Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Epic Fail: How Peter Jackson Misunderstood Tolkien

 

Boromir2

The new Hobbit trilogy is a one pound bag with three pounds of manure. Some failures are predictable: we know that Michael Bay’s Middle Earth would have more explosions than elves and that Tim Burton would spend most of our time in Mirkwood and Moria. Peter Jackson made a masterpiece with his Fellowship of the Ring, perhaps because a limited budget forced him to keep the focus on the fairy tale and to edit out some of J.R.R. Tolkien’s weaker moments (I am rewatching it as I type to remind myself what a good movie looks like). Jackson wisely cut Tom Bombadil and Glorfindel, and he also built up Arwen’s role so her later marriage to Aragorn would make sense. In contrast, Jackson seems to have gotten an unlimited budget for his Hobbit trilogy, which falls short because Tolkien’s fairy tale was never meant to be an epic.

The focus of an epic is a dazzling hero who’s greater than ordinary men: either blessed by the gods — like the near invulnerable Achilles or the wily Odysseus — or he has godlike powers, like Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, or Spiderman. These heroes overcome monsters in part through their powers, but mostly because they have the moral character to use their powers wisely; if not, they come to a tragic end because they misuse their blessings like Heracles and Oedipus. But whether heroic or tragic, the epic’s hero is on a grand scale.

In contrast, a fairy tale puts an ordinary person into an extraordinary situation, so that readers can see the hero’s character. Jack gets his magic beans and slays a giant. Cinderella goes to the ball and charms a prince. Alice falls down the rabbit hole and explores Wonderland. Their other similarities aside, the difference between an epic and a fairy tale comes from what kind of hero the protagonist is.

If Tolkien had wanted The Hobbit to be an epic, Thorin would have been the (tragic) hero. He’s a wily leader of dwarves, heir to the throne, a skilled warrior, and he has much to be proud of. But Tolkien heeded St. Paul’s advice: “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” Tolkien chose Bilbo Baggins: shorter even than a dwarf, weaker than many human children, and so small that he uses a dagger for a sword.

Tolkien’s fairy tale inverts the conventions of epics. Instead of a great man being the hero, we have a little hobbit. Instead of a courageous adventurer who dreams of slaying dragons, we have someone who dreams of eggs and bacon. Instead of a warrior, we have a burglar. Tolkien’s Hobbit is a small gem because it’s a fairy tale, not an epic.

Thus when Jackson tried to turned the story into an epic, it failed. With the bottomless budget, Jackson stretched the story across three movies and threw in so many subplots that we lose sight of Bilbo for most of the trilogy. By adding Legolas, the deputy master of Laketown, a female elf who was nowhere in the novels, and more chase scenes than a game of Grand Theft Auto, Jackson unintentionally proves that more is less. Jackson manages some nice touches — King Thranduil riding an Irish Elk and King Dain speaking in a wonderful Scottish burr — but these moments are too far apart in the nine hours of film, and can’t undo its fatal flaw.

Perhaps one day there’ll be a version of The Hobbit with the epic fail edited out. A Producer’s Cut would, of course, be a fairy tale.

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  1. Randy Webster Member

    Is that the guy who lost his head in Game of Thrones?

    • #1
    • December 28, 2014, at 1:24 PM PST
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  2. Randy Webster Member

    Lol. I guess I should be a little more specific. Is that Ned Stark?

    • #2
    • December 28, 2014, at 1:25 PM PST
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  3. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Yep, that’s Sean Bean, who played both Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring and Ned Stark in Game of Thrones.

    • #3
    • December 28, 2014, at 1:29 PM PST
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  4. The Cloaked Gaijin Member

    Mike Hubbard:

    Tom Bombadil and Glorfindel are wonderful characters, but they aren’t integral to The Lord of the Rings, so Jackson wisely cut them. It was also logical to build up Arwen’s role so her marriage to Aragorn would make sense.

    People may not like Tom Bombadil or Glorfindel, but that’s the original story.

    I guess Peter Jackson is more wise than Professor Tolkien?

