The Hobbit: a second look

Saw the film again, this time in 2D. Some additional thoughts to complement the first ones.

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Some lines grate. (“I cannot guarantee his blablabla.” “Understood!”)

Some scenes grate. (Gandalf and Galadriel talking. Then poof! she’s disappeared. Because apparently that’s how elves do an exit, or Gandalf had a senior moment.)

A bit too much battling and chaotic hack-and-slash escaping, especially since there are so many dwarves, and yet we’re fairly sure this is the kind of a film where the name of the game isn’t “dwarf attrition”. I’m not interested in lengthy scenes of dwarves vs. trolls or dwarves vs. orcs when there’s no chance of dead or even mutilated dwarves. (Thus, when the whole dwarven lot charged the trolls, I sighed and cursed inwardly — now how are you going to get all of them captured without a few severed limbs? And the solution was classic stupid threaten-the-captive drama and the leadership fail of the century.)

Also, rubber dwarves! Bouncing down any number of stony cliffs without a single broken limb.

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Here’s an alternate subtitle: “The Hobbit: The Home Invasion”. Both by Smaug and by the unexpected company of dwarves.

If you took Detroit instead of Hobbiton, and replaced the dwarves with some not-everyday group of people a bit more rugged and muscled than your everyday mousy homeowner-Hobbit — say gang members, bodybuilders or paramilitaries — then Bilbo’s panic would start to seem a lot less funny. All these muscled, menacing men showing up uninvited and treating themselves to your food! Who knows what they’ll demand next! (“Dwalin at your service, which is not a gang hello if the pig-men ask. Now give me food or I’ll cut you, little man.”)

(Fanfic idea: the dwarves show up, but Thorin and Gandalf don’t. Since they don’t want to discuss business without their leader being present, they don’t tell Bilbo anything — they just settle in and make Bilbo’s life very interesting. “That dwarf kicked Lobelia in the head!” “She kicked me first!” “In the shins! You don’t go from shin-kicking into kicking someone in the head! Hide her in a closet and stop kicking her!“)

*

The riddles in the dark are so very well done; I don’t remember ever getting such an air of tight menace from the book — then again, the book is much lighter, an elegant entertainment for a more civilized age… wait, no quoting Star Wars in a Tolkien review, and no calling twee Thirties children’s fiction “more civilized”. Though I wouldn’t want to be stuck defending a Peter Jackson movie as “more civilized” than a book by an Oxford professor — but overall I’d argue that modern fiction tends to be more civilized than that of (say) eighty years ago. Less sexism and heteronormative whatsit and racism and hard-destiny past-worship and the like. (Much depends on your personal definition of civilization: do you think tweed, tea and tsk-tsk is more civilized than a screaming parade of gay rights protesters in all the colors of the rainbow? Is the heyday tomorrow, or was it yesterday?)

Also, Gollum’s facial expressions will end up in a million Youtube parodies, gifs and piecemeal works. I predict “Gollum reacts to X”, where X is anything.

*

Still unbothered by Radagast, the White Council, and the Bilbo-not-involved additions; still pretty sure what they’re doing with Azog is pretty smart because the original book is basically a bunch of unconnected small adventures until they get to the Mountain.

Also, Radagast? Played by Sylvester McCoy, who played the Doctor in Doctor Who, a long time ago.* And in forthcoming films we’ll see Stephen “the” Fry, and Gregor Clegane (Conan Stevens), and Benedict Cumberbatch (that smug modern Holmes) as the dragon itself. With a cast of this size, even I’m getting the feeling of familiar people.

*

Can’t recall if “Azog the Defiler” or “The Pale Orc” are canon titles; I think not. Can’t say if this is “the evil albino” or “contrary to the norm, the Caucasian parallel is evil!” or just a design choice.

*

The film was a bit flabbier on the second watching; partly because of too much liquid intake before the film, and a half-hour spent lying to myself about my ability to hold everything in until the end of the film.

(A half-hour because the riddles in the dark were not something to be missed, and I didn’t exactly recall their place in the whole Misty Mountain hop and hoopla.)

