Welcome to the blog of Miroslav Georgiev - classical pianist and conductor. Here you can read and discuss interesting stuff from the world of music, life, politics and more.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Hobbit - Desolation of Smaug: Increasing the pace of the adventure

The end of the year is here and with it - the next Hobbit movie. The 'Middle' one, which can be good or bad, depending on what you expect. Me, I didn't expect anything particular, just something really, really good, and I wasn't disappointed. The Hobbit 2 is more concentrated, more ominous and more fast-paced than the first one. As it should be.

OK, I admit it, I'm a huge fan of both Tolkien and Peter Jackson, but I think I have my reasons for it. In my previous review (of the first Hobbit) I said that Peter has a knack for creating a Universe out of Tolkien's books, and I'm going to elaborate on this now.

All fans of Tolkien know that he was more of  a scholar than a storyteller. The Middle Earth universe appeared as a fantasy justification for his hobby - the creation and study of languages, and more specifically, the Elvish language. I'm sure somebody tried already to create an Elvish dictionary, just like they have a Clingon one, I'm just not sure where it is. Another base for Tolkien's works was his desire to create a brand-new, pure English set of legends, dissociated of Christianity (because the King Arthur cycle is heavily influenced by Christian mythology) and any other Nordic influences. So, the great bulk of Tokien's writing is a string of separate myths and legends, which all gather together to create the mythology of Middle Earth. There are two major exceptions: The Hobbit, which he wrote to amuse his kids, and its continuation, The Lord of the Rings, which he wrote when the published Hobbit became an unexpected success and everyone begged him to write a sequel. The emphasis here is: Tolkien never sat down to create a masterpiece of narration and drama, but a book of adventures! And what's more - in the Hobbit, he never even sat down to create a book for grown-ups! If you take the Hobbit, and somehow forget that you've read LOTR before that, or any of the other published legends, all you'll find is a great children's book, full of adventures such as you'd expect to find in a children's book - a quest, dwarves, elves, a mage, a dragon, evil spiders, evil orcs, etc. And as in every self-respecting children's adventure book, the good guys run into the problems constantly and manage to overcome them constantly, usually by killing what caused them.      

And although LOTR is a much more complex and full book, with character development and everything, it is rarely something more than an extended, epic adventure. It hints at so much more, but if you read it alone, you will never find out what exactly this so much more is.                

So, why do some people expect a drama of great depth and complexity when they watch these movies??? It's as if you expected Superman to exhibit great complexity of character all of a sudden, and to create an epic drama, instead of just fly and save airplanes and damsels in distress.

Here's where we come to Peter Jackson's greatest accomplishment: he brought together these two isolated books and the rest of Tolkien's complex mythological world. I don't know if he personally read all other important works, like the Silmarillion (he probably did), but whatever he did, he found all the relevant facts and managed to insert them in his movies to flesh out the story. For example, the enmity between dwarves and elves is never explained in the book (besides a fleeting 'Elves didn't like dwarves' or something), while in the movie we have not only a clear explanation of why that is, but also multiple instances that show how this enmity hinders progress and creates stupid obstacles. The Ring's evil influence on Bilbo is never shown in the book, but in the movie we see how it twists his mind already, driving him to acts of violence unfitting a hobbit.
In the book there's just a quick explanation of Gandalf's side mission - to deal with the Necromancer, while in the movie we see the full importance of this 'side' mission - the necromancer is none other but the Great Enemy Sauron rising again from Dol Guldur, and gathering all evil forces. This is well explained in a number of other writings of Tolkien, but not explicitly stated, not even in the LOTR. Still, Jackson found it out and showed it!

Yes, there are silly exaggerations, like Radaghast or the Master of Lake City, but the Hobbit is on the humorous site, and it should feel lighter than the ominous Lord of the Rings. And yes, there are the too-dramatic moments, like Ballin's "This my lad .... (dramatic pause) .. is a dragon". But again, this is a movie for entertainment,  not for cinema specialists; and entertaining it is. The monsters are outstanding, the fighting sequences are breath-taking (although a bit exaggerated and with too much of a game feeling), the camera..... I have no words to describe it. I think the sheer visual magnificence of these series should be set as the highest standard for future movies.

You'll love the dragon - he feels like a real bad-ass monster, sure of himself and extremely dangerous. His every move is menacing; his lines are well-written (he doesn't say even a tenth of the stuff in the book).  And the final cliffhanger.... just splendid.

I know this turned out not to be exactly a movie review, but I think in the case of the Hobbit it's more important to emphasize that we're watching an epic fantasy movie, and not a serious and realistic action-drama. I think too many people and critics expect to see something else, something Peter Jackson never attempted to create, and shouldn't create. What he aimed at, he achieved - an epic adventure, with fast pace and well-crafted scenes and sequences, never mind awesome effects. Hats down for Martin Freeman's and Ian MacKellen's acting again, and  Bravo Peter!

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