The Hobbit:An unexpected Journey and Peter Jackson’s attempt to stretch out a 300 page book over 3 films. The film is a hoot, but it’s frustrating- the pacing is just terrible. It’s unforgivable. Last night a party a friend of mine said the beauty of the Hobbit is that it’s Peter Jackson celebrating the previous trilogy, and doing that again.
Let me say to this, BITCH PLEASE. Peter Jackson, you are allowed celebrate JACK SHIT about your masterpieces. That’s like me writing fan fic of my own novel. That’s bullshit. The Hobbit is a very different story to the Lord of the Rings- Essentially, it’s a heist movie written as a jaunty quest. The parts of the Hobbit that work best are the moments where it’s lighter, funnier and softer than the Lord of the Rings. This isn’t supposed to be three movies long. This isn’t supposed to be epic and about the fate of the world. It’s supposed to be one guy on an adventure with some dudes, with HINTS towards a larger world and story behind it.
This is a terrible trend I have noticed. Ladies and Gentlenerds, we have become a spoiled race. There is money in our fare, and the industry, hereafter referred to as ‘the man’ know this. They know we will shell out 15 euros a pop to see our beloved stories played out in iSense 3D with an advanced 48 framerate, from a premier seat. The Man knows we’re going to buy the overpriced box set with seven hours of special features and surround sound. They also know that we’re likely to illegally download the fucker for free once good DVD rips become available. They even know we’ll buy the special edition director’s cut DVD.
Since Harry Potter Deathly Hallows was split in two, studios have been slicing films willy nilly, in the knowledge that they will bump up their harvest crop. There is a concentrated effort to get bums back into seats again after six months to cream a little bit out of you, considering the rise in illegal downloads. This is, to me, really problematic. It feels like I’m complaining about a good thing. How can I not like getting MORE HOBBIT? Surely having 2 movies to finish Deathly Hallows was better than rushing it? What’s my problem?
The problem is that some stories need 3 movies, and some need 1. Some stories can be told in one book, while others need seven doorstoppers to get them done. All of these are valid, and they’re all good- The Sally Lockhart Quartet is a brilliant 3 books (and one pretty good book…), while Neverwhere is one cracker. V for Vendetta is a classic collected in one single edition now, while Sandman needed 13 volumes. The problem is that The Hobbit is one book. It only needed 2 films, and that was if you put in EVERYTHING. If you threw the kitchen sink and a massive dance party scene in, you’d still only have two movies. Jackson’s included bits from the apendices in this film, but it feels hollow. He did the same in the Lord of the Rings with the Arwen/Aragorn subplot, but there it worked because it was contextual. Most of the story runs along the same timeline as the main plot, and concerns one of the lead characters. It doesn’t feel clunky or too out of place- it’s a quest after all, and Aragorn’s subplot of wanting to get with Liv Tyler informs his later determination to take back his crown. It totally works there.
In the Hobbit however, it’s just there for padding. There was clearly no critical eye or care given to what mattered and what didn’t. It was just all thrown in. It’s an attempt to create a trilogy on the scale of the original films with the same aesthetic and vision but in trying so hard to be The Lord of the Rings, it scuttles so much of what could have made it a new beast. I don’t want to see the Lord of the Rings- I have a 12 hour long, 6 DVD boxset of the entire extended cuts, with 5 different commentaries. I don’t want Peter Jackson to pay tribute to his masterpiece- I want him to make the goddamn Hobbit!
Even bringing back the old guard- Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett- for such substantial roles kills off any hope of attaching to the new cast. They seem to be trying to make James Nesbitt ‘happen’ as a wacky sidekick, but then he’s sidelined off so Hugo Weaving can rush in. the attempt to put The Hobbit on the scale of the original trilogy makes it fucking impossible to try and see it as anything new, which is a problem. Thoren Oakenshield is painfully boring and brooding. When it was Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn doing the same schtick it was compelling, but here it left me cold. Martin Freeman is fantastic, as is Andy Serkis. their Riddles in the Dark scene is fantastic.
