Bernie Anderson
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Current musings, whatever they may be. 

Childhood Stories at 48fps

Middle Earth or Middle Tennessee?

"Hobbit-nerd" might be a little bit too strong of a self-description. I've not read the Silmarillion from cover to cover (although, I've read large portions) and I'm not versed in Elvish languages (I seriously know some people who are). However, I was indeed one of those awkward teen-age kids who chose to hole up in a bedroom to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy rather than have a social life. To this day, Tolkien-lore shapes a lot of my thinking, and even puts context to my theology. I not only read tales of Hobbits and magic rings in my youth, but I also read "The Hobbit" out loud to my children when they were young. I remember when my daughter announced that she had read The Lord of the Rings trilogy at the tender age of 8 (or maybe 9) in a dubiously short amount of time. I didn't believe her, so quizzed her on the story. She passed. I was proud. The legacy of love has been passed along (Side-note: since my son has also read the Trilogy and loved it, my job as a parent is complete.)

Needless to say, I was intrigued in the late 1990s when I heard that Peter Jackson was going to be filming the Trilogy for theatrical release, and looked forward to those films more than Christmas in the years 2001 - 2003. I know that a lot of the more serious Tolkien nerds are now so angry with Peter Jackson that he is basically Satan and should be eternally condemned. I'm not so hard on the guy. They are, after all, cinematic interpretations that are pretty amazing, when one stops to think about the scope of bringing Middle Earth to the silver screen.

My daughter (who is now a bibliophile of grand measure) has a rule of thumb for books turned movies. I think it's a pretty good rule. A movie doesn't have to follow a book completely, as much as the movie must capture the spirit of the book. As someone who has dabbled in video story telling, I can tell you that moving pictures is a completely different endeavor than telling stories with verbs and punctuation and adjective clauses. The textures are different. The details are different. I've heard people actually say that they wish Mr. Jackson had just followed Tolkien sentence by sentence, not realizing that while it may be more accurate to Tolkien-lore - that would have been a terrible movie. Perhaps, Christopher Tolkien's doubts about Jackson's ability to keep the essence of his Father's work panned out in the end and his subsequent sharp words about Jackson gutting the book and "making an action film for 15-25 year olds" is accurate criticism.

Nonetheless, my heart still beats faster when the lights dim and I see the Shire on the big screen, almost exactly as I had pictured it in my head as a 13-year old. It makes me smile every time. I suppose that's the point of going to the movies.

Using my daughter's criteria for book-turned-movie on the Trilogy, I gave Mr. Jackson a pass. I thought the Lord of the Rings, while not perfect by any stretch, more or less captured the dark, epic and hopeful nature of Tolkien's story.

Fast forward to the Hobbit films. I watched all three of them. I almost didn't watch the recently released third film, because I really didn't like last year's second film. It failed the "Spirit of the Book" test almost completely. In essence, the Hobbit is a children's story. It is not a prequel to the Lord of the Rings.

So many mixed feelings on this one. The first Hobbit movie — lots to like, a few things to hate. The second? More to hate, and very little that I liked about it. The third has some redeeming qualities. Here are some of my overall random thoughts about the films.

  1. I think the decision to put the story into trilogy format was a poor decision by the screenwriters. The Hobbit is not a trilogy. It's a single seamless story that doesn't carry the dark, epic nature of the Lord of the Rings tale. I don't want to make unwarranted accusations, but the trilogy decision seemed to be a bit of a money-grab (which it may very well have been), and I think it's where the Jackson-envisioned Hobbit movies are fundamentally flawed. I think the story could have been more than eloquently told in two films, leaving out all of the Lord of the Rings back story.
  2. On the positive side, the back story material was more-or-less accurate (sometimes more, sometimes less) and definitely based on Tolkien's writings. Characters like Radagast the Brown and Azog the Destroyer are indeed characters in Tolkien-Lore. They, however, are not the main characters depicted in the Hobbit movies. Indeed, it would have made more sense for Radagast the Brown Wizard to have appeared in the LOTR movies. It was a bit odd that he took on such a major role in The Hobbit, as he is only mentioned one time in the book. (For the record, Tolkien never mentioned anything about a sleigh pulled by giant rabbits. I have no idea where that came from, other than Peter Jackson's imagination. So that was weird to me.)
  3. I didn't have such a problem with the decision to use the HFR (high frame rate) filming technique. I know that annoyed some people. It was a little odd to watch and I don't think it will ever really catch on in the film industry (I kind of hope not, anyway). However, it gave the Hobbit movies an almost cartoonish look, that would have worked fairly well if the film had stuck with telling the story of the Hobbit and not tried to be a dark LOTR prequel. I believe that was the problem, more than the overly sharp look of HFR filming.
  4. The weird video game-ish sequence with the pre-incarnate Nazgul and Galadriel and Saruman and Sauron and ... everyone ... well ... no words. That was awful. It should have been one of the first things to hit the editing room floor. I don't know how anyone could have thought keeping that scene was a good idea. It almost ruined the entire movie for me.
  5. That said — once that painfully poor scene was finished and we got back to the real story, the remainder of the film did turn for the better. Thorin's death scene was poignant. The scene at the end with Gandalf and Bilbo just sitting together with their pipes was beautifully understated and perhaps my favorite scene of all six Peter Jackson Middle-Earth films.

Bottom line, I think Peter Jackson and company tried too hard on this one. The Hobbit "trilogy-that's-not-a-trilogy" was bloated and a tad convoluted, with some great moments and some terrible moments. Nonetheless, it's amazing to me that it's possible to see both the Shire and Mordor on the big screen. It still gives me goosebumps. Whether it's 24fps or 48fps, I'm very happy that I live in a day and age when it's possible to view a story and a world that's had so much influence on my life in such a beautiful way.

What did you think of the Hobbit Movies? It'd be fun to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Have a happy 2015!

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
— Thorin Oakenshield