We went to see the latest theatrical installment of The Hobbit on Friday night.
Now, I am a Tolkien junkie. I was one of those kids in high school who could write in elvish script – in both the Sindarin and Noldorin fashion – and for over a decade I read The Lord of the Rings annually. The Silmarillion remains one of my all-time favorite books. I’ve read most of the books his son published of his old papers, giving you the textual history of Middle Earth and the variations Tolkien went through to get to the final product. The ones I haven’t gotten to yet are there on my shelf, waiting. I’ll read them eventually.
I am, in other words, pretty much the target audience for this film.
It was interminable.
I knew we were in trouble when the theater showed us nearly half an hour of previews and advertisements before the movie even started. I like previews. They’re usually the only glimpse of a movie I’ll ever get. But by the eighth or ninth one I simply closed my eyes and waited for the onslaught to be over. It took two or three more, plus a ham-fisted advertisement for the theater chain at the very end, but eventually the movie itself started.
Somewhere in that film is a really good 25-minute action scene begging to be appended to the end of a severely edited version of the previous movie.
The bulk of the film covers a period of little more than 24 hours in what feels like real time. There are extended sub-plots that do little more demonstrate the fact that Peter Jackson feels he knows better than JRR Tolkien what should have happened in this story, most of which are made up out of whole cloth. There are extended battle scenes, which, granted, is the focus of the story and the title of the film, so that came as no surprise. They are extremely extended, however, and they make little sense. I’m not sure how the addition of a dozen or so soldiers to a battle that already involves multiple armies is supposed to tip the balance one way or another, but no attempt at an explanation is even made. I don’t think Tolkien tried either, but he could be forgiven since the movie’s running time is approximately four times the time it would take to read that section of the book out loud so he had to elide over some things. Jackson had a lot more room, and if he was going to invent entire characters and love plots, perhaps he could have extended his meddling to something more germaine.
Also, I’m still not sure what the architects of Middle Earth have against handrails.
There are narrow bridges over deep gorges. There are parapets and steep paths. There are staircases that go deep into mountains and high onto plateaus, and there are lofty platforms overlooking distant valleys. And not a single one that I recall had any sort of thing to grab onto if you should trip over that broadsword dangling around your ankles.
I have this vision of meetings in the architect’s office as the Dwarves are planning their halls under Erebor.
“Ooo! ‘andrails, ‘e wants! Simple plunging death ain’t good enow for t’ likes o’ ‘im! Always puttin’ on airs n’ gettin’ above ‘is station, I’ll warrant! Waste o’ good stone, I says.”
It’s the only thing that makes any sense.
On the plus side, the cinematography is gorgeous – if they don’t win some kind of award for it, something is wrong with the movie industry – and the CGI is well done. So there’s that.