    • #4
    • December 28, 2014, at 6:16 PM PST
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  5. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    I agree with you in general, but you must admit that the latter portion of The Hobbit (the book) does veer into epic territory, at least in tone. The dialogue between Thorin and the Men of Lake-town, and the prose describing the Battle of Five Armies, reads just like similar passages in Lord Of The Rings. I think it entirely appropriate that Jackson should portray those parts of the story in fittingly epic style.

    But you’re right: in the book, that’s all the more effective because of the contrast. It’s just a little adventure story, and from Bilbo’s point of view he’s just a little bystander watching these epic events that he’s somehow gotten himself wrapped up in. Jackson’s mistake with the third Hobbit movie was taking the focus off Bilbo, who has a shockingly small amount of screen time considering he’s the title character.

    I wish Jackson had stuck with the original plan and done The Hobbit as two movies rather than three. The romance between Kili and Tauriel is indefensible, not only because Tauriel is Jackson’s invention, but also because it undermines the uniqueness of Gimli’s later infatuation with Galadriel.

    • #5
    • December 28, 2014, at 10:14 PM PST
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  6. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    The Cloaked Gaijin:

    Mike Hubbard:

    Tom Bombadil and Glorfindel are wonderful characters, but they aren’t integral to The Lord of the Rings, so Jackson wisely cut them. It was also logical to build up Arwen’s role so her marriage to Aragorn would make sense.

    People may not like Tom Bombadil or Glorfindel, but that’s the original story.

    I guess Peter Jackson is more wise than Professor Tolkien?

    Movies are not books, and when you make an adaptation, some things have to change. Cutting Bombadil makes all kinds of sense, since that character (by design) had nothing whatsoever to do with anything going on elsewhere in Middle-earth. It’s a fun little detour in the book, but in a movie it would just kill the pacing.

    Glorfindel is barely a character in Lord of the Rings; he’s really just a generic Elf-lord who shows up to carry Frodo back to Rivendell. (Tolkien decided retroactively that he was the same Glorfindel who figured in The Silmarillion, but that actually wasn’t the intention when he wrote LotR.) Arwen is a much more important character, and I didn’t mind seeing her given more screen time, because it made the wedding more meaningful.

    I’m an obsessive Tolkien fan, and I complain about a lot of the changes Jackson made. But I will also concede that he made a few improvements. (Another example: Jackson is careful to arrange things so that no character other than a Ringbearer ever touches the Ring. Tolkien, perhaps because only gradually came to realize the nature of the Ring, was sloppier than that; he has Gandalf actually handle the Ring at one point, which should have been disastrous.)

    • #6
    • December 28, 2014, at 10:22 PM PST
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  7. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Jackson stripped the Scouring of the Shire, which was the whole point of the books anyway. Perhaps it hit a little too close to home.

    • #7
    • December 28, 2014, at 10:58 PM PST
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  8. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Mike Hubbard: Peter Jackson made a masterpiece with his Fellowship of the Ring, perhaps because a limited budget forced him to keep the focus on the fairy tale and to edit out some of J.R.R.

    Stipulating that FOTR is the most fairy tale-like part of the books and the movies, we nonetheless think of it as part of an epic trilogy. So who’s the epic hero? Aragorn fits the role, but — as with the Hobbit — the dramatic focus is much more on the hobbits.

    That said, I think you’re very much in the right: in FOTR Jackson edited down an epic to expose the fairy tale within; with the Hobbit movies, he’s added material to turn a fairy tale into something it never was.

    • #8
    • December 29, 2014, at 5:09 AM PST
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  9. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.: The romance between Kili and Tauriel is indefensible, not only because Tauriel is Jackson’s invention, but also because it undermines the uniqueness of Gimli’s later infatuation with Galadriel.

    Word.

    • #9
    • December 29, 2014, at 5:10 AM PST
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  10. Dan Campbell Member

    Also a Tolkien obsessive. There, I said it. Hated the LotR movies. They had a few good moments, but those were mighty scarce. Ok, I get that things must be edited out because he only had 9 hours to work with. But then don’t add things in that weren’t there in the original. I’m looking at you, attack of the wargs and the dream sequence on the way to Helm’s Deep.

