My post examining racism in the 1933 King Kong gave me a new appreciation for Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, and the changes he made to remove or at least minimize the unconscious prejudice of the movie. So much so that I decided to pop in the Blu-ray and give it another watch. While I’m a fan of Jackson’s version, I won’t deny the film definitely has bloat. It’s a massive movie, clocking in at over three hours if you watch the extended edition (yes, there is an extended edition).
That said, I always find that there’s a lot more that I like in the film than dislike and, even after numerous viewings, I’m still catching new things. This time – well I picked up on a greater thread that I hadn’t noticed before. Oh sure, I’m seen pieces, but I never realized just how much was there. Way too much to be coincidence, that’s for sure.
Now – I still don’t know what everything means or even how much I think it works. But that’s the benefit of having a blog. I can write out my thoughts and see if they make sense. And who knows, maybe someone will tell me this was all obvious and I was very late to the party. Let’s look at masculinity in Peter Jackson’s King Kong.
Okay, so it took about a year but I am finishing this thought. I know, I know – if I waited just another four years before I did anything I would show promise as a Congressman.
So the Hobbit trilogy, the trilogy that is nearly as fashionable to hate as the Star Wars prequels. Some people have even suggested that they are on the same level, as people have argued that both have an over-reliance on CGI and an underdeveloped story. I would counter and ask someone to please find either the Jar Jar or the Midi-chlorian equivalent in the Hobbit trilogy. Please let me know if you find it and feel like you can make a compelling argument.
The point is: Love or hate director Peter Jackson’s changes, most of them make sense from a storytelling perspective in the context of the Middle Earth universe. There are, however, a few that are truly disappointing. While I largely defend the Hobbit trilogy… Lord of the Rings these ain’t.
The Orc Design/Effects
This first change is not really a storytelling critique, but rather an effects one. When the Lord of the Rings came out, it wowed audiences with its masterful use of effects. Mixing costumes and model work with the latest in computer technology, those films were able to create an incredibly believable look that reflected a restraint rarely seen today in big budget Hollywood. I’m not sure where those guys are getting their data, but audiences today seem sick of an overuse of CGI.
WHAT IS UP WITH THE ORCS?!
Or goblins, I want to be politically correct. In particular I’m talking about the two lead baddies, Azog the Defiler and Bolg… the other one. While they can be criticized on more than their appearance (both are rather boring villains who are given way too much screen time), the fact that they are computer generated creations is noticeable. Unlike Gollum, who emotes with the lively presence of Andy Serkis, Azog and Bolg appear stiffer and less, well – alive. This again could have to do with their simplistic motivations. Or it could involve another fact:
They were originally people in costumes and NOT motion captured acting like the Gollum performance. That’s right, Peter Jackson originally wanted both of the main villains to at least look a little more real. Yet, at least according to this source – Jackson was happy with CGI redos and wished his other orcs looked that way.
I’m not sure I buy this.
A lot has come out since the release of the Hobbit trilogy that alleges that Jackson did not have as much control as people would naturally think. I mean, after making Lord of the Rings, how could they not…
Are you kidding?
After Jackson’s trilogy single-handedly saved New Line Cinemas from disappearing into irrelevant oblivion (they tried to withhold money from him on those btw) he and his work was still not respected from a studio standpoint. While the other Hobbit production videos (and commentary tracks) all painted a roses-and-sunshine picture, this feels like the truest look at a production that was in major trouble from day one.
Ah the Eagles, the deus ex machina of the Tolkien universe. Need a hand, got to leave a bad situation – the Eagles got you covered. I’m always amazed when fans of the book criticize Jackson’s decision to explain where Gandalf went when he vanished. Without those scenes, Gandalf would just disappear, conveniently only reappearing to save Bilbo and the dwarves from impending peril. We already got the Eagles guys, we don’t need another one.
Yet the book did have one very important piece that Jackson’s films omit: An introduction. The Eagles are introduced in the Hobbit and their actions are explained… if only a little bit. How might you ask? Well very naturally, the Eagles can and do talk. They express gratitude to Gandalf as well as state that they have no desire to be a taxi service, especially where “fat dwarves” are concerned.
This is a minor problem, and its omission is far from the greatest flaw in the trilogy. That said, it would have been really nice to give the Eagles their motivation, rather than having them appear yet again to only fulfill plot necessity. Doing so would not only have helped the Hobbit movies, but it would have fixed one of the greatest complaints against the Lord of the Rings, namely explaining why this did not happen:
The Smaug Sequence at the end of Desolation of Smaug
Oh Smaug the terrible, chiefest and greatest calamity of our age!
That poor excuse for Rodan can’t even kill a few dwarves running around the Lonely Mountain.
This is the biggest problem with that ending “action sequence” in Desolation of Smaug. Not only does nothing happen to propel the story forward for like.. I don’t know, at least fifteen minutes, the menace of Smaug is greatly reduced. For the past two movies, the horror of this dragon has been built up. When he is revealed, he is depicted as godlike; capable of destroying entire cities without suffering a single injury.
