Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Hobbit - Movie review

Caught it last weekend. J was bored except for the fight scenes, I guess sci-fi and straight out war movies are more his bag. 

My thoughts (as a huge JRRT fan from the age of 15)? I guess Jackson was the right director purely for the sake of aesthetic unity with the earlier LOTR films, however I do have some major disagreements with those movies (subject of a forthcoming post).

Back to the "Hobbit" though, many have criticized the decision to s-t-r-e-t-c-h it to 3 movies, for obvious commercial reasons. I disagree, the book is incident-packed enough to justify this on artistic grounds and a single 3-hour movie would feel too rushed and breathless in my opinion. So notwithstanding the grubby, commercial motive for the forthcoming trilogy, this may actually have been a right thing done for the wrong reasons (not wholly wrong either, movies are meant to turn a profit for their backers and the discipline this enforces prevents the whole enterprise from sinking into self-indulgence).

The Good: The Shire is just as I imagined it to be. How John Howe and Alan Lee tapped into the Platonic ideal of "Shireness" is a wonder for the ages. While watching the first LOTR movie over 10 years ago, the first glimpses of the Shire brought a lump to my throat. The dwarves are thankfully, faithfully represented as a race of hard, gifted folk not to be trifled with and the urge (if any) to Disneyfy has  been resisted. I thought the movie was well paced, and that Jackson quite deftly juggled between plot development and action scenes and that it ended at just the right spot, with the Fellowship v0.0 on a peak looking over Mirkwood towards their goal, Mt. Erebor (Quibble: while the scene makes artistic sense, wouldn't it have been better for the eagles NOT to deposit them on that outcrop? Getting back down would have been a bitch!). There wasn't much character development except for that between Thorin and Bilbo but I'm not convinced that this is absolutely necessary though. Gandalf, Bilbo and Gollum are fully fledged characters as they are and character development in a modern, novelistic sense (as in attempting to depict the inner world and psychological wellsprings of a particular characters actions) was hardly a strong point of the book itself. Indeed, the book and the movies hew to a rather old-fashioned depiction of stock characters who are motivated by considerations of duty and racial/group solidarity which is a refreshing antidote to the epidemic of touchy-feelyness in contemporary blockbuster movies (if a good Orc who switches sides and aids the fellowship turns up in the next two movies I'll kill Jackson). The subsidiary plot of the group being pursued by Azog is un-historical, (the "real" Azog was killed by Dain, not Thorin, in the Battle of Azanulbizar in TA 2799, around 150 years before the events of "The Hobbit", TA 2941), but serves to keep things ticking over, and I presume he'll turn up at the Battle of the Five Armies in the final movie to be finally dispatched.

The Bad: In one word: Radagast! Why, oh why did anyone think it was a good idea to portray the Brown Wizard as a buffoonish acid casualty? Ignore the rhetorical question, I have a good guess why, viz. it's intended as a bit of light-hearted relief for the kids except that what comes out is so toe-curlingly patronizing and cutesy it makes one lose the will to live. While it is scripturally (*wink*) accurate that Radagast, as a wizard, is mainly concerned with the ways of plants and animals and pays scant attention to the doings of the peoples of Middle Earth, it is nevertheless a long way from there to portraying him as a scatty, tree-hugging pot-head with a fondness for mushrooms. The nadir of the movie, as far as I am concerned, is when he resurrected the dead baby hedgehog, a scene so icky I was surprised that no one in the audience slipped into a hyperglycemic coma. And he gets around by means of a rabbit-drawn sled...... savour this, a rabbit-drawn sled! His movie role is greatly expanded from the book and I felt that it was totally dispensable, the information of a Necromancer at Dol Guldur could just have easily been slipped in as a flashback at the White Council by another character. Just a random thought, is the character actually a conflation of Radagast and Bombadil as a sop for omitting old Tom in the LOTR? If so it fell between the stools I'm afraid.

I also felt that the intimacy between Galadriel and Gandalf at the conclusion of the White Council struck a false note and may be worrying sign for the future films that the director(s) intend to humanize the major characters (Memo: they're not human!). BTW, Cate Blanchett's hands looked really old in close-up and she has aged more noticeably in the intervening 10 years between the movies than Agent Smith, sorry Elrond and Gandalf.

A bit of a curate's egg then, but despite these drawbacks I still enjoyed the movie immensely (although I have to admit that the bar is ridiculously low in my case). Who am I fooling? I'm already hooked for  the next two installments and of course the inevitable 3-DVD Director's Cut (probably even dig deep and fork out for a 3D TV so that I can get the 3D BluRay).