Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

24 December 2012

An Unexpected Journey

Nerd alert: this is a conversation between two guys who probably know way too much about Tolkien's universe for our own good. I have tried to link to any terms that need explanation. Here's my conversation with my friend Caleb about The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey:

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Me: So. What did you think of The Hobbit's first installment?

Caleb: I know in my head that it's not a good film, but I was always going to like it. I like Durin's Folk too much to not enjoy this. A lot of the plot was pulled from the appendices, which are clearly huge favorites of mine. But the dialogue and action sequences are terrible. And the story wanders a lot. Peter didn't really tighten it up either. But I'm happy with it being so blinded as I am in this area.

Me: See I think I went in expecting not to like it, and I mostly got what I expected (what I wanted?). But what was with all of the silly humor (which wasn't funny)? And the odd little songs? I won't gripe about the White Council not actually being held in Rivendell or Galadriel's total inability to become invisible and disappear – to complain about those things would be picking nits – but that entire Radagast section? What was it doing in the film? So strange!

Caleb: Yeah WTF on Radagast… I had blocked that whole rabbit sled shit from my memory. The humor was terrible. Most of the non-canonical dialog was poorly written and lacked tone.

Me: I want to say that I love the conceptual art. Rivendell and the Orc mines and Erebor all looked wonderful. And I loved Gollum – even though I wasn't expecting to.

Caleb: I did love Erebor. I never pictured it that way. And it made me think; for all their ingenuity, why did the dwarfs never prepare for the inevitability of a dragon attack? Sooner or later one will show up. Seems like there should be a better plan than guys with spears behind the main doors… giant ballistas or something.

Me: I was thinking that too. Thorin is yelling Dragon!!! but they literally have no preparation for it except shut the doors. I mean, it's not like no one has ever seen a fire-drake from the North. That seems like a pretty dumb group of people, although, we should note that Thror (was that his name?) had become complacent and arrogant – obscene wealth in Tolkien is always corrupting and ultimately blinding: think Denethor II or King Thingol or (for that matter) Fëanor. But tell me more about what you dug in the movie... as I say, I really liked Gollum in this film.

Caleb: I liked seeing Master Elrond in armor and on horseback. I feel like that's an aspect of his character lacking in the films. He is still youthful by human standards and hates raiding orcs after what happens to his wife. I wish we saw his sons. They are two of my favorites.

Me: Oh, I agree! I am totally with you about Elrond. It was nice to see him on the warpath. (Although calling him young is interesting, Caleb. He's lived through the entirety of the Second Age and the first three thousand years of the Third, no?) Also, I thought his armor was designed beautifully.

Aaron: "The hottest dwarf anyone's ever seen."
Caleb:  Yes, I know that Elrond isn't actually "young" – I suppose I mean that he still has a lot of vitality surpassing his more middle-aged appearance. I sort of feel like the casting directors pandered to human aging. Elrond and Galadriel are cast as about 40 years old while Legolas is cast as about 20. Elrond and Legolas are about the same age while Galadriel is probably twice as old, maybe more, depending on how long you count the Days Before Days.

I liked all the eating scenes in Bag End. I am a sucker for the simple Hobbit pleasures of comfort and food. I feel it's important in both Bilbo and Frodo's cases to show their love for the simple good life, since that is what powers them through their journeys. They are driven by their love of the comfort of the Shire.

Me: As you put it, the simple Hobbit pleasures of comfort and food sound lovely. You're right, of course, about Bilbo and Frodo, but the way that entire scene worked – with the dwarves basically as clowns? I just couldn't get behind all of that.

Caleb:  Typically, I would agree with you about all the dwarf silliness in Bag End but I think that Peter and the writers had a very tough job trying to reconcile the widely differing tone of The Hobbit from the rest of the canon. Something that Tolkien never really successfully did. The dwarfs of The Hobbit are more clowns than mighty warriors. Their names are comical and even a little lazy in their alliteration. I don't think the writers were by any means successful at uniting the two worlds. It feels more like they choose scenes from each. The battles are from the darker tone of the later works while the songs and Shire are from The Hobbit. But on top of that Jackson added 21st-century PG action-movie one-liners. It's an odd mix. Mostly I hate An Unexpected Journey's tone, but for those scenes in Bag End… I can get on board there.

I actually liked the Misty Mountains song. That was well integrated music in my opinion. I liked the implementation of Thorin's shield. I think that was practical and makes more sense than a branch as a club.
And I did like Gollum, as well. "He is too clever of a waterman." I liked that they gave him a boat. I only wish his cave had been deeper in the mountain. I always pictured it at the roots of the mountain. This felt close, just off the beaten track but not inaccessibly deep.

Me: I always imagined Gollum with a boat. But you are right: his cave should be much much deeper in the mountain. He has basically seen no light for most of an Age, right? And isn't he almost blind? I know I remember Bilbo groping around once he found Gollum. Actually, I didn't like that we saw Gollum lose the ring. In the book, Bilbo finds the ring but neither he nor we know whose ring it is, isn't that right? (I guess everyone has seen LotR at this point, so what I am saying is moot...)

Caleb: Yes, Gollum is almost blind. The fish that he eats are said to have no eyes. But I get that you can't have an almost entirely dark scene, or one lit only by Sting. Or you could, but that would be an art film.

Caleb: "It just should not have happened."
Me: I did like all of the different-looking orcs. They looked very different from each other (as they should) and of course they don't look like the Uruks from the other three movies. But that goblin king in the Misty Mountains... ugh.

I think I am mostly complaining here about Jackson's tone throughout. He frustrates me with his silly jokes and his easy aphorisms about "change" or "power" or "little people doing big things". He goes back and forth from making fun of the dwarves – think of that fat dwarf who only gets to be the butt of jokes – to talking about how they're displaced and miss their home, etc. So we're supposed to connect to their struggle of homelessness, but also supposed to laugh at them for being fat/ugly/having funny hairstyles. (Except Kili: who is obviously the hottest dwarf anyone's ever seen.)

Caleb: I'm not discussing the cameo that Jabba the Hutt's stepson made in the film. It just should not have happened.