Friday, December 23, 2011

The Hobbit: trailer, hopes and expectations

And so it begins again. Eight years ago The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King hit theatres and blew away audiences everywhere (and ‘merely’ entertained to a very satisfactory degree the more nitpicky Tolkien geeks like myself). Now, finally, the long awaited adaptation of The Hobbit has tenaciously crawled its way out of development hell and the first trailer’s been released to the public. Thus the internet is in an uproar, with people proclaiming left and right that this is going to be the best thing ever and that they HAVE to see this movie.

Might I not be so critically inclined I would be one of them. To a certain extent I am. Sure, I want to see this film. Tolkien’s books are very near and dear to my heart. I grew up reading them. And while I do find Peter Jackson’s films have their fair share of faults, the moment you sit me down to actually watch them I’m perfectly happy to look past most of the problems, be a good boy, suck my thumb and enjoy myself. Say of ‘em what you will but whatever they get wrong I think they really capture the look and feel, the atmosphere of Tolkien’s world. Watching them you get the feeling that yes, this is what he must have imagined it to be like. 

But anyway, I’m getting off track, and I must always try and stem my gushes constructively. We’re here to talk about the trailer for The Hobbit, so the logical sequence of events would be to start off with giving it another watch. Let's do that, shall we? 

Yup, that’s it, right there. That’s the proverbial ‘thing’. Looks good, doesn’t it? But let’s grab our scalpels and try to dissect it a little. I love the smell of Hobbit blood in the morning! Sorry about that, I have issues.

So, my psychiatrist tells me that when discussing matters it's usually a good idea to start off by outlining some of the more positive aspects. Just now I stated (through phrasing it as a rhetorical question, clever bugger that I am) that this is a good-looking trailer, and I stand by that. Those set and costume designs that give off that distinct combination of old times-eyness (if that’s a word) with more than a hint of whimsical fantasy, that continually slightly gloomy and dreary atmosphere, the imposing and sweeping landscape shots and of course the bombastic, epic music: all the elements that mister Jackson employed so effectively to lure us into Tolkien’s world eight years ago are still in place. 

The casting seems good and is a thing to be excited for. Of course it's at least partly lifted from the previous movies - that's not really cheating though, as these're the same characters and this is obviously a prequel. Martin Freeman, a frood who knows where his towel is (and if you didn't get that reference, you might know him as Watson from the excellent 2010 modern-day Sherlock Holmes adaptation by the BBC) looks to be a good choice to play young Bilbo. He's got that image of the demure, mild-mannered little man who can nonetheless be brave and stubborn and a surprisingly badass mofo when the time calls for it. Judging by the scenes we have in this trailer I do get the idea that yes, this is the Bilbo I was reading about all those years ago. I like how he really does look like a young Ian Holm here - I wonder if a lot of makeup went into creating that effect? Either way, that's a good thing, adds a bit of consistency. 

I really love how cartoony some of the dwarves look, with those big noses and ridiculous beards. Fantastic stuff. It’s also good how different they look from each other. In the novel most of the dwarves apart from Thorin never take center stage for long so there is the danger that they kind of start to blend together in your mind. Speaking of Thorin, also known as mister Richard Armitage, also known as that German guy who shot Stanley Tucci then swallowed a cyanide capsule in Captain America (the bastard!)... eh, he hasn't convinced me yet. Then again, he really barely has any scenes in the trailer, which seems to be focusing mostly on Bilbo and Gandalf. He seems at least fitting for the role for as far as I can see, but time will tell. 

Seriously, these guys look great. Excellently unique character designs.

Of course no words need be said about Gandalf the Grey, also known as sir Ian McKellen to his friends and the pool boy, also known as YOU SHALL NOT PASS to eldritch abominations wrought of flame and denizens of the internet everywhere. He was great in the previous films and his performance looks to be equally satisfying here. Cate Blanchett will apparently be making another appearance as Galadriel, which somewhat mystifies me as the character wasn’t actually in the novel. She never really did it for me in the previous films, but eh, we’ll see where they plan to go with her. Someone who was in the novel and is also slated to make an appearance in the film (though for now he is merely Sir Not Appearing In This Trailer) is the beloved Agent Elrond, so that should be a jolly good time.

In fact, this movie seems like it’ll be lifting more than just actors from the previous films. The novel was originally written before The Lord of the Rings proper and later even received slight alterations to fit into the universe Tolkien established in his magnum opus (mostly to be found in the scene between Bilbo and GollĂ»m, the chapter name of which was name-dropped in the Fellowship movie: "Riddles in the Dark", in case you missed it). Here, however, the Rings films are obviously already in place and out there, so this movie is quite obviously being framed as a prequel. So we get little things like young Bilbo staring in awe at the shards of Narsil at Rivendell and the trailer being framed as old Bilbo telling Frodo a tale of his adventures. I wonder if that’ll be in the final film? Would be a fun way to frame the story, though I don’t really think it’s necessary. Anyway, details like these are neither here nor there, they’re just fun little continuity touches for the more obsessive fans. 

