When the first of Peter Jackson’s accessibly ludicrous prequilogy hit cinemas in the winter of last year, it was awash with a tidal wave of criticism.
Indeed, so much of it seemed to have been focused on the bigger things that it was all too easy to overlook the smaller things that Sir Pete, well, overlooked. Now that An Unexpected Journey has come to dominate our small screens at home as well, perhaps it’s time to call for correction on a few of these smaller points…
Design – Half-Assed Yaks
There must be millions of bald yaks all over the world now that Jackson and co have used their hair for the dwarvish wigs in the movie. But for the ‘sexy’ dwarves, human hair was used. This speaks to a larger problem in the design of the dwarves. Ori is apparently the youngest, yet he has more of a beard than Kili. Thorin doesn’t seem to have aged since Smaug’s re-marketing of Erebor’s wealth, but Balin looks like Santa’s stunt double. The less said about Nori the better. The problem with the dwarves is not that they look too comical, or too sexy. The problem is that they’re both.
Pacing – A Long Awaited Wait
One of the biggest complaints I heard when The Hobbit came out was that “we spend an hour in Hobbiton”. This, I’m afraid to say, is not the problem. Hobbiton would have been an endearing place to spend an hour if we had seen any more of it than in The Fellowship of the Ring, but indeed we see even less (despite spending more time there). The real problem is that we waste the hour at Bilbo’s house.
Effects – Out of the Frying Pan and into a CG Frying Pan
For the most part, the CGI in The Hobbit has been praised (indeed, it is the only nook of production to win academy recognition), but when it replaces (rather than enhances) scale miniatures and forced perspective, the reality of the piece (or at least a slither of it) is lost. And in a fantasy movie, a slither may be all the audience has. Peter Jackson has spoken of the excruciating process of shooting miniatures before, and of the brisk ease with which this is negated in the world of CGI. But in honesty, this is to miss the point of suffering for one’s art. Which brings us there and back again…
As fun as it was revisiting middle-earth, An Unexpected Journey is a classic example of coasting on the back of previous success, on the part of more than the director alone. To see what I mean buy the soundtrack, written by Howard (or is that Paulie?) Shore. Oh, and here’s one final addendum – Philippa Boyens needs to stop addressing our beloved author as “Professor Tolkien”, it’s positively teeth-curling.