Tag Archives: Review

Breaking Bad Finale

Awhile back, I revisited the finales of Battlestar Galactica and LOST, two shows which started out strong but concluded to mixed reviews or outright hostility by fans. Fortunately, the finale to Breaking Bad evaded that fate. If I have any criticism, it’s that it was too short. On the other hand, the last episode was more of a coda to a story that really climaxed two episodes earlier in “Ozymandius” and all but concluded in “Granite State.”

In “Ozymandius,” the house of cards that Walter White maintained finally collapsed and he lost everything that he thought mattered to him: his family, his freedom, his fortune, and his powers of persuasion. This is the episode where all of Walt’s fears finally manifest and he definitively falls.

“Granite State” shows us a defeated man in exile, bereft of family and freedom. His only companion is a barrel of cash that he can’t spend or get to his family. Its only use is to pay a fixer to keep him alive for no obvious reason other than inertia. It’s a portrait of a man in the process of ego destruction, as he accepts that he’s not really his fearsome Heisenberg persona, nor is he the cowardly, self-destructive Walter White. What emerged at the end of that episode was a man who’s no longer afraid, because he’d already lost everything. He has no illusions about who he is or what he’s doing, and his only remaining goal is to get his money to his children and kill a few Nazis.

“Felina” shows us Walt in what may be his purest form. Freed from fear and greed, he can pursue his goals without looking over his shoulder for fear of retribution or discovery. It’s important to note that all of his previous schemes in the series were borne out of paranoia or fear to protect himself, his family, or Jesse. In this final episode, he finally gets to act with a clarity of purpose denied to him during the previous two years. He’s largely unemotional during this episode, and the emotions he displays seem to be manufactured for the sake of his plan. It’s a far cry from the often-blubbering Walter White who always bargained like a coward with his enemies when false bravado failed him. The Walter in “Felina” is more a force of will than a man.

Since Walt was defeated in “Ozymandius” and Heisenberg finally hung up his hat in “Granite State,” the man we see in “Felina” appears like a ghost to his family and former associates, and an avenging angel to his few remaining enemies. After he completes his two final tasks, he dies in the only place he truly lived: a meth lab of his own design and creation.

The ending to Breaking Bad was one of the most satisfying conclusions that I’ve seen in a very long time, but I was surprised to discover that some folks on the internet thought it was either too satisfying or that it couldn’t possibly have happened because Walt succeeds in his goals.

The opinion that the episode was flawed because it was too satisfying can’t really be addressed. These people are broken and it’s about as useful to address their concerns as it is to hold a rational discussion with a guy who’s yelling at a park bench because it keeps attacking his elephant.

The second opinion, that the episode was some sort of fever dream of Walt’s as he’s freezing to death in that car in New Hampshire, comes from the same feeling that the episode was too satisfying, but at least it’s a coherent theory. It’s puzzling, because there’s only a couple of things that Walt’s trying to do in this episode that are fairly modest and easily achieved for a man of his accomplishments. The criticism is that everything seems to go Walt’s way in this episode. This apparently defies belief, because Walt is never shown to be lucky or successful in any of his previous schemes during the series…

The high school chemistry teacher who created an impossibly pure and improbably-colored crystal meth preferred by discerning addicts, and completely destroyed the most sophisticated meth production and distribution network in the Southwest within a year, could never spook a couple of squares and kill a half-dozen white trash nazis. That’s crazy, right?

The guy who rigged a bomb to the wheelchair of an invalid man, who just happened to be the former enforcer of a Mexican drug lord, to blow-up the Southwest’s premier meth manufacturer, who just happened to have seen his partner shot by the same enforcer 25 years before, and who had recently poisoned that same Mexican drug lord and his entire crew in one fell swoop, could never rig a remote firing mechanism for an M60 to shoot through the flimsy walls of a white trash nazi hideout, right? That’s just too clean. It’s too neat.

How in the hell are we supposed to believe all these crazy coincidences that suddenly occur in the final episode? It’s completely out of character for a show with a personal injury lawyer who just happens to provide the exact criminal contacts our main characters need when they get in a fix.

