I couldn’t get any sleep last night until I had written the first draft of this article. At times like these I feel a little sorry that the scifi zine I used to write for ceased to be some years ago. R.I.P. e!Scope (hi, Jörn!). At least there we had an audience of ~3,000 people who could probably have been understanding readers for the rant that is to follow. Now it’s just another blogger ranting away. Why, you ask? Well, because I just saw “The Hobbit 2 – The Desolation of Smaug”.
Ennor, bâr nîn (Middle Earth, my home)
A bit of my background with “Lord of the Rings”. There were two worlds which I adored since I was old enough to appreciate Scifi and fantasy, “Star Wars” and Middle Earth. “The Hobbit” was a gift from my mother when I was nine years old, I was supposedly “too young” for the “Lord of the Rings”, which I read shortly thereafter. And yes, the first volume was a bit harsh for an 11-year-old impatient girl, but I made it through and Tolkien has been one of my favorites ever since. When I was thirteen, I learned Sindarin online and communicated in Elvish, we had a regular vocabulary of around 600 words. The site we used is still online btw. My online alias which I still use today, Thiliel, is inspired by Sindarin as well. It is a translation of my European name and means “The Shining One”. My love for Tolkien came to a peak when the “Lord of the Rings” movies came out since 2001. Yes, they are an interpretation, but rather a good one. Especially the Elves were portrayed in a more somber, haughty nature, the original gaiety, singing and rhyming which is paramount in Tolkien’s fiction was replaced by the elegant, noble Elven folk. Again, an interpretation, but one I could and can live with. It is not mine, but at least it is consistent.
“The Hobbit 1”
Let’s skip a bit ahead in time. The year is 2012. I have played two Lord of the Rings-campaigns with my roleplaying group in anticipation of the movie that is eagerly expected by Tolkien-afficionados around the world: The Hobbit! I have re-read the book two times already.
I left the theater with mixed feelings a year ago. Peter Jackson still had enough credit with me that I would trust him to make a decent movie out of this material, because he had proven himself worthy before. Now, I wasn’t so sure. Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Ian McKellen were excellent choices for the characters. Also Lee Pace as Thranduil was a pleasant surprise, although Luke Evans looks so much like Orlando Bloom he would have been the obvious choice. Nevermind. The dwarves I could live with. Not my interpretation, but acceptable in a way. What really stung with me though was Radagast. That’s an interpretation I can’t live with. Unnecessary slapstick; check. Fecal humor; check. Cowardly behavior; check. Bunny waggon – wtf? Jar Jar Binks Alert!
Now let’s get down to business. I think I have at length expressed that I don’t criticize just for the hell of it, but I’m a genuine fan and have always been greatly inspired by Lord of the Rings. I know a lot of work has gone into making the “Desolation” and it shows; some aspects like the visuals, costumes and concept art hold their ground. Especially the scenes in Erebor and Esgaroth were convincingly made. Mirkwood wasn’t half bad either.
But there are just so many things that make me go to bed angry.
Picture by Irise on deviant art
First off, Beorn. They are making three movies out of one relatively short book. There’s a lot of stretching and plot-threading going on. Nevertheless, they cut one of the funniest scenes in the whole Hobbit down to some wild escape and like two minutes of meaningless conversation. Why can’t they take the time to tell this like it’s meant to be but add action, action, action and a love story (more about THAT later!). The dwarves still have a funny potential and weren’t completely fun-neutered like the elves. So why not make the best of these adorable scenes? Who doesn’t remember the way grumpy Beorn has to be carefully prepared for guests? (We have tons of CGI at hand, would a few animals serving the food at Beorn’s house have been so much effort? I still understand why they left his one out though, they cut Tom Bombadil as well in LOTR.) And last but not least – why the bloody hell would Beorn build a house in which he cannot stand up straight? He is huge, the audience gets that without any Gandalfy headbumping.
Secondly, Tauriel. I don’t even have words. I kept thinking of “The TV Set” as I watched this horrible romance unfold. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s worth it. It tells the story of a writer who runs a pilot for a series, but the channel directors and consumer research force him to alter his script in so many ways that he’d rather die of embarrassment than let this misogynist fart-humor monster that his show has become air on television. For evaluation, the test audience are given controls with which they indicate throughout the pilot what they like and don’t like. It comes as it has to. Sex sells. We all know it.
