by Kurt Davidson
Peter Jackson is Brilliant; there is no doubt about it.
An unassuming man, who looks like a Hobbit.
Was this physicality simply chance, and seemingly would play such a significant part in his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s immemorial works? Tolkien, as well, looks like a Hobbit, that fantastical personage, whose essence imbues the original story with such charm, sense of cheek, and generally adds the balance to the rest of the story. This, to me, seems of some importance, because the personality with which Peter Jackson brings to these visual displays, is replete with ‘hobbit-like’ mannerisms, and joyous mischievousness. This was dramatically apparent, if one watched the full accompaniment of DVD’s. which came with the ‘extended version’ of the LOTR Trilogy. His amazingly consistent persona was, in my opinion, one of the main reasons that the quality of the original three films was, itself, consistent.
Is it a Celtic thing?
I am a big fan of Peter Jackson, and is made even more obvious by the fact that he made an entire ‘cottage industry’ out of New Zealand, in a folkish and ethno-centric way. His Wingnut industry, along with the WETA workshop are strictly efforts by New Zealanders, a specifically european ethny. Everywhere one looks at the efforts of this folk-community, one sees smiles, industry, creative genius, and even the very young of this island stronghold, are imbued with the very qualities which Jackson, and Tolkien, personify in their writings and professional endeavors.
Yes, racial attributes, environment, and the simple dedication, or driven personalities of individuals makes all the difference in the world to efforts and creations, such as these.
Ushered into a small, local theater, Actors and Actresses adorning the walls, mostly ‘old world’ actors, those from a different era, and looking as imortal as the roles they played. Sitting in the main auditorium with me, were a dozen couples over 65, and the rest, about 75 people, roughly half male and half female; a few babies and pre-teens were scattered throughout the room.
The scattered discussions amongst the attendees was like all the other viewings I had been at for Jackson’s other fares, and the excitement was palpable. Each small group had a special version of their first reading of The Hobbit, and it took me back, as well, when at the age of 10, I parted my first page, on a semi-worn version of the paper-back edition, in elementary school.
The Hobbit was/is a magical adventure, not the least of which, was the introduction of the ‘hobbit’, a person roughly half the size of humans, with thick hair on their feet, round bellies, and a love of good food, comfort, and security. Though some hobbits live in houses, they traditionally live in holes in the ground. The holes are not dank and smelly but comfortable, cozy underground dwellings with all the amenities of their above ground counterparts. The hole occupied by the hobbit and. presumably, our main character, known as Bilbo Baggins is called Bag End. It is quite a pleasant dwelling, with comfortable furniture and a well-stocked kitchen, nestled in a snug little village under a hill.
Bilbo’s ancestry is somewhat noble by hobbit standards: his father was from the well-to-do, conventional Baggins family, but his mother was from the Tooks, a wealthy, eccentric family infamous for their unhobbit-like tendency to go on adventures. Despite his Took blood, however, Bilbo prefers to stay at home and live a quiet life.
For those who have seen LOTR, or read the books, one is at first comfortable, at home as it were, in a vicarious way; such is the way of Myth. However, Jackson seems to have edited this smooth introduction, and simply brings to bear the Story, with all its characters at once, in a rush, and found me on an unexpected journey into new version of an old, and comfortable song.
On the day the story begins, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is enjoying a pipe outside his front door when an old man with a long cloak and a staff arrives. Gandalf’s character (played by Ian McKellen), has the flavor of the old version, but his manerisms seem less natural, and even when he smiles, it seems that something is making him less…well, simply less of a wizard. After the old man introduces himself, Bilbo recognizes him as the wizard Gandalf, who has created spectacular fireworks displays on holidays in Hobbiton, but Bilbo still looks on the old wizard with a suspicious eye. When Gandalf asks if Bilbo would be interested in going on an adventure, Bilbo declines and quickly excuses himself. He invites the wizard to come over for tea sometime but only so as not to seem rude—in reality, he wants nothing to do with Gandalf and his adventures.
When the doorbell rings the next afternoon, Bilbo assumes it is Gandalf. To his surprise, a dwarf named Dwalin (Graham McTavish– pushes past him and promptly sits down to eat. Soon, other dwarves begin to arrive, and as Bilbo’s neat little home becomes crowded with dwarves, Bilbo becomes increasingly confused and annoyed. At last, Gandalf arrives with the head dwarf, Thorin. The thirteen dwarves and the wizard nearly clean out Bilbo’s pantry before finally settling down to discuss their business. This is where the movie, for me, takes on a life of its own – and is a different version altogether from the previous works.
The appearance of the Dwarves, with the exception of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), looks like expensive, and well-done fakes; Gimli took a little getting used to, in the Trilogy, but had a real and warm look and personality – Fili (Dean O’Gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner) seemed to fill this gap for me, but it was Thorin, the dwarf most likely a ‘human’, is the character which draws ones attention. He is a Hero, and has all the natural instincts and behavior of that courageous type of man. He leads, and conquers his own fears. He is noble, but with a bite of sarcasm, as he speaks out of turn, deprecates Bilbo, and is a diamond in rough – but mostly rough. In my opinion the scenes are too tight, not realistic in many cases (but technologically superior). As the dwarves recite their Poetry-in-song, one does have a more sober, and mystical appreciation of this ‘people’, and with the latter, are presented well, and in a balanced way.