If you think that the fairly mundane tasks that Walt performs in the finale are improbable, then why not just believe that the whole series is the fevered imagination of a high-school chemistry teacher who just learned he has terminal cancer? That makes about as much sense as believing that a man who destroyed all of his enemies and excelled in the criminal underworld couldn’t drive from New Hampshire to clear-up a couple of minor loose ends in New Mexico.

The practical reason why there aren’t any crazy shenanigans or plots-gone-wrong in the final episode is because it’s the final episode. You don’t need surprise complications to introduce new plots because the story is over. There isn’t another season out there waiting for the writers to tug on loose plot threads to see what happens, so everything seems to go Walt’s way because there’s no reason from a storytelling standpoint for them not to.

I think the folks who entertain this bizarre theory are puritanical moralists who, for all their professed love for sophisticated story-telling, really just want to see the guilty punished like a ’50s TV show. For these moralists, crime cannot pay and the bad guys cannot succeed, so they instead choose to believe an ending that doesn’t make sense, so that their illusions of cosmic justice can be maintained.

If they really wanted a stupid, shitty ending that badly, they should’ve been been watching another show the entire time.

Man of Steel Review

 

The "S" Stands for Shit
The “S” Stands for Shit

Man of Steel has the form of a Superman story, but none of the substance. The film is disorganized, emotionless, and fundamentally changes the character of Superman for no reason other than it can.
The fundamental fault of the movie is its complete lack of dramatic weight. Instead of following a linear path, the story flips between Young Clark and Old Clark in an apparent attempt to economically cover Superman’s backstory, but the cumulative result is a profound soulless-ness that pervades the entire film.
Director Zack Snyder doesn’t let a moment settle or allow tension to build, either within a scene or through the course of the film. It’s like he feels that once the exposition is covered and the main points are hit, it’s time to jump cut to the next scene.
Snyder is either afraid or incapable of letting the emotional weight of a scene land, and it becomes more infuriating as the film progresses, because moments that should have a strong impact lack any actual resonance.
For example, Jor-El launches his only son toward an uncertain future from a doomed world. His mother resists letting him go, but she knows that this is the only hope for her son and her people. Nearly every version of the Superman mythos clearly communicates the uncertainty, danger, and sadness of this moment, yet Man of Steel does the impossible and actually sucks the life from this sequence and transforms it into a mechanical series of events that you ultimately care nothing about.

Welp, Zod killed the Council/Welp, Jor-El was in CGI peril/Welp, Jor-El’s CGI thing died/Welp, Jor-El’s dead/Welp, there goes the baby in the Spaceship/Welp, Zod’s sent to the Phantom Zone/Welp, there’s Clark on a crab boat.

The entire movie is like this. Just as something approaching human emotion appears, it jump-cuts to something else, as if it’s afraid it’ll catch cooties or something. When the time comes for Clark’s father to die, I thought for sure that this pivotal moment in the Superman mythos would portray actual feeling and depth, but nope, Pa Kent dies and we jump-cut to another scene. I felt like Charlie Brown after Lucy yanked the football away yet again.
This movie is the equivalent to listening to a computer program play Beethoven: technically sound, but incapable of moving the listener.
By the time the inevitable CGI battle portion of the movie began, I really didn’t care about any of the characters and actually started rooting for the villains. Hell, even the US military is shooting at Superman, because he’s causing as much property damage and displaying a complete disregard for human life as the supposed villains at this point. Later on, he’ll do his part to destroy half of Metropolis, and not care a single whit for the people in the buildings that he’s throwing things into.
What’s also puzzling is that there is one kernel of a sub-plot that could’ve been exploited to provide at least one emotional payoff in this movie, but it’s never used. We’re shown that Clark is often bullied, but can’t fight back due to his powers. He’s isolated, alone, and feels like a freak. He’s spent his entire life swallowing his pride and allowing himself to be humiliated by barely-civilized talking apes whom he could easily kill with the slightest flick of his wrist.
Once he’s presented with beings who cannot be so easily killed, you’d think the movie would allow Superman to unleash all that pent-up rage and almost joyously beat the ever-loving crap out of them. At least for a moment, let him know what it feels like to fight back and then let him realize whether it actually makes him feel good, or understand that it’s ultimately pointless and dissatisfying. Either way, let him learn something. Let him grow as a character. But no, the movie treats his fights with the other Kryptonians as rote CGI battles with no emotional or psychological depth. The battles only serve as spectacle, nothing more.
Still, this whole mess was just a mediocre Superman movie until Superman straight-up kills a guy, at which point it ceases being a Superman movie, because SUPERMAN. DOES. NOT. KILL. 
Many of the creatives working on this movie are the same people who made the new Batman films and they made it a point to ensure that Batman’s moral code remains intact, yet the superhero who’s specifically known for his unerring regard for life is the one you choose to deliberately snap someone’s neck? Oh sure, let’s have the demigod be the one who decides to kill when things get a little too difficult. Let’s have the hero with the ability to completely subjugate humanity on a whim be the one with a gray moral area. That makes a lot of sense.
Superman is supposed to be smart. He’s supposed to devise clever solutions to seemingly intractable problems, but in this movie he’s got all the intelligence and moral fortitude of George W. Bush or a 12 year old playing Call of Duty on the Xbox.

