The Desolation of the Imagination

Smaug? Smug Smog.

I’m referring to the second installment of Peter Jackson’s overblown treatment of Tolkien’s charming little adventure story The Hobbit. I like the book. It’s the movie that stinks. It’s smug smog–thinking it is real smart, but smudging up the simple story with overblown effects and overly ambitious story lines.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind when movie makers tinker with a book. You have to do that to make a good movie. I’m thinking of how awful the movie is as a movie. The first and worst thing is that they have isolated Bilbo from the story. He’s supposed to be the hero, but he hardly makes an appearance, and when he does he offers no great skills or wit to move the story along. The hero is supposed to move the story along. We’re not clear why Bilbo was brought along, and he and his invisibility are used as a not so clever plot device. Bilbo should be called Bumble for he seems to bumble from one mishap which turns out okay for everyone to another. It’s not Bilbo’s adventure at all.

Bilbo and the ring? I realize he does not know what treasure he holds, but other than a few puppy like bewildered expressions, Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo, shows no real curiosity about the ring and it’s power. Should he not have some sort of premonition? Should it not already be attracting Sauron’s attention? Should not the other evil folks be drawn to Bilbo for reasons they do not understand? Should not Gandalf and Thorin and the Master of Laketown be mysteriously drawn to Bilbo?

Then there are the dwarves. I realize they provide some comic relief, but I could have used some relief from their comedy. Their appearance is so outrageous, their extreme make up so weird that they are the original beardy weirdies. Most of them are completely unbelievable, except for the few like Kili, Fili and Thorin–and they don’t look like dwarves at all. Consequently, I couldn’t believe in the dwarves, and to make matters worse, they did not seem to have any noticeable skills which would enable them to conquer threatening elves, horrible orcs, suspicious lake people and finally the awesome dragon. Instead they seem to bumble from one episode to another always managing to overcome everything without one bloody nose, a bumped head or a scraped knee. When Kili gets an orc arrow in his leg the whole thing seems like a plot device to get the elf maiden (who seems infatuated with him because he made a crude attempt at flirting) to risk her life to go and rescue him.

Which brings us to the totally unbelievable re-appearance of Legolas. In the Lord of the Rings Legolas was a sleek, handsome elvish warrior. He was strong and silent and fought orcs with an amazing grace and quiet humor. He was a sort of spiritual warrior–battling the darkness from his superior position as a spiritual being of light. Now we meet Legolas before all that happened and it turns out that he’s a beefy thug associating with some rather nasty types of low level elves from Mirkwood who torture and behead their prisoners. The Mirkwood elves were murky indeed and not the likeable almost angels we met in LOTR. This time Orlando Bloom’s Legolas didn’t have legs. He was not believable at all. Was the younger Legolas really so oafish? Perhaps he outgrew his fraternity meathead phase and had some sort of conversion while fasting for a long time at Rivendell under the tutelage of Elrond. Could that be yet another back story the writers could weave in another vain attempt to give the story the depth and power that they managed to portray in Lord of the Rings?

In trying to spin the story out for three mega movies the writers have clearly tried to not only flesh out the story, but to give it more emotional and personal punch. They failed. I didn’t care two hoots for Thorin Oakenshield who was supposed to be a noble heir who wished to reclaim his kingdom (is that copying the Aragorn thing?) but came across as a petty, grump on a revenge binge who lacked the dignity, power and skill to do much of anything. I didn’t care about Bilbo either. I had no idea why he was on the quest to start with. He didn’t seem much interested, and Martin Freeman didn’t do much more than stand about looking alternately bewildered and a frightened. Not only was the chipper Freeman having a bad hair day, but in a number of the close ups, because of a bad prosthesis, he looked like he was having a bad ear day.  What did the dwarves care about? Not enough to make me care about them. Were they on a quest to re-claim their dwarvish kingdom? It looked to me like they only wanted to get their hands on the treasure, and I wonder if that is also the main aim of the movie makers…It’s not much of a noble quest if revenge and greed are the driving forces.

The much vaunted action sequences and special effects? The dragon was impressive, but he talked too much. All the action and whizz bang CGI and special effects? I’m bored with all that. They can now do just about anything they want with CGI and special effects, so all they have left to awe and wonder us is to throw even more special effects at us rather like Gandalf trying to entertain by yet more wonderful fireworks. The action sequences were fun and funny, but in the same way that a roller coaster is fun and funny. You came out the other side not feeling any real emotion. Instead it was a cheap thrill which leaves you saying, “I want to do it again, but bigger and faster next time!”

Gandalf? Why did he go off on his own mini-quest to tussle with Sauron? Didn’t he have enough to do?

Radagast? I was aghast. Like Gandalf he was not a man of power but a nincompoop with poop on his head. At least we were spared the bunny buggy.

The orcs? Why is it that the bigger and nastier they get the more incompetent they seem as fighters? After the first fight we knew the dwarves were invincible and would be rescued by Legolas and his elf maiden, so the ensuing fight sequences only made me shrug. They ended up more like a ballet than a battle.

I could go on.

Finally, I wonder what these movies are doing to the whole concept of fantasy. Surely fantasy is a genre of literature that empowers the imagination. The author dreams up a whole new world and communicates it to us. We then use our own imagination to conjure up that world for ourselves–our own version of the world as we filter the author’s vision through our own imagination. Jackson’s movies pull the rug out from our imagination. Now we see Tolkien as envisioned by Jackson. There is no room for our imagination. Every detail is lovingly rendered and consequently we are left with a desolation of imagination.

There’s nothing to imagine. We’re given Middle Earth on a platter and I for one have found the platter to be like one of the gargantuan meals they give you at cheap buffet restaurants where it is all about quantity not quality.

I’m bloated. I think I’d like to see a little movie with real people in it.

Maybe I’ll try Saving Mr Banks.