Secondary Impressions, TH:AUJ

I just got home from seeing The Hobbit for the second time, this time in 3d at 24 fps. As expected, having seen the film once, knowing what to expect, I was a bit freer to just sit back and enjoy the ride this time around. This doesn’t mean the elements I found distasteful previously were palatable, but that I was able to overlook them to find the more redeeming aspects of the film’s interpretation.

Actually, what caught my attention most this go around were more differences of vision; ie. how Jackson and Co’s vision of the locales of Middle Earth, and various scenes differed from my own. These sort of issues I am happy to embrace, as everyone is entitled to their own imagination. The sad part is that often films banish nascent visions of the new reader and replace them with their own.

Though the film’s Dale, Erebor and Goblin town are awe inspiring sites, they are completely foreign to my own interpretation. For myself, I’ve never actually had a clear vision of Dale, I just know Jackson’s is not it. The Erebor of the film is much too grandiose and expansive within. I envision a much more hewn, architectural character, rather than the expansive hollow shell of mammoth proportions. Remember Gloin speaking with Frodo at the House of Elrond?

“Gloin began then to talk of the works of his people…’We have done well…But in metal-work we cannot rival our fathers, many of whose secrets are lost…Only in mining and building have we surpassed the old days. You should see the waterways of Dale, Frodo, and the fountains, and the pools! You should see the stone-paved roads of many colours! And the halls and cavernous streets under the earth with arches carved like trees; and the terraces and towers upon the Mountain’s sides!” (LotR 223)

Moria is meant to be the great palatial city of the dwarves in ancient days, not Erebor. Initially it is but a shadow, later to be embellished and built upon after the quest for the Mountain. The film’s Erebor is much too grand, and makes the Mountain into too much of a hollow roof, rather than giving the feeling of something that has been pain-stakingly carved out over time. This is not to say Erebor is claustrophobic or rustic, but it should be entirely different in character to Khazad-dum and akin to a younger sibling.

My reaction to Goblin-town is similar. It is much too expansive and open. Part of the horror and confusion of Goblin Town is its claustrophobia, its overarching darkness, the crushing weight of stone. I can see the “throne room” of the Goblin-King being open and cavernous like the film, but the rest should consist of constricted and tortuous tunnels and dark caverns…a haunting and disconcerting environment wholly absent beyond Gollum’s cave.

However, though Jackson’s vision does not conform to my own, it still works (particularly Goblin-Town) for the type of film he created. They fit within his own canon of Middle Earth. And my consolation remains that my own vision of these parts of the tale may remain untarnished and wholly my own.

Seeing the movie again only reinforced the genius of Jackson’s team when it comes to casting…none more-so than the casting of New Zealand as Middle Earth and Howard Shore as the creator of its emotional soul.  Yes the actual character actors are great, but these two elements are as much characters as any of them. No place on earth could better reflect the nature of Middle Earth on Earth than New Zealand. And no cinematic score can do a better job of evoking the sense and soul of Middle Earth than Howard Shore’s. One of the interesting things about this endeavor is that now after four films and about ten years the true scope and meaning of Shore’s music can come to light. I was able to follow many of his leit-motifs throughout the film, and actually use them as they are meant to…adding layers of meaning unsaid to the action on screen. This is particularly true of the Shire motif, the Ring, and what I would call the Ring Wraith or evil motif. It will take many more viewings and study of the soundtracks to fully appreciate, but in this the music is finally coming into its own as an ever more active character in Middle Earth.

So with my analytical hat largely left behind, I was able to more fully appreciate the scenes J&Co got right. The “Good Morning” scene is priceless and was great to see. I liked the Unexpected Party, largely due to Bilbo’s reactions throughout. Though not present in the book, I loved the wager scene where the quest truly begins.

Galadriel and Gandalf’s relationship is wonderfully realized during the White Council scene. In a few glances, some body language and speaking mind to mind we are able to see the mutual admiration and respect the two have for each other. As well as some of how Galadriel favors Gandalf over Saruman. It is a masterful stroke. This also establishes the skill of the Wise to speak mind to mind, which only reappears on the trek home at the end of LotR.

