The Shadow of the Past
As part of my considerable Lord of the Rings collection, I have the Minds Eye audio adaptation of the books. In the first few chapters of the collection, the rendition includes Elves speaking. – Speaking with pitched Keebler Elves voices.
At that moment, an aficionado of the book can instantly tell that the creators didn’t comprehend the work at even a basic level.
And so, when the Lord of the Rings movies came out, I was afraid. – Not so much about variations and edits (which were inevitable in the translation from Epic book to movie); but in director missing the nature of the story.
Therefore I was relieved when the movies turned out to be good. – Flawed, but overall: quite good.
There is much more I could say about them. – In fact, I’m sure I could write a dissertation; but the gist is: the movies showed a relatively contained (if limited) variation of the story that, although short in depth and breath and greatly blunted in subtext, left the movie goer having seen an entertaining and engaging movie.
One could tell that Peter Jackson felt properly constrained by the source material, and benefited greatly by that constraint. Tolkien is a more masterful artist, story teller and world creator than Peter Jackson and, although reinterpretation was necessary, Jackson benefited from heeding the source material as far as he did.
A Knife in the Dark
I first suspected that trouble was afoot when I learned of Peter Jackson’s planed to turn the (roughly) 300 page ‘Fairy book Story‘ into a three 2.5 (+) hour movies.
Clearly Jackson and (associated producers) thought that following the Epic 11 hours (+) LotR movies with the small prequel tale would be anticlimactic. They thought wrong.
The first of the three movies, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (2012) was an ill paced movie, punctuated with hyperbolic action scenes including sequences such as the overwrought stone giant battle and the preposterous scratch-free falling in the Goblin Caves. The film was further injured with dumb-downed dialog. But at least, in the final tally, the movie was interspersed with occasional moments that appealed to the sentiment I had for the world of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Middle Earth.
Although passable, by generosity of heart, ‘the Unexpected Journey’ left me in no hurry to rush to the theater when the sequel, ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ was released this December. (2013)
I finally saw the movie last week, and the term, ‘Jumping the Shark’, comes to mind but perhaps updated to, ‘Jumping the Dwarfs in barrels, balancing on one leg, pivoting, while shooting goblins on a raging river’ may be more accurate, if less pithy. (See the movie and you’ll get the reference.)
Some may accuse me of being too diehard of a Tolkien fan to allow for variation from the book. But, objectively, that isn’t the case as evidenced by my appreciation for the LotR movies which varied in many, many places.
No, my objection to this latest Hobbit sequel (‘Smaug’ for short) is based on my love of movies and story telling in general.
Where the ‘Unexpected Journey’ is ill paced and suffers from a couple of long dragging sections, Jackson tries to turn the action up to ’11’ on ‘Smaug’. – Story telling be dammed.
To put a fine point on it: the book is a deeply rooted, endearing monomythic tale about a sheltered Hobbit who finds himself swept into a larger world of wonder and adventure. The movie, ‘Smaug’, is an overwrought, bombastic, emotionally uninvolving, video game draped in green-screen CG set-pieces and sprinkled with toilet and penis humor.
The only redeeming features of the movie are found in the artistic rendering and voicing of Smaug (by geek fan favorite Benedict Cumberbatch).
But if there was any wonder to be found in the depiction of Smaug, the dragon, it was lost in the ill conceived plot variations and redonkulous, suspension of disbelief defiling action sequence that follows his introduction.
At this point, I’m out of time and not rant. A shame: since the internet is short on rants. (/Sarcasm)
In short: I think Peter Jackson suffered from George Lucas Syndrome which arises on the back of a wildly successful artistic endeavor and leaves the victim suffering from symptoms of ‘Yes-Men-isim’ and the belief that more is always better and CG backgrounds are acceptable substitutes for story telling and character arc. The syndrome also blinds the victim to merits found in the original material.
I guess this ruins any chance of being invited to Peter Jackson’s house for dinner. Shame. He seems like a nice enough, well intentioned guy.
It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality … In such stories when the sudden “turn” comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.
― J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories