Friday, 14 December 2012

The Lord Of The Rings finally has its own Phantom Menace

Until now, The Lord Of The Rings was unique in a film series. It had no film that people tried to forget about. Star Wars had Phantom Menace (the other prequels people debate regarding quality), The Godfather had Part 3, Alien had part 3 until the others were released and now part 3 looks terrific (especially the workprint). Indiana Jones has The Crystal Skull (which I didnj't think was much worse than the over-rated Last Crusade). The Matrix had Revolutions. The Exorcist had all the sequels (all of which were odd and more interesting than the original). Spiderman has been on a downward trends since Spiderman 3. Superman has had difficulties since Superman 3 (although I rate Superman Returns). The Dark Knight Rises is debated (and they had the Schumacher films, they still count).

The Lord Of the Rings could be smug. Ten years of how great they did the job and never let the fans down. (Star Wars and The Godfather managed 15 years of that, if we want to be accurate). But all those weaker films or odder films, the many part 3's, can be amused.

The Hobbit is a total catastrophe. Its what happens when you bring in a director who has lost all real interest in the series but needs a hit. Its what happens when no-one is looking at what is going on nor suggests editing things down. The plot is essentially The Dirty Dozen which takes nine hours. A group of flawed heroes go on a quest is the basic plot. We have an hour to introduce the characters and set-up. And you can't really follow all the characters, what they're about, clarifying the emotional and logical reason for the quest to the degree that would make the other eight hours compelling. (This is without a montage or full-length training sequence, so if you want to see Martin Freeman go Rocky with lots of running and dubious music, this film dissapoints on that score also. And even Rocky V is better than The Hobbit).

So the first hour has some nice jokes and many bad ones, a huge action backstory set peice which looks nice but is boring, and a bit with Ian Holm as an older Martin Freeman, to link the film to Lord Of The Rings, which goes on forever but has no real narrative point. The strength of the first hour is Martin Freeman, who keeps the film going despite the director and the writing. He's terrific but deserves a better film.

And then the journey begins, echoing the Fellowship Of The Ring. But having introduced everyone at once, instead of spreading the introductions throughout the first hour and a half, which would allow for each character to make an impact and have a sequence that would allow to get a handle on them, the film just has action. Lots of action. Yet none of it feels motivated. You have characters on a quest but it never is filtered into the action and their motivations enough for it to have any weight. They are meant to be reclaiming their homeland but that's an idea rather than something that is built into a powerful emotional thread. This is like The Phantom Menace trying to save a planet where you have no emotional connection to, thus leaving the action uninteresting.

There are good ideas for the world, as the film does have imagination. But the sequences such as climbing the mountains that move or the fireside scene with ogres that turn to stone are either over too fast for real jeapordy to be felt or are played for laughs, rather than menace or atmosphere. So the film remains dull.

There are two sections where the film feels a bit more like Lord Of the Rings. The first is the the Radgrast The Brown, played by Sylvester McCoy. The film actually finds its pacing here, has build, a mystery, menace of an old necromancer, leading to a meeting of the wizards and elves. For the first tiem the film has weight. And then the film moves on, to more action where people are tossed all over the place with no real effect. The second section is Bilbo meeting Gollum and finding the ring. Its very well played, and paced extremely well. Yet its intercut with the worst scene in the film, where Gandalf and 13 dwarfs fight and win against an army of orcs and ogres, which is likely the most stupid action scene you'll find in the next few years. There are funny gags but the insane lack of logic becomes annoying, especially as it takes you away from the best part of the film.

Finally there's yet another dull action scene, against an orc hunting party that goes on and on, up and down trees, onto eagles, would have been fine if you cared by this point. But a confrontation between the protagonist and villain, the point of the scene, is left unresolved, as neither side win, to be continued. So the film can't even finish off its action thread, leaving the story formless.

This should have been one film, as the story was basic, needed a hand that responded to and needed to find peotic elements in a simple child's story. It needed a director who could keep an eye on the main story points. Greedily spreading it over three films is a cynical decision that will bore the audiences and kill the reputation of the series.

Peter Jackson used to make good films. Up to Lord Of The Rings they were enjoyable, sometimes very good. (The Frightners, which resembles The Hobbit most, was the weakest film). But King Kong, which spread its story far too long, robbing the film of its simple emotional beats, and the critically panned The Lovely Bones, lead to the self-indulgence of The Hobbit. Its a bad example to directors and leads to financiers not trusting directors with too much power, if they see the abuse on this scale. Yet these films are only made for the money now. They're hack-works. They feel tired, as scene to scene the film lacks attention. So the stories continue into senility.

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