After living for a year in Ucluelet, on Vancouver Island's rugged outer shore, we decided to fulfill another dream and move to the downtown area of Vancouver. These are the adventures, in words and images, of a couple of retirees now based in Lower Lonsdale.

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Monday, 29 December 2014

The Hobbit: Peter Jackson's Back Story Boondoggle

Many years ago now, a friend lent me a slim volume entitled ‘The Hobbit’. I was enchanted by its simple yet enjoyable story. I was further delighted to discover the weighty three-book sequel, ’The Lord of the Rings’, which expanded the Middle Earth universe and populated it with a richness and depth that, at times, seemed almost too much.

Having just watched the final episode of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, I simply had to put words to paper to express my dismay.

If I had to come up with two words that fit how I feel about this series, it would be "wretched excess". Jackson has taken a simple children’s story, complete with a talking dragon and singing dwarves and turned it into a concoction of bloated back story, choked with characters from later books, or even from out of thin air, all floating along in a miasma of computer-generated nasties.

While the Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR) deviated quite obviously from the books, to include Marvel Comic-type Middle Earth superheroes that could surf down stairs on a shield, or an elephaunt’s trunk, whilst firing an imponderable number of perfectly aimed arrows etc, there was simply so much material available in the books that the overall end product still redeemed itself fairly well.

Not so here. Here, it is as Bilbo describes in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’: "Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread." Too right!

Let us put aside for a moment the sheer volume of violence throughout the three movies, and especially during this last installment – which has become ever more realistic as CGI has matured – not to mention that the battle scenes seem to get more and more unrealistically choreographed and presented, and dwell on the characters.

We seem to have gained quite an amount of excess baggage in the character department, and those additions apparently demand a remarkable amount of screen time. Take, for example, Thranduil, King of the Grey Elves. Prettiest man I ever saw ridin’ a reindeer! I’d say he is a major character, with attendant screen time and lines galore. So, OK, he is the father of Legolas. Mentioned in that context four (4) times in LOTR. Never mentioned in The Hobbit (TH).

The Lady Galadriel also has some pretty dope scenes in last Hobbit flick too; she does a major one where she channels her glowing-blue Goth Bitch Elf thing… wicked! Hey, good ol’ Saruman is also in that scene… Odd that neither are even mentioned in the TH.

Rabbit-Man Radagast: mentioned once in TH as Gandalf’s "good cousin who lives near the Southern borders of Mirkwood". Yet here he is, fleshed out, or should I say thatched out as a major supporting character.

For sheer screen time, let us not forget the fabulous ‘Legolas & Tauriel Show’! Now there’s a subplot to end all subplots. Legolas, is a character from LOTR, and not present in TH. Here, our Sk8er-boi elf refines his body-surfing and fighting legerdemain, skipping merrily from orc head to orc head, unleashing arrows from a self-filling quiver… and yes, his hair is perfect!

And wait, he’s teamed up with Tauriel, a stunning elf-lette who promptly abandons him and falls for one of the dwarves. Good grief! BTW, Tauriel… in neither TH nor LOTR. Just sayin’.

Then we have a retinue of baddies!

Azog the Defiler, an evil-looking goblin is the main protagonist. Well, he is mentioned in TH as having killed Thorin’s dad. And he is in the LOTR Appendices.

Bolg, of whom we see even less in the movie, actually rates four mentions in TH.

Then there’s the failed comedic duo of The Master of Laketown and the clottish Alfrid. Master of Laketown scores one mention, Alfrid: sorry, zip, just a figment of Jackson’s imagination, and an astonishingly bad one at that.

Jackson, in a vain attempt to somehow expand the 65-odd remaining pages of the story into a last blockbuster movie, has padded everywhere. Long, long moments are repeatedly shown of Thorin’s descent into destructive and divisive avarice, then followed by a long, long, long sequence where he finally realizes his folly (whilst sliding over the event horizon of a golden black hole). Cinema at its best, doncha know?

But the violence, the violence! It’s everything you could wish for (and then much, much more). There are despicable nasties of every type and size: orcs, trolls, goblins, death bats, whatevers, and whole armies of them. There’s even at one point – fuck me – giant sandworms from Arrakis! I kid you not, although Gandolf – looking rather apologetic and embarrassed – solemnly intones, "Were-worms" (or some such).

Can you say "extravaganza"?

The good? Well, we saw it in 3D IMAX and I have to say that they’ve fine-tuned the 3D experience quite a bit. The colours don’t seem so dulled any longer, and the out-of-focus peripheral vision issue seems to be minimized somewhat. Unfortunately, the trolls who cleaned the glasses had still to nail the job, and we had filthy glasses we had to deal with before the show.

Taken purely for cinematic art, and studiously ignoring any knowledge of the story’s origins, the trilogy is a ripping good yarn, with fine actors, such as Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen anchoring the cast. Billy Connolly is a lovely comic addition as Dáin, replete with an immense pig for a steed.

I suppose that we will now be treated to the inexorable follow-on "extended" versions of these three movies. And since the storyline is already strained to the point of snapping, I surmise that all of the additional probably 50-60 minutes (per movie), will be more bloated backstory and feeble additional attempts at romance and frivolity. Gosh, I can hardly wait.

You know, it would be an interesting exercise to have someone drastically re-cut the three films to include only material that follows the book. I bet you’d get a snapping good 90-minute to 2-hour movie.

The bottom line: If you’re a fan of the movies of LOTR and not worried about the tenuous connection to the original book, then by all means, see this trilogy. If, on the other hand, you treasure the integrity of the book, please spare yourself the grief and take a pass.

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