Monday, December 17, 2012

There And Back Again!


I went to see The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey yesterday morning. Usually Sunday morn is a dandy time to catch flicks as it offers quiet reasonably empty theaters. Not yesterday. Despite a 10 AM start, there and the fact I went to the mundane 2-D presentation, there were still over a one hundred folks enjoying the latest trip to Hobbiton and beyond with me.

I have to confess going this time was more a chore than a joy. I was giddy to see the first of the Peter Jackson adaptations over a decade ago, going opening night and braving giant crowds. This time, I mostly wanted to see it before reviews spoiled it,  to get it out of the way so to speak. I've not been happy since I learned there are going to be three of these things. I fear we're going to see a trio of bloated narratives, dragging in all manner of off the rack material. A scrupulous adaptation of the Tolkien classic would make for two reasonably sized flicks and would add nicely to what  the New Zealanders have already accomplished.

The Good --

Hobbiton is beautifully rendered, and it was was scrumptious to visit this exceedingly cool mythical hamlet again. The scenes of the group tramping across the countryside astride their ponies were beautifully done, really communicating the essence of Tolkien for me. The balance between the unusual and the beautifully mundane is perfectly balanced in these scenes. Riddles in the Dark is outstanding, precisely true to Tolkien as I remember it at least. I'm not a huge Gollum fan in these movies, finding him at times very tedious, but he works here as well as he ever has. The technology supports the performance here wonderfully. Likewise with the Wargs which look really menacing.

The Bad --

It's not the filmmakers' fault, but thirteen dwarves is a challenge for anyone. It is a downright "avalanche" of dwarves. There's no doubt in my mind that if Tolkien's book was not so beloved, a typical adaptation would lower the number of dwarves to six or seven at best. But stuck with the original mob, Jackson and company try to make them distinctive, though we fail to get proper introductions to many. At least they are visually distinctive. It's almost impossible though to keep track.

The Ugly --

Unfortunately for this movie and I fear for the franchise, the development of "performance-capture" has "captured" this movie. For me the triumph of the earlier movies was that it made the world of Tolkien's Middle Earth real. It grounded the fantasy into a place and time, adding some blood and thunder to the proceedings. But that alas is lost in this tale which all too quickly reduces itself to a video game as animated figures cavort and crawl across the screen. The action is sweeping and dashes along spritely, almost too quickly to process. The damage the heroes suffer is epic and alas cartoonish. The realism of the early epics is lost, much to detriment of the heart of the project. The scene with Gandalf, Saurmon, Elrond, and Galadriel in the middle of the movie seems downright quaint as we have four normal sized people in a regular real-world room talking. This scene actually jars a bit since so much of the movie before and even more so after is overwrought with special effects. They're exquisitely done I'm sure, but  they undermine the reality of the experience for me.

The Final Analysis --

All in all I'd give first Hobbit movie a middling to low grade. It's got some very strong stuff. A good Bilbo, a great Gandalf, some few interesting dwarves, and some beautiful countryside. But the movie is its own worst enemy ironically since it's technology which is sundering the essence of Middle Earth, the very thing Tolkien moaned about so vehemently.

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