Let me tell you a bit about elves. Elves in romantic contexts are rare in that universe. Interracial relationships are a once in a millennium exception (Beren & Luthien, Arwen & Aragorn). How likely is it for an approximately 700-year-old Elven woman to have feelings for a little dwarf, who has the lifespan of a gnat, that go anything beyond pity? Whose peoples have been not friendly with each other for centuries? The ‘couple’ gets more screen time than Bilbo! And then the healing… blegh! Of course, it’s Arthelas. Does anyone except me smell a best of Galadriel and Arwen cook-up?
“Hmm, let’s see, we have to insert some kind of fair Elven maiden here. She should be really sexy, possess exceptional healing powers and a halo, fall in love with a member of another race… and of course, we’ve had blonde and a brunette already, let’s have a redhead for a change so we have covered all young adult porn categories!”
The only explanation for the character Tauriel is this: The “Star Wars Episode II” phenomenon. There has to be love involved. Even if it derails the story completely. Padme & Anakin 4eva ❤ ❤
“What place does 3D have in a serious tool show?” Just an example for all the action and blam blam poing. It’s okay if Legolas does a stunt in, let’s say, in a clash of armies once or twice. Good for a laugh, let’s move on. But this Elven Killing Machine Ninja thing is really starting to annoy me. All the things that were kept under control in LOTR seem to get completely out of hand here.
Don’t get me wrong, I love cogwheels. So the part inside the Erebor was pretty cool as a visual fireworks. Skyrim, anyone? Dwarven architecture rocks. Still, what does it have to do with “The Hobbit”? Smaug was a good dragon even if they have to put Cumberbatch in everything nowadays. I could live with this kind of furor in say, “Indiana Jones” minus Shia La Beouf. It’s just there for the sake of WhoooaoooWhooa! “Badabing, you’re scared half to death.” (Tim Allen)
The Desolation of Cinema
What am I going to the cinema for? If I want a ride in a rollercoaster, I’ll go to an amusement park. If I want to almost drown in a river, I’ll go whitewater rafting. If I want to scratch a kinky itch and experience a tete-á-tete between a dwarf and an elf, I’ll go read fan fiction on fanfiction.net or something – and it will probably be better written.
And what for? More money? Better ratings? Awards? The real LOTR-fans might think of this like me. It almost borders on desecration. I am seriously disappointed. So it’s not a movie for the fans.
The average non-fantasy-nerd consumer however will probably appreciate the movie up to a certain point. But we have also reached the time where all the movies of this production size sort of blend in together. It’s just one giant omnium gatherum of the same old formula, boy meets girl, boy fights robots/orcs/own people, becomes king/leader/marries/saves the world. That’s okay, in a way we expect blockbuster movies to be like that. Or at least we have come to accept them this way, mostly. But recently, you can’t even distinguish which Pocahontas revamp you are watching – “Indiana Jones”, “Lord of the Rings”, “Star War”s, “Star Trek”, you name it… So the average consumer will be left with nothing discernible at the end of this movie except with “Oh yeah, dude, it was so cool when x / y did that stunt with the x / x”, except it’s dwarves now, not jedis.
What is it good for?
So why make this movie at all? As a fan, I am severely disappointed. I watch the worlds of my childhood and teenage imagination get trampled on. Over and over. Another franchise is down. As an average non-nerd consumer, I still feel punked and cheated. Should have stayed home and watched Avatar or whatever!
Who are you making movies for, guys?
Official promotional poster
And having watched “The TV Set” I might even be understanding of what the evil overseer made you do to your creative child and have you paint a clown mask and tits on it. I’m so sorry for your loss.
Update: TolkienEditor has recut the three movies into one film, 4,5 hours long. He has thrown out all “unengaging plot tangents and constant narrative filibustering”, and created a version that’s actually watchable. The story mainly focuses on Bilbo, as in the original book, and all the annoying crap isn’t as annoying.