Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Hobbit - A Movie Epic

I've read a lot of reviews for this last installment of The Hobbit and I've found that not one of them had justifiable complaints. But, rather than review just this last part, I have to look at this as one movie in three parts.

Epic movies don't come to the theaters very often. It seems to be a lost art that most often comes to us on the small screen in the form of miniseries. We get the occasional movie that stretches to 2 1/2 hour and the rare one at 3 hours, but making a 4 hour movie is a lost art. Instead we have movies that come to us in parts. Several movie series have seen their final installments arrive as two part movies.

In The Lord of the Rings, we had the three separate volumes of the story as three separate movies. Much was cut out for the theatrical release and was restored for the Extended Editions. The extended edition of Return of the King is over 4 hours long.

When adapting The Hobbit, it went from one, to two, to three movies and when you see them you understand why. Not much was added in the way of material from the book itself, but we are treated to backstory and the side adventure of Gandalf that are not in the book, but found in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings. Plus we get to see the entire Battle of Five Armies, which the book only presents from Bilbo's perspective. The result is a second epic saga that has been just as successful as the first. Yet many criticize it for taking one book and making it into three.

I feel I first have to address this criticism, and that Jackson let the scripts get bloated. First, the nature of the way J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are very different. The Hobbit was written as a children's story and is light and playful, even though it deals with some pretty dark events. Plus it is only from Bilbo's perspective. Tolkien even rewrote the Bilbo/Gollum scene so that it would fit with how the events are related in The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo's adventures are told quickly and it flies from one to the next. The film includes all these events and the theatrical versions even seem rushed as we go from Bag End, to Rivendell, through the Misty Mountains to Mirkwood and at last to the Lonely Mountain. Even the bonus material lifted from The Lord of the Rings appendices are brief, leaving most of the films to focus on the main story.

Too much emphasis is placed on the size and page count of The Hobbit without regard to how much story there is there. The old 70's animated version managed to cram all that into a single short movie, but it does so by leaving things out. After crafting the brilliant epic movie trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, it is no surprise that Jackson tackled The Hobbit with the same attention to detail and depth. This is no longer Bilbo's telling of the tale, but a narration of all the events that transpired. As with The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit comes alive with the addition of the missing material in the Extended Editions.

But you do have to wonder why a nearly half a million word epic like The Lord of the Rings could be so brilliant in three movies (long movies I would like to note) and a less than 100,000 word children's novel takes three movies (of not quite the same length) to achieve the same thing. A lot of it is what is found between the covers. I already mentioned how The Hobbit was written, but I have to now come to The Lord of the Rings. This is no longer a book for children. It is a literary epic containing within its pages a deep description of the world in which it takes place. In the Hobbit, Bilbo travels through the lands, but relates little. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo travels further and we are given the full details of the locations, history, culture, and depth to the characters in a writing style that I initially found hard to read. Reading The Hobbit, you are zipping through Middle Earth, while when reading The Lord of the Rings, you are savoring every step of the journey.

This means that to tell the two tales in the same way, you must take those words in The Lord of the Rings and change many of them into the images, costumes, sets, landscapes, and feeling of history that drip from the pages while with The Hobbit, you must pull those details from The Lord of the Rings to flesh things out, including the missing parts of the story where we at long last get to see what Gandalf was up to. So that results in a single novel ending up as three movies. In particular the epic battle at the end of The Hobbit, which the book so glossed over because it was only from Bilbo's perspective (and he is unconscious for a good chunk of it).

That criticism out of the way, the next I found was that the effects looked cartoonish and the action was outrageous. Having watched The Lord of the Rings many times, I found the effects in each installment of The Hobbit to be better and more realistic. The action was incredible and much more realistic than that of The Lord of the Rings. I read complaints about Legolas's antics, but they were tamer than those in The Lord of the Rings. I think a big issue people have had with The Hobbit has had nothing to do with the visual choices or the writing, it has had to do with shooting it at 48 fps. It has a tendency to strip away the illusion that 24 fps gives film and makes the images look like television and cuts the ability of the human mind to accept the illusion being offered. So I really don't recommend seeing these in 3D first.

The last complaint that I found really tiresome was that motivations were not given for some actions. Well, this is likely either a fault in the original material or a fault in the viewer's ability to pick up on clues. I found no issue with motivation. Most was given in the previous parts of the story. And with a multi-part epic story like this, there is no reason to expect every detail to be laid out in each film. It pretty much requires viewing the previous movies first, and in this age of television series that demand the same thing, it is idiotic to expect the third installment of a film series to lay out elements that have already been laid out.

Now to my more direct feelings on each of the films. I enjoyed all three, but Battle of the Five Armies is my favorite. While An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug felt rushed and almost flew through some sequences too fast, this third film did it right. I'll be interested to see what they add for the extended edition, but I can't imagine how it could make it better. I found the story wrap up to bring the saga to an emotional close. The deaths at the end (with a story that was first printed 3/4 of a century ago I wouldn't think this would count as spoilers) were emotional and the ending was satisfying. The character journeys were well developed and nicely wrapped up.

When it comes to rating these movies with the three part of The Lord of the Rings, I would have to say that The Battle of Five armies comes in second while An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug were just below the older trilogy. That is not to say they were bad, they are just the least of a set of six outstanding movies. And I don't think this was Jackson's fault, but due to the material in The Hobbit. He told it the right way in the right amount of time, but the story is not quite as compelling when the big baddie gets away here. I can't wait to have all six extended editions and watch them in the proper order.

Jackson's choice of bracketing segments is genius. He placed it somewhere between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (the events in the film) so that you can either watch this new trilogy first, or the older one, and enjoy it either way. Very brilliant and a fantastic way to end this trilogy and bridge to the next. And then there is Billy Boyd's song. Absolutely fantastic.

The Hobbit trilogy is a fantastic addition to the fantasy film genre and it will take its place as an outstanding piece of cinema.

No comments:

Post a Comment