Friday, December 20, 2013

Peter Jackson’s Broken Narrative

With the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we get part two of Peter Jackson’s epic motion picture trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s  310 page fantasy novel. It is, exceeding the visual standard first set by Jackson with his adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, a magnificent looking film, an almost hyper realistic portrayal of the world of Hobbits, Wizards, Dwarves and Dragons. But it is also, unfortunately, a broken narrative, a simple story so padded with extra stuff (over long VFX set pieces and material from other of Tolkien’s works), that the whole flow of the story drags.

No, it’s never really boring to watch the interminable battle with giant spiders or the endless Mirkwood escape sequence featuring Dwarves in barrels on the rapids being chased by Orcs who are being chased by Elves. These scenes are nothing if not visually stimulating. But it often feels like you are watching a video game, or an amusement park ride, and the excesses of those scenes do little to advance the story. And then after waiting quite some time to see the titular dragon, those scenes also seem to drag. The tension in Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug is undermined by the length of the dragon’s endless dialogue. The Dwarves’ failed attempt to kill the dragon adds an unnecessary embellishment that allows the movie to delay the actual resolution of Smaug to the third film (which I’m guessing will be titled The Hobbit: The Resolution of Smaug.)

Jackson provides Orlando Bloom with some work, recreating his role as Legolas from LOTR, and finds Lost alum Evangeline Lilly a job as the elf warrior Tauriel. These two kick ass from Mirkwood to Lake Town, but again, how many arrow shots and orc decapitations do you need to see before getting that point. You get very little character from these characters, though there are hints that they might actually be interesting in the moments between Orc slaughter. But Jackson’s excessive extension of Tolkien’s little story into a three movie epic was never about telling an interesting story about interesting characters. It was about action sequences, superbly rendered special effects and profit. Yeah, lots of profit.

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