Author of Time Rep and Note To Self

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Peter Jackson

If there’s one thing that’s really beginning to annoy me at the moment, it’s the recent trend of awful films getting excellent reviews from the critics, and then going on to do amazingly well at the box office. And it’s not as though people feel conned after paying to go and see these movies. They don’t walk out of the cinema thinking “why on Earth did that film get five stars in the paper?” No, these films seem to be able to convince audiences and critics alike that they are modern-day masterpieces, when in fact they are just poorly written, overly-expensive blockbusters. It’s as though the standards of what should we should expect from a five star film are being lowered.

Up until recently, the major offender in this category for me was the last James Bond film, Skyfall. Now don’t get me wrong – I love a bit of James Bond. I’ve got all the films on DVD, and whilst the series has had its ups and downs (Quantum of Solace, anyone?), I’ve always enjoyed watching them. I know they’re stupid, I know they’re cheesy, and I know that many of them have a lot to answer for in terms of their representation of women, but somehow they’ve always been a guilty pleasure for me. Especially the Roger Moore ones.

So let’s just get one thing straight here – I’m not just saying Skyfall isn’t a great film, I’m saying it’s a terrible film.

I simply cannot understand why the critics loved it so much. Even by the storytelling standards of the series (which were never that high, let’s be honest,) the plot of this film made no sense whatsoever. For those of you who haven’t wasted two hours of your life seeing it, let me summarise (and spoil) what happens for you: Bond gets shot and falls off a bridge. MI6 presume he is dead. Then he sees a news story about MI6 being bombed and comes back. Later, Javier Bardem pretends to try to and stop Bond from finding his hideout on a remote island, so he can allow himself to be captured by MI6 without them realising he wants to be captured so he can escape again and then come back later to try to kill M, even though he had about twenty opportunities to just kill her anyway. He does this because he is weird and wants to toy with her. So Bond takes M to his family estate in Scotland where they fill light bulbs with gunpowder, set some booby traps and re-enact the finale from Home Alone. And Bond falls in a lake.

I know a film should be judged on more than just its plot, but as plots go, this one was total, total, total, total arse. If Skyfall hadn’t taken itself so seriously I might have forgiven it, but there was not one nod to the camera about how ridiculous this all was – the audience was just supposed to sit there and marvel in this faux-genius web of twists and turns, when in fact what they were actually watching was some characters behaving in ways completely contrived so the story could move on to the next set-piece. “Mr Bond! I knew months ago that when I escaped from my prison cell you would chase me down this tunnel, so now I am going to warn you that I am going to set off a bomb to make an empty tube train crash through a wall and completely miss you!”

What?

So you might have worked out by now that I’m not a fan of Skyfall, and that the DVD was not on my Christmas list. However, whatever my feelings are for Skyfall, that film looks like Goldfinger when compared to The Desolation of Smaug, the second film in the trilogy of Hobbit movies based on the sole, single, solitary, one-off book called The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

This film was absolutely terrible. In fact it was so bad, as I left the cinema I felt as though I’d just lost a piece of my soul. And yet, as with Skyfall, the critics were raving about how amazing this film was.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no!

The Hobbit was the first ‘grown up’ book I ever read when I was seven, so I’ll admit I am a little protective of it. Of course, I understand that changes sometimes need to be made when translating a book to the silver screen, but when the translation is so obviously motivated by the desire to leverage the caché of Lord of the Rings (when was Saruman ever in the original story?) and stretch the narrative out to breaking point in order to squeeze three films out of one novel, I get a little miffed.

There is a reason The Hobbit is regarded as a classic novel, and that is because it gets a lot of things right. Here are five of those things:

1)     It is the right length.

2)    Bilbo’s character arc is well crafted, in that he does not discover his bravery a third of the way through the book, then become a coward again, then discover his bravery again, then become a coward again, then discover his bravery again.

3)    There are no interwoven love stories between elves and dwarves getting in the way of the central plot.

4)    The character of Smaug is fantastic because he is unexpectedly clever, and does not allow himself to get outwitted and baited by some dwarves splitting off in different directions, swinging around on chains and making a giant gold statue of a dwarf king to mesmerise him for 3 seconds. The fact that he is smart makes him a formidable foe.

5)    It’s great how we don’t find out what Gandalf was up to when he left the dwarves for a large chunk of the story, as this allows our imagination to take over and create a mystique around his quest that could not be achieved otherwise.

There are many other qualities I haven’t touched on, but you get the idea – the book is great.

Peter Jackson obviously thought he could do better than Tolkien with the story, so the things I listed above were changed a little (or indeed, reversed). Also, we got to see that scene we always wanted where Orlando Bloom fires some arrows.

Honestly – for an encore, why not make a film of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, but throw in a few car chases during the slow bits? More than that, why not make all the characters find out that Perdita is really royalty after the first act, then make them forget again, then make them remember again? And why not insert a love scene between the bear that pursues Antigonus off stage and another bear we don’t find out about in the original?

Okay, that’s enough ranting. Until next time!

 

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