Monday, December 24, 2012

I Shudda Never Left The Shire

Peter Jackson’s new film, “The Hobbit, Part I,” is another perfect example of why you should never give a successful filmmaker unlimited money and hand him a project that’s “dear to his heart” without having a gimlet-eyed, ruthless Editor with the unlimited Power of the Scissors standing nearby.

Successful filmmakers with unlimited money almost always succumb to the dreaded malady of Rococoization: the mistaken belief that if one is good, twenty-five will be better. No.  It’s not. But turning everything Rococo is a common affliction. Even George Lucas was not immune.

The first problem with the Hobbit, Part I is the fact that it is a Part I.  “Lord of the Rings, the book, was a complex story told in three volumes.  “Lord of the Rings,” the movie, was a complex story told in three films.  “The Hobbit,” the book, was a modest quest adventure story told in one volume.  “The Hobbit,” the movie, is three, three-hour films.  You see the problem?  Yes.  How do you spell, P A D D I N G.

Even stranger for a filmmaker as skilled as Jackson, whole chunks of “The Hobbit” are told with endless scenes of yak-yakking, blah-blah-blah, exposition and ‘splaining, with actors sounding like they’re reading off huge descriptive chunks from the book. In a film, you don’t ‘splain, you show.  And you hold the unnecessary details to the minimum needed for coherence. The audience doesn’t  need to know the endless begats and begins and backstory; you only need to babble a bit about the Great Knights of the Nodding Trees, then get on with it. You’re not reading a book to the audience, you’re making a moving picture with the key word here being . . . moving. (To see how it’s done, go watch the original “Star Wars.”)  

As for the movie being suitable for kids?  No.  Instead of a clean, exciting quest adventure with exciting-scary orcs and trolls, a movie that would be suitable for kids (which is who Tolkein was writing “The Hobbit” for in the first place – his children ), Jackson, typical of modern fantasy filmmakers, has loaded up the screen with head-ripping violence, drooling, snot-dripping grotesqueries with every wart and wattle rendered in greatest detail, with camera-focus zeroing in on every dripping tongue, salvia-drenched tooth, and, of course, overwrought battle scenes that simply turn into visual chaos – can’t tell the dwarves from the orcs and after a few minutes, who cares?  Which is another result of Rococoization – when you fill every square inch of the screen with squirming images, instead of exciting action, you end up with a visually static frieze. 

Oddly, the use of 3-D did force Jackson to create one visually exciting scene that was a duplication of the ore car, roller-coaster ride in one of the Indiana Jones films – our heroes running and leaping and zooming through the orc’s huge caverns.  The necessity to take advantage of the 3-D effects forced Jackson to zero in on focused movement to track the characters, all of which helped create a hierarchy of movement and point of view.

In short, the movie was a bloated mess.  And instead of using pruning shears – Edit! Edit! Edit!—Jackson just kept adding endless scenes that looked like outtakes from the “Lord” trilogy – repeated infill shot from a zooming helicopter of  our hearty little troop of heroes scampering over hill and dale, utterly dwarfed by the rugged New Zeeland landscape.  Up loud heroic music.  Oy!

But all was not completely lost.  The price of admission was partially redeemed by the scene where Bilbo meets Gollum (and his “precioussss” ring of power).  It’s brilliantly realized, thanks to Andy Serkis and his extraordinary acting abilities.  Andy, wearing his motion-capture suit and face camera, has managed to create an extraordinary character and deliver an amazingly moving performance.  Gollum, pitiable, dangerous, heartbreaking, funny is one of the few characters in the film worth caring about.  Thanks to Serkis, he’s the most real fake character on the screen. That kind of extraordinary performance was first delivered by Serkis  in the “Lord” trilogy, as well as his astonishing turn as the lead ape in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and now “The Hobbit.”  Reason enough to hope that the stodgy Academy will finally understand that those performances weren’t “animation,” they were acting, and will give Serkis his much deserved Academy Award for best supporting actor.

