The Problem with Distributism
Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending

Who's going to see the new Hobbit movie?

Not me. I hadn't been planning to, and I didn't see the first one, either--considerable after-the-fact reflection on the Lord of the Rings movies had left me wanting no more of Peter Jackson's treatment of Tolkien. Not that the movies were all bad by any means, but enough Hollywood-izing was enough, and then some. And what I heard about the first Hobbit installment convinced me. In fact I was mentally using the word "boycott."

But if I'd had any doubt at all about seeing this one, Steven Greydanus's review would have removed it.


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It struck me just the other day that Peter Jackson, like most Hollywood film-makers, is at heart an orc: "wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them."

That's a brilliant observation.

However .... as a lifelong LOTR fan and thus a fan of other forms of fantasy lit (mostly as a teen-ager) I was always sad at how bad fantasy movies are. The LOTR and Hobbit 1 movies are certainly not bad - they are much better than a lot of Hollywood (or New Zealand?) fare. So, the books are wonderful of course, but in their own way, so are the movies, and particularly Ian McKellen as Gandalf.

I agree with everything you said except that the movies are also wonderful. "Have some wonderful moments" is the most I can say there. They also had some pretty bad moments, and from what I've heard of the Hobbit movies, wonderful is waning and bad is waxing.

Well said, Paul!

I would like to see the new movie, Steven Greydanus notwithstanding. The first film was a middling success, too full of noise and nonsense, but it had its good moments. I guess I like Middle Earth enough that I'm willing to sit through a whole lot of bluster for the intermittent pleasures.

Paul's observation above is really excellent. I wish Jackson was more of a hobbit, or even a dwarf. Still, it's not as though anybody else is making films about Middle Earth. Beggars, choosers, etc.

My problem (as I said in discussing this on Facebook) is not just that I don't want to bother with a movie that I think won't be very good, but that movie images tend to invade my conception of the Tolkien works themselves. For instance, I didn't especially care for the way Aragorn was portrayed in the movies, but I'm afraid I'll never be able to get that image of him out of my head when I read the book now.

I think i lucked at re: Aragorn. I have such a strong image of him from reading the book several times that I just kinda internally laugh when I think of that Viggo feller playing him. I laugh even more (before I start crying) when I think of Blanchett's Gala... No, I can't say it.

I didn't see Hobbit I, so I doubt I'll see Hobbit II. I also didn't watch most of LotR II and III, except what my kids told me were the very best parts.

The Oliphaunts were all wrong.

Well, I had a strong image of Aragorn, too, but the movie image keeps imposing itself. When I was in the second grade, I had a dream in which my teacher's face was all blown up like a balloon, and I never could look at her again without thinking about it. It's like that.


Aragorn is probably the worst for me, as far as what I think vs. movie is concerned. I would say you're probably better off, Robert, not having seen LOTR II and III. Things only got more egregious, though apparently the Hobbit movies are much worse.

I didn't think Blanchett was bad, actually. But another thing I hate is seeing people who played those wonderful characters in ugly roles.

Without even mentioning that Galadriel isn't a witch, I just don't think Blanchett can even remotely seem 6000 years old.

Who could? That goes back to the original suspicion: the only way to fix some of those problems would have been not to make the movies at all. I didn't think any of the elves were really very good, except possibly Arwen. But then she's only half-elven. And I'm sorry I ever read an interview with Liv Tyler.

I can't believe I'm having this conversation again, ten (!) years later. My gentle and patient wife once made me shut up on this topic.

Well, there are plenty of actresses that could pull off 6000 better than CB. Now, you will want me to name them, which I won't, because then someone will say, "Her? HER? UGH!"

Jackson gets a few things very right: the Shire, and hobbits in general, Gandalf, and, perhaps especially, Gollum. Almost enough to forgive, or at least overlook, the things he totally blows: elves, dwarves, orcs (most of them, anyway), ents, Rivendell, etc etc. But I did see the Hobbit movie and even though the things he got right were still there, Lord have mercy, it is awful. Hunky dwarves? You got 'em. Ridiculous action sequences? Step right up. I could go on. And this could have been a wonderful film -the guy has the gifts to do this sort of thing if he would restrain himself- if only he had stuck to the spirit of the original story, a child's tale, with only hints of what was to evolve into the whole mythology of Middle Earth, and the darker LOTR trilogy...

I can't believe I'm having this conversation again, ten (!) years later. My gentle and patient wife once made me shut up on this topic.


To answer your question, not me.

