Veritable Potpourri

1. Red Carpet Fashion

I’m truly feeling old.  Passing interest brought me to the series of short youtube features of last night’s Golden Globe red carpet.  I didn’t recognize any of the names (except Jennifer Lawrence, but who cares?!) in the descriptions, and so I didn’t watch any of them.  I am out of touch, if ‘being in touch’ means knowing the names of Hollywood’s biggest starlets.  Ho hum.

2. Edinburgh Graffiti

A couple of weeks ago, I and the dear comrade were walking through a tunnel (under a bridge) in an area of Edinburgh.  The walls on both sides were decorated with (British and therefore monochrome) graffiti.  Two-thirds of the way down the tunnel, someone had scrawled ‘ELVIS’ in big blue letters.  Other artists had added relevant (or irrelevant) notes, one of them being ‘Elvis is DEAD’.  Someone had written something in protest of this proclamation, and still another person had responded, ‘So is Jesus.’  I stopped for just a moment to stare at this simple statement.  ‘That’s not true,’ I thought.  That’s about the complexity you’d expect from a 5-year-old, but that’s all that came to mind.  I realised later that I’d never heard that sentiment expressed that way before, though I’m sure plenty of people believe it: Jesus is dead.  And when I thought about that, I realised then, how incredible it is to believe that He isn’t.  He’s risen, alive and ruling, seated at the right hand of His Father.  The second person of the Trinity became incarnate as a man, died a man’s death, and then rose from the dead in that very body in which he died, and he lives!  It is truly amazing.  Much more amazing than stories of folk seeing Elvis in diners in Idaho.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

If you have no expectations, this won’t fail you in the ‘fun’ and ‘aesthetically pleasing’ department.  We’re going to have to knock off points for dopey dialogue, which makes one wonder, how did the trio of writers (Jackson himself, Walsh & Boyens, and in the Hobbit films, + some other guy whose name I can’t recall) go so wrong?  Sure, there was some writing, especially in ROTK that, to outsiders, could have been classed as cheesy.  But those lines are few, and insignificant compared to the hokey-ness that is the script for TDOS.  And, as the dear comrade pointed out, that is probably a function of the team having to ‘make so much up’ to fill the time.  Or put another way, much of the dialogue for LOTR is lifted from the books.  But when your aim is to supe up a children’s story (sort of) and expand it into an epic trilogy when two two-hour films would have sufficed, you have to inject a good bit of filler.  So, while I above advised to go in without expectations, I will list the biggest ‘disappointments’, alternatively categorized as ‘low points’ in the film, and after, will list what I believe are the things that make it worth seeing (again, for itself, not because it is a film version of Tolkien’s book, something to which it never claims to aspire).  Spoiler alert!

I. Tauriel.  Just like the replacing of Glorfindel with Arwen to give the most annoying character in the original trilogy more screen time, except this sin is even more heinous. By the end of the film, you’re praying she dies, so neither Kili nor Legolas is saddled with so annoying a female-warrior type.  Even her look makes one think that they were simply trying to replicate the position of Arwen, but this time, with a Xena twist, so she can be featured in unnecessary action sequences, and shown saving Kili multiple times (which I’d imagine would only serve to cause resentment in a relationship, for reasons on which I will here not expound–so perhaps we can already determine that there’s no future there). Not only does she seem to have been inserted just to give the action some estrogen, but her facial features are reminiscent of Liv Tyler (especially her mouth).  Don’t get me wrong, she’s a beautiful woman, but if you’re going to irritate people with such innovations, at least try to avoid such predictable plot devices.  The love triangle would have been a crime in and of itself, but they didn’t even try to give this shiny female character any depth at all.  She’s a cliche, pure and simple.

II. Too many orcs.  I love them, and I love them getting dismembered, but everywhere you turned, there were hissing detached heads, skull staples, and quivering, dying bodes.  I understand that the weaving in of the Necromancer sub-plot links this trilogy to LOTR in a clear way, and gives the back-story to the re-rise of Sauron not found in the Hobbit (but rather, in the Middle-Earth histories and appendices).  I get it, and I actually approve of it for the purposes of movie-making.  But the sheer amount of screen-time devoted to them made it seem like a desperate attempt to re-capture some LOTR moments, while the subtle differences in the film from the LOTR (such as the fonts chosen for subtitles and even the main title, the atmosphere of the score, and the end credits) seem intended to set it apart (and make it less ‘epic-y’).  So, how is the new trilogy supposed to ‘forge its own identity’?  Is it LIKE LOTR, or not?  I suppose the answer is supposed to be, yes & no, but–let’s be honest, that just isn’t good enough, when it’s staring viewers in the face that the orcs, the Necromancer and Dol Guldur, the love triangle (especially Kili’s illness), and the dwarve’ battle with Smaug *inside* Erebor are all just ways to make the film longer.  *cough* and *sigh*

III.  Beorn.  Okay, his house was great, exactly as I’d always imagined.  Beorn himself was all right; not how I’d pictured, but well done.   But they spent a total of–what, 5 minutes there?  Some of Tolkien’s best writing in The Hobbit is this chapter, and without going into too much detail (what about the meal?!), this simply got short-shrift.