    Saw the first Hobbit movie and knew I would be unable to watch the other two. I haven’t.

    I pity the children whose only experience of Tolkien is these six movies.

    • #10
    • December 29, 2014, at 7:14 AM PST
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  11. Bob Wainwright Member

    The most epic of all the Jackson fails was how the Crack of Doom scene was handled, making it ambiguous as to whether the destruction of the ring was an accident. That accidental nature of the ring’s destruction revealed a lot about Tolkien’s view of grace.

    • #11
    • December 29, 2014, at 7:15 AM PST
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  12. Mike Hubbard Member
    Mike HubbardJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Cloaked Gaijin:

    Mike Hubbard:

    Tom Bombadil and Glorfindel are wonderful characters, but they aren’t integral to The Lord of the Rings, so Jackson wisely cut them. It was also logical to build up Arwen’s role so her marriage to Aragorn would make sense.

    People may not like Tom Bombadil or Glorfindel, but that’s the original story.

    I guess Peter Jackson is more wise than Professor Tolkien?

    Tolkien, like Homer, nodded. Bombadil and Glorfindel are wonderful, but they’re not integral to the story.

    Think of Jackson as a translator. Literal translations a la Google are usually painfully inadequate. If you literally translate the English phrase about something costing “an arm and a leg” into Spanish, relatively few Spanish speakers would have any idea that you’re talking about something expensive. A better Spanish phrase would be un ojo de la cara, which literally means “an eye from the face,” but would tell Spanish speakers that you’re talking about something expensive.

    When Jackson translated Tolkien’s work to screen, he could indeed improve the experience in some ways, as a translator should—because he was NOT translating literally. Unfortunately, many of Jackson’s revisions subtract from Tolkien’s accomplishment. Jackson is unquestionably a wiser movie maker than Tolkien could have been, but Tolkien is far and away the greater artist.

    • #12
    • December 29, 2014, at 7:20 AM PST
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  13. Tuck Inactive

    Mike Hubbard: Perhaps one day there’ll be a version of The Hobbit with the epic fail edited out.

    The 1977 cartoon version of The Hobbit looks better and better as time goes on. That’s what introduced me to the story, and, while it leaves a lot out, it leaves the core of the story intact, and presented in a way that honors Tolkien.

    Jackson will go down as one of the most epic sell-outs of Hollywood history. In a nutshell, after creating what was probably the best interpretations of LoTR that was possible as a film, he sold his artistic integrity for a pottage.

    Yes, I watched the 3rd movie this weekend with my older daughter. It was a fine opportunity to talk about how lame it was…

    • #13
    • December 29, 2014, at 7:26 AM PST
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  14. Mike Hubbard Member
    Mike HubbardJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Mike Hubbard: Peter Jackson made a masterpiece with his Fellowship of the Ring, perhaps because a limited budget forced him to keep the focus on the fairy tale and to edit out some of J.R.R.

    Stipulating that FOTR is the most fairy tale-like part of the books and the movies, we nonetheless think of it as part of an epic trilogy. So who’s the epic hero? Aragorn fits the role, but — as with the Hobbit — the dramatic focus is much more on the hobbits.

    That said, I think you’re very much in the right: in FOTR Jackson edited down an epic to expose the fairy tale within; with the Hobbit movies, he’s added material to turn a fairy tale into something it never was.

    If Tolkien had been writing LOTR as an epic, then Aragorn would indeed be the most logical choice for an epic hero. Instead, Aragorn uses himself as bait to provide Frodo safe passage across Mordor, which no epic hero would do. Odysseus, for example, happily sacrificed the lives of most of his men on his way home and didn’t even notice when one of his sailors died until the Gods forced him to talk to the dead man in the underworld. Achilles spent a tremendous amount of time sulking while the Trojans slaughtered Greeks. In Tolkien’s eyes, Aragorn is too good a man to be an epic hero.

