The Hobbit: An Unexpected Prequel directed by Peter Jackson
I am what you consider a “Weta Works” snob. I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was such a superfan I saw all three movies opening weekend, and waited the extra months until the “Expanded Special Edition” was released. I went to Walmart the first day and chatted up with the employee in the electronics section who had to remove the security device.
Walmart Worker: So, you must have really liked the movie.
Walmart Worker: (scanning it) Wow, $29.99. You know we have the other one on sale for $7.99
Me: No. This has bonus features.
Walmart Worker: Cool man. Like what?
Me: An extra half hour.
Walmart Worker: (Maybe doing the extra-price-per-minute calculation in his head) You must really want to see it all.
Me: Yep. Plus there are documentaries.
Walmart Worker: What’s a documentary?
Me: Behind the scenes stuff.
Walmart Worker: (Doing simple math in his head). Oh. Ok.
I drove home and grabbed a pizza, a case of beer, and was ready for a long night. Like a true nerd, I opened the DVD box and inserted discs and flipped to the documentaries. To me, watching the 6 hours of the “making of” featureless was almost as engrossing as the Fellowship of the Ring. I mean, the dedication Peter Jackson to get the movie made, not in one movie, but in three movies was a demonstration of artistic guts. I discovered he had built a model of Helms Deep to practice the diagramming the sequence. They built Hobbiton. How do you get the right look and feel of the film? Fuck, let’s just hire the two foremost illustrators of Tolkien and fly them to New Zealand.
It was brilliant. I enjoyed it all.
Then there were lawsuits over “profits.”
To leave no dollar on the table, “The Hobbit” was greenlit. Then Peter Jackson eventually took the reigns again. Then, somehow, there was an announcement that it would be two movies despite being one book. I scratched my head, but understood they figured it was a way to make some extra cash. Maybe add some stuff from the appendices. I trusted Jackson.
Then there was an announcement there would be three films. What?
The studio dwarf’s quest for LOTR Fan gold was alive and well. I was ready to see it opening weekend. I watched all the sneak previews that Jackson put out. I love all that behind the scenes make-up shit. Add some prosthetics here and some fake hair there, and boom, you had a dwarf. Then the reviews came in.
Simulated Twitter Comments:
“I fell asleep while they were eating in Bilbo’s house.”
“It was too long.”
“Jackson is a greedy motherfucker.”
Wow. I usually didn’t pay attention to reviews at the time, but one of my closer friends posted something on FB showing their excitement before seeing it, and then their reaction after. They looked like someone with their heart ripped out.
I had seen this look before.
It was me, looking in the mirror in 1999 after watching the Phantom Menace. Fuck. I didn’t want this movie to destroy my love for the LOTR. I boycotted it.
The boycott lasted 2 years when the final film came out, and people telling me that yes, the first one sucked, but it got better eventually. So I downloaded it on HBO on demand and watched it and everything I feared was true. It was a pile of boring garbage that made a story out of nothing and made me care about nobody. If it wasn’t for Gandalf, the whole movie is unwatchable. I mean, it was true; Aliens in Independence Day took over the planet in the time it took for Bilbo and the dwarfs to finally leave Hobbiton.
The movie was so bad, as a die hard LOTR fan, I couldn’t take the equivalent of “Attack of the Clones” as a follow up, and refused to watch the rest for at least a year. The first one disappointed me that much.
It was a prequel we all wanted, but didn’t expect to be so horrifically boring and an obvious grab for money.
Needless to say, when it was announced that Peter Jackson would follow up his brilliant LOTR trilogy with The Hobbit I was thrilled. Immediately, I was taken back to my childhood, looked forward to reliving Bilbo’s journey once again.
Unfortunately, following the end of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey I was left with mixed feelings and a fair amount of bitterness that Peter Jackson had tainted this idyllic memory of mine by making a bloated big budget blockbuster instead of an enchanting hero’s story focused on the character development of Bilbo.
