Addendum: A few people have brought up the legitimate question of why I went to see The Hobbit in the first place. The answer is that it was a professional-obligation thing: I record a weekly podcast, The Film Stage Show, and this was the item on our docket this week.
I should preface this piece by mentioning the fact that I don’t particularly care for Peter Jackson’s acclaimed, glorified Lord of the Rings trilogy. Basically, I don’t understand the appeal of the Middle-earth universe (it’s an ugly-looking place, void of magic, if you ask me), much less why it deserves such epic, overblown treatment. But I get that these are subjective matters, and I concede that my lack of a working relationship with the storied source material is perhaps one of the reasons for this. But the point here remains: I personally did not like those films, and, therefore, was not looking forward to seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
And those instincts turned out to be spot-on. I hated the film, really, and I usually don’t respond to films I dislike with such intense animosity. I’d probably have to go back to Joss Whedon’s artificial The Avengers to find something that enacted feelings of equivalent negativity. (If you’re interested, you can hear more about my thoughts on that film on this podcast.) And when this happens to me, it’s usually because the situation involves something more than merely the film itself. My goal here, then, is to paint a picture of the experience I had with The Hobbit, so that you’ll understand why I rejected it so furiously. Above all, I want this to be funny. But I do think, regardless of how willfully rant-like this is, that there is a legitimate point being made. And hopefully you’ll find it in there somewhere.
For starters, I spent $20 on the film, which is absurd, because the technological traits that enhance the film’s price-tag — the 3D, the 48-frames-per-second photography — help make the film look even worse than it already would in standard 2D. To be fair, though, my eyes adapted fairly quickly to the 48 fps thing, so much so that it barely even registered as the film got into its second and third acts. But those early sequences — especially the Ian Holm stuff — look terrible, like a synthetic fast-forwarding device that just makes you want to get up and leave the theater. When the film should be basking in the joy of Martin Freeman’s comic timing, it instead drowns the poor guy in never-ending set-pieces and intrusively annoying sonic abuse. Does Martin Freeman even have a line in the middle 90 minutes of this thing?
Another part that pissed me off was simply the sheer length of The Hobbit. At 169 minutes, it’s a good hour or so longer than it needs to be — give me a 110-minute version of this film, and I wouldn’t be writing this — and you feel the deadened slowness of it the entire time. But the temporal duration of the experience, for me, extended beyond merely the film’s runtime — I bought my tickets a couple of hours ahead of time on Fandango, took a 20-minute walk to get to the theater, and then waited in line for about an hour, thinking that I needed to show up early in order to secure a serviceable seat-position. (Peculiarly, however, my showing — a Friday-evening gig in the middle of Manhattan — didn’t nearly end up being sold-out.)
All in all, I spent about five to six hours committed, psychologically and physically, to this film, and when I spend that much time doing anything — don’t forget the $20, too — I sort of want to get something out of it. But I got nothing out of The Hobbit. I’m still sort of stunned that a film this fucking big — the nearly three-hour runtime, the through-the-roof budget, the global-domination-craving production value — managed to be so instantly forgettable. I can’t imagine a set of circumstances in which re-watching The Hobbit would be worthwhile in any sense of the term. It’s an excruciating ordeal, suffocating from beginning to end, obnoxious in its playing-for-the-crowd mediocrity.
It’s worth stating, too, how laughably aggravating the trailers were before the film, and how they thrusted me so quickly into a sour-attitude state of mind. The first one was for Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion, which looks like it could potentially be something cool — a slick futuristic design, a strong Tom Cruise turn, etc. Whatever. I watched, it was fine, and then I was ready for the next one. The follow-up turned out to be M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth, and for a good thirty seconds, I swore they were just recycling the Oblivion footage. There’s no way you can watch these two trailers back-to-back and not crack a smile. Who decided to order them in such a silly way? At least give me a Promised Land preview in between. Or a look at Zero Dark Thirty. Hell, go all out and show that masterful Amour trailer. Let Jean-Louis Trintignant’s stare shut the audience up for a few minutes. Chunking together Oblivion and After Earth is basically asking people to snicker.
Then came The Croods, which looks into prehistoric times rather than the future. There was also Escape from Planet Earth, a moronic-seeming thing about blue people and planets and stupid aliens. I started to get sick at the sight of these invented universes, the way they’re fetishized for the audience, marketed as an original, never-before-seen experience. Now, I’m not against fantasy movies in general. Not in the slightest. But this was overkill from moment one. Give me The Hobbit, Oblivion, After Earth, The Croods, and Escape from Planet Earth, and I think I’ll be set on the big-budget fantasy front for about a year — but shove ‘em all into the same sitting, and I start to get a headache. Give me something real instead. Give me a Flight, a Lincoln, a Promised Land, an Argo, an Arbitrage. Give me a story about a real person with real emotions in a real situation that is treated with care and respect. Fuck The Croods. Fuck Middle-earth.
Which brings me to Peter Jackson. The dude’s already made three of these movies, he’s won a bunch of Oscars for them, and presumably made a shit-load of money in the process. Why in the hell, then, is he tiredly going back to the well for three more? How can he stand to look at this material, this footage — day in, day out — and come to the conclusion that it’s worth another fucking trilogy, nine more hours of the same damn thing? I can understand if his experience with The Lovely Bones turned him off to the possibility of changing gears, but then why not just hang up the jersey entirely? Why continue to churn out these products, these mechanical, mindless pieces of trash?
If I were Peter Jackson, I’d buy a ranch somewhere isolated and shut myself off. I’d drink coffee all day, watch Bergman films in the morning, Kubrick films in the afternoon, maybe a Woody Allen film I’d never seen in the evening. Perhaps I’d read a Raymond Carver short story before going to bed. Then I’d sleep in, wake up, and do it all over again. It would be a rich life, a fulfilled existence. It would be time well spent. It wouldn’t be a Hobbit trilogy. It wouldn’t be wasted time, nonsensical wheel-spinning. I don’t know how Peter Jackson can sleep at night after a long day of editing this shit, knowing that there’s a Wong Kar-Wai film out there he probably hasn’t seen. Why not put the camera away for a while and watch it? He needs to wake up and smell the coffee that he should be drinking.
When I was sitting through The Hobbit, I could have been at home cleaning dishes, dusting the floors, reading a book, doing homework. In short, being productive. Nothing about The Hobbit is productive — even for the people who like the film, it’s an exercise in submission, a surface-level reveling of the Tolkien atmosphere. But it’s not worth nine hours, or hundreds of millions of dollars. When the next film comes out, and then the third, do yourself a favor and stay at home. Don’t waste your resources. Time is precious, money is elusive, and The Hobbit is trying to steal both of them from you. If you’re looking for fun — if you’re looking for entertainment, comfort, warmth, value — throw on a Lost in Translation, an Up in the Air, a Grey, a Margaret, a Keep the Lights On, a Magic Mike. Throw on something that is populated with actual human beings, people you can relate to, think about, dissect, and enjoy watching. Fire up a pot of coffee, read Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” while it’s brewing, and then go back to finishing Andrew Haigh’s Weekend.
Just don’t waste your time with The Hobbit. Fuck The Hobbit.