One day there will be movie theaters with catheters built into the seats. That will be a gross day, a day of great ickiness and disapproval, but that day I will not fear the consumption of liquids beforehand. (If you think popcorn and gum on the floor is icky, consider some hyperactive kid kicking half a dozen urine cans open.)

Since this portion of this review has ran off the rails, what about movie showings for pets? Somebody probably does this, but imagine fifty cats strapped down to plush red seats, watching Pulp Fiction, with automated arms offering nibbles on a stick, and little saucers of milk. Then a cell phone rings (“Who Let the Dogs Out?”), and one hundred eyes turn, glowing in the screen’s wan vibrating light.

These are the sort of things I think about.

*

There were no humans with speaking roles in the film. (Gandalf’s not human, he’s a heavenly creature. The people of Dale had just screaming parts.) I’m actually really pleased by this.

There were no women with speaking roles either, except Galadriel. (Wait a minute, let me think; no, no other women that I can recall. A few at Dale and Rivendell, but nobody that spoke.) I’m actually okay with this; we’ll do the genderflip Hobbit by computer in 2025.

And in both cases, you could cut a minute or two and drop the “speaking roles” to “no humans, no women except Galadriel”. (Except with the orcs, where you can’t really tell. But orcs are a special case, exempt from gender and “true courage is knowing when to spare a life” and a lot of other things.)

(Also, true whatever is knowing when to not kill? This is the sort of a film where that means “don’t kill the gimp, er, Gollum”, and nothing more; certainly not pacifism, given how cartoonishly evil and undifferentiated the mass of onrushing enemies is. A better Gandalf quote would be “Take up your arms and fight! FIII—IIGHT!” — an actual film quote.)

Also, the Bechdel test? A resounding failure here, but might I propose a ra— wait, a fantasy species Bechdel-equivalent test? Are there two named non-human characters who talk about something other than a human? A bullshit test, but this film passes with flying colors!

(My memory of Ainulindale/Valaquenta is a bit hazy, but theoretically speaking you could argue that Gandalf is not male, being a genderless spirit, so taking the Bechdel test in the more inclusive, less canonical form of “two named non-males talking etc.” you could say the Galadriel-Gandalf scene makes this film pass the, um, quasi-Bechdel.)

(How would you judge the Bechdel if you had a female spirit possessing a male body?)

Finally, Thorin Oakenshield appeals to those parts of me that like a good-looking man. I don’t particularly care for Legolas but Thorin and Frodo, rowr.

*

Questions:

1) GALADRIEL. Galadriel mouthed something about coming to Gandalf’s aid no matter what. Foreshadowing for some flashy magical rescue?

2) DOL GULDUR. The Dol Guldur subplot (I loved the “kill in the spirit world” scene!) — we are probably going to see Sauron the Necromancer driven out as in canon; but what are the portions of magic and steel involved in that going to be? I can’t imagine the White Council marching in blazing might and magic, hands waving. (Maybe there’ll be drama and then Sauron flees without a fight.)

3) BOLG. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be seeing Bolg son of Azog when the third film comes around but oh, uh, wait, what, Conan Stevens has been cast as Bolg? How will they handle that, given Azog’s death plus greed is the canonical Bolg-motivator? Will Azog buy it in the second or the early third film?

4) SECOND SPLIT POINT. So the first films ends at Carrock. Where does the second one end? Will Beorn, Mirkwood, spiders, elves be enough to end with the barrel escape? (And will a barrel escape be “enough” to end with?) After that the next obvious endpoint would be leaving Esgaroth, but that would be even less action and drama at the end. Will there be a new scene that ends Azog, with the film then ending with Bolg receiving the news and chewing some scenery?

5) THRAIN. All we know of Thrain, Thorin’s father, at the moment is that he was captured or killed at the Battle of Azanulbizar** (dwarves, orcs, lots of dead) — and since Gandalf had Thrain’s map and key, that was probably “captured”. How did Gandalf get the map and the key? Did the orcs give Thrain to the Necromancer, and did Gandalf find him in the dungeons there? Or did Thrain wander off the battlefield and get captured by a Nazgul? In the film continuity, has Gandalf even gone to Dol Guldur? (In the book continuity, Thrain survived the battle and was caught by the Necromancer much later.)

