Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Hobbit Un-Trilogy: A Review


  Most Americans have seen The Hobbit 3-part movie that Peter Jackson has been piece-mealing us for the last 3 years, perhaps in-hopes that it is similar to the lauded Lord of the Rings trilogy from the last decade.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, the latter a fantasy-story in the Scorsese-vein that power corrupts absolutely and so the hero(s) attempt to destroy a ring that holds that power (with a nemesis that wants it for himself).  Pretty standard stuff, though beautifully sprawling scenery (filmed mostly in New Zealand) and panoramic vistas make for an epic experience.  I'm a bit more partial to the arguably more-correct animated Ralph Bakshi version from 1978, however, because that kind of effort was amazing, frame-by-frame painting each cell before computers did everything for you.  These stories were written by iconic fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien (yeah, he's got two middle-names) in 1937 to 1949 (not published until 1954) and has some allegories towards Europe and World War I & II pretty easily recognized (even the elves [not elfs, as Tolkien created a bit of his own language here] come-off as French without too much of a stretch of the imagination).   If you haven't seen the trilogy from the early 2000's, it's worth a watch, though be-warned each clocks-in at several hours.  Watching the Trilogy, like The Godfather trilogy, is an all-day affair best suited to a 3-day viewing.

Peter Jackson's well-received Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring film (2001)

  The Hobbit is a bit of an unintended prequel to The Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien wrote in 1937, along with several notes for a sprawling world that was published in 1977 called, The Silmarillion.  The notes themselves were very short stories and some were just poems or song segments to create a world-backdrop.  Very rarely are books of merely just "notes" published due to an international interest.  I've read it, and it's a tough-read with a lot of proper-nouns in it that boggle and drag-down the mind and I don't recommend it much unless you absolutely love the Lord of the Rings trilogy to pieces and want more of it.  A lot of folks did, and it sold relatively well, and most people buy it without actually reading it (because it's just a collection of rough-notes and a few sparse short-stories and poems) and there's no real "ending" to it and rambles on confusingly like The Book of Revelations sometimes, as well as this blog (yes, my work is near-biblical, thank you.)

  If you're a fan of animation, both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were released as animated features in good-effort and are worth a watch.  The Hobbit was by Rankin Bass who worked on Frosty the Snowman, some stop-motion animation such as The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV-movies, The Last Unicorn, and the iconic Heavy Metal.  Quite a few movies and shorts over the years.  The cartoon of The Hobbit is seemingly done in watercolors and follows the book fairly well, though a few key elements are missing as it's only 77 minutes long and made for TV in 1977 it's pretty good, though packed with some Shatner-esque singing segments that are still mimicked today.  It comes-off as being dark at points (as it should) and is probably best-suited for kids over the age of 9 or 10:  they might not understand some of the gravity and grim-ness of some of the situations.

Rankin Bass' The Hobbit.  Here is Bard of Laketown.  In the book and cartoon, a thrush tells him Smaug's weakness.

Bakshi's Lord of the Rings (1978) Ringwraith-Nazgul senses The One Ring nearby
Bakshi's Lord of the Rings (1978) Horseman of Rohan
Rankin Bass finished Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings roto-scoped cartoon version as he had only finished up-to The Two Towers (the second book in the series) by making a Return of the King film in the same scale and scope as The Hobbit though it comes-off being a bit disjointed.  Ralph Bakshi's work was quite like Heavy Metal with its brooding darkness and foreboding danger where Rankin Bass couldn't quite pull that off, trying a bit too hard and looking more like a Filmation's He-Man in a lot of ways.  Bakshi rotoscoped and added-over live-actors as Disney did in their Golden Era with Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Snow White (1937).  Watching all 3 animated films consecutively will get you the special Mike Cronis official Prize of

Return of the King (1980) King of RohanNotice the difference in animation style from above.

  Jackson has made these 3 movies a bit of a "fan fiction" spectacle of sorts.  He also added some video-game-like sequences about midway through each of the three, particularly with anything having to do with a supposed-to-be-non-existent "Legolas" who was added perhaps for the "ladies" in the audience, or that Orlando Bloom had nothing else going on.  As usual, he comes off as a whiny, fancy bitch with dainty booties, often rendered in video-game physics-defying low-resolution goofiness.  I'm not sure why Jackson made these sequences, particularly with roll-your-eyes action, perhaps for the very young, mentally handicapped children from foreign countries with gay-AIDS?

The character Turiel isn't in any Tolkien books, added for romantic-conflict only, played cutely by Lost's Evangeline Lilly.

Legolas fights Smaug.
  The "action" is over-the-top sequences that are painful to watch.  In the first installment, it's in the Misty Mountains.  Jackson took liberties here and created a Mario Brothers engineering feat of mining railways that are nonsensical and virtually useless, lest the goblins were drunk in designing them.  The dwarves and company are chased through these while riding and bouncing around ridiculously.  It looks really poor.  In the second installment, the chapter "Barrel Out of Bonds" was supposed to be a quiet escape into the night towards Laketown, but instead, more video-game action and violence-porn even Tarantino would blush at.  Not enough?  A goofy, non-canonical dwarven attack on Smaug in the Lonely Mountain such that MacGyver would frown upon.  In the final installment, an unnecessary mono-e-mono against an Uruk-hai leader-orc that ends stupidly.  Legolas jumps and runs up falling rocks, and there's a ton of ninja-like action that is just downright silly.  Kids might like it, but I'm weary of retarded physics.  I can handle a little suspension-of-disbelief but Jackson just ignores physics for some reason and it caters to young-minded children who might find it "cool" that an elf can run up a falling bridge's stones like a broken video game because they're so buried in their smartphones they don't know what is possible and what is not anymore, those lines blurred. 

