I’m certainly no poster child for the Peter Jackson fan club, but a hatchet job review of the Extended Edition by Fred Topel over at CraveOnline is full of such over-the-top hyperbole that I cannot let it pass. It reeks of clickbait. And, as someone who makes a living working in advertising, I know clickbait pretty well. Yet its headline, and conclusion, is so at odds with the calibre of the evidence in support that I simply cannot let it pass without comment.
(In the spirit of not rewarding clickbait, I’m not even linking the article here. I know that’s a bit fraught, but if you do really want to read it, here’s Google search. It’s not hard to find.)
Let’s take Toper’s conclusion, and ultimate claim about the EE (and The Hobbit film trilogy as a whole):
“We are witnessing the dawn of a cinematic train wreck.”
It’s a big, bold claim. I think, if nothing else, we can all agree on that.
Carl Sagan famously said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Sounds fair, right? If I’m going to slag your thing off as downright bloody awful, a real stinker, then I ought to have something compelling to back it up. Some argument that’s virtually beyond dispute.
So let’s examine the evidence presented.
1) 48fps is a fiasco
If 48fps were the only lens we could view The Hobbit through, this might have some legs. But it’s not — there’s 3D, there’s HFR 3D (aka 48fps), and there’s plain old 24fps. You can choose a fancy topping, or just go plain. This is akin to saying the poor quality of a dub ruins an anime when, you know, we can switch to the subtitled version.
Sure, 48fps is a gamble. And it’s a gutsy and unusual choice in an industry that is so ridiculously conservative that it, for example, can’t seem to do any more than flirt with idea of a Wonder Woman film. Still, if the gamble doesn’t work, if 48fps ultimately doesn’t succeed, does that destroy the entire value of The Hobbit? Of course not.
2) Visual FX has regressed at WETA
“Weta can’t make stuff look as real as it did 10 years ago.” How do we judge this? Well, let’s play the comparison game. Apples against apples. Ten (and 11) years ago, WETA was being acclaimed for its work putting together Smeagol/Gollum for The Return of the King and The Two Towers respectively. I’m not sure how anyone can convincingly argue that in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Gollum looks worse in the Riddles in the Dark sequence. But don’t believe me, go judge for yourself.
And the wolf-wargs of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey outclass the poorly rendered hyena-creatures of The Two Towers by several orders of magnitude.
3) World-building is lacklustre for The Hobbit compared to LOTR
“Even Hobbiton looks like a cheap copy of the first film’s Hobbiton.” Again, go judge for yourselves — Fellowship of the Ring Hobbiton versus the version from An Unexpected Journey. Cheap copy? Really?
I’m going to go out on a limb here: a lot of the issues that folks have with The Hobbit probably derive from nostalgia and a rosy view of the past. That’s understandable — we all do it. Memory is a very powerful thing. So, it can be easy to go “the old stuff is better than the new stuff”. Madonna was the original, Lady Gaga is just an imitator. And I think this is, in part, what drives some people to feel The Lord of the Rings was the best thing since sliced bread, and that The Hobbit is (and will continue to be) as awful as Vegemite. But the reality is that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Always is.
4) The lengthy party sequence
It does take a long time for the Company to move from Bag End into the wider world of Middle-earth. Judging from toting up the tracks on my Special Edition soundtrack, it’s about 25 minutes, although that does includes the introductory sequences with Frodo and with Gandalf. Still, that’s quite long and yes it might have been more tightly edited.
But if length alone can create boredom and a cinematic train wreck, I’ve got a contender of similar length from The Lord of the Rings. It’s the Battle for Helm’s Deep sequence. It lasts 18 to 20 minutes (again, rough guess), but not counting the lead-up that includes the arrival of the (non-canonical) Galadhrim. And I find the whole shebang utterly mind-numbing. It’s a tedious, drawn-out hack ‘n slash with almost no dialogue. Just not my cup of tea (if it’s yours, though, that’s fine).
But you know what? I’m not going round calling The Two Towers a cinematic train wreck because of it. Maybe Toper just doesn’t like dialogue. Hmmmm.
5) Peter Jackson’s heart isn’t in it
This point is simply a non-starter. Toper raises it as a suspicion, as a theory, then discards it when he reaches the point where he talks about the commentary tracks. He mentions that both Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson extensively discuss technical and screenplay choices and that Jackson “sounds damn passionate”. If there’s something causing a cinematic train wreck, it can’t be a lack of heart at the core of the production. Topel concedes that they aren’t merely going through the motions.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I work in advertising. And advertisers know the value of a provocative, attention-grabbing headline. But they also know, that you must support your extravagant claims with a body of convincing evidence otherwise you simply won’t make a sale.
Sorry Fred, on this occasion, I’m just not buying. And I don’t believe that anyone else ought to, either.
Demosthenes has been an incredibly nerdy staff member at TheOneRing.net since 2001. The views in this article are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of the site, or of other TORn staff.