Monday, December 17, 2012

Hobbits and Donkey Kong...Spoilers and Spoilsports Ahead

Please be aware there are spoilers below regarding The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

You know that sinking feeling when you're looking forward to a book or an album or a movie and the buzz starts to turn sour? I'd been fighting that before going to see the new Hobbit movie. My own enjoyment of the movie was more than likely affected by what I've heard and read; however, that doesn't change the fact that I left the theater without any desire to see the next two films.

Which doesn't mean there weren't pieces that I enjoyed: the snorting dragon buried in his gold, Radagast and his twitchy rabbit sled, and Gollum. Radagast in particular embodied everything that I found to be right about the film: he was something new in Middle Earth and his scenes seemed more urgent and emotional than much of the rest of the film. I was concerned for the dying hedgehog, frightened by the giant spiders, and shivery as Radagast investigated the Necromancer's tower. Because these scenes weren't part of the book, my brain wasn't fighting against their rhythm or dialogue.

This was a minor problem for me for the rest of the film. The Hobbit is a swift read and Tolkien's mastery of his text means that it has a rhythm that makes for well-remembered scenes and songs. Changing these up, even if necessary for a film, still engenders a bit of mental static.

The greater problem was the lack (save for Radagast's scenes) of any sense of wonder on this journey. Bilbo and the dwarves are constantly beset by goblins and wargs (which we've seen's not MORE exciting the 53rd time around) and there is little time to sink into the story or get more from Bilbo other than grumbling. Where is his sense of wonder about the elves? Where is the sense that elves are something more than really awesome warriors...just like Rohirrim, only...less blonde? More immortal? Where are the songs, Mr. Jackson? Where is any sense of mirth, merriment, or camraderie? it is. In the silly giant-headed goblin. Who lives in the Middle Earth's version of Donkey Kong's skyscraper, were we will spend several minutes racing across rickety wooden catwalks while I silently tick off potential hints for a future videogame. And once we're done with that, look, more wargs and goblins. Perfect for heroic last stand for Thorin and Bilbo, right?

However, Gandalf has already summoned the eagles (there is no sense, mostly because the animals still don't talk, of the eagles as beings with free choice) and so everyone is rescued and left on a giant rock. After a chance remark from Bilbo, we're treated to a reminder that there's a dragon somewhere up ahead and then the film ends. With a giant thud. I guess the dragon is supposed to inspire me to want to see what happens next, but I already know what happens next. I've read the book.

For me, this film demonstrates that the scripwriters & director were more interested in creating a prequel to the LOTR films than in telling Bilbo's story. Perhaps this couldn't have been done successfully. On the other hand, Middle Earth was pretty interesting from his perspective. I'm not as interested in it as merely a combat setting.