on 5 February 2013
The owners of the film rights of Tolkien's legacy naturally hope that each new instalment they provide will satisfy every demographically analysed sub-section of the massive potential cash cow (I mean audience).
So, in the case of the gentle children's volume "The Hobbit", what's it to be guys? A basically faithful-to-the-book rendition for old-fashioned types - like yours truly - who really only want its look and feel translated into visual format?
A lavish family-friendly epic for casual admirers of the Tolkien 'franchise', with enough easy reference points to this 'back material' for the new 'product entry' to fit seamlessly into the whole?
A 3-D Wide-Screen Tom-and-Jerry-cartoon-writ-large for the Video Game Generation, not overly concerned with plot, character, dialogue, coherence, dramatic tension, authenticity, or anything else save 'awesome' special effects and bespoke cartoon violence?
The sad answer: a mishmash of all the above. This handsome looking, unevenly paced, garishly sensationalist dog's dinner is much more of a nightmare than a dream come true for any real lover of Tolkien. Even those of them, such as me, who liked the LOTR films.
Received wisdom has made us aware of the book's supposed shortcomings for modern adaptation. But has the hectic beefing-up of story, action scenes, back plot, character arcs/motivations etc. made things any better? Quite the reverse. Excessive tinkering has actually only served to show how well engineered the book was/is.
To be scrupulously fair, there are still some traces of wit, beauty, a sense of wonder, not completely trampled into the mud. But enough of the structure and, crucially, feel of the book is annihilated, leaving an admirer of the original feeling depressed, angry and manipulated. And this syndrome unfortunately gets ever worse as the film progresses, meaning that, despite the occasional good bits, the final impression when leaving the cinema is very negative indeed.
One senses a frantic, and toxic, combination of no risk taking combined with throwing in every possible kitchen sink throughout. Any previously commercially successful star in the fantasy movie universe has to be referenced at all costs. Boyish knockabout slapstick; check "Pirates of the Caribbean". CGI superbeings slugging it out: check "Transformers". Simplistic racial conflict plot structure; check "Avatar". Generic quest narrative; check, er, "Lord of the Rings".
Examples of manipulation, all periodically evident throughout the film's entire run time, include: crude signposting of every plot twist; every being's inner feelings and motivations exaggerated and rammed home; every dangerous situation amplified beyond rhyme or reason into the completely absurd, thereby destroying rather than enhancing dramatic tension; totally generic 'stirring' fantasy soundtrack music unsubtly underpinning the action to further stupefy the senses.
Allotting specific blame on the director, or script writers, or producers, or backers of this pumped-up product for its artistic failure is futile. ALL the above, plus others, whatever their intentions at the outset, have combined in some unholy reverse alchemy to foist upon the world not a thing of beauty to be cherished forever (like the book), but rather a tasteless assault course for the senses, a crass base-metal reinvention of a golden literary creation.
And - no, please, no - we're still only a third of the way through!
Thoughtful fans of Tolkien, beware. Do not trust the positive reactions to this artefact from the sensation addicts who are evidently blinded by their dependence on cheap thrills. This 'Hobbit' is NOT the Baggins you know and love.