I still am troubled by the Morgul blade fiasco and the “tomb of Angmar” as this treads in dangerous territory and appears to be setting up Angmar as something other than the Witch-King, the King of the Ring-Wraiths. The idea that the men of the North could defeat him and seal him in a tomb is preposterous if this is to be one and the same character. Unless the thought is that in “death,” Angmar loses his corporeal form to become fully wraith? And in the wars of the North he was still but a king of men, but bearer of one of the nine, not yet fully turned? I’ll admit it is a curious and exciting idea, if true, but ultimately completely unfounded in Tolkien’s written word which explicitly states in the appendices with regards to the fall of Angmar and Arthedain:

“Then so utterly was Angmar defeated that not a man nor an orc of that realm remained west of the Mountains.

But it is said that when all was lost suddenly the Witch-king himself appeared, black-robed and black masked upon a black horse. Fear fell upon all who beheld him; but he singled out the Captain of Gondor (Earnur) for the fullness of his hatred, and with a terrible cry he rode straight upon him. Earnur would have withstood him; but his horse could not endure that onset, and it swerved and bore him far away before he could master it.

Then the Witch-king laughed, and none that heard it ever forgot the horror of that cry. But Glorfindel rode up then on his white horse , and in the midst of his laughter the Witch-king turned to flight and passed into the shadows. For night came down on the battlefield, and he was lost, and none saw whither he went.

Earnur now rode back, but Glorfindel, looking into the gathering dark, said: “Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.” These words many remembered; but Earnur was angry, desiring only to be avenged for his disgrace.

So ended the evil realm of Angmar; and so did Earnur, Captain of Gondor, earn the chief hatred of the Witch-king; but many years were still to pass before that was revealed” (LotR, Appendix A, pp 1026-7)

As stated in my previous review, the Riddles in the Dark scene was near perfect. Though the nature of Gollum’s personality is not explicitly established in the books, the film continues the dual/split personality of the previous trilogy to great effect. The scene is chilling, humorous and touching all at the same time. I can rationalize some of my issues with the finding of the Ring, as there are still hints of actual “finding,” but the scene still reads as a conscious decision on Bilbo’s part to seek out and find it, rather than the subconscious and accidental finding of the book:

“He…crawled a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel…He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment.” (TH 68)

The finding of the ring is completely subconscious, a chance occurrence in the dark. When Bilbo asks “What have I got in my pocket?” it is not a question for Gollum, he’s wondering himself. He doesn’t know what he has. It can be argued whether Providence, Grace or even the Ring influenced this outcome, but what is certain is that Bilbo had no conscious part in it.

Following the game of riddles, comes Bilbo’s escape. In the last moments, where the light of the sun is visible and the way out clear, Bilbo is stopped by Gollum, firmly planted in his way. This scene has become one of my favorites. It wonderfully conveys the internal struggle of Bilbo in an external way, showing the triumph of pity and mercy in a tangible manner. It also firmly establishes the emptiness and lost character of Gollum, truly making him pitiable. It is a marvelously executed scene. Granted Bilbo’s great leap leaves something to be desired, but it is still a greatly touching scene, that adds much to the nature of both hobbits.

Lastly, there’s Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire. I don’t think there is much more to say here, other than that on second viewing my frustration with this scene, as previously described, remains.

As to the 24 fps versus 48 fps question, I remain undecided. Both have distinctive qualities that make one either better or worse, but neither truly wins me over to one side or the other. I felt the 3d aspect was actually much more powerful and evident in the 48fps, but the 24fps felt smoother and more cinematic. The 48 fps, as has been said by others, often feels more like a documentary and often the the action seems choppy and hyper speed. It takes getting used to. I do have this to say though, Jackson and Co. have given us an excellent excuse to go see the movie at least three times!

I had meant to also discuss the Battle of Azanulbizar, but I’ve already gone on for quite a bit longer than I’d originally intended, so I’ll leave that for another time.

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