"Ridiculous action sequences"--yeah, those were already too numerous in the LOTR movies, which was part of why I wasn't even very interested in the first hobbit movie. I pretty much agree with your (Daniel) view of what was right and wrong. I didn't think the Ents were badly done, considering the inherent difficulty. And as I guess I said earlier I think the elves were really impossible, so I saw that as an honest and reasonable effort that just didn't work too well, not a sort of bad faith thing like putting contemporary wisecracks into Gimli's mouth, or a failure of understanding, like making Aragorn an angst-ridden sort of guy.

I loved the first Hobbit movie and am going to see the second one this afternoon. If Greydanus doesn't like it, that is an added impetus, if I needed one.

If I remember correctly you're not a huge fan of Tolkien's writing. Correct? That might explain your view.:-)

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but my children had an extended version of LOTR on DVD, and in it there was a scene where some of the characters--Merry & Pippin I would imagine--were gorging themselves on lembas and burping, ha, ha, ha. Well, I know that maybe we can't Jackson to see the Eucharistic connection there, or maybe even the holiness of lembas, but there's something there that even an atheist ought to see in way that lembas is presented in the book. Anyone with any sensitivity to the text ought to recognize that there is something at least magical in a very serious way there, and not something to be joked around with. I was already very sorry that I had seen the movies, and this completely ruined them for me forever.

This scene points to an underlying awareness of what is really going on in the books that taints the movies. One sees this in an even more pronounced way in the Narnia movies.


Narnia--I saw I, but not II and III. The first was enough.

And its not that I don't like adaptation to cinema or even a different focus or take on the themes. I just don't like the take that the producers present.

There were things in I that I really didn't like, but there were few others who seemed bothered by them, which surprised me. I wasn't going to go see II, but let myself get talked into it, and it was far worse than II to my way of thinking. I haven't seen III, but it seems like it's the worst of all and even my friends in the CSL Society who really, really wanted to like the movies have thrown up their hands in disgust.


I didn't really think I was awful, but there was enough bad in it that when I read about what "liberties" were taken with II and III, I was sure I didn't want to see them.

I sort of liked I. Liked the first half or so pretty well, actually. Didn't care much for II. Thought III was very nearly a total loss, even when I made an effort to be generous. Won't see any others, if they're made.

I'm not seeing it either. The first installment disappointed me so exceedingly that I broke topic and blogged about it yesterday :P My two cents:

Greydanus's review is pretty harsh, too! Thanks for the link; that was an entertaining read.

Well I have to confess that three of us went to see the second Hobbit movie and our unanimous opinios is that it stinks. It's impossible to follow the story. There are these dwarves in a cave and they somehow make a gigantic gold statue of a drawf, and somehow seconds later it melts down and the dragon gets totally gilded in this, but this doesn't harm him and he flies away. I know that's a sequence of events, but it's not a story. I very much enjoyed the first Hobbit movie and I am sadly disappointed.

So, sounds like it stinks not only as a Tolkien adaptation but on its own terms. A farrago.

Andron Ocean, you seem to have put your finger on the core of the problem: "...shows disrespect on Jackson’s part, where before he had great admiration for Tolkien’s story."

Well, a criticism of the LOTR films that I heard from more than one quarter was that they stuck too closely to the book, not taking enough liberties to produce something distinctively filmic. Perhaps the director took this mistaken criticism to heart?

Maybe so. Maybe he thought was going to do the sort of thing that happens occasionally, where someone produces a film based on a book and the film is actually better. I can't think of any examples offhand, but there have been a few. Usually the book in question is not so great to start with. Maybe Jackson though The Hobbit's childrens'-story quality made it seem lightweight, and useful mainly as a jumping-off place for his attempt to produce another Lord of the Rings.

Okay, call me crass, but I think Jackson is mainly in it for the money at this point. Why else choose to make The Hobbit into three long movies?

In any case, he's a hero in New Zealand because of the boost his movies have given the local economy. Heck, for a while a year or so ago, if you came for a visit, your passport would even have gotten a “Welcome to Middle Earth” stamp.

Gosh, I'd heard New Zealand was pleased with the publicity and revenue, but I didn't know they were making that much of a deal about it.

That Jackson is in it for the money is certainly plausible. It could also be artistic delusions of grandeur.

I guess I should say "delusions of artistic grandeur."

Warner Bros. threatened to not film The Hobbit in New Zealand back in 2010 because of a dispute with New Zealand Actors' Equity over working conditions and minimum pay. The NZ government quickly gave Warner Bros. a $25 million tax break and altered labor laws to suit the studio. And this is a very union-friendly place.

The idealism of the entertainment industry is always so touching.

Just seen it (with two teenagers). Wheels and engines and explosions in abundance. The special effects show more the inspiration of video games and amusement park rides than love of language or story.

