(Warning: contains spoilers, but not about The Hobbit.)
So. I have, at long last, watched the final one of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films. Now, I am not going to bother listing differences between the film and the book: that is a pointless exercise in misunderstanding, nor am I going to make an interminable list of grievances (actually, I am going to put a short list in the final paragraph, where no one has to read them), but I do want to reflect on the nature of the film.
A little while back, before the film came out, I made some predictions of who would survive and who would be killed, based on the narrative structure of the first two. I reckoned:
- Bolg would kill Kili, who was defending Tauriel;
- Bolg would kill Tauriel;
- Legolas would kill Bolg, in revenge for/defense of Tauriel;
- Thorin would kill Azog (and of course be killed himself).
I was right on all except the second one. Despite being thrown halfway down a mountain Tauriel survived to grieve her dwarf and (indirectly) send Legolas off to the arms of Aragorn (as it were). Now it’s not that I am some kind of genius who can see the future, simply that I know a little about the genre of the film, even if I don’t like it.
The Hobbit films were truer to the conventions of their genre than The Lord of the Rings. There was too much story there, too much loved stuff to mess with. Jackson and his associates twisted and turned to get their films, but there were some things they couldn’t shift. With The Hobbit, the need to produce three films out of a little book left huge amounts of territory up for grabs. Inevitably, things became (à la Douglas Adams) needlessly Operatic.
The first sign of that was the killing of Smaug. In the bedtime story book, Bard the bowman fires his (note that, his) last black arrow into the unarmoured spot on the dragon’s hide. In the film everything is heightened. Bard cannot fire, he is in prison. He has the wrong arrows, not THE black arrow. He is up a rickety wooden tower (he just is, right?). His son (extra loved-one-peril) brings him the arrow. The ******* dragon is coming at him. His bow is broken. He has to use his son (extra, extra loved-one-peril) as part of his bow. And, of course, once he has fired the arrow, he and his son (extra, extra, extra loved-one-peril) disappear into the flames. Oh Em Gee.
Coupled to that was the death of the Master of Lake Town. Not starving to death with his gold, but flattened/drowned in the death plummet of Smaug. Again, Opera.
The surest sign of Opera was Kili’s death scene. That slow-motion, eye-to-eye perishing was more Wagnerian duet than film. The fat lady may not have sung, but, boy, was she ready.
There are clearly many people who like their films like that. That’s fine. My problem is, that if I want opera I will go and see something by Mozart or Janaček.
So. What do I do now? First, clear my palate. I think I might watch Dodgeball again. There’s a film that knows the Hero’s Journey and works it. <spoiler >The death of coach Patches O’Houlihan is one of my favourite examples of a film’s self-knowledge </spoiler>. Second, follow up the hint that someone, somewhere is doing a cut of the films which only includes scenes with Bilbo in. Third. Write my own. Who has the theatrical rights to The Hobbit?
(The promised grievances, none of which are ‘but in the book’: (1) the orc army bounced up out of the ground, taking everyone by surprise, but the command post was sitting up on a hill, in full view of everyone. How so? (2) Desolation: Jackson’s cities are glorious: Minas Tirth, Dale; but they have been dropped from heaven. Where are the fields, the farms, the livestock? Granted, not so much an issue for Dale, which has been dragonised for a while, but Minas Tirth and Edoras? (3) The incoherence of battles. I understand war is chaos, but tactically, they are a mess. (4) (related to 3) Why do these armies always march with the weapons in the attack position? They would be knackered in less than a mile. Yes, even the dwarves. (5) (related to 3 and 4) Why do these armies always manage to advance in orderly ranks even across the most rugged, rock-strewn terrain? (6) Shapelessness: a constant re-boot of battles as more people/beings arrived. (7) Isolation of the hero action. Why can’t we hear dwarves and orcs still being cut to pieces down below while the heroes jump about on frozen lakes and falling towers?)