Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The meandering of Middle Earth

Peter Jackson continues his undisciplined attempt at a new saga in 'The Desolation of Smaug'

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Ken Stott, Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 41 minutes
December 13, 2013
(out of four)

What a tedious filmmaker Peter Jackson has become. Funny how, the bigger his movies have gotten, the more limited and redundant his storytelling choices have become. In having the freedom to do virtually anything he wants, he has seemingly become incapable of thinking of any solution but "make it bigger."

And so, with his first two entries in his needlessly bloated The Hobbit trilogy, every paltry, unimportant detail is highlighted; every small occurrence is blown out into a 20-minute setpiece. In two movies covering six hours, our heroes have accomplished the following: they found a sword, found a ring, found a glowing magical amulet, and opened a door. That's basically it. Sure, they've had various adventures along the way, but few of particular importance.

It's an old argument by now, but the lack of discipline in this whole endeavor is rather astonishing. Jackson seems so consumed by the possibility of creating as giant a spectacle as possible that he's completely swallowed up any point this story may have had (in book or movie form), not to mention any sense of his presumptive main character, who more often than not is little more than a piece of set dressing, overwhelmed by a mass of CGI "spectacle."

I say this as both a long-time Jackson fan and someone who typically welcomes a healthy level of indulgence from filmmakers in general. I rarely gripe about runtimes (unless they're brought to me by Michael Bay) and don't even have an inherent problem with sequels. But this, friends, is absurd. The strategy for adapting The Hobbit seems to have been to use every idea anyone came up with. Would anyone really be shocked if next year, Jackson and WB announced that the third entry would be split in two? I know I wouldn't.

I still think Jackson's best movie is King Kong, but if he made it today, it would be a three-part epic - one on Skull Island, one in Manhattan, and one involving a host of new characters and places that no one cared about and which meant nothing.

If he made Dead Alive today, it would be a two-parter, with the first one focusing on the entire history of the Sumatran Rat Monkey and the life adventures of the ass-kicking priest, and the second one finally getting down to the zombie splatterfest, albeit one with a $150 million budget.

If he made Heavenly Creatures today, it would be called The Lovely Bones.

When it comes to The Hobbit, I think more and more that I'd just rather we'd have gotten the Guillermo del Toro version, which could at least be counted on to be one or two movies, tops. Probably they'd have a point, too. I'm sure, once I sit through the third installment next December, I'll have a greater understanding of how all the pieces of the story fit together. Perhaps I'll have my answer for why we need this character, that character, this scene, that subplot, this cameo, that action sequence. But that doesn't mean I'll care any more than I already don't. And piecing together the whole narrative doesn't retroactively make it interesting.

Filmmaking involves making storytelling choices - Jackson's decision was to just throw it all in. He's bound and determined to give us every single thing that could possibly be relevant or even tangentially related to Bilbo Baggins and his quest for ... well, I don't even know anymore.

Here is what I know about The Desolation of Smaug, the follow-up to last year's disappointing franchise opener, An Unexpected Journey: The dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), are trying to obtain the "Arkenstone" for some reason or another, only they're being pursued by Orcs for some reason or another, and they run afoul of the Wood Elves, who for some reason or another hate dwarves and want to put their journey to an end. Meanwhile, the movie introduces us to new characters - namely the lovable rogue smuggler named Bard (Luke Evans) and the contemptible Master of Lake-town (Stephen Fry). And finally, there's the majestic dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who lives in the Lonely Mountain, covered in treasure, protecting the Arkenstone from anyone who might try to snatch it.

Now: I realize that such a plot description for The Desolation of Smaug makes me look like a novice and a fool to many who are well-versed in Middle Earth lore, and who make it a point of pride to know all the little details of this world. But that may be where the disconnect lies for me. Understanding all the ins and outs of a movie's mythology has nothing to do with whether or not the movie is actually any good. For some, that's exactly the appeal - which reduces these films to mere fan service, each movie a three-hour ode to Tolkien trivia.

I don't mean that with any condescension - there are pockets of pop culture where I am the exact same way as Middle Earth fanatics are with the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings sagas. But, so far, Jackson's forays into this particular saga, as rigorously researched and exhaustively expanded as they may be, have yet to find anything to make this story worthwhile on its own merits.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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