Like another waterboarding session, parts II and III will lumber into town for the next two years to inflict their torture on the returning fans (and extract every last precioussss nickel from their pocketsessss.)  I suspect I may reluctantly drag myself to the theatre if only to see what Jackson has done with Smaug, the dragon. Knowing the wretched excesses he’s ladled on the orcs, I’m not heartened.  But Gollum will surely creep back into the remaining films and those scenes will be worth sitting through all the rest.       


ProBasix Computing said...

What's it gots in its pocketses? Yes, nothing, because we went to the IMAX 3D for all the gold pieces we had.

Mostly, I did love the movie. However, point made. I liked the tie-ins with some of our favorite characters from the other films, but Jackson might've spent a bit too much time with those connections. The Goblin King was awesome, but watching the tiny CGI characters running along the Disney ride and killing hundreds of goblins was too much like a video game. And the whole sequence with Radagast and his cutesy animals was completely out of place for me, something that would've been better inserted into an episode of Once Upon A Time.

On the other hand, as a long time Tolkien fan, and having once read pieces of The Book of Lost Tales, Unfinished Tales, and The Silmarillion, it was fun to see some of the extra stuff brought to life on the 3D screen. As fans we waited decades to finally see LOTR done justice and some of us were left thirsty for more. News that The Hobbit would be made lit that fire again and some of us were hoping for the Jackson embellishments.

Editors? Maybe for the majority audience that just wants the short version to last as long as their $8 popcorn. I'm the guy that looks for the Director's version 10 years later to see the long version and then I grab more popcorn for all the deleted scenes on the DVD.

I still think there's a line between "Lucasizing" and "Jacksonizing", although this film had a bit of both.


Churadogs said...

Yup. Point taken on your points.

Editing doesn't have to do with just making it short(er). Sometimes editing results in making it longer, because editing has to do with making it better by paring away everything that derails the narrative drive and/or adding bits that enhance the narrative.

There's complex,rich and good and then there's noisy/busy, bloated and bad. The difference between the two is called "editing" and the choices of what to edit is called "art." Or, as one wag said, "Amateurs always use EVERY crayon in the box. Artists know which few to select."

Also, amateurs always fall in love with their stuff and treat it all, every little doodle, word, image, embellishment and brain-fart as "precious." Artists, on the other hand, are ruthless. Nothing, except the final work as a cohesive whole is "precious." (the best of them also know that all those 'precious' bits that don't really belong in a great film, can be stuffed in the Director's Notes in the DVD to keep film buffs happy for hours. It's the best of both worlds.)

Had Jackson known which fewer crayons to select, he could have tightened up on everything, eliminated the distracting irrelevancies and ended up with a much better two-parter.

Now, let's start a grassroots movement to get Andy Sirkis his much deserved best supporting actor Academy award, my precioussss.

Dave Samuelson said...

I haven't seen the film yet, but I know the books and, technically at least, you mischaracterized the Lord of the Rings as a trilogy, which is how it was marketed, but not how it was written. I found the Jackson films exciting but repetious (too many battle scenes hard to distinguish from each other. Just sayin'.

Churadogs said...

Professor S___. I stand corrected. The copies I had came in three volumes. The LOR movie was overly long and by the end every battle scene just got too busy and noisy and pointless, which is what happens when you fall in love with your CGI tools and forget that your audience "gets" it a whole lot faster than you might think.

MikanDi said...

Yes, as much as I WANTED to enjoy it, I found the whole thing pretty tedious. Only a couple of bright parts.... Cate's beautiful Elfin Princess, and Golum, perfect! But otherwise I had REAL problems trying to stay awake. Don't think I'll rush to see Part 2... Instead I'll probably re-read the book again (4th time).

Churadogs said...

MikeanDi. yeah. P A D D I N G. Zzzzzz. Which is too bad. I think a tightened up two-parter would have rocketed right along.

Well, the die hard fans will part with the gold in their pocketeses, the Gollum fans will also show up to see what he does in Part II & III, while the less than die-hard fans will see part I and wander off. Will be interesting to see what the total box office numbers will be when all is said and done.