Yeah yeah… it’s not live theatre. But I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy about as much as life itself and have watched the extended-edition appendices something like eighty-seven times. Anyway, saw the premiere of The Hobbit at midnight last night, and here are my (not-so-mini) thoughts:
- We’re back in epic New Zealand as an epic Middle Earth with an epic tale to tell! God I love this world.
- All the humor in the film worked wonders underscoring tension and darker subject matter.
- The quick glimpse we got of Erebor looked EXACTLY like how I imagined it from reading the book. It was also cool to see a full goblin city in the Misty Mountains.
- With all the incredible CG in the film, I liked when we didn’t see things. I like that that we get all sorts of glimpses of Smaug without ever seeing him in his entirety. And the Necromancer and Witch King were also properly menacing in their respective ethereal forms.
- Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo. I love all the ‘Britishness’ of his reactions to that which is not proper. Great comedic timing as well, and so many little facial twitches that cracked me up.
- Loved Bilbo convincing the trolls not to eat them and the dwarves angrily oblivious to what’s going on. This is where Bilbo shines– as a talker, not a fighter.
- So so so happy to have Gandalf back in the form of Sir Ian McKellen. Gandalf the Grey is such a loveable, wise, responsible goofball.
- Appreciated the time given to Gandalf making a case for why Bilbo the Hobbit of all people and all creatures should singled out as the burglar to go on this journey.
- Richard Armitage is an excellent Thorin. Sure is prideful though, eh? Wonder if that will become a problem later on, hm <cough> <cough>?
- Speaking of coughing, I was exhausted and sick last night, yet the film held my attention throughout its nearly 3-hour runtime (got home about 4 AM). I never even came close to falling asleep!
- I loved all the little references to The Lord of the Rings, particularly the prologue at the beginning as Frodo and Bilbo prepare the birthday party.
- Bret McKenzie gets an expanded role in Rivendell. Nice.
- Enjoyed the Galadriel and Gandalf scene (with a whining Saruman in the background, tee hee), but I thought their final words to each other should have been a little more auspicious and foreshadowing of the fact that they will never speak to each other again.
- The film did a fantastic job of giving each of the thirteen dwarfs some distinct characteristics, whereas in the books they’re all very broad and gestural. So we got dwarf that eats too much, the wise old dwarf, the gay slingshotty dwarf, the clearly-Gimli’s-father dwarf, and the sexy Legolasy arrow-shooting dwarf with his quiet brother. Think I missed a few, but that’s not bad.
- ‘Riddles in the Dark’ was a glorious scene. Perfect writing, directing, acting, animating, pacing. Mm, mm, pristine. I don’t know if it says more about the advances in animation and performance capture, or the cartoonish nature of the other characters, but Gollum had more life and depth to me than any actor in the film…
- This felt like the extended-edition of the film. I mean it had EVERYTHING from the book, plus all sorts of appendices stuff. What the heck was cut? How much longer can the extended edition be?
- I saw it in normal 2D, 24 fps so I can’t comment on the 3D HFR stuff, but there were parts of this version that felt strangely sped up or something. Weird conversion problems?
- Maybe things have gotten more high definition in the past decade or I’m simply a more discerning viewer now, but I was very much aware of artifice of a lot of the prosthetics, particularly Gandalf’s nose and all the pointy ears.
- The music… oh boy. I love Howard Shore, but this felt phoned in. The ‘dwarf theme’ made so popular in the trailers is rehashed about a dozen different times throughout the film, and it quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns. What was particularly irksome was that the most ‘epic’ version of the song, which to me evokes determined perseverance after a hard-fought loss (something that would be fitting after Gandalf fell into Moria in LotR), is used in this film during a complete non-event: stock ‘look at everyone travelling’ footage. So much oversaturation… this is literally the thing I will dread most about repeat watches of this film.
- One more gripe about the music: toooo many rehashes of LotR themes. In the Shire, fine, yes, by all means play around with that lovely theme, but once we’re out on a very unique adventure, we should have very unique music. At one point, Thorin is given music that I clearly recognize as Aragorn’s. What the hell? And then Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and Rivendell are all given (as far as I can tell) EXACTLY the same music they had in LotR. At least the Shire theme got played with and reorchestrated. I also just realized that the major foes in this story, ‘the goblins’ aren’t given any theme that I can recall, much less one as memorable as the Isengard Orc Theme.
- As I said, the CG was stunning, but there was a tangibleness missing from the orcs and goblins that I felt much more in LotR when they were all being played by real people in real costumes.
- The trolls and goblins spoke too much like humans. I wanted their voice, their timbre, their pitch to all feel more distinct from humans. For example, I loved the way Treebeard spoke, and the Uru-kai. Which makes me realize– there wasn’t much growling in this film, was there? Hm… too bad.
- Now that we’ve introduced Ratagast the Brown and his connection to animals, I couldn’t believe we didn’t see anything related to him and the eagles. For those who don’t know, it’s supposed to be Ratagast that sends the eagles to Gandalf, not weird little moths providing on-call ‘eagles ex machina’. I mean, at least have a little scene where Ratagast gives Gandalf the knowledge of how to summon the eagles or something. Right now he contributes nothing to Bilbo’s quest, only the long set-up Gandalf is involved with for the ‘dark power’ that becomes Sauron in Lord of the Rings.
- I wish the Troll scene had ended with Gandalf summoning daylight (like in the book) instead of him just cracking a rock to bring it early. Are we really supposed to believe that the trolls thought they had enough time to cook and eat or bring the dwarves back into their cave with a minute to go before daylight would have come on its own?
- The two scenes I was hoping to be blown away in terror by didn’t quite do it for me, mostly because of some substantial deviations from the book: 1) In the dark of the misty mountain cave while the dwarves sleep, the ponies are supposed to be taken away, screaming as though being devoured live, and before any of the company can find a light, they’ve all been captured. In the film they’re sent down some weird elaborate video-gamey tunnel trap in full light and by that point the ponies have already ‘run away’ (none get eaten). Boo. 2) In the final ‘battle’ scene, the company is supposed to be up in the trees, terrified as the goblins light the forest on fire and cackle and sing about them burning to death. Instead, the risk was a tree falling over a cliff, and the company actually used fire in the form of flaming pinecones against the goblins. Why? You already have the dwarf song with that awesomely menacing line ‘the trees like torches, blazed with light’ and now you’re completely copping out on that element of the story?
- On that note, NOT A SINGLE ‘GOOD’ THING DIES! This drove me crazy. The ponies’ death should have been terrifying and traumatizing. I then thought maybe Peter Jackson might have raised the stakes a little, deviating from a the book a tad by featuring then killing off a dwarf which would have given us some kind of catharsis. But nooo–no one! Heck, not even cute little Sebastian the hedgehog died. Let’s see some sacrifice! Some tragedy! Some stakes!!
- Why the heck didn’t Bilbo put his ring on when he went to save Thorin? Awfully big risk to take when you’re very small, surrounded by wolves, and not a real fighter. I would have been fine if it was played off like a ‘noble sacrifice’, but I read Martin Freeman here like a pompous jackass thinking to himself ‘I can take these assholes…”
- Suspense of disbelief was a bit of a problem when comparing this film with the parameters established in The Lord of the Rings. Sure, I can believe that in a 100:1 battle, no good guys are killed, but I still believe in basic laws of physics and force/weight ratios. Thus, the rock giants crashing into each other should have killed everyone, as should the Goblin King falling on top of them from hundreds of feet in the air. And there’s no way the dwarves could have done that crazy stuff with Bilbo’s dishes. My friend made me feel better about all this stuff though by telling me to imagine that this story is Bilbo’s unauthorized subjective telling of it– not the ‘official’ version. So some things are bound to be a little exaggerated. That also makes me feel better about Bilbo saving Thorin at the end, because let’s face it– in the ‘official version’, either he put on the ring while he did that, or one of the constantly-professing-love-for-Thorin dwarves beat him to the punch.
- Speaking of punching, some of the exposition was so expositiony that it felt like it was beating you over the head. Two elements that stood out– the fifty times they talk about how scary Smaug is, and how many times we’re explained to how much Thorin and asdlfj Goblin-Leader-Guy hate each other.
- The Lord of the Rings was aided a lot by stripping the story of anything unrelated to Frodo and the Ring. The lack of a similar focus in The Hobbit made the film (at times) feel like a lot of big set-pieces that could have been mostly stripped away without any real detriment to the emotional journey of the story. After all, if no one dies or is irreversibly changed by an event, it’s probably only being shown because it’s ‘cool.’ Case in point– the weird Rock Giant battle thing. That just kind of happened… then everyone is fine and moves on.
- Is it just me, or did it seem like the biggest f*** you in the world to have that elf army in the prologue turn away from helping the dwarves. I mean, you’re already in formation! By the way, that’s Legolas’ father.
- Speaking of slights, the scene with Saruman whining while Gandalf and Galadriel telepathically communicate is what I imagine Peter Jackson did with his wife while Christopher Lee whined at him to be cast as Gandalf instead of Saruman because ‘Tolkien gave me his blessing‘ and yada yada while they’re all like ‘so where’re we going for dinner tonight?’
- How do so many characters recognize blades at a glance? Are there drawings? Do they study them? Even if you saw swords in battle, you’re probably not going to have too much time to focus on one in particular.
- Who is in on Sauron coming back as the Necromancer? Is he sending orcs out on his will or anything like that? How did asdlfakajsdfla Goblin-Leader-Guy find Thorin anyway?
- Why are the chickens in scale with the hobbits? Shouldn’t they be up to their shoulders? Or do they breed mini-chickens?
- How close is Moria to the part of the Misty Mountains this Goblin City exists in? Are these the same goblins that will eventually retake Moria and attack the Fellowship?
- I’m going to make a parody video of when the Goblin King hints to Thorin that his alasdjlja Goblin-Leader-Guy enemy is still alive and hunting him. It took like 20 seconds for Thorin to get it. That’s almost as bad as Ice-T.
Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Crossover References, updated as I think of more:
- A lot of the prologue stuff. Talking about the Sackville-Baggins, the ‘No Admittance Except on Party Business’ Poster, Bilbo’s stand-offishness about writing his book, Frodo going out to wait for Gandalf. All very lovely.
- “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” comes from the book in the troll chapter. In the film they put it after the Misty Mountains ordeal. Reminds me of in LotR when we have the line “A shortcut! To what? To mushrooms!” after the chapter title ‘A Shortcut to Mushrooms.’
- Speaking of mushrooms, I love how Saruman is always ragging on wizards and their drug use. In LotR he whines at Gandalf for his potsmoking (‘your love of the halfling’s leaf has clearly slowed your mind’), and in this he scolds Gandalf for listening to Ratagast, who he says eats too many shrooms.
- The morgul blade Gandalf presents to Galadriel and Saruman is the same blade (or same kind of blade?) that the Witch King stabs Frodo with at Weathertop.
- Thorin being thrown by a warg then passing out as Bilbo protects him was very similar to Theoden being thrown by the Nazgul then passing out as Eowyn protects him. Also similar to how Aragorn saves Boromir from being shot in the head with an arrow by gutchecking the wood-be-executioner from screen-left.
- Gandalf handing Bilbo ‘Sting’ and talking about knowing when ‘not to take a life’ is reminiscent of Gandalf having a similar talk with Frodo. The effect of both ends up being ‘don’t kill Gollum.’
- ‘Eagles ex Machina’ with the everyone on a tree falling off a giant cliff was very similar to the Gandalf’s ‘Eagles ex Machina’ escape from Saruman’s tower. Except this time, we knew what was going to happen so there was no tension/stakes.