1970's magician Doug Henning obtains, apparently, the Ring of Power, the One Ring to rule them all, to Mordor's door.
Peter Jackson's version of the Nazgul.

  Aside from the 20-minute action-sequences and fan-fiction add-ins, the movie is a bit slow and any sort of danger is kept wan.  I feel no concern for any character throughout, partially because the story is mandatory reading for 5th graders where I come from, and partially because the grimness is "backed-off".  In the book (and Rankin Bass' efforts) three scenes are quite grave:

1.  The three trolls. 
     In the cartoon, it starts off pretty much like they're dullards but a sense of real doom starts creeping-in to your awareness.  At first it's a mild inconvenience like driving into Detroit but then it's like the car runs out of gas and it's midnight and those blue-lit boxes aren't working and there's no phone coverage and... In the recent film, however,  it comes-off kind of goofy and stays that way, trying to get some laughs somehow (to who might laugh I don't know, perhaps Family Circus lovers and retards).  It's kept light on-purpose.

2.   Misty Mountains

Rankin Bass' goblins are better.
     In the cartoon, the ponies are outright murdered by the goblins and they show them being drug down and Bilbo laments about this, all to the song of Down to Goblin Town, "Down-ho, my lads!" sarcastically.  Thorin is met with the Goblin King who's mouth extends viciously to rip-off his head.  It's no joke as the King quivers with salivary anticipation animalistically, eyes gone vacant like a pure-creature who is to devour a meal with lust.  Jackson akins his version to Rotta Hutt (aka "Baby Stinky") from Star Wars: The Clone Wars film (2008) and company.  Again, the goblins are comedic-relief, even when riding the wargs when chasing the company through the goblin caves and later up tall fir trees with only a slight tinge of concern as they're set-ablaze with some more impossible-physics to save-the-day.  The cartoon has the goblins singing, "Fifteen Birds in 5 Fir Trees" as a joke as they announce they're going to roast them alive.  The dealings with Gollum in the cartoon were done in the vein of Peter Lorre's best work in the radio-drama Suspense (1942-1962) with a desperate The Joker-like madness there, Jackson's Gollum, though well-rendered, comes-off as laughable and a non-threat throughout.  Rankin Bass' is a bit more unpredictable and his murderous intentions are far more clear and likely.


3.   The Lonely Mountain
     Smaug is depicted as the classic rendition of a "red dragon" in the Dungeons & Dragons vein properly in the cartoon visually.  He considers Bilbo for a while and there's tension as to whether he'll be spotted with the infra-vision.  This is not depicted in Jackson's version well and again, we're spared the tension a bit.  There's no dread.  It comes-off more like, "Oh, cool!  It's a dragon talking!  Neet!"  Smaug is rendered fairly, about as good as Dragonheart (1996) and no-better.  Even Vermitrhax from Dragon Slayer (1981) is slightly more realistic, arguably, and we see little of her in that movie except when she's burning things towards the end in classic horror-film fashion where you don't see her much until the end, just suggestions to let your mind create something more sinister.  I'm not sure why Cumberbatch is considered a good actor.  I've seen his work and am utterly unimpressed.  In this day-and-age, however, when people think DeCaprio deserves an Academy Award, it's easy to see how far the film-industry has fallen, (as well as musical talent).  Indeed, a laughable actor in 1971 might be Academy-Award-worthy in 2015!  Talent has slipped, partially due to CGI and call-it-in lines.  Not much by-way of passion in acting.  It's so rare to see now.  Lines are delivered so flatly these days.  To do a dragon-voice it's easy to do an octave-drop digitally with a little reverb and bingo, "dragon".  Shrug.  Lines are delivered mediocrely, but ramp-up a notch in the third-installment.  There's little vehemence or drooling hatred in this tired old dragon's tone.  If Dumberbatch wants to know how to emote hatred, I can show him quite-readily, because I saw what George Lucas did to my childhood with The Phantom Menace, what Michael Bay did to Transformers, and Abrams did to Star Trek.  I'll show him a red glowing, deeply-rooted hatred that would make him wet himself like some Kwisatz Haderach rebellion shout-weapon.  It's easy to draw from hatred, Cumberbunny, just draw from "The Well of Hatred" that all Irish possess.  It never ends.  Drink from it, Cucumberbatch.  Taste the rainbow.

Rankin Bass' Smaug
Peter Jackson's Smaug.

  So, overall, the movie is "fun", non-canonical, visually goofy at-times, and Pete skips Bilbo's return-trip home for the most part.  Guess it was too boring because you gotta fill-in more shouldn't-be-there Legolas' "Roronoa Zoro" impersonations from Japan's One Piece anime because, "Hey, hey!  He's badass, see?  See how cool he is?  Wow!  He can jump super-high and wow!" 
Legolas forgets his "katana" mastery (Niten Ichi Ryu) in Lord of the Rings, apparently.

  In the third-installment, there is a highlight of Galadriel banishing Sauron with one of the Elvish Rings of Power, and a 92-year-old Christopher Lee as Saruman fighting Ring Wraiths as a wizard-badass.  That entire sequence was pretty impressively done, so a few points there.  Still, final verdict:

Grade of the Jackson's The Hobbit Trilogy:  C

Neil Hamburger says, "You know what's wrong with The Hobbit?  It's not realistic enough a fantasy film!"

Here's a picture of a hot chick to make you feel better:


Oh, and one for the ladies too...


  1. I made a meme about the lack of the Thrush you might like: