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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Hobbit part two, from a disappointed reviewer

SPOILER ALERT – lots of detail from the film included.

The Hobbit part 2 has been out for a while. I saw it just before Christmas. It’s hard really to articulate how I feel. On the one hand, it’s the Hobbit, it’s Middle Earth, I ought to like it, but on the other hand it was long, clunky, and daft.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the book of The Hobbit, but I can see how it could translate to the screen as an adventure story. The book is fast-paced, funny, intriguing, and carries you along with it to the final battle. The films so far have lost that sense of pace and fun. There is more danger, and this episode of the trilogy lays on the peril with a trowel, starting with Thorin being told he has a death mark on his head, written in the Black Speech, no less.

The thing Peter Jackson doesn’t seem to get about The Hobbit is that the book of The Hobbit concentrates on, er, the hobbit. That’s the point of the story – it’s about Bilbo being unexpectedly recruited for a dangerous quest and contrary to his own and everyone else’s expectations, becoming a hero on the way.

But the film isn’t about the Hobbit at all. Bilbo seems incidental to most of the activity. Instead we have various sub-plots involving Elven warrior maidens being attracted to dwarves, the return of Sauron in a ruined fortress, and the oppression of the good, honest poor people of Laketown by an autocratic ruler.

The bits of the film that are quite good are the bits that are in the book: the Mirkwood spiders, Beorn, the escape from the Elven kingdom in barrels, and the conversation between Bilbo and Smaug the Dragon. But those bits don’t get much screen-time. In fact, the dwarves’ imprisonment – several weeks in the book while Bilbo figures out how to get them out – is reduced to an overnight stay and Bilbo working out the escape route in a matter of seconds.

The bits between those authentic parts of the story, in contrast, seem to drag. The quest was difficult enough without the introduction of a snarling orc leader tracking the dwarves, for reasons that probably were spelled out at some point, but I yawned and missed it.

There are some good bits – Sauron materialising in Dol Guldur from the pupil of the lidless eye was well-rendered – but they are few and far between. Instead we have a load of sentimental tosh designed to make the story more Hollywood. Tauriel, a veteran Elven warrior, barely claps eyes on one of the dwarves before she is smitten in the most unlikely romance ever.

There are other things that make the film suck too. I’m sorry to do this to Stephen Fry, but his ‘performance’ as the Master of Laketown was one-dimensionally pompous. And the bigger problem is that he was obviously playing Stephen Fry, the QI quizmaster host, albeit with the ‘lovable’ setting dialled down. I was half expecting a klaxon to sound and one of his minions have points deducted for saying something wrong or too obvious.

The film didn’t need Legolas either. Or rather, if you did include him, include him in a knowing cameo inside the Elf citadel, maybe commenting on how he would never trust a dwarf. And then we could all smile to ourselves, because, of course we know what’s going to happen later and the friendship he would forge with Gimli. Instead, he is over-used as a cross between a ninja and the Green Arrow, slaying orcs left, right and centre.

We also have a ridiculous escape plan inside the Lonely Mountain, where furnaces that have not been fired for years are lit and instantly produce a river of molten gold for Thorin to ride on in a wheelbarrow. I’m no metallurgist, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how blast furnaces work and it’s impossible to ride molten metal like that. Not only did it not make sense, but it looked like a sequence crafted solely for inclusion in a computer game of the movie. And not even a good computer game. A shitty platformer churned out to cash in on the movie.

Now, I know at this point, you could be forgiven for saying,‘Well, it’s a fantasy movie, it doesn’t have to be real.’ And I’d agree to a point. I can forgive the highly unlikely barrel ride, even though that stretched the bounds of credibility. But the ‘it’s only fantasy’ doesn’t work. If you have created a universe that is supposed to be real, it has to have a certain level of authenticity, otherwise you could just make up any old crap. Why bother with the wheelbarrow? Why not just have Thorin surf the molten gold in a pair of magic ski socks knitted by Beorn from his shape-changing eyebrows? It makes as much sense.

The Hobbit is a well-known, much-loved book, with an existing fanbase that any movie can tap into. So, my main question is, why does Peter Jackson cock this up so badly? I know I’m inviting the charge that I haven’t directed any Hollywood adaptations, so what do I know. But that’s the thing, having watched this, I’m not sure what I could do to wreck the story any further.

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