Welp, this is too hard, I guess I better kill this guy…and destroy half of Smallville and Metropolis in the process, not to mention the tens of thousands of people killed while I duke it out with another demigod. It’s collateral damage, but it’s for a good cause.

The entire second half of this movie is a visual adaptation of the adage: When elephants fight, only the grass suffers.
If the movie had earned that moment, then maybe — maybe — this fundamental betrayal of the character would be tolerable, but it doesn’t and it isn’t.
In the end, I suppose the best thing I can say about Man of Steel is that it makes Superman Returns look really good.

Jurassic Park 3D Review

Jurassic Park, the last good adventure movie made by Steven Spielberg, has been re-released in theaters, but this time in glorious 3D! Actually, I’m not a fan of 3D. It’s gimmicky, it’s annoying, it doesn’t display fast-moving objects in the foreground very well, and (paradoxically) it can be distracting enough to prevent you from feeling as if you’re “in the movie.” However, the 3D transfer of this film is really well done and I actually enjoyed it.
In fact, Jurassic Park does not look like a 20 year old movie at all. It’s sharp and crisp, and since the effects aren’t outdated, this movie genuinely looks like a brand new release. I was surprised with how clean the movie looked and while the 3D didn’t really add anything to the movie, it didn’t detract from the experience, either. It looks like they actually put some thought into the conversion process and took real care in its composition and presentation. It only fails in a couple of scenes where, in an effort to force perspective, the actors appear to have been “cut out” of the picture and then re-pasted in front of a green screen. Other than that, I would call this 3D conversion a real technical and artistic achievement. It’s still a gimmick, but this is the first time I really didn’t care.
It was nice to see the movie again in a theater. I was 20 years old when it was first released and while watching it again doesn’t quite have the same sense of anticipation and wonder, I still found it to be eminently re-watchable. Instead of anxiously waiting to see the dinosaurs for the first time (back then, they never showed a single shot of the dinosaurs in the run-up to the movie’s release), I anticipated favorite moments like Newman’s squee! at seeing the fake Barbasol can:
Nedry Squee
Or the first Tyrannosaur attack. Watching the T-Rex step over the concrete wall and roar on a flat screen TV, no matter how impressive your sound system or how large your HDTV, cannot compare to seeing it on the big screen with 12.1 surround sound. Our leather seats vibrated in sync to the glasses of water on the screen and the T-Rex’s roar was pants-shittingly loud, clear, and terrifying. It’s the kind of immersive experience and nuanced sound design you don’t get with many of today’s movies, who overwhelm you with mind-numbing explosions and maxed-out bass.
Of course, the most anticipated moment was this one:
Clever Girl
Both my son and I turned to each other and grinned when we saw this scene.
Overall, Jurassic Park remains a wonderful movie and a reminder of a time when Spielberg could still make fun, well-paced, adventure movies where you suddenly realize halfway through that you’ve been smiling the whole time. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I miss movies like this, and Jurassic Park was the last of the great 80’s adventure movies (it was released in 1993, but whatever). It’s ironic that the movie that ushered-in the age of CGI was itself the last of the truly great effects-driven adventure films.
Unlike today’s movies, where you never feel any sense of real danger or peril to the characters because you know they’re being chased by a fancy cartoon in a giant green screen room, Jurassic Park’s animals still look like they’re real things occupying real space, because they used mostly animatronic and in-frame effects augmented with CGI, instead of completely replacing everything with CGI.
Combined with excellent sound design, a great score by John Williams, and top-notch camera work, you actually feel tension and excitement when the “monsters” are on screen.