Yet for at least ten minutes, he flails about like a drunk Benedict Cumberbatch, unable to do anything right. Seriously, it goes to the point that Thorin actually taunts him into breathing more fire – that’s how ineffective he is.
A scene equivalent would have been watching Sauron fumble around for the ring for ten minutes at the end of Return of the King before Frodo just kicks it into Mount Doom.
Storytelling tip: if you want a villain to be threatening, they must be effective. What makes it worse, was if the dwarves and Bilbo actually succeeded in doing something (like say knocking off a scale and exposing Smaug’s weakness) the scene would have served at least some point. As it stands, Smaug looks dumb and the good guys do… nothing.
All this being said, I still like The Hobbit trilogy. Is it as good as Lord of the Rings, not even close. That said, there is still a love here for a world that is noticeable, and characters who feel real and entertaining (there is also no picnic love scene equivalent to the Star Wars prequels). It is an absolute shame that Peter Jackson was not given the time to do this properly, but never say never.
Remakes are all the rage in Hollywood right now. Who knows what adventure the highly profitable Middle Earth will take next time.
Well, it is done. Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies are out. Love them or hate them: the journey is over. Now comes the time for internet reflection. As with any hyped production, there were a lot of gut reactions to The Hobbit. One casting decision in particular appeared to irk some fans. In 2011, Evangeline Lilly was announced as Tauriel, a wood elf of Mirkwood. To say that the majority of people reacted with a “hmmm, that’s interesting, let’s wait and see” attitude would be a bit of an overstatement. The immediate reaction came more in the form of comments like these. There was even a wonderful little song put together, have a look:
Fun fact: that video was published on December 15th of 2013, just two days after The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug was released. Either these artists were very moved to write, shoot, edit, and release a song in two days or… it was made before any of them had even seen the film. For the record, there is nothing innately wrong with this. People are allowed to have opinions and reactions of any kind to fictional characters – there are bigger problems in the world to deal with.
But that said, there is also an innate problem of jumping to conclusions and facing new material with a closed mind. Also I titled this blog post with “in Defense of Tauriel” so I am going to defend her inclusion in this Hobbit trilogy. While Tauriel “may not be in the book,” she brings many improvements to the story of The Hobbit. First and most obvious is the addition of a woman in a world where vaginas are more mythical than dragons.
Now that I got my cleverness out-of-the-way, let’s dive into the more substantial contributions. When Tolkien wrote the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings did not exist. In short: the Hobbit was written in a vacuum that has not existed since (and never will again). As with any simple story that was later expanded into a full universe, there are inconsistencies. For starters, let’s talk about those wood elves: what a bunch of dicks.
Seriously, how are these people good guys? When reading the Hobbit, the wood elves are terrible. The are greedy, selfish, and imprison the dwarves for basically no reason (starving dwarves stole food, can you believe their nerve?). Sure they don’t want to directly kill them like the goblins do, but is rotting in a cell really that much of an upgrade over a quick death? And once the dragon is dead and the dwarves and men are having a stupid (but kinda legitimate) battle over the treasure, the elves show up and pretty much declare it is theirs because….
As much as some people like to claim that the Hobbit is a perfect book and that all problems came from Satan (Peter Jackson), the reality is that this was one of the biggest problems in the story. If we are to believe that the elves are good guys (and Lord of the Rings seems to say so) then they cannot be so easily compared to the bad guys.
A good way to do this while staying true to the book is to keep Thranduil a jerk while adding two elf protagonists who are a bit more relatable. Enter Legolas and Tauriel:
Sure, neither one is in the book but where else (as prince of the Mirkwood elves) would Legolas be and again, it is nice to have a character calling the elves out on their hypocrisy.
The other great contribution that Tauriel makes is Kíli . Now, I say this as a huge Tolkien fan and as someone who loved the book: I never gave a sh*t when Fíli and Kíli died. I know I know, burn me at the stake. The Hobbit was a book about Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and twelve other dwarves with different names who were all basically also Thorin. There was no real difference between them. Yes, some were fatter and some were taller and some were older but really: who cared. It is a mark of poor storytelling to have so many named characters with so little character between them. Yes, I just criticized Tolkien: deal with it.
When I saw the Battle of the Five Armies in theaters, I heard something I did not expect. Gasping. People gasped when Kíli died. Now, people who read the book would not gasp since they would know it was coming. Generally also, people do not gasp at the deaths of characters they do not care about. What then could be the reason?
Tauriel made people care. The love story made people care. Was it a perfect love story? Not by any stretch, but it was better than Twilight and it worked the way that Jackson had designed it to. By including a new character, he was able to add to the character of the dwarves.
So while she was a lady, Tauriel was added for more than just her gender difference. She improves upon weak areas of the book and allowed for people who have never read the Hobbit as children to care a little bit more about this Middle Earth journey. Was the addition a successful one? Maybe or maybe not (that’s a matter of opinion), but it was a defensible one.