Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit Pt. 1

It's been over two years since I made a post to this blog. To be fair, few of the films I've seen in that time made me feel that they could be fixed with simple rewrites. So many American (or generally western) films feel like the people making them have even the barest sense of how to tell a story. Plots are made over-complicated, subplots which are utterly unnecessary are added (the most common being the tacked on "love story," a plague which pervades the medium) and character motivations expounded upon which even on the surface seem silly and shallow.

Which brings us to, "The Hobbit." Far simpler than its successor, "The Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit" is by comparison both a simpler and less mature story. And by the latter I mean that it was written in a style that felt more meant for children than did its sequel. And that's fine. I've loved the book for many years and never really minded the contrast between the two tales. Because of this, "The Hobbit" should have been a relatively simple film to make. It should easily have fit into a single film, even if a long one. And, most of all, it should have been a study in character development for its titular hero. Instead what we get is a study in Thorin Oakenshield and a very mixed bag of a script. (Seriously, was it necessary to explain Thorin's last name and in so clumsy a way?)

The simplest way to 'fix' this movie, to me is to adhere more to the source material. The characters are simple, easy to understand and don't need acres of back story depicted on the screen. The story is a fish out of water one, one of finding one's strength in times of diversity and of worth being beneath the surface. Instead we get all sorts of underlying motivation for the dwarves' wanting to retake their homeland, a really unnecessary, tacked on battle between Thorin and some orc named Azog (who was originally a goblin and was slain not by Thorin but by Dain in Moria a long time before the story of Bilbo) and, because it was deemed necessary, the beginning of the sub-plot which will 'lead' to the major arc for the "Lord of the Rings." True, the necromancer battle was mentioned in "The Hobbit..." in passing. It's barely a couple of sentences. Instead, we are denied any sense of the elves in this movie and instead are shown a meeting of the supposed highest folk of Middle Earth. And a bit of a love interest is suggested between Gandalf and Galadriel.

There is so much time spent on all these other plots that, halfway through the movie, I wondered at the director even keeping the title the same. This has become something other than Bilbo's tale. It's been made into something bigger, bloated. There are stunts thrown in that in and of themselves are epic beyond the entire story and as such, utterly unbelievable. Humor is injected at the oddest of times, usually during battle scenes and as such, the emotional thread of the movie is often disjointed and off. Bilbo, too is already taken out of character and made into a warrior in one scene near the end of the film which derails any struggle he is supposed to have with courage later on. Bilbo was never meant to be a warrior. His one real attempt comes at the latter part of the book, in the Battle of Five Armies and he barely lasts a paragraph because that's not for what he was meant. It's sad to think that his worth is already being weighed in the blood he lets.

I would see the subplot with Azog utterly removed. I would also delete the meeting, planning and depiction of the "destruction" of the necromancer. This story is at its best when dealing with its central character and what it means to be taken out of one's comfortable life and confront true need, danger and change head on. The film as it stands does not have one, continuous, emotional thread, and the one that's strongest isn't that of the main character. If his is the "Unexpected Journey," then let us feel that, let us feel his change, his fear, his eventual bravery that's hinted at and which would not have seen the light of day if not for his adventure. Don't make this a war story of the dwarves. Thin out the things that detract from the main premise, keep us on track and, quite honestly, stick more closely to the book. It's been in print for 75 years, read for 75 years and loved for 75 years for a reason. Tolkien knew how to write a story.

There are two more movies to come. I'm guessing that there will be a good chunk of the third film that takes place between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," as I can't see how the original book's plot can be stretched that thin. Perhaps all of this will tie together to make a cohesive film. So far, with the evidence I've seen, I highly doubt it.