Storytelling Failures – The “Hobbit” Trilogy: New Zealand Tourism

You thought I’d forgotten about finishing this, didn’t you?  Oh, no, no, my penchant for rambling criticism is not yet satiated.  I just got busy with other things, but when I saw that the home edition of “The Battle of Five Armies” was coming out, I figured this was as good a time as any to continue my epic rant on why these movies disappointed me so, so much that I had to split it up into more parts than the actual movie trilogy.

The third of my criteria for storytelling failures is setting.  I’m going to discuss the use of special effects in this trilogy and the original.  Remember, just because CGI can be used doesn’t mean it should.  This is why the video game developers were up more points than the creative team.

1) Middle Zealand – As far as a stand-in for Middle-earth goes, New Zealand is probably the best available.  It’s rugged, there aren’t a lot of people, and it’s beautiful.  No complaints.

2) Generic Orc Villain – herein starts some of my problems with the use of special effects.  I’ve read that there were a lot of practical effects in these movies, but I really noticed the use of CGI.  Even though I know the orcs in “LotR” were people in make-up, the fights were made more visceral for me because I knew real people were really fighting each other (and there were real accidents like the one that led to these great moments).  The awesome practical make-up effects actually helped immerse me in the story.  But Azog and Bolg looked like boss monsters in “The Hobbit: The Video Game.”  I have read that Bolg was supposed to be Azog’s son which is why they looked so much alike, but to me it looked like Azog was the base model orc and the special effects tech took the base model, just flattened out the head, blinded an eye, changed the skin color, and stuck some stupid metal plates in the chest and called that “Bolg.”  Yeah, that’s a totally different orc…  Gollum looked more realistic than the orc villains.  The obvious CGI just pulled me out of the movie.

3) Generic Goblin Villain – second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.  The goblins in Moria looked much, much better.

4) CG MenagerieSmaug was the pinnacle of the special effects work.  I know a dragon isn’t real, but Smaug looked real.  He did not look like some boss monster in a video game.  After a bit of suspension of disbelief because I know dragons aren’t real, I totally bought into Bilbo talking to this monster.  Every movement was seamless and exceptional.  That was what everything should have looked like.  The eagles were fine, I suppose, as far as CG birds go, and so was Beorn.  I know not everything can be as awesome as Smaug, but at least the rest of the animals were adequately rendered.

5) Green Screen City – Some parts of New Zealand just do not stand in for Middle-earth, and that’s what green screens are for.  Except when they feel like green screens.  Rivendell seemed like a green screen to me (even if it turns out it wasn’t) although Erebor came across better to me.  And props to the props department for building up Laketown.  Overall, adequate, I suppose.

6) Lucas-ing (or, “just because you can with CGI doesn’t mean you should”) – so very much…

a) Magic rabbit sled.
b) Warg chases.
c) Escape from Goblintown level.
d) Escape from Mirkwood level (play as either a dwarf or Legolas/Tauriel!).
e) Lonely Mountain obstacle course level.
f) Elven Super Mario Brothers jumping.
g) Battle of Five Armies turn-based strategy level.
h) Orc boss fights.

7) Cluttered – looking at the posters of the dwarves as I tried to figure out who was who, I noticed that they actually do look quite different.  A lot of effort went into the practical make-up effects and costuming to give them different hairstyles, different faces, and different clothes.  They also had different accents.  But for all that attention to detail, I didn’t realize Bifur had an AXE in his FACE until I saw the “How it Should Have Ended” for the movie.  There was always just too much going on to really take in details, or something that should be flippin’ obvious like an AXE in Bifur’s FACE.

In short, the setting failed to live up to the original trilogy.  The over-use of CGI (Smaug aside) actually pulled me out of the story instead of immersing me in the story.  And that is a pretty big failure.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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