Friday, December 21, 2012

Getting The Hobbit Review Out Of The Way. Very Minor Spoilers.

Script by Monty Python and (Jedi-era) George Lucas, art direction by Brian Froud and John Blanche.

The hardest part, in general, about the Jackson Hobbit was always going to be selling the dwarves as both Jim Hensonishly ridiculous and action movie heroic at the same time. The movie's over and I'm still not sure which it went--or will go. Time Bandits may have done that trick better.

The most important part, locally, was always going to be selling The Riddle Scene because it is arguably the best written and well-pitched and unarguably the most important scene in the entire LOTR business. And they did that unequivocally. Good job.

The cinematic karma Jackson earned by removing Tom Bombadil from the Rings movies was entirely undone by the decision to double down on Jar Jar B I mean Radagast the Brown. He nearly tanked the entire movie.

As in Fellowship, another challenge is to keep the audience awake through the rural cliches until you're past Rivendell and it's crappily historyless retired hippie fantasy pseudo art-nouveau woodwork. After that: smooth sailing, more or less.

Evoking the dwarves as a kind of diaspora trying to get home worked in the script, and kind of pulls some kind of complex underhanded re-interpretation of Wagner's subterranean untermensch dwarves that someone could probably write a paper about.

Tolkien is at his best when he is at his most Fairy Tale and Jackson is at his best when he is at his most Metal. So the most successful parts of their collaboration is when it's a little of both. Right in D&D territory, in other words.

I think the Pale Orc was inspired by John Cassady's redesign of Drax The Destroyer. The number of people who understand that sentence on earth is very small, and the number who care is, I'm sure, even smaller, and the amount of space thoughts like that take up in my head is enormous.

The Lord of the Rings movies felt like mid-level D&D, this feels even more like D&D and more low level. It's all about desperation, improvisation, redundant skillsets, fear, luck, jokes, running away and equipment.

Here is a genuinely unusual thing about this movie--and I do not know if it is because we have seen the sequels already or because Tolkien's characters are just thick with history or because the script goes to such lengths to evoke that history or just because so much of it is so goddamn D&D and I play so much of it, but I kept thinking a thing I have never thought during any movie before: these guys are gonna have such great stories to tell when they get out of this.

Oh and man was this ever a warbox. I loved how the goblin king wrote a letter to the orc warlord.


  1. I was disappointed by minor things, like that the gold buttons were lost while running from Gollum sans ring, rather than slipping through the door past an orc. Mostly "it rubbed my old mental images the wrong way".

    Radagast actually wasn't one of them. He was a bit of added fluff, yes, but he did provide some good things:
    1) Padding for a story that might otherwise have been too short to stop where it did.
    2) Huge chortles from my teenager.
    3) Stifled guffaw from myself at the mushrooms call-back to "you smoke too much of that hobbit weed", making the very Metal statement that some authority is entirely too square (especially about drugs), in very few words.

    That said, I'm not hoping for more of him.

    1. never waste screen time on a hippie

    2. "The number of people who understand that sentence on earth is very small, and the number who care is, I'm sure, even smaller, and the amount of space thoughts like that take up in my head is enormous."

      geek manifesto there, thanks a lot for the feeling that sentence gave me; but then i imagine everyone feels that way, right? people who care about 'zone defense,' people who think there's a benghazi conspiracy involving susan rice, theologians, dairy farmers, anyone who knows what 'cache invalidation' means, my fellow hardcore phish fans (12/6/97 is a heavier performance than 11/22/97 because blah)

      like everyone has isomorphic obsessions but, aha, tyranny of small differences or whatever the saying is.


      how do you rate frank quietly btw? ever read We3? my favourite morrison because mostly he shuts up and lets quietly be amazing.

    3. Quitely is good in anything where he doesn't have to draw lips

  2. Radagast completely ruined the movie for me.

  3. I could have done with a bit less Radagast, but the scenes of him on his bunny bobsled were a way for the film to kick viewers repeatedly with "This isn't Lord of the Rings" - and I liked that. But I like the idea of '70s whimsy creeping in, or at least the idea that players/readers should realize that every worthwhile male character in the setting has a moustache and a mullet and that the characters wear lots of scarves or something.