    The thing to remember about Middle Earth is that Tolkien takes elements of epics and recasts them into a fairy tale. Aragorn might have been an epic hero had he used the ring to overthrow Sauron. Instead, he renounces the temptation and is willing to die so that others may live. In The Hobbit, killing Smaug would have ended an epic, but Tolkien had a more subtle point to make about the corrupting effect of wealth, which is why the Battle of Five Armies kept it a fairy tale.

    Interestingly enough, Tolkien did write an epic: The Children of Hurin. Turin, the protagonist, is unquestionably an epic hero, but he’s a tragic figure. His near invulnerability and pride bring destruction to all he cares about.

    • #14
    • December 29, 2014, at 7:39 AM PST
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  15. Mike Hubbard Member
    Mike HubbardJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tuck:

    Mike Hubbard: Perhaps one day there’ll be a version of The Hobbit with the epic fail edited out.

    The 1977 cartoon version of The Hobbit looks better and better as time goes on. That’s what introduced me to the story, and, while it leaves a lot out, it leaves the core of the story intact, and presented in a way that honors Tolkien.

    Rankin Bass, for the win! I think the RB version of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in ROTK was also better than Jackson’s.

    • #15
    • December 29, 2014, at 7:43 AM PST
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  16. Merina Smith Inactive

    I think it is time for a remake of both LOTR and The Hobbit. We’re big fans of the books in our family and have no use for Jackson’s interpretation. It’s been awhile since I saw them, but as I recall, my assessment was that Jackson sort of missed the point. It is the beauty and charm of the Shire, Bombadil, Glorfindel and their places and peoples (or elves) that make the destruction of the ring so crucial–it is a threat to these wonderful worlds. In order to understand this, you need to see more of what is at stake. There’s way too much over-the-top action and way too little beauty and charm in these movies. We consequently were not tempted to see Jackson’s take on The Hobbit, which from what I’ve read is short on fun and long on action. No thanks.

    • #16
    • December 29, 2014, at 7:54 AM PST
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  17. Fredösphere Member
    FredösphereJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dan Campbell: Also a Tolkien obsessive. There, I said it. Hated the LotR movies.

    Frustration over the Hobbit trilogy is warping people’s memories. Praise for the mediocre LOTR trilogy is like the Jimmy Carter nostalgia prompted by the Obama presidency.

    • #17
    • December 29, 2014, at 8:00 AM PST
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  18. Fredösphere Member
    FredösphereJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tuck: The 1977 cartoon version of The Hobbit looks better and better as time goes on.

    No. Just, no. What I said in my previous comment applies thrice-over here.

    • #18
    • December 29, 2014, at 8:02 AM PST
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  19. Tuck Inactive

    Fredösphere: No. Just, no. What I said in my previous comment applies thrice-over here.

    I strongly suggest that you just give up on Hollywood adaptations of books, then. They virtually never live up to the original, and only be lowering one’s standards can any enjoyment be obtained.

    The cartoon Hobbit is certainly far better than Jackson’s bloated adaptation. It has its own flaws, of course, but then please re-read the prior paragraph.

    • #19
    • December 29, 2014, at 8:11 AM PST
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  20. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    Those of you who are still yearning for a good adaptation of LotR, if you haven’t heard it already, I strongly recommend the BBC radio series from 1981. At 13 hours, it’s only slightly longer than Jackson’s movies, but it does a far better job of including the important elements from the book. (No Bombadil, though.) Its adaptations of Tolkien are small and subtle, and more importantly, it invents nothing that wasn’t on the page.

    More importantly, the cast is perfect. For me, Gandalf’s voice will always be that of Michael Hordern, despite Ian McKellen’s excellent performance in the films. Bill Nighy (yes, that Bill Nighy) is outstanding as Sam. And Peter Woodthorpe’s performance as Gollum is quite simply stunning, and much truer to the spirit of the character than what Andy Serkis gave us.

    The radio series does occasionally reveal its low budget, particularly in some of the battle scenes, where it sounds like there are about eight people fighting. But it overcomes those limitations with what is clearly a reverent adaptation. I can’t recommend it highly enough for any Tolkien buff, and when you hear it you find you really don’t need a movie.