My teens are planning to see it this afternoon. I'm wondering what they will think.

That's my impression from both the negative and positive reports, reading between the lines somewhat in the latter.

the movie has actually put me in the mood to re-read the Hobbit, simply to find out what on earth was going on with these dwarves in the cave and the stupid giant golden dwarf. And let me tell you, it takes quite a lot to put me in mind to re-read the Hobbit.

I found rereading The Hobbit to my son, perhaps 8 years ago, an eye-opener. It's much more nuanced and slow-paced than I remembered from 20 years before that, and knowing that Tolkien had been a signals officer on the Somme put a lot of it in a new light. I can heartily recommend rereading with the First World War in mind, but at no point in the book are the dwarves and the dragon in the cave together, and there is no stupid giant golden dwarf, so rereading would make you no wiser from that point of view, Grumpy.

I own a hard back copy which I think I must have bought to read, and have very dim memories of actually reading, perhaps fifteen years ago. I have to say that I recall little of the contents, except the elves. I like the elves. I think I will indeed start reading it this weekend, Paul.

"giant golden dwarf"?!? Adding the adjective "stupid" to that is almost redundant. The movie just sounds worse and worse.

I never thought of any First World War connection to The Hobbit, though I think in one of his letters Tolkien may have explicitly made the connection with Lord of the Rings.

It is indeed slow-paced and nuanced. It has absolutely nothing in common with cartoons, Disney stuff, or any of that sort of thing. I remember being a little surprised that my children liked it, because it is so slow and nuanced. But it really held their attention.

I had it read to me by all kinds of well meaning adults as a child. They guffawed and were very meaningful, as if this were something I should really really be enjoying.

"Guffawed"? I can see the very meaningful this-is-good-for-you sort of attitude, but not a great deal of laughter.

If I remember correctly, I had to be talked into reading it to my two older children, because I thought they were too young to enjoy it. Or maybe that was LOTR.

I'm a sucker for Asian action/fantasy films, so when the trailers for '47 Ronin' appeared back in the fall I was hopeful (despite the presence of Keanu Reeves). Turns out that the movie is getting horrible reviews, and that it apparently is nothing but a huge CGI-fest. Iow, a big glorified cartoon. I can't imagine JRRT's work being converted to such. Quite the travesty!

I saw The Hobbit 2 in 3D and thought it looked awfully blurry except for the main camera focus. Then I went back again and saw the 2D version and didn't think it looked much better. So that's my gripe, not the storyline which I enjoyed (even Tauriel!). But I can't find any reviews which say anything bad about how it looks. Go figure. American Hustle is quite good - look and story! I walked out of 2D Hobbit after an hour or so and watched it for a second time. :-)

Yes, I really enjoyed American Hustle - like a cross between Woody Allen and the Coen Bros

Rob G - that is the main reason I've stopped enjoying action movies in the past few years. Most have been turned by CGI into 'glorified cartoons'. The worst were those Pirate movies. I saw just one and was mortified to find that the adults I was with were enjoying it. But the same goes for many recent action / thrillers. Of course, no action/thriller was ever genuinely plausible, but when the directors use 'spectacle' to heighten implausibility, for me, the result is that I don't care what happens to the characters, because they have been de-realized.

Yes, that's exactly what happens to me. There's a point where things become so implausible that all dramatic tension collapses and you might as well be watching Bugs Bunny. I saw one of those Pirate movies and disliked it.

Haven't seen 'American Hustle' yet but it's on my list. The new Coen film, 'Inside Llewyn Davis,' is very good.

Have y'all seen 'Mud' or 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' yet? Both are excellent. 'Prisoners' is also very good but quite dark.

"There's a point where things become so implausible that all dramatic tension collapses and you might as well be watching Bugs Bunny."

Bad cinema, thy name is Michael Bay!

I don't recognize the name, and I'm glad.

You recommended Mud a while back, but I didn't manage to see it. Haven't even heard of the others, except for Llewyn Davis, which I've heard good things about, but...I've come to the conclusion that I don't really like the Coen Bros. all that much. Their movies are always interesting but sort of hollow.

My mother read The Hobbit to us when we were 10 and 8. I don't remember much about the story, but I seem to recall liking it. I think she generally read it to us one chapter at a time, but sometimes it would be quite long between chapters!

My teens enjoyed the movie, but didn't think it was very Hobbit-like. They didn't tell me about the giant dwarf!!!

Oh, that giant dwarf... what a mess. The whole sequence made absolutely no sense. It was as though they thought they needed a big set piece to bring the end of the film to a climax... but they couldn't think of anything, so they ... oh, I can't even talk about it.

