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A Movie Entry – Desolation of A Childhood Favorite

or, “Thoughts on the next ‘Hobbit’ movie.”

or, “This was going to be a scathing rant on the metamorphosis of Peter Jackson into George Lucas until an unfortunately reasonable friend of mine brought up several salient points that made me reconsider my anger so if this entry is not entertaining, blame him.”

I am not sure if I’m going to see the next entry into the “Hobbit” trilogy.  Okay, I lie.  I’m totally going to see it, but I’m also resigned to being disappointed.  I am also going to try to see it in the theater that serves craft beer, so at least I get something worthwhile out of my experience.  Obviously I didn’t care much for the first movie (which is probably evident from my fifteen-minute version of it), and seeing the trailers for the second one, I am pretty certain I won’t care much for the second one either.

I loved The Hobbit.  It is a kid’s story, and as such is full of convenient timing and events, but it’s still a good story.  Here is a list, in order, of the events that occurred in the book:

1) “Concerning hobbits…”
2) Dwarf house party!
3) Trolls and treasure.  Level up!
4) Elrond reads a map.
5) Captured by goblins and riddles in the dark.
6) “Fifteen birds/in pine fir trees…
7) Beorn.
8) Fear and loathing in Mirkwood Forest (or, “Spiders spiders spiders AAUUGGH!!!”)
9) Caught in the wood/by the wooden kings’ men…
10) Escape from Mirkwood, in barrels!
11) Freeloading in Dale.
12) Half the game is dungeons, but the other half is dragons…  and it turns out taunting a dragon is a bad idea.
13) Shot in the dark over Dale.
14) The ransom of the Arkenstone.
15) The Battle of Five Armies.
16) Concerning being legally dead and practically robbed.

I realize that laying all of this out in a list makes it seems like a lot of events.  I could probably condense that list a little as well.  But in the book this all plays out pretty quickly.  So, to recap the first movie – 1 through 6.  For three hours!!  Way back in the in ’70s (I think), an animation studio called Rankin & Bass produced a version of The Hobbit.  I thought it was pretty good and covered just about the entire list above (except for 7 and 11).  That movie was also just about two hours long.  Also notice there is absolutely nothing about a fight with a necromancer.  Gandalf tells them before he leaves them at Mirkwood he has business to attend to with the necromancer of Mirkwood.  When Bilbo finds him waiting in the enemy camp and all the explanation he gets from Gandalf is one or two lines to the effect of, “The wizards drove out the necromancer of Mirkwood.”  That wasn’t integral to the story of the hobbit at all; it was just a handwave to explain the lack of the much more powerful wizard for the most dangerous part of the journey.

I sat through three hours of Hobbit Part 1 and only got to the eagles, and they weren’t even done properly!  Rankin & Bass at least gave the eagles enough time to explain that a) they were sentient b) monitoring goblin activity anyway and c) the king owed Gandalf a life-debt.  That really makes the behavior of the eagles in the Battle of Five Armies and the battle at the Black Gate in Return of the King a lot more logical.  If Gandalf just had giant birds at his beck and call, why the hell didn’t he have them take the whole dwarven party to the Lonely Mountain or Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom?  The problem of course was that I sat through a whole bunch of movie that had little to nothing to do with the hobbit.  Three hours of movie and a bunch of filler.

And then we get to the really irritating part of this which is how the other two movies are going to be split up.  It looks like from the trailers the next movie will cover Items 7 through 14, while the third will cover 15 and 16.  Um, excuse me?  I spent three freakin’ hours sitting through dwarven history I don’t care about plus a pointless subplot with an orc and some rock-tossin’ giants and only get to the eagles, which weren’t even done right.  And it also looks like there’s going to be some kind of romantic subplot with Legolas and a girl and of course somewhere in all that is the battle with the necromancer.  So the second movie will have everything I just mentioned plus a rom-com and wizard duel.  Three freakin’ hours of stupid dwarf history and they couldn’t have split this thing up better?  And then three more hours just for the Battle of Five Armies and the fall-out?

But said friend mentioned above pointed a few things out to me:
1) It is not fair to compare the book to the movie.  They are different things.

Counter – But Peter Jackson has already successfully adapted a long set of books into a long set of movies.  While I could identify differences from the Lord of the Rings, I understood the reasons behind the deviations.  The biggest problem with LotR is that the most important of the story, the part on which victory is contingent, on which everything else would be moot if it failed, the story of Frodo and Sam, is the least cinematic part of the books.  Things do happen to them, but they do a lot of walking.  There is so much walking I actually alternate chapters of books 1 and 2 in The Two Towers to get through that side of the story.  Jackson managed to overcome this and other problems to my mind quite well (although I still don’t understand why the Ents had to be tricked into war).

Counter 2 – As shown by Rankin & Bass, it isn’t necessary to make three movies and add filler.  The only parts that movie left out was Beorn and freeloading in Dale because that wasn’t central to the action.  Beorn is cool, no doubt, but he doesn’t really do anything except give them ponies, which he takes away as soon as they reach Mirkwood.  He is in the Battle of Five Armies, but that’s still a part that could easily be left out for cinematic brevity.

2) The movie languished in production hell and has several different versions and directors.

Yeah, this is the one that stopped my angry rant.  The only movie I can think of that actually benefited from languishing in production hell was The Emperor’s New Groove.  Guillermo del Toro was the original director, and I wonder how much was filmed with him at the helm (I’m not complaining; I like his style, but it is distinctly different from Jackson and perhaps not compatible).  I wonder how much story was added during the multiple versions.  For example, that whole subplot with Azog seemed shoehorned and now I wonder how much time had already been devoted to that, leaving Jackson with no choice but to keep it.  I wonder who made the decision to add Radagast to the movie(s) even though he wasn’t in the book.  I wonder who decided Legolas was going to be in some kind of romantic quandary (as seems in the trailer anyway).  It makes sense for Legolas to be in this movie, actually, since he a prince of Mirkwood.  I wouldn’t mind at all if he was present at the Battle of Five Armies, or even during the dwarves’ captivity.  But a love story?  This seems like a misguided effort to diversify the cast (i.e., there are no women in The Hobbit).  Normally I support diversity, but it has to work within the story.  Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised…

I’m not letting Peter Jackson off the hook entirely.  Thorin’s “suicide run” off the burning pine trees to take out Azog was pretty lame.  Also, for a movie that keeps reminding me it’s a prequel to LotR, I still don’t know which dwarf Gloin is.  But I have gone from angry to resigned as far as this movie set goes.  I’m not sure Peter Jackson is turning into George Lucas.  Maybe he is, and that would be unfortunate, but maybe he’s trying to make the best of a mess he found himself in.  Either way, I’m going to make sure I’m at a movie theater that serves good beer.  At least that way I’ll get something out of the experience.

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