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Scattered Thoughts on the Desolation of Smaug and Tauriel

This Memorial Day, many members of my family and some friends gathered together to celebrate the day…and compared notes on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. We all saw it recently, but at different times. There seemed to be remarkable agreement.

  1. It was better than the first one
  2. It was still too long
  3. It looks like a video game
  4. Smaug was cool
  5. Martin Freeman does a good job as Bilbo
  6. How could there possibly be that much darned treasure in that cavern?
  7. The romance was beyond belief cheesy
  8. Bard looks like Legolas’ long lost, illegitimate brother. My sister’s theory is that Thranduil was a libertine and the land is peopled with his heirs.
  9. Oh, cool! That’s Jeeves playing the Lake Master (from Jeeves and Wooster with Peter Laurie and Stephen Fry – somebody had to tell me because I hadn’t recognized him)
  10. Jeeves has definitely come down in the world
  11. What is that thing on Thranduil’s head?
  12. Why black arrows? What was wrong with regular arrows?

Where there was disagreement was whether or not the dwarves in the barrels going down the river scene was either so ridiculous it was cool or bemusedly stupid (I was in the stupid camp).

And why is it called The Desolation of Smaug? Smaug hasn’t desolated anything yet? That happens at the beginning of the third film.

One thing that has really been floating around in my brain is musings on the decision to not only add a female character, but to contrive a romance, as well.

If the purpose of adding Tauriel is to round out a world dominated by men (as the actress, Evangeline Lilly, says), why fall back on the old trope of romance. If it is enough to have a story of men on a quest, why can’t it be enough to add a woman interested in or participating in that quest? Is it the woman or the romance that is supposed to be rounding out this story?

Perhaps it’s natural that adding a woman makes people think romance. Perhaps they added the romance between her and the dwarf, Kili, because they were trying to be original and not do what everyone was expecting (adding a romance for Legolas).

It can be interesting to add a female character to a story – though I don’t think a story is somehow less dimensional if it lacks women. Complaining that The Hobbit needs more women is like complaining that Little Women needs more men (though it does have quite a few men, but they are slightly incidental). I recently watched a film from 1933 called Wild Boys of the Road, which is about two boys who leave home in search of work. They are joined on their journey by another girl, one of very few girls in a group of many boys, but there is no romance. It’s not needed. She manages to round out a story without resorting to romance. It’s not part of what the film is doing. It was trying to highlight the plight of teenagers during the depression.

The only reason I mention Tauriel is because I have read her addition to the movie defended in terms of progressiveness: she is a woman who can fight just as the men can (which, if that is the extant of female progress, doesn’t strike me as very impressive). But her real function seems to be to provide romance. I’m not saying it’s bad. Hollywood has been adding romances where there is none from the beginning of Hollywood time (think The Big Sleep). It’s just not progress.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Fantasy

 

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The Desolation of Smaug and The Tolkien Professor

The_Hobbit_-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_theatrical_poster[1]

I finally made myself watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I don’t quite know what to say. I’m not a Peter Jackson fan, so there doesn’t feel like there’s a lot for me to write that isn’t mere opinion.

I don’t think there’s any denying that the movies have been turned into an epic instead of the concise and tightly focused children’s book.

According to The Tolkien Professor, Tolkien himself regretted writing the The Hobbit as a children’s story. After he’d written LOTR, he wanted to more fully integrate the book into his trilogy and set about rewriting it. The result, apparently, was not nearly as amusing or even as good. But then, I think if you look at The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, there is a definite trend away from humor and into taking his works more seriously. According to The Tolkien Professor, in his Tolkien Chats: “Reactions to the Desolation of Smaug – Part 1” he believes that Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films are attempting to make the movies more in accordance with Tolkien’s later vision.

The real casualty of turning The Hobbit into an epic is Bilbo’s journey. Corey Olsen (The Tolkien Professor) wrote a marvelous book called Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and discusses in detail the journey that he takes, how he changes and how he remains fundamentally the same; he becomes, essentially, more fully himself.

In the movies, especially this second one, the focus is much more on how he changes in relation to the ring. His main function in the film is to wield that ring and telegraph it’s importance in both future and past events. And it’s not that it isn’t valid for Jackson to show how the ring is changing Bilbo, but sometimes it feels like too much. We all know it’s changing him, most people have seen exactly how it changed him in the LOTR films. We don’t need to have it constantly pushed in our face.

It’s that kind of telegraphing that annoys me so much about Jackson’s Tolkien films. Everything is portentous. People don’t speak, they pronounce important bits if information or history or vague and picturesque warnings. Jackson seems to want to keep us in perpetual suspense, even though we all know how it’s going to turn out.

