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Now that the edges have blurred

Right around Christmas and the turning of the year, dicea asked me to post my review of "The Time of the Doctor" and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I said I would, and would throw in Catching Fire for free.

Even at the time I knew they would be less review than response, because what I want to say about them is filled with tangents, and layers, and caveats, and that's not a review.

So let's start with the Peter Jackson.

I don't like The Hobbit. Never have. I've bought a new copy to read, in hopes that 40 years on my reaction will change (on my list, not done yet). Yes. It has been over 40 years since I read The Hobbit. I am that old. The photo in the pageant book makes that devastatingly clear. But even with those intervening decades I knew that turning The Hobbit into three films was...ludicrous. Two, maybe, because there is a great deal of action in the book, and lots of locales, and to include them all, and have the story be clear...okay, I'll buy in for two. But three? *sigh* My head keeps screaming at me that it's all driven by profit and ego, and it makes me cranky, so I walk into the films cranky. It colors how I see the films, how I respond. Cranky. But the section covered in the second film, the Mirkwood scenes and introduction of Bard of Lake Town, is the only part of the book I recall with pleasure, so I was hopeful.

There are some good things, I think.

-Martin Freeman is well-cast as the younger Bilbo. There is enough talent in his performance, and attention to some Ian Holmish turns, that you can believe he grows into Frodo's uncle. Oh, he isn't the Bilbo from my head (which is good, because I really, really didn't like him at all), but he works in the fictive world that is the Lord of the Rings filmic universe.
-Sir Ian McKellen is, again, not my Gandalf, but in these films he is the wizard "quick to anger," and I missed that from the first films (of course his annoyance at the process in this project probably helped him be bad tempered--he probably wasn't always acting that part).
-My favorite dwarf (Balin) is still my favorite, though I think they've made him too old for me to believe he tried to re-establish the Kingdom of Moria (for those not obsessed with all things Middle Earth, Balin's is the tomb where Gimli mourns in The Fellowship of the Ring).
-The version of Thorin Oakenshield is...seductive in this film (younger and more charismatic than I recall from the book), and may be the best bit in the trilogy of films, because Richard Armitage really seems to me to be portraying all the best and worst of Dwarvenkind. I have to give the screenwriters some credit for that as well. By the end of the second film you can see how the Dwarven kings fell to the 7 rings, but also how that never worked in Sauron's favor. That thematic development requires time, and may be the only thing that doing three films benefits.
-The voice acting and CGI for Smaug were, I thought, some of the best of their type I have seen recently.
-And Thranduil. I was not impressed with the stills I saw of the character, nor the brief glimpse in Unexpected Journey. But in this film Lee Pace brings the darkness of elven longevity, and the arrogance of elves, firmly to the fore, while still preserving the strength and elegance of the race. Thranduil is...frightening, and he should be. He is not "bad" or "evil," but he should be feared, and avoided. If he cannot be avoided, he must be appeased. Those are the only options.
-Bard. Beautifully cast, strongly performed. Showing the strength of men, while also showing how they have fallen. (I may be influenced by the fact that he looks much more like the Strider in my head than Viggo Mortensen ever could.)

There are, however, some horrors in the film, and I don't mean the spiders, goblins, and Necromancer.

-Every. single. thing. Jackson dragged in. I'll stay with this film and not discuss elements that were in the first film but not brought into this one. The biggest offenders are Legolas and Tauriel. Really interesting fan fiction. They don't belong in the movie. They don't help the plot, and the scenes between her and Kili are...an embarrassment. Yes, they allow the Mirkwood section to go on longer, which is necessary since there are THREE films (see note above), but otherwise they are pandering to fangirls and political correctness (there aren't a lot of women in Tolkien's stories--deal with it: the ones that ARE in the stories are strong, matter, and are respected: I'll take that).
-The blatant pandering to videogame action sequences. Rather than action that looks and feels real the shots and events are clearly "and in the game this is where the PoV character will...." Hate it.
-The ridiculousness of Sylvester McCoy's portrayal of Radegast the Brown. I am sure McCoy is doing exactly what he was asked to do. Radegast is NOT comic relief, and I really resent how he is being used in these films.
-The horrible quality of the goblins, orcs, and wargs in these films drags me right out of Middle-Earth and smack into my theatre seat every time I see them. I thought maybe it was that I was so "accustomed to them" that I was being hypercritical. Then I rewatched HD versions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King on my 32" 720dpi screen, and then watched my HD version of Unexpected Journey. Nope. The LotR orcs and wargs were better. MUCH better. The goblins, orcs, and wargs in The Hobbit films are more animation than anything else, where in the LotR films they were clearly live-action combined with CGI. They were "real," fully dimensional both visually and in motion. Watching the orcs and wargs in The Hobbit films almost makes me long for the Rankin-Bass version.
-The Master of Laketown. I adore Stephen Fry. I follow him on Twitter, I love A Bit of Fry and Laurie, I've watched his dramatic turns (on BBC mysteries or on Bones), and I delight in his character from the Black Adder series. But his Master is...horribly, horribly wrong. The Master is ridiculous, but that should be terrifying because of his incompetence and venality: he is not a buffoon, and yet that is how Fry plays him, because that is how it is apparently written in the screenplay.

When you look at my two lists they look fairly even. For this film, to be fair, they may be. I like this one much more than An Unexpected Journey overall, but the things I hate about it I hate with more passion and disdain than the first film, which I found...occasionally annoying but mostly innocuous. More than the first Hobbit movie, this film reminds me of how good Jackson, Boyens, and Walsh can be at really "getting" Tolkien's world and characters and adapting those to the medium of film. But the bloat in this one is horrific, and the juxtaposition of the moments of sheer "Yes!" with the "You've got to be kidding me." leaves a sour taste in my mouth when all is said and done, and that ultimately ruins the experience.

This turned out much longer than I'd expected, so I think The Doctor and Katniss will have to wait for another day. Night all.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 15th, 2014 11:28 pm (UTC)
thank you
This made my evening.
Jan. 16th, 2014 02:52 pm (UTC)
more mistaken reading and I just saw Morgan Freeman as Bilbo and was thinking WAAA
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )