Yesterday I saw the trailer for the new Godzilla movie for the first time…on the big screen of a theater. It already looked good just on Youtube. It’s really great in larger scale. Can hardly wait for the movie to come out in May of next year.
After the trailer there was a movie called The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, loosely based on the book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, if you know of my history with the films of Peter Jackson, you’re probably expecting a rage filled rant. But this time you’d be wrong.
I certainly have a fair few criticisms of the movie, but as for feeling… Well, I was pleasantly unemotional watching it yesterday. Sure, I rolled my eyes a fair few times, but otherwise no strong feelings either up or down. Except for the scenes with Smaug. Smaug was very well done. Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job bringing out the dragon’s personality.
Anyway, onto my thoughts on the film. Beware of spoilers!
First, I don’t think Peter Jackson knows how to tell a good story. There’s an over reliance on action and CGI, which is typical. The story really gets moved along purely by action and not much by any character development or growth in the story itself. I think Jackson is very, very good at making spectacular blockbuster films. I just don’t think he makes good stories.
Why is that? For one, the over reliance on action I mentioned earlier. Two, throwing in various things of his own creation that don’t really push the story forward in any natural way. Three, poor characterization.
Now, the standard rebuff to people who have issues with Jackson’s work on the films is, “Well, you’re just a Tolkien purist and can’t stand any changes for the film. So much for your criticisms.” Which I can admit might be true in some instances, but not in this case. I didn’t really have any problem with the changes as changes. I had a problem with the fact they didn’t really add much to the story and they distracted in some ways from pushing the story forward. I think Jackson gets lots of great ideas (to him at least) and just pushes them into the story. There should be a way to tell Tolkien’s story and make changes for the sake of the plot and for some added action here and there without skewing the story towards being Peter Jackson’s story instead of Tolkien’s.
Which gets me to characterization. Peter Jackson seems to have three primary character templates (for the good guys at least).
- Whiny, neurotic cowards who have to be shamed into doing what’s right.
- Whiny, neurotic isolationists who have to be shamed into doing what’s right.
- Neurotic characters who are wracked by indecision and have to be pushed into doing what’s right.
He doesn’t seem to understand characters can be virtuous or noble. Or understand that they can organically grow into those characteristics through good storytelling. As a result, to me most of the good characters come off without much personality. Probably one of the reasons I didn’t mind the addition of Tauriel was she actually had a personality.
For the most part, I thought the bad guys were the ones whose personalities came across best. The Orcs, the Dragon, the Master of the Lake-Town (deliciously done by Stephen Fry) and his henchman. They were the ones who had some drive and ambition and color to them.
Now, for some general thoughts. One, does Ian McKellen have a clause in his contract that says he has to have the snot beaten out of him at least once in every trilogy?
Two, Smaug the Magnificent. Brilliantly done. I liked the extended scenes of the dwarves battling him inside Erebor primarily because we got to see more of him. Cumberbatch did a great job in portraying him. To be sure, I still like Richard Boone’s performance in the Rankin/Bass animated Hobbit better, but Cumberbatch was a close second.
I was disappointed, though, with Freeman’s interaction as Bilbo with the dragon. He came off as too much of a milquetoast. Although it certainly did highlight the intimidating and dominating powers of Smaug. If I go see the last movie, it will be solely based on the upcoming battle of Smaug with the Lake-men.
In conclusion, if you leave in everything with Smaug and take out most of the rest, you’ve got yourself a great little movie!