Still Actually Exciting
Still Actually Exciting

The 3D conversion is excellent, the movie is as good as you remember it, Jeff Goldblum’s naked, glistening chest will not be denied, and seeing it on the big screen in a nice theater can’t be beat. Check it out.
Addendum: I always wondered why Spielberg focused on the flock of pelicans flying outside the helicopter at the end of the movie. It’s an odd inclusion and it seems incongruous with the rest of the film. It doesn’t appear to be a callback or bookend to the beginning of the film, and it’s not just a superfluous shot of some pelicans flying in the light of the setting sun, as it initially seems to be. Spielberg goes back to a shot of a single pelican and lingers on it for several seconds, so there’s an intent there. I’ve never been able to figure it out.
It suddenly occurred to me that the final shot of the pelicans is a coda to one of the main themes highlighted at the beginning of the movie: some dinosaurs evolved into birds. We don’t need to recreate dinosaurs, because in a way they’re still here with us.
The last shot of the dinosaurs on the island featured the T-Rex roaring as the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner fluttered down in front of it. It’s the culmination of a failed science experiment that tried to bring long-extinct creatures back to life and control them, but ended in chaos and tragedy because these creatures do not belong in this epoch.
The final shot of the pelicans reminds us that we don’t need to clone dinosaurs, because they’re all around us and in a form that’s evolved to live in our world. And maybe we should appreciate the world we have instead of trying to resurrect a dead one.

Battlestar Galactica and LOST Endings Revisited

Nearly four years ago, two of the best genre shows from the last decade finally concluded. I decided to re-watch the Battlestar Galactica finale, Daybreak, and the LOST series finale, The End, to see if I felt the same way about them as when they aired. At the time, I had two very different reactions to each series’ conclusion. Would putting a few years between me and the last episodes lessen my massive disappointment in Galactica’s end or soften my general satisfaction with LOST’s conclusion?
I’d given up on LOST after the second season out of a mix of frustration and anger. Nothing was being answered and absolutely none of the characters ever got together and compared notes about what they saw and thought of everything. A giant dragon with the head of a Panda could suddenly appear, eat a few of the anonymous crash survivors, piss a stream of cotton candy over everyone else, then suddenly blink out of existence, and Kate would be like, “Oooh, Sawyer, you’re so mysterious and untrustworthy because Jack says you are, but I’m mysteriously drawn to you at the same time.”
Longing look at Jack in the distance arguing with Locke.
“I’m sooo….torn.”
And Claire would be going on about how a Charlie ate her bay-bay or something while Hurley started gorging on the cotton candy, his hair and beard encrusted with warm chunks of the pink, sticky stuff that moments before had exited the strange beast’s genitalia.

WALT!

