Like any good fantasy nerd, I went to see Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films even though I knew they would disappoint. And boy did they disappoint! I just saw the 3rd installment last night, so now that I have a blog I’m going to take a moment and reflect on just what went so very, very wrong.
(Warning; mild spoilers ahead.)
Problem One: Too much CG and green-screening. Much has already been made over this issue — scenes that should have been tense became silly and cartoonish under the relentless onslaught of computer-generated baddies, bad physics, and the armies of copy-pasted elves and dwarves. Not that CG can’t be used for good — for instance, Smaug was blood-chilling. I loved every moment he was on screen.
But then Smaug went down, and the rest was a bloody mess.
Problem Two: Peter Jackson either didn’t have good weapons/warfare consultants, or didn’t listen to them. You don’t hold a bow taut before firing — you aim, draw, and loose within a second or two. Worst offender — Bard with his Black Arrow. Good (no, friggin’ awesome!) idea to use your own kid as part of your makeshift scorpion; bad idea to waste all the potential energy of your arm holding and holding and holding that bowstring.
You also don’t send your archers (elves) leaping over the heads of your spearmen (dwarves) right into the charging enemy (orcs). Your archers are just going to get backed up onto the spears of their own allies, and not do any of the arching that would kill lots and lots of those orcs. At least the orcs were smart enough to use the high ground to their advantage, but why weren’t the dwarves and elves smart enough to try and do the same?
Problem Three: You don’t solve a huge lack-of-women problem by shoe-horning in a romance. I had originally hoped that Jackson would be clever enough to make some of the dwarves into lady-dwarves. Well, that didn’t happen. Instead we got Cate Blanchett reprising her role of Galadriel — who was a total bad-ass in The Battle of the Five Armies, and was actually a good addition to the story the movie told.
But we also got Evangeline Lilly completely wasting her time and immense acting skill as Tauriel. She comes to love Kili, the oddly handsome dwarf, which would be okay except they have nothing on which to base their love. They have a few almost-conversations in The Desolation of Smaug, but then hardly even talk to each other in Five Armies. So…why do they love each other?
Problem Four: Whitey whitey whitey whitey white! Come on, Jackson, it’s almost 2015! I saw one black extra and one Asian extra in Dale, and that was it. I don’t care that your source material was written by a racist English guy more than half a century ago, you changed the story enough that you could have diversified your cast more than that. Do better, Hollywood!
Problem Five: The potential for dramatic tension during the battle was wasted because I didn’t know anyone!
I’ve been watching those dwarves for at least 8 hours, and apart from Thorin Oakenshield none of them have any personality. And that is absurd, given how much personality their wardrobes had! I didn’t even know Kili — “romantic pretty boy” isn’t a personality. And whoever that new dwarven general was…Dain, I guess? I know that dwarves aren’t a real “race” and therefore can’t really be subject to racism, but that looked like a racist portrayal of a dwarf.
The elves were no better. Apart from Galadriel, they could have all been played by cardboard cutouts. And that includes not just Tauriel, but Thranduil, Elrond, and even Legolas. I don’t fault the actors for this — the script gave them no room for personality or actual charm.
I would have liked to see Beorn again, since we saw so little of him in Desolation, but his cameo was completely pointless. Radagast was okay, and I love that he brought the eagles in, but…why does he still have bird poop in his hair? And it’s pretty hard to care about a hoard of CG orcs when they aren’t interesting, or frightening, or make any logical sense.
Problem Six: Peter Jackson didn’t take his own anti-capitalist philosophy to heart.
I hated the Master of Laketown — not as one hates a good villain, but as one hates an obvious soapbox for the writer to spew his personal philosophies from. At the beginning of Five Armies, the painfully obese Master is haranguing his servants to load a boat up with gold, gold, and gold. “Forget the books, more gold!” he cries. He also refuses to help any of the people of Laketown evacuate as Smaug burns the whole place down — his gold is that much more important!
So since we all know what Jackson really thinks about financial greed — that it comes at the cost of real knowledge and empathy for one’s fellow humans — why did his Hobbit Trilogy favor the philosophy of the Master of Laketown? He threw out his characters to load up his movie with more expensive CG battle scenes. He threw out the book his movies were based on to add more expensive CG battle scenes.
I can’t think of a more appropriate metaphor than the one Jackson created himself in Laketown’s Wyrmtongue knock-off, Alfrid. At first we expected better. Then he put on a silly costume and stuffed his bosom with ill-gotten cash, and we’ve all let him run off with it unhindered because he’s become that pathetic.