THE HOBBIT is just like rice pudding: good to the last drop

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Over the years, I’ve developed a stable of sick foods for those days—whether self-incurred or sent by nature—when you just can’t get out of bed. One of my favorites, frequently referenced here, is Kozy Shack Rice Pudding, a magical substance, each bite of which contains the exactly perfect ratio of creamy vanilla custard and chewy rice grains. Every bite. I’ve never gotten sick of Kozy Shack Rice Pudding. I’ve eaten an entire tub of it in one sitting, never tiring of its flavor and texture, savoring each and every spoonful. It’s good to the last drop.

The new HOBBIT I movie (An Unexpected Journey) is like Kozy Shack Rice Pudding. It’s just more of the stuff I love and I can eat the whole tub on one sitting. To anyone left who wonders if they should see it I would ask “Did you like LORD OF THE RINGS? Didn’t you say at some point that you would watch a whole movie of Ian McKellen’s Gandalf and Christopher Lee’s Saruman reading aloud rice pudding recipes? Yes, you did and this is that movie.”

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THE HOBBIT is another helping of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. It is not an exact replica of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but it is close enough in spirit and texture to be an enjoyable extension of the books. And if you are a hardcore Tolkien scholar, like me, you like ALL OF IT, every creamy, ricey bite of it, from the Cracks of Doom to Dol Guldur, from Aragorn to Feanor. And that’s what Jackson is giving us…little bits from the appendixes kitted up to full on battle scenes and character arcs. And I love it!

Now, did I think the opening with Elijah Wood as Frodo and Ian Holm as the older Bilbo was a little too custardy without enough rice? Yes I did. Was I surprised to find that all White Council meetings took place while the participants were stoned out of their minds and could only talk in long, drawn out syllables? A bit. Was I previously unaware that Bilbo would be mostly a bystander in the film’s action as the story shifted over to Thorin Oakenshield and his quest for his homeland? That is surely so.

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But was I also excited to find the canonical great orc Azog elevated to sub-villain, and stone giants having majestic boulder battles in the mountains, and the scrofulous growths of disgusting goblin kings shaking with laughter and wargs and elves and Mount Gundabad?

You betcha!

To all the haters who say this movie has no story and is way too slow: I think you got the wrong idea. Peter Jackson’s three-part HOBBIT is not a movie. It is a nine-hour miniseries that is being presented in theaters at frame rates only a crankhead can enjoy. The first hour is all set up, the second hour is some journeying, the third hour has some fights, the fourth hour will definitely have more fights, and maybe spiders, and perhaps a hearty lunch and so on.

Also, if you don’t mind spoilers, I defy you to read this and not want to see Peter Jackson make this movie! If you don’t want spoilers, here’s a peek:
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The third movie is apparently going to be nothing but action as a giant battle of men, elves, dwarves, orcs, and eagles unfolds, while Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond go postal on the Necromancer at Dol Guldur. With swoopy camera angles and bigatures! And hot elves! And hot dwarves! And Martin Freeman! Come on now, who does not want to see that?

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I was not a fan of Jackson’s KING KONG, which was total monkey fanfic and betrayed White Council-like meandering story sense. But here, Jackson’s viewpoint meshes perfectly with the source material. There are a lot of Jackson/Walsh/Boyens/del Toro made up things in the HOBBIT but they all improve the film’s cinematic flow. They’ve elevated Thorin, who in the book is mostly a greedy, petty pain in the ass. In Jackson’s HOBBIT he’s a noble, dispossessed prince trying to get his homeland back—but he’s also flawed. He’s an Aragorn who doesn’t make it. Richard Armitage is fine with the role, and as with the original trilogy, slash and fanfic will never be the same after meeting Thorin, Fili, Kili, Bofur and so on.

Now, I did not see this in the crack-head frame rate, and it seems that everyone who did—including all critics—was repelled and alarmed. I don’t generally like 3D but HOBBIT looked fine in that presentation, with Jackson’s trademark plunging tracking shots, and WETA’s attention to detail holding up well on the screen. (Apparently in 48fps it’s really hard to make things look good in cinematic terms.)

And to those who say THE HOBBIT is a cute kids book and does not need to be three three-hour movies, I say, “No, it doesn’t so go watch the Rankin Bass version.” This movie is all about pigging out on rice pudding, and wallowing in every last detail of Middle Earth. And I’m fine with that.

