Director: Peter Jackson
Bilbo Baggins: Jason Bateman
Powerful wizard whose most effective tactic is to light pine cones on fire: Ian McKellen
Hottie: Cate Blanchett
Darth Maul: Andy Serkis
Jar Jar Binks: Sylvester McCoy
Emperor Palpatine: Christopher Lee
Mace Windu: Richard Armitage
Uses Garnier Fructis: Lee Pace
V: Hugo Weaving
Doctor Claw: Manu Bennett
What It's Good For:
-seeing 48 FPS
-you get to go to Middle Earth
-there is a bunch of sword fighting
-different than LOTR
-seeing Gandalf light pine cones on fire
-seeing 48 FPS
-people expecting something similar to LOTR
-Gandalf lights pine cones on fire
-stupid solutions (GIANT EAGLES COME SAVE THE DAY...again; the goblins wait a long time before they decide to open the giant hole in the floor that happens to be wide enough that every dwarf falls down the hole and down the long slide through a mountain...and no one is hurt during the fall (I know, it's a movie, but...does a movie have to mean physics don't apply?); Frodo finds a way out from Gollum's lair by just looking a little harder than he did the first time)
-talk, walk, RUN!, talk walk, RUN!, talk, walk, NO WHERE TO RUN!, sort of fight, GIANT EAGLES COME SAVE THE DAY
-the entire story is based on the premise dragons really love and collect treasure
-the final shot is really just the dragon, sleeping under a pile of gold like he's Scrooge McDuck?
-oh look! The destination is a far-off mountain!
-oh hey! Hobbits can be useful!
-maybe it is too similar to LOTR
We can break the movie into sections:
-The First Night
-The Dying Hedgehog
I want to view these sections through two frames: character development and tension.
-we're told about no one who will do anything in the movie
-Erebor is taken by a dragon, the dwarves are displaced. What happens to them?
-Gandalf is wily.
-Bilbo is mystified by Gandalf. Then we see him dismayed. Then we see how fussy he is about his stuff (but who wouldn't be overwhelmed by a bunch of strangers going wild in your home?). Then drawn into something he doesn't want to be part of. He's the reluctant traveler who misses his home life (sound familiar?).
-the Dwarves are insatiable, sort of rude, but end up actually doing all the dishes! They're crude but sweet, aren't they? And they want to retake their homeland! They're in need.
-what does Gandalf want? Oh, for the dwarves to come and Bilbo to go on this quest.
-what did he draw on the door? Oh, it's an rune that signals the dwarves where to go.
-the dwarves are causing chaos in Bilbo's home! But, look, everything ends up being okay.
-will Bilbo go on the quest? Yes.
The First Night:
-we hear about the dwarven battle with the orcs at Moria. Specifically about Thorin's father dying and Thorin fighting Azog. The flashback images of this are contrasted by Thorin, staring, silent, until he peeps up to say Azog is dead. DEAD DEAD DEAD. We find out Thorin is angry and doesn't know Azog is alive.
-not a lot of dwarves remain, which makes this a special lot.
-we see the expression on Gandalf's face when Thorin so matter-of-factly states Azog died of his wounds. You can bet Azog is alive. What will happen with Azog? How will Thorin react when he finds out?
-if any of these dwarves die it's a shame because so few remain.
The Dying Hedgehog:
-Radagast fucking loves hedgehogs. He's a loon.
-why are the forest animals dying? Magic stuff??!!
-what is crawling on the house? Spiders? Where did the spiders come from?
-Bilbo can be brave. He'll try to talk his way out of a situation.
-the dwarves can fight.
-Gandalf can crack a stone with his staff.
-The horses! What will the trolls do? Can Bilbo untie the rope and save the horses? No. Can he get the sword before...oops
-who will save Bilbo?! The dwarves attack! Can they win? They're winni...oh...
-the trolls have the advantage, how can the company ever get out of th...GANDALF! He cracks the stone and reveals the sun! THE SUN, of course, trolls turn to stone in the sun. What other cool things will Gandalf do?
Ooooo, look, weapons! What will these things do?
-bunnies are fast.
-Radagast is a thrill seeker.
-who sent the orcs?
-can our heroes survive?
-are the bunnies really faster than the wargs? Oh, wow, they are!
-will our group be discovered? Oh, yup. How will they escape? Oh, thank goodness for a random group of elves.
-Thorin really dislikes elves.
-Gandalf seems simple but knows when to play his cards.
-Sauron is pretentious.
-Elrond is composed, can speak ancient Dwarfish, and is aghast at the news of the Nazgul.
-Galadriel can communicate telepathically. She is really composed. She is fond of Gandalf.
-what's it really mean if The Witch King is free?????? We know it means spiders crawl on Radagast's house.
