Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: as Rich & Complex as Tolkien

Let's get one thing straight: this movie is all about intertexuality and the ethos of the myth. Got that? Alrighty, then.

In many regards, The Hobbit is amazing. It's about as flawless as a movie can be and gives further confirmation that Tolkien is safe in Peter Jackson's hands.

We all knew that he wasn't setting out to create only the experience of reading The Hobbit before Tolkien's other Middle-Earth writings. In a way, there's little need to do so. If the movie comes after The Lord of the Rings, why pretend otherwise? The beauty of Peter Jackson's approach is that what he does cinematically is much like what Tolkien does on page.

Tolkien's writing (in general, not referring specifically to The Hobbit) is dense. I've loaned people The Lord of the Rings only to have them return it to me unfinished. Although Tolkien now gets literary recognition (which has actually happened fairly quickly, if you consider how long it sometimes takes other books to become "classics"), it's also safe to say his style isn't for everyone. Peter Jackson is able to put these movies together as richly dense concoctions, as well. Occasionally, yes, I felt like the movie was dragging just a bit (it is rather long), but isn't that what reading Tolkien is like, too? Sure, we love the professor for his complexity, but you have to admit that that complexity results in a multi-faceted experience. Just like PJ's movies.

Because think about it this way: Tolkien was constantly rewriting his work. He wanted to rewrite The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings was published, but his editors stopped that idea. So if we consider The Hobbit as an unchangeable text, we are doing what Tolkien himself did not do. This goes along with what I said yesterday about the different versions of the story Bilbo tells--you can read that post here (and I was exactly right in my prediction, I might add).

Peter Jackson and Co. did drastically change the text of the published book The Hobbit. But there is reasoning behind every single change.

What this movie was to me was an additional story set against the backdrop of Middle Earth, telling more about its characters and its peoples. If The Lord of the Rings is about Men and The Silmarillion about Elves, The Hobbit is about dwarves. This culture that was only somewhat alluded to in the original trilogy becomes more detailed and characterized in this movie, in much the same way that readers of The Lord of the Rings come to learn more about dwarves when they go on to read the Appendices. We also hear more about Gandalf's early investigation of the Necromancer, who is of course Sauron regaining strength. While all this detail isn't necessarily needed for the story of The Lord of the Rings, it is another aspect of this world that it is nice to be able to see. The complexity of including this miniature plot line mirrors Tolkien's constant rendering of Middle Earth as a vast, complete world with a rich history and mythology. Plot lines do interact, which is why no one reads The Silmarillion before The Lord of the Rings (and many people never read it at all), but going on to read The Silmarillion will further illuminate aspects of The Lord of the Rings. You see what I'm getting at by "intertexuality?"

Moving on. The casting of Martin Freeman was great: he portrayed both the silly, sort of cute, little Bilbo who is nothing but a hobbit out of his hole. But he also hinted at Bilbo's journey, his discovery of courage and the friendships he makes while he is away from the Shire. And Gollum. Goodness, Gollum. Any minor CG shortcomings the first time were solved: that's Gollum onscreen, not any fabrication. His skin and the way his mouth moves are amazingly well-rendered. And, yes, once again Andy Serkis did what no one else would be able to do with the character: "Riddles in the Dark" was every bit as creepy and delightful as it is on page. The CG was also probably the best I've seen on other aspects of the movie: the Goblin king, the Wargs, the trolls, the glimpse at Smaug, and am I missing anything?

Which leads us into discussing this movie visually. It was a visual feast, as even critics admit. Stunning, absolutely stunning. Like in the original trilogy, sets and locations are expertly designed and well chosen. The camera becomes a personality of itself, weaving in and around scenes and treating your eye to the best sights and angles. Cinematography works harmoniously with the 3D and .... the 48fps. Yes, I saw the movie in HFR 3D, and I don't know what people are talking about in saying that they just couldn't get used to it. Is it a generation gap? I don't know. And I realize that in order to properly analyze the 48fps, I would have to see the movie at a regular frame rate, too. But as it is, all I felt was that the frame rate enhanced the 3D element, smoothing out the visuals and all the movement of action or otherwise quick paced shots. It really was like looking through a window at the scenes--and how can I have a problem with that? What's wrong with being taken right into Middle Earth? Once again, the cinematography of this movie was stunning and beautiful. Not just what was framed in the shots, but the way the camera moved. And doesn't it make sense for visuals to be such a large part of the movie when descriptions are such a large part of Tolkien's writing?

This movie took all the chances and opportunities it could, which is why I think it is necessary to understand and admit what is going on in it from a literary standpoint. The critics aren't all keen about it because they say it stretched a children's book too far   But the reality is more complex. This movie, this trilogy, isn't intended to be just The Hobbit the children's book; it is a further look at the world of Middle Earth, framed around Thorin's and Bilbo's stories. It set out to achieve a certain effect, and it succeeded.

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