December 12, 2012
The Hobbit: An Uncritiqueable Journey
For a critic-proof movie, The Hobbit has had more than its share of problems from the very start. Guillermo del Toro backed out of directing, there have been labor disputes, animal deaths, and major skepticism about the 48 frames-per-second rate Peter Jackson used, which depending on your point of view either creates an immersive, magical viewing experience, or looks like a made-for-TV movie.
I walked into a screening last night with mid-to-low expectations, and had a great time. I found it a lot less ponderous and self-important than the last LOTR movie, the action scenes were raucous and fun, and the variety of bizarre life forms in Middle Earth are amazing and cool. The high frame rate makes it look a little like a telenovela, but a fantastical, other-worldly one--I got into it after a disorienting first few minutes.
I should point out that, in my view, The Hobbit was made for a target age of about 10. It's pretty much a children's movie; in some scenes, it's a children's musical. A children's musical that adults like, too. The mythology of the Tolkien books doesn't mean anything to me--I can hardly remember what the LOTR trilogy was actually about, other than lots of walking and throwing the ring into a volcano. The Hobbit is a good time, but not meaningful on any deeper level, which is OK by me but might be disappointing for Tolkien fans looking for melodrama and gravitas. This is a children's comedy adventure musical. That's a half-hour too long.
A Guillermo del Toro Hobbit might have been very different. The evil creatures would have probably be scarier and ickier, and some form of humanoid bug demons would likely have crept out of an oozing crevice at some point. Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth from 2006 was an excellent and scary fantasy, though since it's rated R, I guess it's not really a children's movie (except for children with cool/irresponsible parents.)
The director I really wish had made a Hobbit movie is Jim Henson. He would have had a blast with all those trolls, goblins, dwarves, elves, orcs, and hobbits, giving them all well-developed personalities and looks. Peter Jackson is good at combining comedy and the grotesque (Dead Alive is the funniest horror movie I've ever seen) but Jim Henson could have made something really inspired: funny, surreal, thrilling, and accessible to kids all at the same time.
I noticed that Jackson hung onto Tolkien's characterization of Dwarves that's uncomfortably similar to a stereotypical, derogatory version of Jews. Dwarves are greedy, they've got comically huge noses, and they've been driven from their homeland. Tolkien saw the Jewish-Dwarvish parallels in his book, but for 1930's England, his views probably weren't offensive. Dwarves are definitely "other", but they're worthy of being helped to win back their home. England's attitude toward Jews in that time seems pretty similar: help them establish a homeland that's located nowhere near England. I'm a little surprised Jackson didn't change this characterization at all, but I guess he can claim fidelity to the text.
Let's just be thankful that a real mess like The Lovely Bones is in the past and Peter Jackson is back to making Shakespearean actors wear absurd bulbous fake noses.
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