-oh, so they need the moon to match the exact way it was when the moon runes were written? When wi...oh, right now? Perfect! What's it say? Okay, another specific time and place. Can they get to this place in time?
-all the characters can jump. Not only that, they can time their jumps.
-will anyone die?
-why are the stone giants fighting each other? why have they decided right now is the perfect time to fight? why not like...15 minutes earlier? How often do they fight? If they fight like this a lot, why is there a path on the mountain? Is there a new path every day? Do they always return to the same spot?
-Thorin finds out Azog lives. He is shocked!
-The Great Goblin (was it just me or did he look like a seriously deformed Brendan Gleeson as Mad Eye Moody?) has an awesome messenger. He likes to laugh.
-how will the dwarves escape? Oh Gandalf uses his wizard powers! But now how will the dwarves and Gandalf escape? [extended sequence of running while sword swinging, elaborate teamwork, and no dwarf casualties whatsoever despite the hundreds of goblins that attack]. Why doesn't Gandalf use other wizardly tricks?
-why didn't the goblins notice Bilbo? No, seriously?
-where did Gandalf enter from that he surprised everyone? The entire mountain is swarming with goblins?
-how was no one hurt during that long fall? and how did the goblins construct that tunnel from that room down to their lair? do enough travelers stop there that that place warrants a giant trapdoor? and was the trapdoor seriously large enough that all 13 dwarves, spread out on the floor to sleep, were dropped when the floor opened?
-Azog is a dick. He doesn't fight man-to-man but stays on his giant warg against a dwarf.
-Thorin rises up like a true champion. Fueled by his anger, he walks through the burning trees to face Azog. Thorin gets hit once and is down. He can't dodge.
-dwarves can climb trees.
-Gandalf, in this most dire situation, decides the best idea is to set pine cones on fire, while he waits for the giant eagles to come and save everyone. He can also speak with butterflies. Is that all Gandalf is capable of? What, really, are the wizards of Middle Earth capable of? If Saruman is more powerful, what can he do? Can Gandalf just set pine cones on fire? Can he not shoot a fireball? Saruman can shoot a fireball, so is the power differential so great that Saruman can shoot a fireball and Gandalf can light a cigarette? Gandalf can crack a stone with his staff. Is that his strongest power? Can he freeze things as well? Lightning or no lightning? I mean, I know how this is in the books. I'm not a Tolkien-idiot. I just think there's a narrative incongruity with the film making random use of Gandalf's powers without any sort of logic system in place. Now he uses powers! Now he doesn't. Why? And what can he or can't he do? I'd be fine with this if a character questioned Gandalf at some point. But it's like everyone knows what Gandalf can do and doesn't question, though we as the viewer don't know. Am I just supposed to accept there is a logical system I don't know about? Saying "Well in the books..." isn't a valid argument because these movies are their own thing. In the movies, what evidence do we have for anything?
-Isn't anyone else curious about Gandalf's powers? Or do they all know the extent of them?
-Bilbo has heart! He can fight a little, too.
-the dwarves are outnumbered! Will they fight? No, they'll climb trees. What will they do now? Oh, the trees are falling. They're all stuck? Now what? Fiery pine cones! Interesting tactic...but it works! Thankfully giant eagles come and get rid of all the bad guys and sweep all the good guys to safety.
-Thorin is finally going to face Azog! Again! WHAT WILL HAPPEN? Oh...the whole movie built up to that? Very anti-climactic. I guess...we'll see something more climactic in the next movie?
-Smaug sleeps under a pile of gold coins. He hates birds.
-life is attempting to return to what has been a dragon-cursed Erebor. The dragon is there, though, and probably won't let anything interrupt its solitude without a violent encounter occurring.
Now. We've looked at the character development and tension in every scene in the movie except one: the exchange of riddles in the cave with Gollum.
Let's look at that scene, now, shall we?
-we're introduced to a character we can't quite place? We know there are Orcs and Elves and Dwarves and Hobbits and Humans and Wizards/Maias and Goblins. Is Gollum a goblin? Isn't he too human to be a goblin? But he's too small and monster-ish to be a human? Is he some long-outcasted hobbit? Why's he live in this cave? He's vicious! But he's singing! He's talking to himself! What is wrong with him? Does he have two personalities? He's unstable. What's he going to do next? But he's clever! He likes games. Isn't he sort of cute sometimes? Why's he love the ring so much? Look how ANGRY he gets. Look how SAD he gets. Of ANYONE in the movie: Gollum shows the most emotion. And largest range of emotion. Who is next in the emotional power rankings? Bilbo.