A recycled set, no doubt, but you can't convince me that this does not at least look promising.

However, the urge to make The Hobbit fall in line with the other Jackson films is also where some slight fear about the direction of the movie starts to creep in. Go back to the trailer for a moment and listen to that rendition of the dwarves chanting Thorin's song. Awesome stuff, right? Pretty damn haunting. It's very gloomy and downcast, almost like a dirge. Yet there might be hints of a problem there, because from there on the trailer takes a distinct turn for the dreary. 

And while The Lord of the Rings is certainly like that (as in, the books are like that, and thus the films are like that and should be), The Hobbit is generally a rather light-hearted little romp. Let's not forget it was written as a children's book. Even after the aforementioned alterations we still have things like Elves dancing about and singing songs, and trolls exchanging playful banter while threatening the dwarven party before Gandalf shows up and outsmarts them by playing a clever yet cartoonish trick. I can understand and appreciate the effort to truly make it feel like a prequel to Rings and thus shifting the feel and atmosphere to make it feel like an extension of that story. However, it'd be a damn shame if the light-heartedness would get burried underneath all that.

I wonder how much Pete 'n his team are aware of this dichotomy and how far they're taking it into account. You see, the trick is that The Hobbit is actually quite a different book than The Lord of the Rings. Apart from being more accessible and concisely written the story is also of much less epic proportions, it feels more down to (middle) earth, more intimate, more whimsical, even cartoonish at times. I think attempting to drag it in line with Rings without losing too much of that is a real tight-rope act. Perhaps I'm being overly skeptical, there's plenty hints in the trailer that the upbeat stuff is certainly in there, like the dwarves falling on Bilbo's doormat all in a huddle and them dancing a merry jig at what looks to be the going-away party at Bag End. Still I have to be critical and hope it's a consideration Jackson has made and that he's managed to go about it in a decent enough manner. I'm sure it'll be an entertaining movie even if he hasn't, but I do fear that in that case something will be lost. 

The man who has to make it all happen... wait, why isn't he wearing proper pants? 

But hold on a damn second, I haven't even mentioned that this thing has a subtitle. Cripes! This piece'a shit is gonna be a two-parter! Yes, this is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, coming to theatres in 2012 to tell you exactly half the story, so Peter Jackson will be able to wring us for admission fee again in 2013 and double his winnings. What an asshole! In all seriousness, this is probably a good thing. I said above that The Hobbit is a very concisely written book. This means that you can't really cut too many corners in leaving things out of an adaptation before the seams start to show, so it's nice to see they're making sure they have plenty of room to get all the important stuff in there (though the cynic in me wants to say that ticket revenues did probably play a role in the decision...). Still it does mean we'll not be getting to see some of the fun stuff just yet, especially big bad dragon Smaug, who as word on the street has it will be voiced by mister Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch - also known as the literal Holmes to Martin Freeman's Watson in the BBC's aforementioned Sherlock, so that should give that series' fandom an opportunity to have some fun.

But yeah, that's the trailer for The Hobbit for ya. I ended up rambling about it a bit longer than I thought I would but I hope it's given a bit of insight into what I hope and expect the film to be. And while I've been relatively critical I certainly am looking forward to this movie - c'mon Pete, don't fail us, we know you've got it in you!

1 comment:

  1. But hold on, here's some breaking news! Actually, I'm probably the last to find out about this, but either way: it appears Benedict Cumberbatch is not only voicing Smaug but also the Necromancer, who you diehards might recognize as the guise of Sauron while he was hiding out in Murkwood before being smoked out of his tower by the White Council. So that's fun times, apart from one little catch: the Council's assault on Dol Guldur was never actually in the novel.

    This, along with rumors of Christopher Lee appearing as Saruman, lead me to strongly suspect this struggle will be depicted in the film(s), perhaps extensively. It would explain the presence of Galadriel as well, come to think. I find myself wondering if we really need this: The Hobbit is Bilbo's story after all (hell, the title more than implies it) and stuff like this that doesn't involve him at all should be treated as being rather superfluous. I'm not trying to be a spoil-sport here and I can see the entertainment in going off and having some sub-plot fun with Chris and Ian, but I question if it's really neccesary. But there I go off worrying again, so feel free to ignore.