Sunday 13 April 2014

A Hobbit Too Far

Seriously, how many more fucking elves do we need?

Watched the Desolation of Smaug yesterday on DVD. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm getting sick to death of bloody elves.

My first recollection of Tolkein's The Hobbit was of having it read to us in primary school, by Mr Campbell as we all sat on the square of carpet in his classroom. I was probably eight or nine at the time. It was the only story I remember being read to us, and I was quite enchanted by the adventures of Bilbo and the dwarves as they battled spiders in the dark forest of Mirkwood.

I didn't read The Lord of the Rings until I was about eighteen, and I enjoyed that too. When I later played the RPG version of Middle Earth with some friends, I acted as gamesmaster and, as I couldn't afford the commercial supplements that contained the game missions, I created my own, using the original book as my guide. It would be no exaggeration to say that I studied The Lord of the Rings, cover to cover, appendixes included. Not out of undying fan devotion, but because I wanted to pillage it for game ideas.

The years passed by, leaving but a memory of moss covered stones and ruined troll towers, until Peter Jackson unleashed his recent movie extravaganza and I found myself in the cinema, bombarded by in-your-face special effects and nursing a bursting bladder as I sat through each marathon session praying I'd make it to the end without galloping to the toilet (alas, the final movie was just too long and I succumbed).

And it was okay. I mean, it was a pretty impressive effort, considering what there was to cram in. I wasn't impressed with Viggo Mortensen's debut - he made a fantastic action hero, but to my mind he wasn't really Strider. It was only near the end of the trilogy that he gained some of the necessary gravitas. And I thought the Nazgul were badly done - they were nowhere near as awesome and scary as they should have been. More like stiff, stupid robots than the tragic dread souls of ancient kings. But those are minor points. On the whole, I thought it passed, and it will probably be remembered as a great cinematic achievement.

Then we had The Hobbit. That slim book was really just a fun children's story. Peter Jackson obviously had the ambition and gall to make it something much more than that, and he had the reputation of his LoTR movies to build on, plus much of the original CGI and location teams. And New Zealand certainly needed the tourist funding. So off it went on the East-West road, over the hills and far away.

I had my doubts when I first saw the trailer for The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey. To start with, the dwarves didn't look very dwarf-life, most of them. Thorin especially looked like a Viggo Mortensen clone - fit, young and proud, but nothing like a Dwarf at all. The dimensions were all wrong.

It also had that annoying idiot James Nesbitt, who plays the same part with the same accent in anything he stars in, and who comes across as someone taking the piss rather than acting. Thankfully he was upstaged by the rest of the cast, so I didn't have to endure his excruciating performance like I did when I watched Coriolanus. Whoever decided it would be a good idea to cast him as a Roman tribune ought to be fed to the lions.

Anyway, I watched the first Hobbit movie, and it turned out to be okay. My kids loved it, and that was fine by me. Then we got to the second movie...

It started well, with an inserted scene in Bree (cue Peter Jackson cameo in the first few seconds) that set the scene for those who'd forgotten the first movie. The goblins did their thing, Beorn came and went from the screen a little too quickly, the spiders caught the dwarves and Bilbo rescued them just as he did in the book. Then, for no reason at all, the elves were brought in to finish the spiders off, just to show what cool fighters they were. Orlando Bloom reappears as Legolas, with his amazing moves, and a she-elf is added for the ladies in the audience. Or for the guys to fantasise over, I don't know. And of course, because we're no longer in the dark ages, the she-elf is the obigatory kick-ass heroine.

Action movies used to have token females. Now they have token feminists.

But apart from displaying lightning fast reactions and swift martial arts moves, this elf needs to be given something to do in the story - so she falls in love with a dwarf who, as luck would have it, doesn't look like a stumpy, stout beardy dwarf, but like a young, handsome man. Lucky her, eh?

But we're soon back to Legolas and the she-elf defeating half the goblin hordes all by themselves.

In the LOTR movies, we were treated to a whole range of elven martial arts moves ripped straight from the Matrix movies. It was new and interesting then, with mind bogglingly complex choreography and impossible gravity-&-physics defying stunts to wow the audience. It was original.

It isn't now, though. As I watched Legolas twist, stab and shoot goblins at the rate of one a second in the water barrels scene, I felt weariness start to set in. The same moves that I'd seen in the LOTR, the same effortless smugness, even the same surfing-dude-with-a-bow move, this time with a dead goblin instead of a shield. If the elves are really as hard and as cool as that, one wonders how any goblins or orcs could possibly be left alive in Middle-Earth. And they go on stabbing and posing in Lake Town as well, even though they didn't in the book. I was getting sick of the sight of them by then and I just wanted them to piss off. Or maybe the pointy eared master race was going to conquer the whole of Erebor as well? Why not stick around to shoot the dragon, clear the mountains of orcs and take Dol Guldur as well, all before breakfast? And after that, they can drive their tanks through Poland.

Up till that point, the movie had been going fine for me, but worse was to come once Bilbo and the dwarves (remember them?) reached the mountain and slipped inside. After we got past the initial Sherlock and Watson Smaug and Bilbo encounter, we then got to see the (added on) spectacle of Thorin inflating his ego to no end, and the next thing you know, the dwarves are themselves swinging about pointlessly, leading the dragon to the forges, dragging out the movie with more impossible physics and special effects, just so the dragon can be covered in gold prior to pissing off to do what he was going to do anyway - which is to torch the town.

Except the bloody movie ends before that actually happens. Agh!

Would I pay money to watch the third one in the cinema? No I wouldn't, even if I could afford it. Three hobbit movies is too much - two would have been enough. The whole thing's been dragged out too far, with too much special-effects filler and too many desperate plot contortions.

Probably a great movie for kids - if you can get them to restlessly sit through it for long enough, as it's another marathon epic. Or maybe it just felt like that to me.

Still, at least the dwarves didn't sing in this one. And I got so pissed off at the elves and Thorin that I actually forgot James Nesbitt was there. So it wasn't all bad.

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