IV. The credits.   I know, why would anyone take exception to the way the credits are presented?  Trust me, if you’ve seen it already, you know what I’m talking about.  There was no score between the last frame of the movie (admittedly, very dramatic) and the first note of the credits song, which was just the singer’s angsty voice.  The song itself isn’t bad, but everyone in the cinema with us laughed when it started, because the timing was so awkward.  No one would have said that about the way the three credit songs were worked in for LOTR (to be honest, I can’t remember what happened at the end of AUJ).

As you can see, I haven’t really complained too much about the differences between the movie and the book (with the exception of Beorn).  I’ve done my best to try to take TDOS on its own terms, and there were things I think they simply didn’t do well.  There were, however, several things they did do well, and aspects that just ‘work’, as aspects of a fantasy film and for me as a fan of Tolkien generally. These almost make up for that thorn in my side, Tauriel.

I.  It is pretty.  Like all the films that came before, the locations, the sets, the computerised special effects are all gorgeous.

II. Smaug.  Spot on (except for his underbite, but that’s a matter of artistic preference).  BC’s voice (altered, I know) blended gravitas (a word which will come up again later) with cunning, pride, and malice.  And, the dialogue between Smaug and Bilbo was some of the best writing in the movie (likely because much of it, again, was lifted from the book).

III.  Martin Freeman.  He’s even better at being Bilbo than in AUJ, and his expressions and body language in scenes of danger and difficulty (Smaug, escape from the palace of the Wood-elves, and the battle against the spiders of Mirkwood) are incredibly natural and believable.  I personally find his characterization one of the most sympathetic in all of the franchise.  And to me, just as important, he comes pretty darn close to capturing the spirit of Tolkien’s Bilbo.

IV. Bard, Laketown, and Laketown’s Mayor.  Peter Jackson’s been able to communicate the history and backstory of a place simply by showing the viewer the place and its people in the right atmosphere.  As he did with Edoras, so he’s done with Laketown–the dank, the fog, the muted grey and earth-tones, the slow movement of the folk–tell you everything you need to know about the despair plaguing this place, and get the proper sense that these people have been suffering for a long time, with a leader (Stephen Frye) who’s committed only to avoiding responsibility and silencing criticism.  You hope that, while Thorin is promising (perhaps superficially, and all too vaguely) only wealth from the mountain, the success of the quest will mean redemption for the people of Laketown.  And then there’s Bard.  Not what I expected in terms of appearance, but the few short scenes of him interacting with his fellow townsfolk, and especially with his children, tell you what kind of man he is–one who does his duty, loves his family, speaks the truth, and has a discerning mind.  And best of all, he’s not over-the-top.

V.  Legolas.  Worth seeing this movie just to see Legolas himself redeemed (though again, his dialogue is not the greatest, but that’s not his fault).  I find him much improved (even though he’s been added into the film to fill space and time), now that Orlando Bloom is 10+ years older.  Somehow I could never take him seriously when he jumped to his feet protesting Aragorn’s nobility at the Council of Elrond so many years ago.  The Legolas of yesteryear’s movies was one of my top pet peeves.  Now, with an aged face and gravelly voice, I can believe he’s got brains and experience.

V. The fight in the forge.  I believe this is entirely an invention for the movie, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The sequence has fantastic scoring, and though my dear comrade didn’t think it always looked realistic, it was something new for the franchise, as the ‘weapons’ at the dwarves’ disposal were basically the tools of their ancient craft.  It’s an opportunity to see the machinery of the dwarves in action, as well as the party’s resourcefulness.  And, the golden image that Smaug is momentarily so taken with, made us gasp, and the dragon’s expression as he gazes at it is simply brilliant.

VI. Thranduil.  Last but certainly not least!  This was an opportunity to explore more aspects and personalities among the Elvenfolk, and it was a bit of a relief to have the Elves appear a bit more masculine, and a bit less breathy (Elrond and Haldir [sometimes] were the two exceptions to the airy, silvery-mist that was the typical elf of LOTR). He is a foil to Elrond as the king of the ‘less wise’ and ‘more dangerous’ Wood-elves (as Beorn says).  The scene of Thorin’s audience with Thranduil is one of the best in the movie; both these princes got swagga, and their respective biases and resentment from past disappointments keep them talking past each other.  Neither comes out of the fray unscathed–the dialogue is well-crafted– they’re both in the wrong.  My reaction was, “What a shame.”  Both are ‘good guys’, but blind to their own folly and unwilling to let go of their prejudice, even in the interests of their own respective peoples.  Thorin’s pride and Thranduil’s arrogance (and later, his isolationism) are on full display, and a sobering reminder that even heroes and good kings fall into temptation.  …On a side-note, I’ve seen this Lee Pace in “Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day” (which is a great movie, but that’s by the by…), and thought him very boring-looking, while his acting wasn’t bad.  As Thranduil, though, wow–impressed with both appearance and interpretation of his character.

So, in the end, was it the best movie ever?  No.  Was it good? Um, yeah, but as I said above, the script was quite poor, probably for almost half of the whole movie (the well-written scenes, though, were great).  It is worth seeing at the cinema, but not for more $7.50 a ticket, which is what we paid; higher-cost tickets should only be purchased for Oscar nominees (as long as they’re actually great movies, not like Titanic).  While I had no desire the see the first Hobbit film again over the past year, I probably will see this one again on DVD before the final installment comes out next Christmas.



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