6) THE OTHER RING. Also about Thrain: he had the last of the Seven Rings of the Dwarves with him when the Necromancer, the original Ring-Maker, the Lord of the Rings Sauron caught him. The films haven’t said a peep about the ring. Will they? (Oh, it would be nice to see a tangent about the partnership of elven Hollin and dwarven Moria, and the coming of Annatar the Giver of Gifts, the betrayal of Celebrimbor and the making of the Rings of Power. Come on, Peter, you did paint an Annatar for Morannon, give us some more! That’ll reverberate nicely against the dwarf-elf feud of the second movie!)

7) GOLLUM. Canonically speaking we’re done with Gollum now, and I don’t think there will be any more Bilbo-Gollum interaction coming. But will the following films hint at Big G leaving the mountains in search of Shire, and getting captured by Sauron’s orcs, tortured for ring-information? (How did that work, anyway? “Hey Orc Boss, this little git keeps screaming about a ring. Do you reckon the Big Big Boss would be interested? He’s into rings, right? Has full nine fingers full of them.”) I don’t think a scene like that is likely, unless Peter Jackson wants a really heavy-handed, depressing after-credits scene for the third film.

8) POP QUIZ. There’s at least one character that will be in all six films. Who? There are three others who almost certainly will be. Who are they?*** I’ve named a Led Zeppelin song and a Black Sabbath song in this review; did you notice this pointless trickery?

*

Also, in the next film: Mikael Persbrandt as Beorn. Mikael “Gunvald ‘Police brutality!’ Larsson” Persbrandt as Beorn “Werebear Beekeeper” Beorn!

This excitement does not make sense unless you’re both a Tolkien and a Martin Beck fan. This is probably, outside Sweden, a very limited set, but my parents are great fans of not too gory police procedurals.

*

*, “the Doctor” : At this point I spent a few minutes wondering who David Tennant could have played. Couldn’t come up with anything better than “a nude dancing elf”.

**, “Azanulbizar” : In canon, Thror wasn’t killed in the battle, and his earlier death in the hands of Azog inspired the war and the battle (“Hey boss, this orc beheaded your father. He burned his name on the face in big runes though, so we know who he is. Whaddaya wanna do?”); and in canon Azog died at Azanulbizar, killed by Dain Ironfoot — but it’s still the bloody battle outside Moria where Thorin got the name Oakenshield.

(One of my favorite parts of the battle description was young Dain Ironfoot looking in the East Gate of Moria, seeing a familiar balrog-y being of shadow and flame, Durin’s Bane, and stumbling back to tell the surviving dwarves that they probably didn’t want to go to Moria after all. But though I think we saw Dain in the battle scenes, and have heard Thorin referring to him as unwilling to help, we haven’t met him yet — so maybe that scene’s still to come.)

(And, finally, I wonder if they’ll hint at Balin and his tragic mistake between the trilogies: in Hobbit-canon the last we see of him is a prosperous dwarf of Erebor, and in the Lord of the Rings we see him as cold bones entombed in Moria, a would-be king in an already occupied kingdom, his grave decorated by scarcely younger dwarf and orc bones and rusted blades. Gimli reacts to that quite strongly; Frodo doesn’t, not having the same connection as Bilbo would have had.)

(Fanfic idea: Take the Lord of the Rings from Elrond’s Council and suppose that Frodo didn’t volunteer, but Bilbo did. How does an elderly, ring-besotted Hobbit survive the journey south?)

(“By the power invested in me by this One Ring of Power, I call thee forth, Balin son of Fundin, my friend of old! Rise! Rise like the Nosferatu! Also, fuck off Balrog you git, I don’t have time for small fries.”)

***, “POP QUIZ” : Gandalf. It’s impossible for Gandalf to not be in the remaining Hobbit films. Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel were in all of the Rings films (I think we see Galadriel in The Two Towers), but though it’s very likely it’s not yet Gandalf-level certain that they will be in both of the Hobbit sequels. Frodo is likely not in the middle Hobbit; and Bilbo wasn’t (if I recall correctly) in The Two Towers.

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