August 14, 2016
This is a great edit of a not-great trilogy of films, into one watchable movie. LOTR -- the extended editions especially! -- did an amazing, still unmatched, job of treating a fantasy setting properly. It was a rare occasion where a fantasy setting and its narrative was taken seriously, rather than developed into a cheesy barbarian body-builder festival, or a kiddie movie, or a low-budget-crappy-costumes mess, or into an ensemble of the latest Hollywood blockbuster tropes in a pre-modern setting. There are very few exceptions to this pattern: "Hellboy II," Conan the Barbarian" (1982), "Dark Crystal" all stand out. Don't get me wrong: I'm no art-film buff, or culture snob; I am proud to have "Yor the Hunter" on BD, and similar fare, and an extensive collections of schlock and cheese, including fantasy, and love "Labyrinth" and its ilk. But LOTR was something different, a breath of fresh air: incredible scenery and effects and cinematography, an amazing (yes, I know, not 100% fidelity) to the book (including cleaving close to its prose, without F-bombs, American slang and the rest, right-on "ba ba green sheep" rewrites etc.), great casting and music, and lots of detail. Imagine, if you will, a parallel Earth, where we got Tom Cruise as Aragorn, Danny De Vito as Smeagol, Johhny Depp as Elrond, a Danny Elfman soundtrack, lots of product placement, a few extra characters to meet the mood of the times, like a hobbit action-hero, perhaps a scientist/ hacker/ super-wizard, ideally a pretty but disaffected young woman in a tight leather bodice, and loads of slapstick etc. Then we can think what horrors might have been.
Now: "The Hobbit" trilogy. A big step backward for the genre, and not a very good set of films in any sense. It retained the amazing sets and designs of LOTR, but was something far less in every respect. LOTR showed grim,noble dwarf kings and a stoic Gimli; in this one we got badly-dressed dwarfish buffoons and cliches. What is with those ridiculous hair- and beard-styles? Look: Bombur is fat, and his chair broke, oh the hilarity! Thorin, who looks completely out of place -- perhaps the result of an ill-advised studio decision to create a dwarf hottie? -- but he looks more like Jason Momoa's Aquaman than anything dwarfish in this trilogy or LOTR, or pretty much any high fantasy setting, ever. LOTR had awe-inspiring monsters from legend; in this one we got great spiders and a great dragon, sure, but we also got trolls who eat snot, a goblin king with a plummy English accent and wargs. Lots of wargs. Wargs who can now climb trees. LOTR cleaved to the source material; in this one dwarfs are oafs who makes fires on the floors of Rivendell, using elven furniture, and who cannot drink from a mug without wetting their beards and cheeks, plus two dwarfs who are not-very-funny recycled versions of Merry and Pippin; we suddenly have Tom Bomabil as a sort of hairy grimdark Wolverine-analogue, last survivor of a persecuted, enslaved race etc.; oh dear, there is a cringey dwarf/ elf romance as well. LOTR had a sense of urgency and peril and world-spanning, epochal change; in this one we got padding, bloat, and CGI, as the director did his best to push a 150 page book into a 12 hour movie marathon. Scenes from LOTR were recycled as well: brave adventurers fleeing within a goblin mountain; eagles summoned by a moth coming in at the last moment; wargs ridden by orcs attacking on the hills etc. The "Hobbit" keeps dragging on, and on, and on, and on. Oh my goodness, does it drag. The heroic efforts of Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins were not enough, alas, to salvage this Hollywood mess.
So the editors at Maple Films certainly had their work cut out. This edit is, I think, the best possible salvage operation and I must express my amazement at the job done here -- and in the standalone spin-off "Durin's Folk and the Hill of Sorcery" which you MUST see.
The worst of the slapstick is gone, the worst cringe is removed, and the bloat is reduced greatly. The story is tighter, with the removal of lots of padding, byways and cul-de-sacs. The endless, belaboured flagging of what will happen in LOTR is less in evidence. Of course, we can all think of our personal preferences for what should stay or go (maybe the dwarfs wrecking Rivendell, the whole Azog storyline?) but building a watchable film that retains the best parts of a "Hobbit" trilogy that should have been one movie from the start, is an impressive achievement by any standards.
With so much stuff gone, it's a really amazing accomplishment to retain a clear and interesting narrative. Bilbo is now central, as is his struggle within. There is some incredible scenery, camera work, special effects and choreography, which emerges from the murk thanks to smart editing, and to wonderful effect.
There is a lot work and care here, and it shows. We cannot expect any editor/s to work miracles, and even with the best will in the world, the "Hobbit"/s will never be a good film. But it can, as we see here, become something worth a watch, and maybe even two! I cannot honestly give a super-high rating for enjoyment or even narrative, but that is not the fault of the editor/s who could only work with what existed: a deeply flawed product in the worst traditions of the Hollywood blockbuster/ cash-grab.
Well done Maple Films! No one can expect more of anyone than we have here!