-Bilbo is frightened but maintains composure. He is quick-witted too! Which is something the plot hadn't, up to this point, allowed Bilbo to demonstrate (he floundered with the trolls). He is also merciful. Biblo, invisible, with his sword poised, ready to slice Gollum's head off, takes a few moments to really...see Gollum...and lowers the weapon. That's a choice.
-what the fuck is Gollum? Why is he so weird?
-what is the ring? Oh, it makes Bilbo invisible! What more can it do?
-how will Bilbo get away from Gollum? Will Gollum discover Bilbo? Yup. What will happen now? Look how freaking weird Gollum is! Riddles! What riddles will they ask? Will someone lose? Hm, how does Bilbo know so many riddles? Oh shit, Gollum didn't like losing, what will happen now?? Oh oh, Gollum is REALLY REALLY ANGRY about the ring. Run Bilbo, run! Can he squeeze?!?!? Here comes Gollum! What wil...Sweet, invisibility!
-look at how sad Gollum is. He's frantic. Absolutely frantic. And sad. Why's this ring mean so much to him? Don't we sort of feel bad for him? Those facial expressions!
-and, wow, Bilbo has total control of the situation. He could kill Gollum. He is thinking the same thing. His sword is up. Will he or won't he? He won't. He knocks Gollum over and runs away.
-have we seen the last of Gollum?
Why is this scene so much better than any other in the movie?
Two words: extremity and choice.
I will argue Gollum is the most interesting character in the movie because he is the most extreme character in the movie.
Is there another character with more depth than Gollum? They're all pretty one-dimensional, aren't they?
Azog: proto-typical bad guy
Gandalf: kind but knows more than he lets on
Bilbo: worried but brave (has moments where he says he misses home, but this isn't developed as it is in LOTR)
Thorin: stubborn and childish
I'd describe another dwarf but they aren't really given personalities: N/A
Radagast: strange but caring
Gollum: is crazy, alternating between angry and curious, changing his facial expressions more than anyone, seemingly intelligent but also barbaric, he sings and murders, he loves riddles but ridicules himself, he is aggressive and animalistic, but he can be concerned and gleeful.
He's crazier than everyone else. He's angrier than everyone else. He's more curious than everyone else. He has more facial expressions than everyone else. He shows the most fear. He shows the most heartbreak. He also has the most joy and fun. The most famous characters are always extreme in some aspect of their character.
And Gollum challenges Bilbo. Directly. At what other point was Bilbo challenged? The trolls? They went after the horses and Bilbo showed up. And before Bilbo could do anything: Gandalf saves the day. The goblins completely ignore Bilbo. And Azog isn't concerned about Bilbo. Bilbo decides to run down and do something, which is good for him. But he swings a sword a couple times and then the eagles appear. The scene with Gollum is the one scene in which Bilbo is on his own, confronted, and can do something about it. Against the trolls: Bilbo is captured before he's even confronted. The dwarves have to bail him out. We can say the ring bails Bilbo out against Gollum, but Bilbo won the battle of the riddles/questions. It's the only thing he does on his own in the entire movie.
In fact, it's the only thing ANY character does on his own in the entire movie. In every other scene we're part of a group. And the movie does very little to individualize any of the dwarves. In terms of individualizing in a group scenario: 300 does a better job, as does Mirror, Mirror, even the anonymous members of Fight Club seem more defined to me. Why? We see characters in these other movies talking and acting, specifically: they make decisions. In 300 we see individual actions in battle, the camera focuses on these actions. In Mirror, Mirror we spend a lot of time in dialogue and hearing the thoughts and reactions the dwarves have to what's going on around them. In Fight Club, we see, again, individual actions in battle, but also individual reactions to Project Mayhem assignments. The Hobbit does what? Aside from Thorin we have the older dwarf and the one who confronts Bilbo when Bilbo is trying to leave. Most of the time the camera is at a distance and showing the group running or fighting or jumping. During these moments, can we really tell who is who and who is doing what?
Which means the movie is largely anonymous. Hence why the interaction between Gollum and Bilbo feels different than the rest of the movie.
Is there another time in the movie where a character is allowed to make a decision?
The dwarves invade Bilbo's house. The dwarves and Gandalf peer-pressure Bilbo to come along. Thorin doesn't tell his own story, someone tells it for him. The group is forced to run from the first Orc attack. I would say the group is forced to interact with the trolls. The group is forced, by Gandalf, to go to Rivendell. And circumstances force Thorin to be nice to Elrond. The group is forced to fight the goblins. Thorin makes the decision to fight Azog, but we knew from Thorin's personality that's what he would do.
Okay, Bilbo. He decides to leave, but is stopped. But he decides to help Thorin. He's the only character who really...has a choice and finds courage to make that choice. But even helping Thorin is a forced situation, right? If he doesn't help Thorin, Thorin will die.
