Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb…
Scott Mendelson joins the ranks of film critics knocking Peter Jackson down a peg for his first (of three) films of The Hobbit:
“This first film, shamefully bloated and lacking in any justification for its padding, plays less like a theatrical cut, or even like an extended edition DVD version, and more like an assembly edit, with everything tossed in and nothing pruned. Yes I know Jackson is adding additional material from the Appendices and elsewhere, but the end result is a bloated and often quite-dull would-be adventure that has little of the wide-eyed wonder and emotional pull of the original trilogy. The irony is, much of the extra material seems intended to better tie this new trilogy into the prior one.“
Read the full article here.
I’m not an obsessive Lord of the Rings fan. I watched the original three at the cinema and waited patiently for the extended editions when they were released each year. I still waited until the entire trilogy was released and, even then, waited for it to go down in price. I always feel that patience is a virtue with blockbuster films – especially trilogies. Suffice to say, I’ll get all six when they are released on Blu-ray in four years. But, I do like the films – and I completely agreed with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King winning Best Picture in 2003. Peter Jackson created a fascinating series of films – groundbreaking in their special effects, innovative in their framing within a three-part film series, and genius in their adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original work.
That was 2003 – we are now almost 10 years on from the end of the original trilogy and again, we are asked to visit Middle-earth. In my honest opinion, even now, when I think back to the big three films of this year, The Hobbit is not amongst them. Blame marketing and blame publicity, but I was not desperate to go back. Maybe all the fantasy worlds that surrounded cinema in the early noughties has simply moved on. Gone are the wizards and boy leads fighting dragons and goblins; we are now firmly within the superhero age which, I believe, has peaked in 2012.
In preparation to my viewing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I listened to The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack – and it reminded me of the world. The elves, the Shire and Gandalf. The soundtrack even reminded me of the Ringwraiths, Sauron and Aragorn – all of which, I knew, would not feature in the latest film. By the time I sat to watch the film, I was excited about what was to come and, without turning my weekly article into a review, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. In a nutshell, the Higher Frame Rate was interesting and ‘smoother’, but I would rather have the [inaccessible] option to watch the film in 2D and with a HFR. Ironically, Mendelson would prefer the same viewing experience.
But Mendelson and I clearly disagree on what the film was – and crucially, why audiences wanted to return to The Shire. Part of the “wide-eyed wonder” was re-experiencing the landscapes of New Zealand as cameras float above our characters’ journey, and Jackson ensures this is included. In the incredible detail of HFR, it looks grander than I recall in the original trilogy. The appendices, in and of themselves, could not be turned into separate films – a trilogy is more poetic, and in keeping with the steady-build of the original three. Whether by DVD or Blu-ray, by 2014, everyone will have caught up with the films to be there, opening night for the final film. Three separate films would not have the same marketability – and, by putting all the missed material together, I can only imagine that Tolkien fans will be pleased that stories, that were potentially never to see the light of day, have sneaked into the films.
Mendelson ties himself in knots trying to break apart his own petty frustrations: “the only emotion I felt this time around were the moments where Jackson and composer Howard Shore use the original themes” and “if I point out that the film strains to turn Thorin into Aragorn 2.0, then I will also point out that the film doesn’t try to otherwise copy the fellowship from 11 years ago”. I was satisified with these nods to The Lord of the Rings and as characters appear from the first three, there is a sense of warmth that we are in the same world. The extended sequence of Saruman, Galadriel, Gandalf and Elrond, Mendelson compares to the Sylvester Stallone / Arnold Schwarzenegger / Bruce Willis sequence in The Expendables, but it is so much more. They talk of the forces at work – the inevitable wars that are shortly around the corner. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a sequel to the Lord of the Rings, but it is set as a prequel. It acknowledges your knowledge of the series and yet brings more of the world to life – who knew that Gimli had such a fascinating history with his fellow Dwarves.
Personally, I believe that the timing of the film’s production and release seems at odds with current cinema trends - and critics are rebelling against this. But the studio couldn’t wait forever – and if they wanted characters to return, they had to act quickly before actors became too old. Once all is said and done, I believe this trilogy will be something that, amongst fans, will remain a great addition to their J.R.R. Tolkien film collection, but I doubt the critics and awards will favour the extension of the series as it simply feeds into the money-making excess of the industry, rather than the artistry of filmmaking. But I think the beauty of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series is the artistry established in 2001 – the world he created and characters he introduced. The Hobbit takes us back there and I, for one, am glad to return. If only all sequels were so respectful.