One of the reasons Lord of the Rings films were so important is because they were huge. In 2001, people were blown away it. The scale, the ambition, the fact that it seemed to have a real talent and artistry behind it. It pretty much defined the 2000s in film for me. They were something utterly new and jaw dropping. I first watched the trilogy in 2008 on a shitty portable DVD player while lying in bed, and the Balrog blew me away. Helms deep was stunning. Shelob, Moria, the entire creation of Gollum who was the first ever completely integrated motion capture performed character in a live action film. The forced perspective that makes me believe that Elijah Wood actually is only 3’9 and therefore shocks me when I see he’s actually a fully grown man. It just blows me away. It’s a beautiful, frightening, ambitious fantastic trilogy that changed the world of film.
Only thing is, that was 2003. The world has moved on a bit since then. For instance, Sean Bean jumped ship to be honourable and die off early in another beloved fantasy adaption.
Nerdy fare has become more mainstream, and therefore there is more of it. There are more big budget adaptions of things with fans at the helm, putting actual love and thought into it. It’s only been 10 years but now there’s a lot more in the way of massive special effects laden blockbuster. Heck, there’s even more in the way of large scale adaptions of fantasy works- Doctor Who returned to telly in 2005, Game of Thrones is striking out as a mainstream hit and in my opinion, shows a strong influence from the Peter Jackson films in terms of how it’s paced.
I think a good comparison would be to another recent spin off of a beloved fandom, the Legend of Korra. The Legend of Korra is a sequel series to the fantastic Legend of Aang. I actually even reviewed Legend of Korra, now that I think of it! Anyway, the legend of Korra is a great example of a spin off done right- it doesn’t try to be the original. The only catch about making a masterpiece is that it’s hard to follow up on that- the creators of Aang don’t even try to match the majesty and scale of the original, and make Korra something different. They bring the best parts of Aang; stunning animation, great humour, good characters and give Korra it’s own story and personality. Korra isn’t on the same scale as Aang- where the first series concerned a threat to the world at large (A fanatical, murderous fire breather taking over the world in a massive genocide), the second largely concerns the fate of just 1 city and the characters in the immediate vicinity of that conflict. That actually makes it pretty close to The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.
In the same way Tolkien defined the sword and sorcery genre, so then has the film trilogy defined how to do fantasy movies and do them well. The Hobbit just doesn’t have that same bolt of brilliance, and in trying to recapture it, stumbles. It’s still a good movie- it’s got a good cast, great effects and plenty of nods and references to the original, but it feels too much like a band reunion to be anything more meaningful. It could have been an excellent beast in it’s own right. It could have been a smaller scaled, nicely paced, compact two films that just gave you The Hobbit, with some dutiful references to the Lord of the Rings and including the original cast where they needed to be, but it wasn’t that. It wasn’t enough of it’s own beast.
LOTR is a massive epic with massive stakes. The world will be FUCKED if they don’t destroy this ring. The Hobbit is… about some dudes, and a guy going to get treasure and his city back. No matter how much Jackson tries to shoe horn in the larger fate of the world, it simply doesn’t fit here. The ring isn’t a massive player in the story yet- it’s just Bilbo’s magic ring. Just because a story isn’t as big or as epic in scale doesn’t mean it’s not as worthy- it just means it’s different. It should be approached with a different touch.
Peter Jackson is pretty decadent when he has a budget- his ass numbingly long King Kong remake tells us this, but I like him. I think he’s skilled. One of the major strengths of his LOTR adaption was the pacing. Even the Extended editions have a careful editorial eye. I can say, hand on heart, that I’m never bored when watching the extended LOTR. That is some fine ass shit. It’s a rich story full of stuff to include. Just compare how many flashbacks there are in The Hobbit to the amount in LOTR- The hobbit has to flail at every piece of source material to cobble together a plot. The LOTR was just made the length it had to be, cut to fit. The Hobbit sprawls awkwardly in a film that is already far too long for it.
Don’t get me wrong- I did like the movie. I liked Martin Freeman, I enjoyed falling back into the comfortable world I know so well. Not the world of Middle Earth, but the world Peter Jackson made of it. But it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. It’s nothing I haven’t experienced already in terms of story, performance or visual spectacle. It’s nice, familiar and watchable. But it’s not a masterpiece. It deserved to be more than a glorified victory lap of the defining series of the last decade.
Niamh ‘I really don’t want James Nesbitt to happen’ Keoghan