I would say Hobbit 2 is quite a lot worse than Hobbit 1. Smaug was terrific, but the rest of it... ugh.

Stu, I will agree with you about how bad it looks. One big CGI sequence, in particular, was terrible: when they were floating down the river in barrels and one dwarf's barrel went bouncing along the rocks, knocking down orcs. I'll concede that this was a tricky sequence to animate, but the figures were very poorly rendered: pixellated and featureless. I don't know the back story, but I strongly suspect that the CGI rendering simply wasn't finished when they had to ship the film. Peter Jackson has a history of working right up to the deadline, and I think this time it got away from him.

Rob G, I did see "Mud" a week or so ago. I really enjoyed it, though not quite as much as Nichols' previous film ("Take Shelter"). I was not entirely sold on the last 20 minutes.

Still haven't seen the new Coen brothers film, but intend to when it hits DVD.

Rob, I took a French Dominican to see Mud in the summer, and we both enjoyed it a lot, though he found some of the dialect hard to follow. I have not heard of the others, except for the Coen Bros one, which I will see when it makes South Bend.

I enjoyed both Mud and Take Shelter - hard to say which I thought was better.

Take Shelter is one of my favorites of the last several years (it's a travesty that Michael Shannon didn't get an Oscar nomination, imo), but I think that Mud is its equal. They are very different films, however, and are difficult to compare. All 3 of Nichols' movies so far have been outstanding, as I'm a big fan of Shotgun Stories too.

"Their [Coens'] movies are always interesting but sort of hollow."

Yes, I think I know what you mean. There always seems to be a distance between the viewer and the characters that prevents real engagement. Even this new film, which some critics are describing as their most "human" yet, features a protagonist that you want to root for, but who has enough flaws to turn him into just that much of a jerk that you can't do so wholeheartedly. Having said that, it's still a very good movie with great music.

'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' is a Malick-esque crime drama set in the Texas hills, about an escaped prisoner (Casey Affleck) trying to find his family.

'Prisoners' is a crime film/psych. thriller about two men who take the law into their own hands when their daughters disappear and police have to release a prime suspect. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are both excellent, as are Terence Howard and Melissa Leo in supporting roles.

"... a distance between the viewer and the characters..." Yes, and it's an ironic distance that sometimes goes far enough to make them seem unreal, just toys to put through silly escapades, as in O Brother. I often feel like in the end the filmmakers hold their characters in something close to contempt. Yet it's not quite satire, either, most of the time.

"...this new film, which some critics are describing as their most "human" yet..."

The fact that people would describe it that way is an indicator of what we're talking about.

I think that they can get away with it in films like O Brother... and The Big Lebowski because the comedy borders on farce. It's the more dramatic ones, and the comedy-dramas that tend to feel "hollow" to me (although I confess I wouldn't say that about No Country..., which is deadly serious).

Oh yeah, I forgot No Country is theirs--yes, that's a major exception.

I suppose satire is fundamentally somewhat cold-hearted, but even there, with, say, Waugh, there is something passionate under the surface, whereas there's something cold about a movie like Burn After Reading. Similarly, Fargo hovers somewhere between black comedy, drama, and satire. I'm not complaining that it doesn't fit into a box, but that its effect is diffused by its mixed signals, and detachment from the characters is part of that mix.

Yes, I agree. Which is why I like Lynch more than the Coens, on the whole. Despite the weirdness, violence, etc., with D.L. you always get the sense that his characters are people and that he cares about them as such.

I would have eventually written a blog post about this, but since you bring it up: I watched Wild At Heart a few days ago and didn't care much for it. In spite of its redeeming triumph of love, there was just too much filth to get through. And by "filth" I don't mean the sex scenes, but the general ugly perversity. And it didn't have the sense of mystery that Mulholland Drive does, or not much of it. I would probably have bailed on it after 30 or 40 minutes if it hadn't been Lynch.

Regarding the Hobbit movie, btw: this discussion, and others, have made me want to see it just so I could write nasty things about it. Not very nice of me and I'll resist.

Your money's better spent elsewhere, Mac. Not to mention your time and attention.

You're certainly right. I'll try to let my stinginess defeat my meanness.

I agree about Wild at Heart. Didn't like that one much at all.

My wife started out watching it with me, and aside from seeing someone beaten to death in the opening scene she wanted to walk out on the bad southern accents. Nicholas Cage's and Laura Dern's weren't so bad, for the most part, but Diane Ladd's (the mother) was pretty old-Hollywood-school, i.e. not so good.

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