Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lord of the Rings (again) and The Hobbit

Yesterday, for the third time in my life, I sat down and watched all three Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy back to back. The movies ran from 10:30 in the morning to 10:30 at night. While we've done big group viewing parties in the past, this time it was just my family. Rachel and Ben were there for the entire thing, Carol missed part of the Two Towers.

My thoughts are pretty much the same as the last two times we did this. Fantastic films. Given that we're in the home stretch for The Hobbit trilogy, I was thinking about those films and the differences between the two.

The Lord of the Rings has only a few action sequences that are "over the top" (in the sense of being outrageous or unbelievable) and they all involve Legolas. In Fellowship, there's no moment  that makes you go "No way, that couldn't happen". In the Two Towers, there are two such moments, when a standing Legolas mounts a running horse, and when he surfs down the stairs at Helms Deep, killing as he goes. In Return of the King, there's only one, the famous "That still only counts as one," sequence where Legolas takes down an entire Oliphaunt and its crew.

But you know what? None of these was so over the top that they take you out of the film. All three moments are Jackson stretching his legs and having a bit of fun. None of them are so ridiculous that they show the seams of the filmmaking.

By contrast, the first two Hobbit movies are ripe with such moments. The encounter with the Trolls when the Dwarves wail on the trolls for three minutes and do absolutely no damage, the stone giants fighting on the mountains (carrying the Dwarves and Bilbo along for the ride), Bilbo's impossibly long fall, the dwarves escape and impossibly long fall from Goblin Town, the fight with the spiders, the ridiculous barrel fight, the fight with Smaug, and the impossible giant gold statue. All of these are so CGI and so over the top, they completely take you out of the film.

When I was a kid, the Rankin Bass Hobbit movie was on TV. It's really excellent and if you haven't seen it, you should. The sequence in Goblin Town was portrayed very closely to the way it's described in the book. Goblin Town consists of caves and as the dwarves escape, they're running through darkened tunnels. As a kid, it thrilled me. In Jackson's movie, Goblin Town is a huge, CGI monstrosity that not only couldn't exist in real life, it doesn't make any sense for the movie. And the action sequences that take place in Goblin Town are the same - unrealistic, and mostly unthrilling.

I appreciate that The Hobbit films have a different, lighter and more storybook, tone than The Lord of the Rings. It was absolutely the right choice. And I do love them, flaws and all. But the impossible, CGI action sequences take away from the story rather than add anything.

Some day, we'll have an all day watching of the Extended Editions of The Hobbit films.

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