Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug": Or Everything Wrong With Current Blockbuster Films

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

It's a common critique of Hollywood that they have run out of ideas.  I don't personally subscribe to that idea, but I do think that the corporate executives of the major studios recognize trends in ticket sales and are willing to give people more of what they've bought before.  Unfortunately, that also means that much creativity and artistic vision can be compromised in favor of appealing to the lowest common denominator.  That's what The Hobbit trilogy is shaping up to be.  Over a decade ago, Peter Jackson revolutionized the film industry by bringing The Lord of the Rings to the big screen.  It was a critical and financial success.  It is now a part of our pop culture, and LotR's pervasive popularity is what spawned a prequel trilogy ostensibly based on one three-hundred page book.  Not only is that excessive, but it makes the middle installment incredibly insubstantial.

Since The Hobbit was originally supposed to be only two movies, in order to provide enough content for a trilogy, this film resorts to a painful amount of padding.  We follow Gandalf for a few scenes, where he confronts a dark force that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot, but only serves to foreshadow the events of the actual trilogy.  We also follow Legolas and an elven woman who has a painfully contrived romance with one of the dwarves.  Not only is that an obvious checkbox ticked on the "Necessary For A Hit Film" list, it ultimately harms one of the most memorable relationships in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Legolas and Gimli initially hate each other in those films based on racial bigotry, but their friendship was the ultimate symbolism of their people's uniting against a greater evil.  Now we have another relationship preempting that, and Legolas is witness to it!  I'm not a purist when it comes to translating a written work to the screen, but this movie has completely undermined its universe's mythos in favor of appealing to the broadest demographic.

Beyond that, this film does nothing to recapture the feeling of the original trilogy.  Everything feels so strangely dark in what is a much more lighthearted tale than LotR, and the action is all computer-generated.  While it doesn't look bad, it feels like the same action scenes we've been seeing since LotR that have sought to emulate it's immensity.  The reason The Lord of the Rings was so successful in creating epic action scenes is that it was showing fantasy battles on a scale that hadn't before been reached on the big screen.  But that revolution is over, and now director Peter Jackson isn't just falling back on that previous success, he's lazily trying to do the same thing through artificially created animation.  Computer generation was a young art in the original trilogy, and it was only used when necessary.  In The Desolation of Smaug, it's a short-cut, substituting well-conceived fight choreography for pixels and polygons.

As I wrap up this review, I realize that my critiques are much more aimed at the film industry than at this specific movie.  As far as movies go, The Desolation of Smaug is pretty average, with some decent action and something that can appeal to just about everyone.  But that's what's so frustrating about it.  This film feels like it was designed by committee, making sure all the ingredients are included on the recipe for making a popular film, right down to the obligatory poop jokes.  That isn't what the legacy of The Lord of the Rings should be reduced to.  It's an insult to the source material and an insult to the original trilogy.  Let us only hope that it ends with the upcoming There and Back Again; to see a dumbed-down version of The Silmarillion would be too much to bear.

Do you look forward to There And Back Again?  Do you see any redeeming qualities in The Hobbit trilogy?  Let me know in the comments below.

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