- Gandalf on a tiny bridge in the Misty Mountains confronting the Goblin King was very similar to the ‘you shall not pass’ Balrog scene.
- The way Thorin’s party is hunted throughout his journey by the goblins/orcs reminds me of the way the uruk-kai hunt and follow the fellowship. And Peter Jackson made similar choices in both The Hobbit and Fellowship to create a leader out of what was written out an amorphous rabble of enemy hoards.
- “This is Sting,’ you’ve seen it before!” Yes you have. Wouldn’t change a thing about the whole Riddles in the Dark scene (words Gandalf distinctly mutters in LotR), but this played out rather different than the flashback scene we got in LotR. For one thing, Bilbo is wearing a different outfit, and for another, he puts the ring in his right pocket instead of his left. Ha.
- Bilbo takes one last longing look at Rivendell before departing. It’s a great moment to know how much he fell in love with the place, and as we see in The Lord of the Rings, that’s where he retires.
- Goblin-leader guy looked a heck of a lot like Voldemort…oh wait, wrong franchise comparison. Still, I think it was a mistake to have him CG instead of a live actor. I loved how the had that hook appendage just jammed into his arm though.
- Fully-committed, entertaining performance by the great John Lithgow
- sumptuous, thoroughly-cinematic set design. Watching transitions was a treat!
- I liked the Russian character’s accent-evolution. At the beginning, we get to hear full-on Russian– at the end, him convinced his English has lost all trace of accent (but of course it hasn’t)
- solid acting all around– you felt these people age
- a reasonably clear and focused character study on what it means to loose relevancy as you age. Alternate play title: ‘How I Learned to Become a Grumpy Old Man and Start Hating the Youth!’
- Stakes never felt high… yes he’s gay, but even in that time period that secret never felt terrible enough to ruin his life/career. Everyone (including the audience) already knew he was gay!
- Not a single major-reversal in the whole play
- His only real antagonist was his own stubbornness, and if a protagonist is only as interesting as his greatest antagonist…
- None of his relationships with the other characters developed enough for me to particularly care about them. (spoiler alert) Someone dies… and it didn’t mean anything to me.
- Abrupt ending– silly to think the final ‘reversal’ of the play is him showing a small act of decency at the terrible terrible cost of being a little late with his column.
*My first side note: You’ve undoubtedly noticed a boringly narrow range of grades in my reviews thus far. Unfortunately, that’s because most of the shows I’ve been seeing in New York have neither blown me away, nor felt like a complete waste of time.
There’s an unfortunate level of ‘safety’ that permeates American theater; plays seem to be chosen for performance based more on the quality of language in them than on the depth of human experience conveyed. I thought this might be different in NYC, but it seems to be even more true here than in other parts of the country. Elsewhere, lackluster plays are performed by talented nobodies. In NYC, lackluster plays are performed by movie stars.
This makes me sad.
If you look at the my full score page, you’ll see I do indeed give As and Cs and even a few Ds, and a lot of that came out of England. England, whether its because of their vastly superior funding, or higher public-acceptance of theatre seems to make them feel comfortable taking genuine risks. And deep down, I know that I’d rather see a play that hits me in the face really hard with something new that I despise than to see a tepid rumination on slice-of-life characters with stakes I have little to no investment in. After all, a show like …some trace of her could have been terrible. It was new, experimental, bizarrely-conveyed. Yet that’s probably the last time I walked out of a theater with butterflies in my stomach.
I want to be moved. I want my values challenged. I want to be rooting for a thing to happen, or terrified that another thing could happen. I want to be taken on a journey that makes me sick to my stomach, makes me bite my nails in suspense, makes my eyes dry from lack of blinking, makes me weep uncontrollably, makes me want to leap for joy– maybe all in the same performance.
I don’t believe theatre should be light entertainment. I believe it should be a transformative, world-shaking experience. And don’t tell me it’s not possible, because I’ve had it happen. And every time I go into a theater, I’m begging to have it happen again.