Friday, January 4, 2013

The Hobbit (2012)

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy was not perfect-- it was disappointing when Faramir went through that weird evil phase or when the hobbits did not get their moment of bravery in the end, but LOTR is tricky source material. Tom Bombadil hey-derry-dolling through the Old Forest would've raised eyebrows among Tolkien novitiates. What is important is that PJ's vision and devotion to the books was true and that's what makes the trilogy eminently rewatchable (I am one of those rabid fans that rewatches it annually). So you can imagine how excited I was when there was talk about making The Hobbit into a film. I signed the "Let the Hobbit Happen" campaign; I spent hours and hours scouring TOR forums for casting news; I wrote anxious blog posts about the studios' inability to shoot the movie; I must've rewatched the film trailer a few hundred times and yes, in the darkest moments, I doubted PJ's decision to split the book into three movies.

What I am building up to is the fact that I wrote this review before the film was even made, nay, in that moment when the stars were scattered into space. I utterly loved this movie. I am sad that there will be only 3 and I have to prepare to say goodbye to Middle-earth once again. I am also a little surprised that this film only has a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Too much space has been wasted on discussing the "nausea-inducing" 48 fps format (who ARE these absurd, endolymphically challenged people anyway?). Was it somewhat jarring? Yes, for about 20 minutes. It is mostly forgotten by the time Bilbo is entertaining his dwarf guests. The way these critics have been carrying on about it, why you'd think it signaled the end of the world! The only thing that makes me less angry is that history does not remember the breast-beating Luddites who rued the end of the cave painting era ("Say what you will, but papyrus just doesn't smell like cave wall").

Among the many complaints about the LOTR films was how little background was given to the sad story of the Elves and minor characters being left out. Peter heard us. This time around, he gave the dwarfs a rich and textured history. We can no longer think of them as blundering, blustering ale-quaffing comic reliefs. We also finally begin to understand why dwarfs and elves mistrust each other.

A lot has also been said about how the Hobbit is only a 200-page book and how three movies cannot possibly made. See, this is why you shouldn't trust the critics. Apart from the fact that the film draws from the LOTR appendices, what people don't realize is that, in the book there are several crucial plot points that are dealt with in less than a paragraph. Take the Necromancer for example: in the book, there is barely any discussion about him even though he is so important to the tale. Can you imagine Gandalf saying, "There's a Necromancer who has never been mentioned that I have to go defeat or something. Okay toodles have fun on your quest! Try not to get killed!" In a good book you can say, "He was evil and everybody was afraid of him." In a good movie, you have to show it without saying it.

Is it a detailed and faithful adaptation? Yes. Is it overlong and plodding? Hell no! And I don't just say this as a Tolkien fan: the movie was well paced with several exciting battles and meditative scenes which raised this film above "action flick" status. The Goblin Town escape and the rock giant scenes were superb (and looked much better in HFR format, might I add). And Andy Serkis had better be nominated for his heartrending portrayal of Gollum. I realized that I had never really understood the line "But mercy stayed Bilbo's hand," till I found myself crying in the cinema hall.

few liberties have been taken (the grave of the Witch-King and Azog, for example) but these only served to make the plot more cohesive. In fact, the film-makers' eye for detail was obvious by how well they tied the LOTR films with this movie. The best part was how this film was barely about Bilbo and rightly so, because Bilbo takes some time to fit into his role as burglar/hero.  And Thorin! What a glorious heroic dwarf! Never even in my wildest dreams did I think that some day I'd have wild dreams about Thorin. True, Thorin and Co's avarice has been slightly downplayed; their intention to return to Erebor has been made more noble but if one reads The Hobbit, one does not get a complete sense of how revered Thorin was among the dwarfs. He's not a very pleasant character; Tolkien merely refers to him as "decent folk", "arrogant" and of "Durin's line" and we never understand what that means till the end of the book. It is in LOTR that we understand Thorin's sad history so I am thankful to PJ for treating these characters with so much respect.

My only concerns are that the dwarf Rings ought to have been mentioned by now and Balin as the Venerable Voice of Wisdom, seeing as Balin was the foolhardy dwarf who rushed off to reconquer Moria with a laughably small army a few decades later. Then again, people change and there are two whole movies left so I'll save my questions for the end of the class.

I can see why some have said that this film is inaccessible to non-fans. Gondolin blades are bandied about without telling us what Gondolin is; we aren't told why it is shocking that Belladonna Took's son should good-morning Gandalf. But these little things are meant for the enjoyment of fans and do not materially affect the understanding of the plot. It is possible that the reduced plot exposition may have left some moviegoers puzzled but I don't care because PJ made this film for me. If people refuse to improve their lives by reading Tolkien's books, they don't deserve this film.

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