Our story continues.
It soon becomes clear that Gandalf has volunteered Bilbo to be a “burglar” for the dwarves on their adventure. The hobbit protests, and the dwarves grumble that the soft little hobbit does not seem suited to their adventure. Gandalf, however, is certain that Bilbo is useful, and insists that there is more to the hobbit than meets the eye. The dialogue is well done in these instances, and aficionados will like this rendition.
The wizard then brings out an old map of a great mountain and points to a mysterious secret entrance, a door to which Thorin holds the key. Bilbo demands some clarification about the point of the whole expedition. Thorin explains that his grandfather, Thror, mined the mountain shown on the map and discovered a wealth of gold and jewels. Thror then became King under the Mountain, but his fantastic treasure attracted unwanted attention. Before long, the dragon Smaug came and killed or scattered all of Thror’s people. The dragon has been guarding the treasure ever since. Thorin and the dwarves are out to reclaim their rightful inheritance, even though they are unsure of what to do with Smaug when they find him. The CG seems different, and this may be that the typical 24 frames per second was replaced by the 48 frames per second; but in any case, the visual sensibility is much different when it comes to the ‘mystical’ characters. This is more a case of the influence of Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro, who also was a part of the adaptation of this endeavor – his Pan’s Labyrinth , has a decidedly ‘anti-facist tone, which means that his images have a ‘artistic philosophy’, which seems subtly at odds with Jackson. This incongruity seems to resonate throughout the first film.
Bilbo suspects that the dwarves want him to play a part in slaying the dragon. Although his Baggins side would like nothing better than to sit at home with his pipe, the Took influence in him fuels his curiosity about the adventure, and he is reluctantly excited by the tales of dragons and treasure and great battles. After looking at the map and discussing the adventure with the company, the hobbit makes up beds for all his guests and then spends the night in troubled dreams.
So far, so good, for a story line. Jackson is committed to keeping Tolkien’s story straight; he takes some liberties, but nothing that i found to be unwarranted. It is a human story, that is a story, which we all can feel a certain sympathy, or similarity in our own lives.
The characterization of the Thirteen Dwarves is, for someone who has never read the book, well done; this is a complicated telling in the Big Screen, but was easily understood in the literary version, because their passing throughout the story, was brief, and the only time they were inserted to develop the plot, it was needed. To develop the cast of characters, as a ‘story of itself’ is laborious, but interesting nevertheless.
The delivery of these characters is not at all like the Trilogy; I suppose that this can not be helped, but it is not ‘human’ in the way of the first Three. This is a distraction, so far, but I feel that, like all Tolkien characters, will grow on one, as the follow-ups are presented.
Cate Blanchett, as Galadriel, does a fine job yet, like in the Trilogy, is stiff, as her rendition of an Elvish lord has always been a little unbelievable; nevertheless, she adds a charm and aristocratic persona, which I think everyone will enjoy. Certainly, she embodies Celtic beauty, and it emanates from her. Hugo Weaving, as Elrond, has always been one of my favorite characters (especially when young) and, like Sean Connery, carries the film whenever he appears.
The scenes of Rivendale are superb, and the Elves themselves have not lost any of their aristocratic tendencies, or their sense of martial discipline. They are all beautiful, and Tolkien saw them as ‘angelic creatures’, yet distant, almost unhuman, which Weaving does so well in presenting. Not devoid of emotion, but withheld, distant, and allowed in only the most dire eventualities.
Gollum (Andy Serkis), as a character, is absolutely essential in all of these works, and Serkis, as usual, does a superb job (Mr. Serkisis of partial English and Armenian ancestry); the special effects, which were added to the facial texture, was not overly obvious, and i did not like the ‘eyes’, as well as the first. Without Gollum, however, the story would not stand, as Mr. Tolkien well knew.
The clarity of the Film is good, but when I came home and watched the Two Towers, just to compare the differences, I liked the feel of the latter to that of the former – but that is just me.
I only mention this ‘hollywood’ connection, because it is so blatant and self-evident. Most of us know that whenever this tribe of people get their hands on something – maybe through finance or influence – it is palpable and, for myself, i felt their presence in every frame.
Maybe Jackson’s ‘contract’ had issues, or maybe their ‘editorial staff’ made their presence known, whose to say? All I know, is that the essence of the first Film was good – but not great. I would not hold the next films as being less than the first, as Jackson showed, by the first installment of the Trilogy, Fellowship of The Ring, that it only got better after that. I trust that the next film will be much better than the first, and the story was already getting better by the time it ended – and that is what a good story-teller does – he makes you come back for more.
|Radagast The Brown|
|Dwarf Lord Balin|
|Old Bilbo Baggins|