and then spends the LOTR trilogy trying to fix up things after his own mess. Right now, it’s starting to look that way.