Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Hobbit: Unexpected Journey – what went wrong

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

With each release of Hobbit-related movies, director Jackson shows just how little he understands of the Hobbit mythology, insisting on turning classic fantasy into trashy sword and sorcery.
Although financially very successful, the Lord of the Rings sequence worked for the most part because Jackson stuck to the script laid out by visionary JRR Tolkien, and the movies failed for the most part where he deviated and decided that he could impose his own vision on the original work.
Because he mostly stuck to the original in the original trilogy, the movies worked.
This cannot be said for the first of the second trilogy, The Hobbit, in which Jackson has basically abused the original story to a point where it more resembles one of those icky Transformer movies than a tale of magic.
Worse still is the fact that he had a body of back story that could have helped make The Hobbit a good companion pieces rather than a summer block buster released at the wrong time of the year, silly and forgettable.
The best parts – and there are only three – are those closest to the book, and I don’t mean the opening sequence that takes us back to the party scene of the first trilogy. I mean the unexpected party scene with the dwarves, to a lesser degree the scene with the trolls, and, of course, the master scene of the Gollum and finding of the ring.
Jackson screwed up pretty much the rest of the movie because as he has in the past he decided he knew better than Tolkien and imposed his own trivial vision onto what was fundamentally a solid fairy tale, trying to turn it into a myth – which he could have done had he paid attention to the materials he actually had, including things said in both collects of books to which he had already purchased rights.
His version starts out as a frame tale with Bilbo Baggins during the opening scenes of the Lord of the Rings finally telling the true tale of how he found the rings, goes through the introduction of the wizard and the dwarves before they rush off onto an adventure, flash back to the war between goblins and Dwarves at Moria, meet the trolls, collect their swords, meet Radigast the wizard who has come to warn them about the evil rising in the mirkwood, have a fight with Wargs, come to Rivendell (where the great wizards discuss the meaning of radigast’s vision), sneak off into the mountains where they are waylaid by giants, come into the caves where they are taken prisoner (with the exception of Bilbo who sneaks away and Gandalf who is still in pursuit of them), fight the goblins while Bilbo finds the ring, escape the mountains to be attacked by wargs again, and rescued finally from the trees where they have taken refuge by great eagles.
The first warg battle is simply filler material, and largely a waste of time, and the great battle in the mountain is so terrible as to be laughable if I wasn’t so busy crying over how much more time Jackson wasted making it seem like a cartoon.
The real tragedy is how badly Jackson handled the mythological elements he should have used to build the real back story – as to how he got the key to the lonely mountain where the great dragon Smaug waited at the end of this fairy tale and how this all fit into the mythology of the original trilogy.
Gandalf always had an interest in the great rings and was already concerned about the head of his order of wizards, Saruman, which is why he held back knowledge of finding the great ring later. But it was his search for the lesser rings of the dwarves that caused him to be captured by the Necromancer prior to the opening of The Hobbit. There he found one of the great dwarves in prison, after the Necromancer (Sauron) had tortured him long and taken the ring.
This should have been the opening scene of the Hobbit and Gandalf’s escape – although Jackson could not use the material in which Gandalf met the dwarves for the first time in Bree (because Jackson didn’t own rights to that book), the story should have made clear that there were other reasons why Gandalf pursued their venture, somehow suspecting that the Great Ring of power was involved, and that somehow Bilbo was meant to find it.
Whereas Jackson wasted the council of Wizards scene, the original back story had them well aware of the dark lord’s rise in the Mirkwood as they argued over whether or not this was really him. Jackson’s weak effort to have Saruman discourage Gandalf into believing the necromancer is actually Sauron may simply have been a foreshadowing, but it hardly represented the power struggle ongoing in the counsel, for who should lead the investigation, or showed the mistrust some members already felt about Saruman, who some suspected sought the great ring for his own uses.
This political conflict was starkly missing from the first of this new trilogy although it may later evolve, as Gandalf will later venture into the Mirkwood to confront the Necromancer in the second or third film. Hopefully, Saruman will become more clearly the evil force he will later become in the Lord of the Rings. But it is clear from the first installment of The Hobbit and his misuse of material in The Lord of the Rings, Jackson lacks the subtle touch for such work when deviating from script JRR Tolkien set out, wasting his time on ludicrous fight scenes while missing the heart of the real conflicts ongoing in his source material.