The only moment in the movie where a character isn't forced with a "do this or someone dies" or "do this or we can't progress" situation is "will Bilbo kill or not kill Gollum". Because Bilbo is invisible, he doesn't HAVE to kill Gollum. The exit is right there, Bilbo can leave. Gollum isn't threatening someone else. Gollum isn't an obstacle-denying-progress the way not being able to read Ancient Dwarfish was an obstacle-denying-progress. The moment, unshackled by any grander concerns, becomes a pure window into character. No one else is watching. Would anyone else ever know? Gollum wouldn't even know what happened. "Character is what you do when no one is watching."
Gollum and Bilbo are the most interesting characters in the movie because Gollum is the most extreme character while Bilbo is the only character who makes decisions.
I think these are the two crucial failings of the movie. A lack of character depth and relationships, and no decisions.
Good narratives are marked by decisions. We could sum this up with "Here's a scenario, let's see what these characters do!" In The Hobbit, the characters either run, hide, jump, or fight. And in most of these situations we're seeing the entire group doing the same thing. I could compare The Hobbit to Seven Samurai and discuss how each of the seven samurai are distinguished by clothing and characteristics and we see how each reacts differently to situations. But you'd probably accuse me of being pretentious. So I'll compare The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings. The group of Frodo, Samwise, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn. From the very first movie you can tell me about these characters, right? What differentiates them. "Well they're all different races, and in The Hobbit they're all dwarves!" So? Does that mean it's okay to get lazy with characterization?
Pick any movie you think is really good and you can break it down into "Here's a scenario, let's see what these characters do!" And you can see the defining moments for characters. The Hobbit, one scene aside, lacks unique/extreme/defining moments. Which is why, if you ask people, I bet 9/10 will say the section with Gollum was their favorite part.
You could argue Azog made a choice when he killed his underling. But that's Rule #1 in the Generic Bad Guy Handbook. It would have been something special had Azog done something extreme or unique. "Feed guy to dogs/wolves/wargs" isn't unique, is it?
Did I Like It:
No. I didn't care about anyone. Do I care about the dwarves? Why? They're homeless? They never discuss what it's like being homeless. There's just the one scene where Bilbo yells at the one and the one says "You're right." They don't talk about how hard it's been. How it'll be better once they're home. Why being home is even important to them. Generically, I get it: home is nice. But the movie is relying on my generic understanding of "home is important" without ever showing me why these characters consider home important.
And I didn't find the action interesting. Thorin's fight against Azog sucked. It's like 5 seconds. And the fight with the goblins was okay but the sheer amount of goblins dismayed me. Not a single one could touch the dwarves? There was never a problem? I'm fine with all the dwarves surviving it was just...too cartoony to me in a movie that had been realistic-fantasy until that point.
I can't begin to tell you the giant problem I have with the giant eagles bailing them out. It'd be one thing if the movie set this up. If we knew this was something that could happen. But just busting it out...worst use of Deus Ex Machina I've ever seen. Especially because the same thing happens to get Frodo and Samwise off the mountain at the end of Return of the King. I feel like "Giant Eagles" is like a lifeline on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: you can only use it once. Or if you use it again it has to be in a different situation. Like...as just part of an army battle. Not for the same problem: we have characters who are in danger and have no way out! "That's how Tolkien wrote it!" That doesn't mean it's good or done well.
I don't think the movie is awful. And I understand why people would like it. I just don't think it's good. I don't think you can make an argument for it being a good movie. You can make a perfectly fine and logical argument about why you like it and why you think it's good. But that it's a "good movie" as defined by characterization and escalation
and extremity: it is subpar endeavor.
The 48 FPS interesting me. But I noticed the "fast forward" motion and that made me laugh. I do think the 48 FPS combined with 3D improves the 3D experience if you're judge the 3D experience by "depth" and "reality". But is this preferable to the look of a "movie"? Do we want the "movie" look or the "reality" look?
I thought the last shot of Smaug really, really stupid. "In case you forgot there's a giant dragon, there's a giant dragon." Cool, thanks for the info. I do like the idea the metaphor of the bird representing life attempting to return to Erebor and the dragon rising up. But...sleeping under gold? The cheese eye opening? Uhg. I'm sure you and I, right here, right now, could come up with 15 better ways to shoot that scene. I get it: Smaug loves treasure so much, he even sleeps under a pile of gold. I think there are other ways to show Smaug's love of treasure. Like, say: instead of just opening his eye Smaug stands up, stretches his wings out to their full span, and lowers his head directly into the camera, which is from the perspective of the bird. And you get that sense of "Oh shit, he's pissed". And then when we see Smaug open his mouth, still from the first-person perspective of the bird, a few coins spill out of the mouth and we see, in the back of the throat, the glow of forthcoming fire. END.
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