Monday, December 24, 2012

I'd rather watch the cartoon (The Hobbit)...

And I just did.

...after going with my father and my 8-year-old daughter to see the new Hobbit movie at the theatre (just the 2-D version, no fancy 48 fps or 3D).

Ranty SPOILERS follow...

Gah! What a bloated, boring monstrosity! Almost three hours, and it's only part one of the Hobbit (plus assorted bits from the appendices and Unfinished Tales and whatever)!? At least the character assassination wasn't as bad as it was in "The Two Towers" and "Return of the King" movies.

I don't know. I loved the Peter Jackson "Fellowship of the Ring" movie, but it all seemed to go downhill from there. Rankin-Bass's cheap made-for-TV musical cartoon from 35 years ago beats the 2012 version on so many levels.

  • The music is better! Yes, it has that 1970s-1980s folk sound, but it's not the generic overblown "epic" music they have for the 2012 movie. The only memorable part of today's score was the bit they borrowed from the "Fellowship of the Ring". (The "Ring" theme always sends a shiver down my spine.) The few scattered songs in the 2012 version didn't seem to fit in as well.
  • The art is better and more coherent! Yes, New Zealand has spectacular scenery. Yes, they put lots of money into the monster designs and CGI. But I still like the look of the 1977 animation better. All right, so they skimped on the actual animating part of the cartoon (what was it, 2 frames per second at times!?), but I forgive that more easily than the hyperactive mess I saw on the big screen today. True, all the cartoon characters look freaky, but it's very distinctive and beautiful in its way. And the painted landscapes are awesome.
  • Pacing. I would have liked the 1977 movie to be a little longer, to give it more breathing room (as it is, it had to chop out whole sections --- I would have liked to see Beorn!), but it managed to tell the whole story in an impressively compact form. It's better than erring on the side of padding. There were way too many useless "action" sequences in the 2012 version. The backstory was presented better in the cartoon, too, all done in the pre-credits sequence, then showing Bilbo's decision to go on the adventure during the opening credits (with the memorable "Greatest Adventure" song!). A leisurely 10 minutes rather than a dragged-out 40? 60? minutes.
  • I am so sick of the over-the-top video game fights. They look LESS "realistic" than the cartoon! At least in the cartoon, they draw people doing more or less what I imagined from reading the book (while glossing over the gore, as it's a children's movie).
  • The cartoon was scarier. Yes, scarier! No snot jokes! And no overlit goblin caves. In the cartoon, when the goblins kidnap the dwarves, they go down into darkness. The poor ponies look terrified! Then it really is dark, pitch black background with just the goblin faces suddenly appearing. Plus they sing that song (I love that song. They sing it in the book, and the music in the cartoon fits perfectly. "Down, down to goblin town... ho ho, my lad!" and have the clashing chains.) When watching the 2012 movie, I couldn't help thinking "Oh lord, it's Moria all over again...". And too many prolonged sequences of people falling off cliffs and jumping across crumbling bridges. Gah! The cartoon wisely kept it short! Otherwise the impact is diluted. But weirdly, the design of the 2012 Great Goblin was reminiscent of the 1977 animated version!
  • Ok, granted that the 1977 version is a children's musical, it's a faithful adaptation of the book. Characters aren't added or changed (beyond minor details). Bilbo may be a bit flatter/calmer than I imagined him from the book, but the actor won me over. (Some of it is the limited expressions in the cheap animation, but hey, it's like watching a puppet show.) When the 2012 movie reminds me of a puppet show (or really, the muppets... except not as good), that just annoys me. If they want to do a muppet version of the Hobbit, they should just go all-out and do a muppet version of the Hobbit. Ok, never mind that, that's just superficial. But the changes to Bilbo, gah! Example: instead of hiding out in the trees besieged by goblins and wargs, now the trees are falling down like dominos and Thorin charges out to fight! And then when he's down, Bilbo rushes out like some action hero to save him! This all feels totally out of character. Plus the unnecessary initial enmity between Thorin and the elves. It arises naturally enough later in the book/cartoon version. There's no need to push it here. Everyone's character gets distorted for the movie to work.
  • The 2012 movie seems to have lost the story somewhere. Fine, they want to show Gandalf's wizards-fighting-Sauron/the Necromancer thing onscreen. But... it feels like they had to distort that to fit (the timeline doesn't seem to work right. In the books, Gandalf met Thorin's father in the dungeons of the Necromancer a long time ago! The Necromancer was a well-known evil by that time). And it takes too much of the focus away from Bilbo. Between that and having Thorin's story foregrounded, we've lost the "everyman hobbit sucked into great adventures" feel to the story. That seems a waste of Martin Freeman!
  • Speaking of which, I thought all the actors did a great job in the 2012 movie. I even liked Radagast and his magic bunny rabbits (but I'm an old Doctor Who fan.) In that, it's a tie for me between the voice actors from 1977 and the live actors in 2012. But I wanted more of Martin Freeman in scenes not involving a ton of CGI monsters!
  • I'd better stop here. I may read this years from now and wonder "What the heck was I thinking?" This is all merely my opinion as of today, while in excitable rant-mode.

Happy Yule!

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