I might be picky about suspense because I do like a good Alfred Hitchcock film and he understood suspense. But Jackson likes to keep his movies in a cycle of little emotional moments. But because I know what’s coming, all they serve is to annoy me.

Did we really need a great moment of despair before they discovered the hidden door in the mountainside, with the dwarves tramping off dejectedly? And then a little surge of emotion as Thorin comes back and they enter the mines? It’s herky-jerky.Then there’s the moment when Balin remarks on how surprising hobbits are (in case we missed similar reflections in nearly every other film). There’s the moment when Bilbo turns up with the keys to get the dwarves out of the elvish prison with a surge of hopeful music. Kili nearly dies of an orc arrow, though I doubt anybody was really in doubt about his chance of survival.

And there’s probably ten different moments when somebody nearly gets killed by an orc only to be saved at the last moment by somebody else (usually Tauriel). And there is always appropriate and highly noticeable music to help us along on our emotional journey.

Perhaps I am being unfair in this assessment, but this is one of my big pet peeves about Peter Jackson. My sister calls it too many climaxes in the course of one film. His films don’t build steadily to a conclusion, they are a serious of hills; we bump our way to a conclusion.

In all fairness, I was highly impressed with the scene between Smaug and Bilbo…and I loved Smaug’s voice (why do villains always get to be played by the actors with the coolest voices?). That was definitely the highlight of the film and the conclusion that it should have been building to more steadily so audience members don’t get alternately annoyed or bored while they are watching.

Of course, so far, my sister and I are the only people who have expressed a feeling of frustration at Jackson’s emotional herky-jerkiness. We could be biased because we normally prefer a different kind of film. What do you think? Did it annoy you or did you feel it added to the film?

Links

If you are at all a fan of Tolkien and all his works, I would definitely recommend looking up The Tolkien Professor. I would also heartily recommend his many online discussions about Tolkien, the books, the movies, and even other works by Medieval authors.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2014 in Fantasy

 

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Intermission, please! or, are we done yet?

Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind

As I was sitting through the interminable The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I found myself musing on a long-gone Hollywood practice that I began to think ought to be re-introduced. And then finally the movie came to an end and stopped musing and I fled in search of relief.

Surely I am not the only person was has sat through the last half of a movie with my thighs pressed firmly together, wiggling anxiously in my chair and wishing the movie would just end, already. Or perhaps I just have a small bladder. Nevertheless, here is a short list of some movies during which I could hear nature calling…or bellowing.

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 169 min.
  • The Help – 146 min.
  • The Avengers – 142 min.
  • Julie & Julia – 123 min. (not long, I admit, but I still had to actually slip out; I couldn’t take it any longer)

And these movie lengths do not take into account the 20 minutes or so of ads and previews that come before the movie begins.

I did, however, make it through Frozen comfortably, but it was only 102 minutes.

These experiences have been etched in my memory and have acted as an accumulative conversion experience: I now wholly and evangelistically believe in intermissions.

Plays have them, and musicals have them, and operas and ballets, and football games have them. Even hockey games get two.

When I go to a musical – say, “Les Miserables” (approx. 3 hrs.) – there is an intermission and I have a chance to commune with my body and determine whether or not I can last another hour. It’s marvelous, because it brings peace of mind.

Initially, movies did have intermissions. They were required because early films were usually spaced across several reels of film and the technician needed time to change the reels. Even when that was smoothed out, intermissions were still used for especially long movies.

  • Ben-Hur – 212 min.
  • The Sound of Music – 174 min.
  • Gone With the Wind – 220 min,
  • The Godfather – 175 min.

The last prominent film to have an intermission was Gandhi (183 min.) After that, the audience was left to fend for itself. I abstain from all liquid several hours before show time and only sip parsimoniously from my water bottle during the movie.

I’ve read several people’s views that an intermission would be disruptive, but personally I can’t think of anything more disruptive than dancing uncomfortably in one’s chair. Also, it’s not as if the movie is going to randomly break in the middle of the action. An intermission actually gives directors the opportunity to build towards a second climax (think “as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!). The first act ends on an exciting or suspenseful or emotional note and the audience has a break. They can talk, get more food, stretch, relieve themselves, compare thoughts, and then return to the film with anticipation and fresh concentration.

I think Alfred Hitchcock had the right idea about it.

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”

And if they can’t do that….please, just put in an intermission.

Note: my brother also likes the idea of intermissions because he says the best music on a soundtrack always comes during the intermission.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2014 in Movies

 

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