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Those Darned Hobbit Movies

The third of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, The Battle Of The Five Armies, is fast approaching, and I am more and more conflicted as December draws nigh. I very much enjoyed the Lord Of The Rings trilogy of movies - it was a startling series of attempts to realize the classic fantasy novels in a modern movie format. In large part they worked beautifully, even allowing for quite a bit of license with the characters and stories. 

Some of the changes could be explained by the requirements of making an accessible and exciting movie from a dense, wordy novel - and they certainly succeeded in bring Tolkien's Middle Earth to vibrant life. Other changes seemed arbitrary and unnecessary though, especially since I am now enjoying the audiobook of the original story again and find myself wondering at some of the choices with the benefit of hindsight. You can likely come up with your own list if you are familiar with the books.

Azog - CGI baddie
The Hobbit movies have been less successful for me, although still enjoyable as pure entertainment. A couple of things stand out as negatives for me; one was the choice to use CGI villains, such as Azog (above). That approach was largely eschewed in the LOTR movies, where practical makeups were more in use, with the obvious exception of Gollum. It's great CGI motion capture work no doubt, but I found myself thinking "Wow, that's good CGI" while watching Azog being menacing, rather than just enjoying the performances.

The character of Smaug is a special case; obviously there are not too many large dragons available for movie acting roles, and so that character is computer generated of course. It works better because you know it's not a real creature, but the voice work and staging somehow win you over.

The second issue was an extension of the "bigger is better" mindset that we saw somewhat in the Return of the King  - the James Bond stunts from Legolas, for example. This was carried to truly cartoonish levels in The Desolation of Smaug during the barrel ride down the river. It might have been fine in a different Hobbit movie, but it seemed jarringly silly in this one (to me at least).

My recollection of the Hobbit - which I admittedly read many moons ago - was a more intimate, lighter story on a smaller scale than LOTR (except for the climactic "Five Armies" battle). Peter Jackson, I think, has fallen into the trap of believing he has to make a bigger, more spectacular series of movies to satisfy the fans following the huge success of LOTR. Perhaps he feels that success is a mandate to "go for it" with The Hobbit.

It's maybe telling that my favorite part of the Hobbit movies so far was the "riddles in the dark" scene between Bilbo and Gollum. While Gollum is of course a CGI motion-captured character, the scene is done in a realistic manner and feels more true to my memory of the source material.

Don't misunderstand, there are some great performances in the Hobbit movies, as there were in the LOTR movies. It's obvious that a tremendous amount of time and effort went into making these, and the movies have made plenty of money and entertained a lot of people. I can't help feeling though, that the braver thing might have been to try and stick to two movies and make them a bit more charming and less "over-the-top" epic. 

But the die is cast, and my bum will be in a theater seat come December - so I guess Peter Jackson does know what he is doing...

PS were I more confident in my writing ability, and able to truly unleash my inner snarkiness, I would have been able to write something like this.


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