Seriously, nobody ever just talked to each other about what was going on. They kept the weird things they saw to themselves, as if it gave them leverage over everyone else, and instead focused on how much they distrusted each other. I can’t shake the feeling that it was a cheat used by the writers to keep milking everything out and preventing them from actually having to answer any of the smaller mysteries, much less the greater ones.
Galactica, on the other hand, wore its angst on its sleeve, but its first couple of seasons were so well written, so well-acted, and so well-produced that I still believe that it’s the best science fiction ever put on screen, big or small. The characters were realistic and beautifully flawed. Their fears, doubts, ideals, and paranoia bounced off each other and propelled the show forward.
But something freaky happened midway through both shows’ runs: they swapped bodies. Galactica, which had built its reputation on strong characterization and exploring issues of war, torture, and what it means to be human, suddenly became obsessed with The Mysteries. Who were the Final Five cylons? Where was Earth? What does it all mean? The show’s finely woven threads began unraveling as its characters started acting against their established personalities in service to an increasingly nonsensical plot.
Meanwhile, LOST had reclaimed the strength of its characters. It still had its wacky plots, but Jack, Sawyer, and company didn’t suddenly start doing things out of character to force the plot to work. By the time Season 4 rolled around, I didn’t care if they discovered the “Mystery of the Island,” I just wanted Desmond to find Penny. I wanted Jin and Sun to be happy with each other. I wanted Ben to keep getting the shit beat out of him. I wanted Jack to finally let go of all his hang-ups and just roll with everything.
As I got back into LOST, I figured out that I hadn’t abandoned the show because the writers were constantly churning out new mysteries without answering the old ones, or because the characters didn’t respond like actual people to the weirdness surrounding them. I stopped watching because they killed Mr. Eko. I loved that guy. He was Locke, if Locke had been a child soldier in Africa who abandoned his own plans so his brother could have a better life, instead of a serial fuck-up who got conned out of a kidney and use of his legs by his father, and eventually his life by Ben Linus.
For Locke, the Island allowed him to play at being a romantic and manly Great White Hunter and explorer. Mr. Eko had been there, done that, and gotten the ear necklace to prove it. He was there to seek absolution, not validation.
Locke came face-to-face with the Smoke Monster and proclaimed that he had seen into the heart of the Island. Mr. Eko came face-to-face with the Smoke Monster and prepared to beat the shit out of it with his Jesus stick. He kind of lost that one, but still, he was a strong, engaging character and his death pissed me off so much that I couldn’t watch the show anymore.
As I started watching the show again, my focus on the mysteries receded into the distance while my concerns over the characters came to the fore. I think that’s why I’m one of the 10 people on the Internet who actually liked the series finale. The finale accomplished what I wanted it to: it gave the characters a resolution to their personal stories. I left the show knowing that each character had reached the end of their journey and most of them had found what they were looking for.
I know a lot of people were dissatisfied with the show’s inadequate or non-existent answers to all of the mysteries, but I didn’t really care about them in the end. They weren’t important. When you read or watch a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, do you care where the island is located, or how it got there, or why it’s populated with strange people and myriad creatures with magical powers? No, that’s just the setting. The play is the thing! The characters’ interactions with each other and their conflicting motivations are what matter, and that’s what Galactica forgot.
Galactica became so focused on resolving all (or most) of its plot questions that it forgot to take care of its characters. It had spent most of its third season and all of its fourth season steadily destroying its characters and turning them into props to serve the machinations of a convoluted plot, so that by the time the finale came around, most of them were hollow shells of their former selves.
I’m not going to address the whole god thing, but I still can’t abide the absolute ridiculousness of the idea that everyone in the fleet would suddenly leave all technology behind to go roughing it in pre-Ice Age Earth. This was a group of people who couldn’t even agree on whether to even land on the previous habitable planet and now they suddenly decide to chuck it all away and venture forth with nothing but the clothes on their backs? Wouldn’t the doctor at least want his life-saving medicine and medical equipment, just in case, you know, all the people who’ve never been on this planet inevitably fall victim to the fungal, viral, or bacterial infections that their bodies have no defense against?
I’m certain the underclass of the fleet couldn’t wait to get off those ships and away from the rest of the assholes, but I guarantee that there was a sizable group of people who enjoyed the comforts of civilization and wouldn’t let it go just because Apollo suddenly decided that they all needed to return to the land. But none of that mattered because the plot demanded that breaking the historical cycle depended on everyone abandoning technology, so that’s what happened, whether it made sense or not.
Still, I wanted to see at least some resolution for these people I’d come to know and care about. Why did Apollo say he’d never see his father again? Adama has a ship capable of bridging the vast gulf between the stars in the blink of an eye, but he can’t cruise a few hundred miles to catch up with his son every once in awhile? The main dynamic between Adama and Apollo was the normal tension between father and son, but also the anger felt by Apollo towards his father over the death of his brother, as well as their clashing ideals. Over the course of the series, their relationship alternately improved and deteriorated, but at the end you’d think they had finally come to respect and value each another. But nope, Adama tells his son, “I’d rather spend the remainder of my life alone on a strange world than to ever see you again.”
And Starbuck didn’t even give Apollo the decency of a goodbye. She just blinked out of existence when he turned his head, like Batman.
You know, with the ending that we got, it would’ve been better had the show ended shortly after they found the irradiated, uninhabitable husk of Original Cylon Earth. It would have at least been a fitting end and in keeping with the series’ bleak tone. Instead, the writers opted for a “happy” ending, where our ragtag fleet finds its way to Our Earth because the coordinates are somehow related to the notes of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower.
Listen, I get where the writers were going with this. They wanted to express the idea that there’s some Jungian collective unconscious that humanity taps into, no matter the time and place. But Dylan? Really? For the entirety of the show’s run, they had accomplished the same thing by using old Sanskrit prayers, traditional instruments, and the like. You know, things that have actually stood the test of time on our own world and tap into universal emotions and imagery for most of humanity, rather than the fandom of people from a certain generation. I’m not saying Bob Dylan is some forgettable slouch, but if you’re going to go this route, why not something from Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Holszt, or someone whose art has proven appeal amongst a wide breadth of humanity and not just American white males between the ages of 40-65?
I can only imagine a television series 20 years from now where the answer to the grand puzzle of some cosmic drama far in humanity’s past turns out to be the lyrics to Smells Like Teen Spirit.
The distance of a few years between the end of both shows hasn’t really changed my reaction to them, though I’m not as disappointed with Galactica’s finale as I’d originally been. At the time, I was so angry with it that it retroactively ruined the entire show for me. It’s only now that I can go back and re-watch some episodes, as well as get around to watching Caprica.
Ultimately, Galactica’s lack of satisfying character resolution was exacerbated by absolutely insipid plot resolutions. If one had been done well but not the other, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but they completely screwed the pooch on both.
On the other hand, LOST still holds-up for me. As I said before, I cared more about the characters than the plot, so I’m satisfied with it. The show raised so many questions and introduced so many plot points that tying it all together, while at the same time providing a satisfying conclusion for all of the characters, would’ve been impossible and probably resulted in the same hot mess as Galactica’s finale. Instead, the writers chose to focus on the characters and passed on answering a lot of the minor mysteries so that at least one half was done correctly. It just so happens that it’s the half I actually cared about.