My biggest beefs:
· The movie takes too long to get going; overall, at 2 hours 49 minutes running time the movie is at least 49 minutes too long and its pacing suffers as a result.
· The movie suffers from an identity crisis: its PG rating means that some scenes seem like the movie is made for children (e.g. the cartoonish, roller coaster simulation like escape from the goblin lair; the goofy Radagast the Brown) while other scenes are very dark and scary; my sister-in-law’s preteens whom I watched the movie with were horrified when Azog cut off the head of Thrór, Thorin’s grandfather, outside the mines of Moria. I would have preferred if the overall tone was darkened up a bit and Jackson shot for a PG 13 rating or a 14A rating (in Canada) similar to the LOTR movies.
· Apart from Thorin and Balin (the oldest, wisest dwarf, who fills Bilbo in on the history of Thorin and Azog); the other dwarves, including Kili, are not memorable. I challenge you to picture the faces of Ori, Nori or Dori.
· The fight with the Great Goblin could have been more interesting; this was a missed opportunity. I actually enjoyed the fleshy depiction of the Great Goblin, especially his reaction to the deadly elven blades, Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver, and Glamdring the Foe Hammer. Too bad Gandalf effectively defeats the Great Goblin with one swipe of Glamdring across his corpulent belly.
· The Morgul blade that Radagast the Brown recovers from Dol Guldur and gives to Gandalf to present before the White Council looks like a blunt, rusted prop you could pick up from a second-hand prop shop (if there are such shops!). Come on, this is the blade of one of the nine undead kings enslaved by Sauron; it may even be a blade belonging to the Witch King of Angmar, the head of the nine. Make it look cooler, please…
· Bilbo rushing forward to attack the warg rider while the other dwarves stay back watching their leader (Thorin) about to be killed by their sworn enemy (Azog) is improbable…
· The balance in the fighting prowess of the characters is unrealistic at times e.g. the party is chased by a few wargs and riders as they flee to Rivendell; there are 13 dwarves and Gandalf for God’s sake! Stand, fight and kill the nasty beasties; retrospectively, after the third Hobbit movie, we know these characters can kill dozens of orcs and goblins at a time by themselves.
· The fight between the two mountainous stone giants was ridiculous; the way the giants are depicted, if I was Sauron I would be trying to recruit one of these humongous giants, literally the size of a mountain, to fight for me ahead of Smaug; the fight should have been left to the imagination with just some boulders crashing down from the mountain; this is one of the many examples of pure CGI eye-candy being included in the movie simply for the sake of it, ruining the story.
· The movie is too CGI heavy; another example is the over-the-top depiction of Thrór’s Kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, Erebor. The scale of the mining operation, the piles of gold filling up volumes equivalent to several Freedom Towers is a bit too much. Ok, I get that Peter Jackson owns Weta Digital in New Zealand and he is effectively paying himself by keeping the digital visual effects studio busy, but this was too much! Again, the entire escape from the goblin lair was mindless CGI action.
· The movie should have been tightened up, shortened, kept at two films; Azog could have been ditched entirely. I probably would keep the Dol Guldur bit just because it’s so cool to see Sauron in his Necromancer guise J
What I liked:
· I can watch Ian McKellan as Gandalf all day. Ditto for Kate Blanchett as Galadriel.
· Martin Freeman as Bilbo does a fine job.
· Underhill is depicted exactly how I imagined Bilbo’s hobbit hole; a hobbit sized, semi-buried, English country house.
· Watching the exasperation on Martin Freeman’s face as the dwarves raid Bilbo’s pantry and devour anything and everything made me laugh.
· The “Misty Mountains” song the dwarves sing is pretty poignant.
· Including the meeting of the White Council is important for perspective; it gives the audience the big picture; this is much more than a quest to get the dwarves back their home; Gandalf suspects their ancient foe Sauron may be back…and if so, inserting the dwarves back in their home while getting rid of the dragon is a strategic move that will help protect the north of Middle Earth from Sauron’s clasp.
· Sauron in his Necromancer guise J