So I just watched the Hobbit, and on the whole, I absolutely loved it. Three hours is not too long to sit if filled with scenes and moments as fresh and beautiful as those. I didn’t feel like sequences repeated themselves; I didn’t struggle to explain the character’s motivations; The characters were interesting and behaved explicably, and these are all unfortunately rare qualities for a film to enjoy these days. I will see it again, and probably in the theater.
Aside from my taking an hour to adapt to and accept the 48-fps ‘soap opera’ effect, admittedly quite a distraction, where the movie stumbled for me was in the action sequences. It became mentally fatiguing to try to convince myself how not a single member of the Dwarf party died before the end of the film- When they weren’t being gnawed on by wargs or deflecting orcish blades, they were either being manhandled by trolls, riding on the stormswept knees of pugilistic stone giants, falling through a trapdoor and ricocheting off bare stone cliffs, or riding a collapsing piece of bridge hundreds of feet to the bottom of a gorge, all without fatality, dismemberment, or dispersal. The least of those situations would have resulted in bones broken for a strong human, easy death for the most terrific of them; yet without helmets or any uncommon display of agility or seat-of-their-pants problem-solving (indeed, the opposite,) they universally survive quite intact.
This apparant invulnerability to the comically abusive action scenes this movie dispenses chips away at any real concern we might have for the safety of the Dwarves. Most of us already know that they’ll survive to the end of the story; We’ve read the book. Instead of trying to offset that knowledge with effective and believable portrayals of risk and danger, those scenes only serve to prove that the Dwarves will survive anything the movie throws at them, albeit after suffering much abuse.
Once scene offers hope to rectify this colossal vivaciousness the Dwarves celebrate- The dining room scenes in Bilbo’s house. When the Dwarves clean up after their feast, they display a manual dexterity that a family of traveling jugglers would envy. As preposterously perfect their bucket brigade of cup tossing and plate flipping was, I took it to mean that the Dwarves were a race with certain skills surpassing a man’s, and were a race dependent on using those skills for cooperation. They therefore had an uncanny ability to work together for the group’s benefit, truly a people gifted in coming together for a common purpose.
However, this potential precedent, or any real evidence of the Dwarves’ hardiness, was never used to explain the group’s miraculous escape from death or disaster, and it easily could have: The Dwarves could have held on to each other in a dwarven chain as they clung to the Storm Giant’s knee, or their strong, miner’s fingers could have found purchase in the rock like no human could; In the Goblin cave, they could have kicked off walls on their way down, or shielded each other if they saw a friend’s head about to hit a boulder. As the bridge collapsed into the gorge, they could all have spontaneously decided to brace the structure, better to keep it intact as it rode the cliff to the bottom. In combat they could easily have exhibited a choreography like they were capable of in Bilbo’s house, or at least shown a heroic strength and endurance that could explain how they could suffer such exposure to violence and mishap without real incident.
I wish Jackson had reined in these comedic levels of absurd action that serve, in the end, to make us worry less for the characters, believe less in the reality of his Middle Earth, and which suggest that he can suspend the laws of physics in his movie arbitrarily and not have to explain why. His vision of Middle Earth is beautiful, and wonderful, and exciting and magical, and I don’t need Michael Bay-like levels of unbelievable action and spectacle to convince me that it’s real. Doing so just cheapens the film, and when a movie is this good to begin despite those flaws, it only makes those flaws stand out more.
But hey, let me look on the bright side- It could have turned out like Prometheus.