Posted by: markfender | August 18, 2015

The Hobbit

Everyone has either already accepted these movies or written an angry screed against them, except me.

hobbitPrimarily because I already got the J.R.R. Tolkien movies I wanted. The Hobbit is an okay story and definitely has some iconic fantasy scenes that would look pretty good converted to the big screen. The idea of making three movies from this relatively short book is dumb and, as predicted, the added stuff was terrible. But, I’d also hazard that the real problem with The Hobbit is CG.

Looking across Peter Jackson’s oeuvre, there is a certain element of hunger present. From his splatterpunk beginnings, Jackson has always looked to push what was possible to depict on screen. I think this is true of many directors – making a movie becomes getting your vision from your head to the screen. When it becomes impossible to do that is where the real genius of directing comes in. But CG has made practically everything possible to see on screen now, and I think that’s hurting film.

CG is a tool, like everything else in filmmaking. Obviously, Jackson used lots of CG on Lord of the Rings. But, as that was a weird experiment in filmmaking (making three movies at once), there was still something to prove, keeping Jackson more grounded. Not everything in the Rings movies worked (I actually strongly dislike The Two Towers because it took the most liberties with the story – and didn’t bother improving the story any), but generally it worked.

But there’s nothing to prove with The Hobbit. He’s got a huge budget because it’s a proven property and three movies to make it in. Any vision he has can be put on screen with some CG. But there’s lots of problems with that.

For instance, CG doesn’t really have any “weight.” People fly through the air as easily as a leaf. Aesthetically, that can work for the elves, because Jackson already established that elves are silly, acrobatic creatures. But it doesn’t work at all with humans or dwarves. They were not depicted as being CG fighters in early films, but now, Jackson can just render the whole fight scene in the computer and it just doesn’t look right. The escape from the elves in the barrels becomes a ridiculous CG wuxia-fest as dwarves dodge and jump across moving barrels across a river. Sure, it looks kind of impressive, but it doesn’t fit the already established tone of how that particular race fights. The Lord of the Rings movies felt more grounded in their fight scenes, like, say, The Bodyguard. But The Hobbit feels like the Jet Li version of that.

The one thing CG can do really well is armies. With the camera pulled back, the weird physics of CG don’t show up when you’re rendering 20,000 combatants. And so, when a movie called The Battle of Five Armies shows up, I just know that it’s going to mostly be armies. And yet, that’s my least favorite part of The Hobbit. It’s another instance of Tolkien suddenly introducing a much wider world into a relatively focused story – it feels superfluous to the emotional weight of the story already told. (You will note that other times that Tolkien has done that – Tom Bombadil – was skipped by Jackson). But, because of the power of CG, Jackson HAS to show this stuff. He can’t help himself. Even though it doesn’t help the story.

I still think Jackson has a good eye. Even in the relative snoozefest that was The Battle of Five Armies, there are some beautiful shots (The orc under ice and Smaug falling from the sky, for instance). But he doesn’t have to be disciplined with his filmmaking anymore. And it really shows.

There’s tons of other shit to complain about (Why, in the middle of Bard attacking Smaug, do we suddenly need to introduce peril to Bard’s family? Were the stakes just not high enough already?) almost all of which comes from the additions Jackson made to make one book into three movies. And, yes, those are all terrible and should be mocked, but I think the real problem is that Jackson is successful now. He’s lost the hunger to get his vision onto screen. Computers have given him too much power in that regard. It’s a problem affecting the whole industry. George Miller sort of showed what practical effects can still do with Fury Road. And yet, there’s lots of CG in that movie…tire tracks were erased, extra cars added in the background, colors messed with, etc. Like Jackson in those LotR movies, Miller was using the CG to enhance what was already on screen, not replace it. That’s not what happened with The Hobbit. It’s CG for CG’s sake and it’s bad.

 

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Responses

  1. Interesting point; I knew that there was something that bothered me about the Hobbit films (beyond the obvious), and now I think I know what it was.

    I’m sort of interested to see how the new Star Wars film matches up in this respect. I’ve read / see a lot about the use of practical effects in the shooting of that film, so I’m hopeful.


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