    Also, the depiction of the dwarves fits Tolkien's conception of them as "fantasy Jews of Norse mythology", but through a philosemitic (not anti-racist, to be clear) lens as opposed to Wagner's anti-Semitic one. The Jackson's version of the Hobbit sticks surprisingly close to this depiction and possibly emphasizes it (diaspora, loving gold, ancient grudges, big noses, beards, etc.), hiding behind the "Scottish dwarves" cliche. And the dwarves are supposed to speak a Semitic-sounding language, or at least have it as their ancient tongue from before they were dispersed (and one of their major sites has the non-dwarvish name of Moria, although Wikipedia informs me that Tolkien denied that connection).

    (A different Nathaniel, BTW)

    1. 1. Hippies still suck

      2. Thank you for writing the grad school paper I only alluded to

    2. Somebody should do a cultural history of dwarves to figure out when they became Scottish in the popular imagination, as opposed to Jewish or Nordic.

  4. I loved the movie in spite of two minor details:

    HATED the fact that all of the dwarves had bulbous noses, weird hair and giants ears all except for one. Let's call him Orlando Bloom the Dwarf. I get that they are trying to attract the female market (I'd argue they don't have to work too hard) but the dude didn't even have a beard, just rugged dwarf stubble. My girlfriend commented that it was Mitchell from the British 'Being Human.'

    Secondly, (speaking of Jar Jar) the goblin king reminded me of the Gungan leader from Episode 1 and his reaction to *spoiler* getting killed took me right out of the mood of the scene, little too looney toon.

    p.s long time reader, first time commenter.

    1. I wish Dominique Pinon had been cast as one of the dwarves.

  5. There were long stretches that felt like I was watching someone's fanfiction.

  6. Well, I may be weird this way but my wife and I had a hell of a time and can't wait to see it again.

  7. I never realized that every mountain in Middle Earth is hollow.

    1. Every mountain in a fantasy story should be hollow, or rather should have the potential to be hollow.

      In real life mountains are fine in a story for symbolic qualities and all but only ever impact the plot of that story as an obstacle. In real life this only means it takes longer to get somewhere, or that it takes longer to get somewhere and is additionally more treacherous. Which is fine if you want a dwarven donner party.

      If you're doing fantasy or particularly if you're doing a game, mountains and statues and lakes and spooky old houses are wonderful, atmospheric elements of the world. They make the story feel a little more sketched in. But if you're going to make a mountain impact the plot directly there are dozens of more interesting things to do in addition to/instead of just a bulwark or a place to get snowed in.

      The mountain needs to be a volcano, or a stronghold, or a temple, or a mine, or a dungeon, or a city, or somehow Weird-Fiction alive or a portal to the farthest reaches of sanity, or where the gods live, or the location of badass kung fu centipedes, or the exposed tip of some larger creature, or hundreds of smaller-yet-still-enormous creatures huddled together in hibernation, or filled with demons like in Fantasia, or home to giants, or cursed, or a man-made mountain with all kinds of weird elements, or the point where the earthly realm touches some metaphysical plane (a stairway to heaven, if you will), or a beacon which summons the star people when activated, or home to a slumbering dragon/Godzilla...

      I mean yeah an avalanche is interesting, or 1d3 random encounters a day, or however you want to work that. But the only reason "Here's what happened when they crossed a mountain" is ever more interesting than "And then they crossed a mountain which was hard" (or crossing a desert of navigating a forest trail) is when someone looks at that big juicy set piece and decides to fill it like a murder pinata or top it like a crazy cake.

  8. In the books I understood Lonely mountain was hollow because Smaug got into it. I got the impression that the Mines of Moria and the Goblin caves in the Hobbit were more claustrophobic, tunnels and such, not well lit massive chambers. Even Mount Doom felt to open. I understand it is more cinematic, but it didn't feel right.

  9. it really is like a low-level game (with Erik's It Gets Worse in play).
    ...there are 3 regular players plus guest slots, who use the minor dwarves/henchmen. Gandalf's player is sleeping with the DM but not really into the game, so they keep wandering off and have to be called back from texting their friends at critical moments to throw around some high-level magic and get the gang out of trouble. Thorin's a repurposed Pendragon character.

    Radagast, the council meeting and Gandalf's out-of-scale powers are all artifacts of the DM's not knowing what to do to please this one reluctant player. It's ironic because you know when they actually sat up and payed attention? When they were stuck in a burning tree and nobody knew what to do.