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I wasn’t totally fine with Radagast. I liked his bunny sled, which wasn’t canon but somehow, kinda fit in with the spirit of other agrarian Tolkien works like Farmer Giles of Ham and Leaf by Niggle. I wasn’t entirely in love with his bird shit. Radagast in the books was an oddball but not a hoarder. (And yes every Tolkien scholar in the audience laughed when Gandalf said that there were five wizards but “Hm, I can’t remember the name of the other two.”)

Other Tolkienistas seem to have reacted favorably to An Unexpected Journey. Here’s Mariah Huehner’s take.

By changing a few things, Jackson gave Bilbo a bit more agency up front (choosing to go on the quest instead of Gandalf basically shoving him out the door, figuring out he should maybe try stalling the trolls until daylight, coming to Thorin’s defense). This makes his arc as a character more believable because he does have some of these positive traits already. They just need to be brought out by the circumstances. He starts out fussy, with glimmers of risk-taking and cleverness. Which come up again later in various circumstances (trolls, Gollum, spiders, barrel ride, Smaug, info via thrush to Dale, they all build toward each other). That’s how you work a character arc.


And Dresden Kodak creator Aaron Diaz, who has the best post for the Tolkien scholars I’ve read yet:

The tone is perfect, and they do a really good job of making this “Not Lord of the Rings,” complete with the implication that Bilbo likely embellished parts of the story. It’s lighthearted without being goofy or dumb, and captures that sense of innocence of a time much less dark and dreary.  I suspect this might throw off some who are less familiar with Tolkien’s work, who expect every one of his stories to feel like LoTR, but we know better, don’t we?  There are many different stories in Middle-Earth with many different purposes.


And just to round thing out, noted surrealist Alejandro Jodorowskywas not a fan of Tolkien’s male-focused world:

The Hobbit is a single male elf accompanied by male dwarves. How can we make movies where women do not exist?


Bring on Tauriel!

In another tweet, Jodorowsky united the streams:


which translates (Google tells me) as:

At the end of “The Hobbit”, who sleeps in the mountain of gold coins, is none other than Donald Duck’s uncle disguised as a dragon.


If Benedict Cumberbatch is going to play Uncle Scrooge, so be it!

So anyway, I really enjoyed THE HOBBIT, I plan to see it at least once more, and when it comes out on Blu-ray I’ll watch it over and over again, especially when Fili and Kili are onscreen, and oh yeah, Andy Serkis’s Gollum was amazing.

Now bring on the Kozy Shack!

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Comments

  1. I liked it, but my feeling was that the film was too similar in tone to the LOTR trilogy, losing some of the (relative) charm and innocence of this tale, by trying to maintain some of the bombast of the battle scenes of the other films.

  2. Rikk Odinson says:

    I first read The Hobbit when I was 8 and have read it and LotR many times in the 39 years since then. I watched this movie in 3D and and I never blinked once in 3 hours! I loved every frame and scene and canNOT wait until the next part!
    Tolkien gave us the Greatest Epic of all time in book form and Peter Jackson are giving us the cinematic equivalent in their adaptions.
    This was just beautiful and I’m sure I will think the the same thing the second and third and fourth etc, etc time I see it.

  3. Great review, and when I do need a snack,
    I’ll find the rice pudding from Kozy Shack!

  4. Ralf Haring says:

    I saw it in the crankhead framerate and was not repelled and alarmed. It was strange at first but not uncomfortably so, just different. It did not cheapen the immersive experience. Having seen the movie in normal 2D afterwards it was noticably less sharp in places, especially when long sweeping shots were called for (and of course there are many).

  5. Though I was concerned I might be affected by the high frame rate, I had no problem at all with the high def 3D. I greatly enjoyed the film — and it has stayed with me — though I understand some of the criticism. The movie does play more like a DVD extended version, but I guess Jackson earned the right to do what he wants. I saw it with two people who have not read the books (but enjoyed the movies) and I was surprised and happy that they nevertheless loved the movie.

    I saw the HD 3D (or whatever they call it) to see it in the format Jackson clearly thinks is the definitive version. I do agree that at times things were so sharp the picture sometimes did look more like a set than a “real” environment. But it never took me out of the movie.

    Having said that, I do wonder what the new format really brings to the movie (or to film itself). I’m not sure it adds anything outside of, perhaps, giving people a Blue-Ray like quality to a movie screen. I was planning to see it again anyway on regular film and am curious how the picture and color is graded in that version relative to the 3D HD version.

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