Continuing his look at the Most Disappointing Films of All Time, Anghus Houvouras turns his attention to The Hobbit; warning – spoilers ahead….
I was discussing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug with some friends, and one remarked how much he enjoyed the movie. He immediately followed that statement by asking for some clarification on the ending, when Thorin and the Dwarves were running through the mines trying to survive the monstrous Dragon.
“What didn’t you get?” I asked, not quite sure what in that scene required explanation.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t get it.” he replied. “I missed part of it when I was asleep.”
It was a baffling conversation, but far from the first of its kind. Last year when the first installment of this infinite adaptation arrived, I marveled at the amount of people who admitted what a long, boring slough the film was and yet ardently defended the bloated mess Jackson has unleashed upon the world. These Hobbit apologists are a funny lot. They’ll concede every point, admit every failing, and yet still talk about how much they liked Jackson’s latest foray into Middle-earth. I did not. Rather than just blindly throw out criticism towards Jackson and these pointlessly long spectacles, I thought I’d take a moment and provide some real analysis on the subject before going all straw man on you.
Everyone moans about the length of the Hobbit films. It’s a dead horse at this point beaten beyond recognition. And while I agree that they’re too long, it’s not the length that the problem. It’s the pointlessness of what is contained within that length. I balked at all the people who declared that the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was too long and ridiculously indulgent. I defended the extended epilogues and the earned endings. The Hobbit deserves no such defense. There’s some scenes I’m going to discuss, so be warned: Spoilers Ahead.
The opening scene of The Desolation of Smaug catches us back up with Bilbo and his Fellowship of Dwarves. They’re trying to escape their Orc tormenters when something else shows up: A feral Bear creature (Beorn) that chases them through the woods and into a house. Turns out the house belongs to Beorn who is more than meets the eye and can transform from giant bear to giant man. While there, we learn that Beorn doesn’t care for Dwarves or Orcs. He’s basically a giant racist with some epic sideburns. He agrees to help Thorin, Bilbo, Gandalf and the rest with horses which they discard four minutes later.
What was the point of this scene?
In introduces us to Beorn and gives the Dwarves yet something else to flee from. Then again, they were already fleeing from the Orcs so we already had a motivating reason to keep our heroes moving. Once Beorn helps them out, he’s no longer in the film. Sure, he’ll probably be back in the final installment The Hobbit: There and Back Again, but for the sake of argument let’s just discuss him in this film. Beorn shows up as a bear. Chases the Dwarves into a cabin. Talks about not trusting greedy Dwarves, and gives them horses that they abandon when they get to the woods five minutes later. Did we need this scene? Would the movie have suffered at all if we’d started Smaug with the them on the run from the Orcs and arriving at the woods? What did the scene with Beorn provide an audience? Another chase. Another meal time conversation. But nothing of added value to the story for those unfamiliar with the book.
When Jackson did the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, he took out things that didn’t serve the forward momentum of the story. Remember that guy? Remember the Peter Jackson that left out characters like Tom Bombadil because he was concerned with the pace of the story? What happened to that guy? Now he’s adding things to the films that were never in the books like some kind of Middle-earth revisionist historian.
My point is, the scene with Beorn has no point other than padding and/or fan service. We already know that Middle-earth looks down on Dwarves (tee hee). We already have plenty of motivation to keep the Dwarves on the run. Any storyteller worth their salt would be pruning things like this out of the story. Sacrificing fan service for the greater story. But Jackson doesn’t seem to be making a movie that serves the original novel, and I think we all knew that the minute he decided to add a third movie to the series.
I have no problem with long movies. I have a problem with pointless ones.
We’ve lost Peter Jackson as a legitimate filmmaker. He no longer is making movies for audiences. He’s making $200 million dollar special effects laden, needlessly long geek pornography that barely manages to create any real characters in spite of a nearly three hour run time. I was forgiving of the first installment of these Middle-earth prequels because I thought I was watching a marginally entertaining, needlessly long opening installment that was setting the foundation for a more robust adventure. The second film, The Desolation of Smaug, has not just invalidated that theory but proven how incapable Peter Jackson has become at delivering a fulfilling cinematic experience. He’s a slave to the digital filmmaking toolbox and is much more interested in crafting set pieces than creating something unique, and frankly, coherent. This is piss poor storytelling with failings at a fundamental level.
There’s a line early into the nearly three hour first installment of The Hobbit that stuck in my mind. Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) is telling Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) some tall tales about his ancestors. When Bilbo disputes the truthfulness of these stories, Gandalf replies “Every good story needs embellishing”. On a fundamental level, I have to respectfully disagree with Gandalf and I could easily use The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug as exhibit A for the prosecution. These movies are long. Painfully long. Abusively long. And long for no good reason.
The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was long. And even still it felt packed to the brim with happenings. There were multiple narratives, a dozen characters with wildly divergent story arcs, and an epic battle of good versus evil. Sometimes it takes three long installments to tell a story as epic as The Lord of the Rings. And I have no qualms telling you I was a fan of the originals. I was fortunate enough to be at the first North American screening of Return of the King with Peter Jackson in attendance back in 2003.
The Hobbit is lacking in so many areas when compared to the far superior storytelling of the original trilogy. The characters are dull. The visuals are drenched in special effects and look implausibly unrealistic. The computer animated characters that make up Middle-earth feel far less three dimensional than the actors in make up that populated the original films. Nothing about The Hobbit movies feels genuine, or necessary. The characters are harmless enough, but you never really learn anything about them. You get some basic back-story on Thorin (Richard Armitage), heir to the Dwarf throne and the tragedies that have befallen him. This helps explain why he spends the entire movie acting like he has a piece of oak wedged up his ass. Martin Freeman is a fantastic performer. And he does a great job playing Bilbo as the nervous and out of his element Hobbit tasked with helping these Dwarves reclaim their home. He’s the least problematic element of The Hobbit movies and unfortunately spends much of the film as a silent, reactionary witness to this unfolding story. If you like scene after scene of dwarves running through the woods being chased by wolves, The Hobbit may be your pornography.
Sitting through nearly three six hours on the first two installments was a chore. The entire effort felt like a labor. And I don’t think I have another three hours in me to sit through the rest of Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit. This is a filmmaker who is no longer telling a story, but a guy with too many crayons in the box. He’s abandoned the concept of lines and borders and is instead just kind of pissing paint onto a canvas. The audience almost seems irrelevant to the process. There’s 90 minutes of forward momentum and 90 minutes of cinematic masturbation. The Hobbit is the cinematic equivalent of jerking off. I’ve paid over twenty dollars to watch Peter Jackson rub one out… twice.
It’s disappointing because Peter Jackson used to be a filmmaker of relevance and creativity. And he’s used all the goodwill from making some really good films to transform himself into George Lucas producing garish, effects driven nonsense without a real sense of character, geography, or realism. There’s nothing new or novel to The Hobbit. By trying to add weight and gravitas to what is a frivolous little adventure story, he’s sucked all the joy and fun out of Tolkien’s source material. He’s making the same mistakes George Lucas made with his Star Wars prequels; too focused on reference and homage, too indulgent, too many special FX. The Hobbit films are poor, joyless adaptations. For someone who enjoyed his early low budget offerings so much, and the first three Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit has been a massive disappointment.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.