The Hobbit Review: Standard Format

I went to see The Hobbit in standard format today and as I hoped, the movie is ten times better than the high-frame rate version. Most of the issues I had with the film on my initial viewing didn’t really turn out to be as significant as I thought, mainly because I could maintain my suspension of disbelief and stay in the movie instead of constantly being thrown out of it by scenes that just did not look right. It turns out the movie is really quite good. The pacing isn’t as bad as I thought and the “darker” elements that I thought Jackson was forcing into the story flowed naturally and didn’t detract from the film much at all. I laughed, I cheered, and I became emotionally invested in the story and characters instead of feeling an odd detachment from everything. The epic scenes actually feel epic in the standard format, instead of coming-off like a video game cutscene or worse, an SNL parody.
After seeing the standard version of the film I can see where the High Frame Rate has its advantages. It’s really good at eliminating motion blur during action scenes, plus the CGI looks far better than in a standard frame rate; however, this type of fidelity comes at the expense of live actors on a brightly-lit set. The hyper-realistic look has its place, but not in a live-action movie. If what I’m looking at appears to be a TV show filmed on video or even a live play, I’m expecting other cues that just aren’t there and I’m unable to maintain my suspension of disbelief. If I’m watching a play, I can hear the actors walking across the stage and listen to their voices echo in the theater. I can smell the sets and enjoy a direct connection to the play itself, but the atmosphere of a movie theater is so completely different that watching something with the fidelity of a play yet none of the other sensory cues just feels wrong. Even if I’m not consciously aware of it, my brain is.
I can see the format benefitting an intimate character drama, but until the lighting issues are fixed I’m dubious even that wouldn’t cross into Uncanny Valley territory; however, all animated movies should now be shown at the higher frame rate because I’m certain they would look amazing.
I am glad I gave the High Frame Rate version a chance, because at least I now know that much like 3D, I’m not missing out on anything.

