A Desolation of Tolkien

Yes I know I’ve seen all the Jackson LOTR/Hobbit films.  Why, I don’t know, I should have avoided them to begin with.  Frankly, I’m not the person who should be watching them anyway, I have a very strong personal visualization of events and characters in the books, not to mention extensive knowledge of all the background info, so any adaptation is bound to be substandard in my eyes, anyway.

But even as a moviegoer, I did not like any of the films, not any of the LOTR movies or any of the two movies based marginally on The Hobbit.  I don’t even want to talk about the deviations from the original story, I never expected anyone to do a verbatim retelling in film, it wouldn’t make money and after all that’s why motion picture studios make movies in the first place, to make money.  So I understand changing some things around for entertainment purposes.  Some changes I even liked, like giving Arwen a larger role in the film than she had in the novels.

But whatever complaints I have about what I think are more serious deviations of the story, the real reason I haven’t cared for any of the Jackson LOTR films has less to do with the films specifically than it has to do with how popular films are made these days: as I see it there is way too much emphasis on glitz and hardly any concern about the substance of the story.  With certain films, like The Avengers or the original Star Wars or even The Empire Strikes Back, you could deal with it because they were entertaining as stories despite plot holes you could fit entire galaxies far, far away into.

But with the advent of CGI the effects have taken over much much more.  My perfect example is the long, drawn out battle in Smaug as the Dwarves and Bilbo are riding down the river in barrels.  I won’t even get into how that entire sequence isn’t in the book, or the greater point that Legolas wasn’t in it either, it just kept going on and on, after a time I found myself saying “Christ, get to the damn city already!”.  Maybe it’s me being an old curmudgeon but jeebus it seemed to go on forever.  In the seventies, in cop movies like The Seven Ups, there were long car chase scenes but they seemed to me to be much more exciting, at least they were believable.  I know all the girls love Legolas but couldn’t someone just make a romantic action adventure film starring him and leave him the hell out of stories he doesn’t appear in?

I don’t know what Tolkien would have made of these movies, but this is what I do know:  Tolkien was primarily a linguist who wrote the books as a backdrop to the Elvish languages he was creating.  It’s an epic tale of creation, vanity, power, hope, despair and heroism.  What Jackson has done, particularly with Smaug as I see it, is turn it into a combination of Avengers: Middle Earth and softcore porn for young girls.  It’s not that I don’t think the story can ever be done right (I think it can, and be truer to the spirit of the original work, though perhaps not in this day and age), but that I think it’s been wrecked, like so many other things these days, by the style of the times.  For all the eye candy, these to me are desolate movies.

Of course, it seems pointless to criticize, I don’t know how much money this thing is going to make but it’s likely going to be way up there in the Jesus Christ range, so what I say doesn’t really matter.  But if you ask me, Rankin-Bass did a much better job thirty or so years ago.  I may try to look it up and watch it again…

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