Monday, January 26, 2015

The Hobbit Trilogy

The Hobbit Trilogy - 474 min  - PG13

I had the opportunity to do a Hobitthon when the final film of this trilogy came out.  It wasn't affiliated with any theater. It was my son and I watching the first two on video on demand and then going to the final one in the theater. As I was watching this with my son it was easier to take off the critic hat and enjoy it as a fan. I have always stated that the story doesn't have three movies worth of content. The BBC did a experiment and they found that it takes 5.2 hours to read the book where it takes 8.5 hours to watch the trilogy.

Face it, this trilogy is mostly fan fiction.  Because of the liberties that were taken with the hints and nuggets of story threads J.R.R. Tolkien left in the stories.  This is the best funded production of fan fiction I have seen. At times it feels like a contrived prequel to the LoTR movies. I can't ignore the heavy-handed attempt at blending the two. This story is a prequel on its own but on screen it feels overly so.

I have already reviewed this film here. I am not going to spend a lot of time on this one. But in retrospect it's probably the best one out of all three. It lays the groundwork to make transition from LoTR seamless, and gives us a look at what started Bilbo's journey. We also start seeing a lot of the fan fiction parts that Mr. Jackson created. 

The book never goes into what Gandalf is doing when he is not with the party. We just see him exist stage left to go do Wizardly things.  We wouldn't understand.  Poof he is gone. Mr. Jackson takes liberties and makes use of these gaps by inserting speculation on what Gandalf was doing.  That is one reason this story takes so long to tell.

We also get a lot more on Azog as he is the Orc who is relentlessly chasing Thorin down. He is a pawn in the larger subplot of Sauron's return. Again summation from Mr. Jackson as to what was happing behind the scenes.

Breaking this story up into three parts is hard because you need a clear break point in the action. The second film feels heavier as it relies more on the fan fiction elements.  The end point here is the moment before Smaug takes his wrath out on Lake-town. In retrospect this is a good breaking point because we lead off with a kick-ass dragon fight on the last leg of this journey.

We also get a lot of backstory on the return of Sauron or the rumors of his interference. This second story feels less organic and more contrived to make it blend in with the other trilogy. I suspect that's what makes the final two seems so forced.

There is no doubt about the quality of filmmaking. The scenes draw you in and the sets and costumes are outstanding. The down side is that it's just too much information. I found myself feeling the time draw on. Especially during the setting up of the social structure of Lake-town. 

The humans of Lake-town are not important. We don't need to see how corrupt the government is. It adds needless flavor to a story that is rich enough on its own. It was nice to Stephen Fry on screen. I'm a fan, but it added more time where it wasn't needed. 
Kind of funny how much security is played up. The heroes gotta sneak in and stay out of sight and get in through a loo to Bard's house.  But elves and orcs seem to have run of the place and there is absolutely no sign of any sort of city guard during any portion of the last battle. The Master of Lake-town had people watching Bard's house.  You kind of think that his guards would have thought the parade of bad guys rampaging through town would have been noteworthy.

We also have a huge battle sequence in the dwarf's halls with the dragon. Great to see on screen but really it is only fan boy eye candy, because the battle ended the same with Smaug going to take out the city.  There was no change in the end result from book to mov'e. Yes it was cool to watch, not at the cost of time and attention span. 

The fight that was promised pays off here. We jump right into the battle over Lake-town and the death of Smaug. After the fight we see Thorin fall to the dragon sickness and the paranoia starts taking him over.  His affliction with greed sets up the events that lead to war with the elves and humans.  The orcs also take this opportunity to wipe them all out and join in on the battle.

The fan fiction storyline shows us that Sauron's attempted return is thwarted and we have a bit of a redemption story with Thorin and his realization of what a dick he has been. He has a change of heart and joins in on the fight and saves the day but at the cost of his own life.

Anyone who has seen all three films and is reading this I know I am cutting out the love interest between Tauriel and Kili. I am leaving them out of this review to illustrate that not every story element added to the film was needed to tell the story.  Again I am going to be using the analogy of too much spice ruins the sauce.

Some observations I made while watching, all of the hot looking dwarves die. What is that saying about the genetic diversity of the dwarves left to make more dwarves? This may explain why Gimli looks the way he does.

Perhaps I have an untrained eye but I saw no significant improvement in the 48 FPS over the normal 24 It really boils down to whether the money you spend on an effect or technique pays off in the final product. From this reviewer's point of view it could have been skipped. Filmmakers should spend less money on flash and more on substance.

After about eight and a half hours of eye candy I really needed a break and watch something with some really good storytelling. We were going to launch right into the Lord of the Rings trilogy but even my son didn't have the strength or interest in going that far.

Books that are turned into movies will always be a different version. The two mediums can't share the same elements. The changes to The Lord of the Rings were great. I appreciated the changes and understood why they were cut. The changes to The Hobbit really seem to be just filler to make a longer story than what needed to be.

After looking back at my binge session in Middle Earth, my son and I both agree it was a great ride, but we are not going to be taking it again anytime soon. Making a good movie that everyone sees is spectacular, but making a movie that people want to see over and over again is better.

My advice would have been to stick closer to the book. The Hobbit should have been and would have been a great single story movie even with the preamble that set it up for the other films.  But keep the story as one. Then take the secondary story of Sauron's return into a Gandalf film, I would watch the hell out of that film, that blends into the other story. It always bugged me that Gandalf was a part of this group and kept popping off and not an explanation but he was always there when he was needed. If done correctly you could have included scene from the first film and shown it from his point of view.

Drop the Azog and the love story altogether and you make it a wonderful launching pad for your true treasure: The Lord of the Rings.

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