    • #20
    • December 29, 2014, at 8:30 AM PST
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  21. Dan Campbell Member

    Tuck:

     

    I strongly suggest that you just give up on Hollywood adaptations of books, then. They virtually never live up to the original, and only be lowering one’s standards can any enjoyment be obtained.

    Ok. Let’s stop making them. I’m fine with it. Books and movies are completely different art forms. Doing a movie adaptation of a book is like doing an interpretive dance adaptation of a painting.

    While reading a book, a movie visualization may play in your head, but that doesn’t mean your visualization should be the same as everyone else’s. I seem to recall reading somewhere that Lewis Carroll was very upset that an illustrator had depicted the Snark to go along with his poem “The Hunting of the Snark” when it was published. He wanted readers to supply what the horrible Snark looked like from their own imaginations, rather than having a drawing of it next to the poem. Some set dressing is best left to the imagination.

    • #21
    • December 29, 2014, at 8:37 AM PST
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  22. Fredösphere Member
    FredösphereJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tuck:

    Fredösphere: No. Just, no. What I said in my previous comment applies thrice-over here.

    I strongly suggest that you just give up on Hollywood adaptations of books, then. They virtually never live up to the original, and only be lowering one’s standards can any enjoyment be obtained.

    The cartoon Hobbit is certainly far better than Jackson’s bloated adaptation. It has its own flaws, of course, but then please re-read the prior paragraph.

    I can’t agree, and part of the problem here is that I don’t accept the premise that the Hobbit series is bad. I’ll withhold judgment on Part III until I see it, but the first two Hobbit movies had a number of scenes which stirred my blood the way Tolkien’s books did, while LOTR simply never rose to that level. LOTR was consistently flat; Hobbit (so far) has been occasionally brilliant. IMHO.

    I think the reason for that is an accidental by-product of the bloat. To fill all that time, they need to include flashbacks to some of the Silmarillion material, which are my favorite parts. I love the sense one gets from ruins and the mysteries they hint at; the first Hobbit movie really delivered that for me.

    • #22
    • December 29, 2014, at 8:41 AM PST
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  23. Tuck Inactive

    Fredösphere: …Hobbit (so far) has been occasionally brilliant. IMHO.

    That’s fair, and I agree.

    However they amount of dreck one had to sit through to get those moments was pretty discouraging.

    I did like the LoTR adaptation much more than you did, apparently, which definitely affected my view on the Hobbit.

    • #23
    • December 29, 2014, at 8:46 AM PST
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  24. Knotwise the Poet Member

    I LOVED (and still love) Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring, and I also enjoy the rest of the LOTR trilogy, though I think the latter 2 installments of the trilogy, especially ROTK, were hurt by Jackson’s need to keep adding dumb, cliche scenes to increase the tension or getting rid of any subtlety in the story (warg attack + Aragorn falling in river, Gollum turning Frodo against Sam, Denethor being a complete nutjob, the scene where the Eye of Sauron floodlight actually lands on Frodo for a moment). Still, the cast was for the most part great, the score was beautiful, I loved the John Howe & Alan Lee-visuals (there’s so many shots and set designs in the series that for me are just perfect), and the the films keep close enough to the story for most of its power to still come through.

    In The Hobbit films, though, Peter Jackson’s excesses and indulgences have only increased. Why 3 films!? Why!? (okay, yes, I know, money, but really!?) I’m eagerly awaiting the fan edits that will drastically shorten the whole thing and keep the focus on Bilbo. On occasion Jackson’s changes are improvements (I like having Bard be a little more developed, for example, than in the book), but usually they feel uninspired, reducing the The Hobbit into cliche, overblown action films. I’ll confess I still find them entertaining to watch (what can I say, I do enjoy dumb action films), but I always feel sad for what might have been.

    • #24
    • December 29, 2014, at 8:53 AM PST
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  25. Knotwise the Poet Member

    Fredösphere:

    I think the reason for that is an accidental by-product of the bloat. To fill all that time, they need to include flashbacks to some of the Silmarillion material, which are my favorite parts. I love the sense one gets from ruins and the mysteries they hint at; the first Hobbit movie really delivered that for me.