The Hobbit Review: High Frame Rate

(Warning: Possible, minor spoilers. Nothing earth-shattering, but you’ve been warned.)
The Hobbit is a good movie, but the 48 FPS (High Frame Rate) version just does not work. It was so distracting that I couldn’t really get into the movie. A lot of the time, it looked like we were watching a behind-the-scenes featurette on a DVD or a made-for-TV movie with a large effects budget. There were even a few moments where the movie appeared to be a well-staged play. My son said that it looked like something you’d see at a theme park, where they get some of the actors from the movie to show up in a video for an interactive ride. I found the whole effect distracting to the point that I now have to watch the movie again in a standard frame rate to see how it looks as a film, rather than a TV documentary with legendary creatures.
Frame rate issues aside, the movie itself is very good, but Peter Jackson appears to be exhibiting early signs of Lucasification, as he’s clearly indulging his every whim in this movie (the frame rate issue was the first clue). For those wondering how in the world he can make three very long movies out of a very short children’s book, the answer seems to be: by making every scene several minutes longer than it needs to be. It’s been more than a decade since I last read The Hobbit but it looks to me that Jackson is including every single scene from the book, and quite a few that aren’t, and each is given several minutes worth of footage to boot. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “You little shits want to rake me over the coals about Tom Bombadil? Here’s five minutes of a guy reviving a hedgehog.”
Jackson also appears to be in the same quandary as Tolkien back in the 1950s. After writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien went back to The Hobbit and tried to give it the same feel and tone as the latter books. He got as far as re-writing the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter before abandoning the project. The fundamental stumbling block is that The Hobbit is a children’s tale about a guy taken out of his comfort zone and propelled into an adventure where he encounters strange and funny creatures along the way. The book’s tone isn’t serious and it doesn’t even take itself seriously. It’s a light-hearted, witty, fast-paced story where the only thing at stake is whether his dwarven group will be able to slay the dragon and reclaim their home. You can’t shoehorn-in the Lord of the Rings’ tone without utterly destroying what makes “The Hobbit,” The Hobbit.
Unlike Tolkien, Jackson doesn’t seem to want to recognize The Hobbit for what it is and let it be, as he persists in a vain effort to dovetail it thematically with his version of The Lord of the Rings. That’s really hard to do when you have slapstick trolls, Jabba the Cockney Goblin King, and Radagast the Brown piloting a high-speed sleigh drawn by a dozen jackrabbits. The juxtaposition of the Witch King of Angmar, dread and terrible leader of the Nazgul and recently resurrected by the Necromancer by fel, dark magic to once again cast a shadow over the lands of Middle-Earth, attempting to slay a crazy man with bird shit in his hair, doesn’t really work. You have to choose either to show The Hobbit or a darker movie inspired by The Hobbit; you can’t do both. Factor in the high frame rate, which makes it look almost like a College Humor video parody of the Lord of the Rings, and the entire effort teeters on the brink of ridiculousness.
Still, The Hobbit is a good, fun movie and all of the criticisms I’ve outlined above do not break the film. In fact, I actually enjoyed it. I think that if I saw it again at a normal frame rate, most of the detractions that stood out before would likely disappear into the background. The High Frame Rate really exposes flaws in a movie that would otherwise normally be forgotten or missed. It’s not yet ready for prime time, at least until filmmakers are able to figure out how to cheat and hide certain things like they can with standard movies. When I see it again, I’ll follow-up with a post with some thoughts on how the movie goes without the distraction of the high frame rate (edit: and here it is).