    See, I was initially excited at the idea of seeing the White Council and Necromancer stuff portrayed. But then I saw the film and all those appendice scenes fell flat for me. I realized that the only stuff that really worked well for me was the stuff that focused on Bilbo (played by the always-excellent Martin Freeman). The appendice stuff may have worked well in the hands of another director, but Jackson’s take just felt cliche and boring to me.

    • #25
    • December 29, 2014, at 8:58 AM PST
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  26. Instugator Thatcher
    InstugatorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Hobbit and LOTR were the books I read as a boy whenever I couldn’t borrow from the library or when my budget for new books was zero. I estimate that from 1976 to 1984 I read the series about 26 times.

    I loved the LOTR trilogy, watching them several times in the theater and anxiously awaiting the next installment. My biggest complaint was the excising of the Scouring of the Shire.

    Hate Jackson’s Hobbit, though. Particularly the afore mentioned Kili and Tauriel controversy. Oh and Orcs in Laketown. The Rube Goldberg smelting / casting system in the Lonely Mountain – just to name a few from the second movie.

    • #26
    • December 29, 2014, at 9:03 AM PST
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  27. Z in MT Member

    Peter Jackson is a great visual artist. If someone could force him to make a movie shorter than 2 hours he could make tremendously great movies. The LOTR movies pushed the bounds of movie going patience. The Hobbit movies crashed right through those bounds. If he was put on a time budget he would have been forced to cut the chase scenes, the Steven Fry mayor of Laketown, and the fiction of Tauriel, etc. and focused on the story that was there.

    • #27
    • December 29, 2014, at 9:11 AM PST
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  28. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jackson’s problem has been that since LOTR (which, on the whole, I found excellent) no one will tell him “NO” on anything. You could see the beginnings of his wandering in King Kong, a flat-out boring film that I turned off about half-way through. His earlier work is more taught (see The Frighteners for a great example). Good storytelling doesn’t tell all, it doesn’t show all, it merely hints at the wider world and lets the reader or viewer infer the background.

    What worked in the Hobbit, as a book, was that you always had the sense that there was a great deal more to the story and its environs than was told. Jackson seems to think that he has to show every last blade of grass. Bilbo was an innocent abroad, a heretofore content and sedentary being suddenly pulled out into a dangerous and dirty world of which he knew little. The book is the story of how he finds his own strength and cunning and uses those to grow, and as such follows a classic pattern (see Jack London’s The Sea Wolf for a similar such story). We, as readers, grow with him. The menace of the Necromancer is a side story, put in to both give Gandalf a reason to bug out for a time, and to explain the decay of old Mirkwood. Bilbo (and hence the reader) can thus be innocent of any real danger from the Ring, and thrill to Bilbo’s use of it.

    The Hobbit movies, though, spoil all of that. They, in the worst manner of ad-hoc prequels (see Star Wars for instance), feel the need to set up and explain everything that is to come, spoiling any mysteries or innocence that could be gleaned from the adventure. The story teller that reveals too much ruins the story. The extra effects, moreover, turn the wonder into mere spectacle.

    • #28
    • December 29, 2014, at 9:21 AM PST
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  29. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Z in MT:Peter Jackson is a great visual artist. If someone could force him to make a movie shorter than 2 hours he could make tremendously great movies. The LOTR movies pushed the bounds of movie going patience. The Hobbit movies crashed right through those bounds. If he was put on a time budget he would have been forced to cut the chase scenes, the Steven Fry mayor of Laketown, and the fiction of Tauriel, etc. and focused on the story that was there.

    See The Frighteners for a great example of what he can do.

    • #29
    • December 29, 2014, at 9:22 AM PST
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  30. Knotwise the Poet Member

    Z in MT:Peter Jackson is a great visual artist. If someone could force him to make a movie shorter than 2 hours he could make tremendously great movies.

    Yes. Like George Lucas before him, restrictions actually made him a better filmmaker.

    • #30
    • December 29, 2014, at 9:35 AM PST
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