I hardly ever go to the movies anymore, but it has been a tradition of sorts for me to see all the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies on the big screen with my kids, or some subset of them. Alex was the perfect age for the Harry Potter series: it started with me reading the books to him (with all the voices), but as soon as he could manage for himself he took over, plus he read Lord of the Rings at a surprisingly young age. We built a huge wood and paper Helms Deep in the garage, complete with fairy lights and dozens of very carefully painted (by Alex) Warcraft figurines. We even named our hamster Arwen.
When the first HP movie came out, Alexis was visiting in Edmonton, and the three of us went to see the movie the day after it was released. I chose the noon screening to avoid the huge crowds, and so we were almost alone in the cinema. We were thrilled with the movie, with the lovely mix of stock British actors and CGI bringing the book to life so nicely. The next day it was snowing, and, not having much else to do, we went right back to see the movie again.
Since then we have followed that franchise to its bittersweet and dark ending, and of course the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films started to overlap. We enjoyed those together just as much, with Alex able to explain every tiny deviation from the books. When the DVDs came out with all the missing snippets included, he would have friends over to watch the whole trilogy in sequence: close to 11 hours with meals and bathroom breaks.
Last Friday, we all went to see the first of The Hobbit movies. Alex had already seen it in Ontario, but was very keen to see it again, and I could see why. It is so densely packed; it is hard to take in all at once. I enjoyed it very much, but not without the usual mixed feelings.
I am not too bothered by the fact that this film expands the slim book that Tolkien wrote before LOTR. Yes, it is padded in order to extend the franchise, and I did get the feeling of some sort of formula being applied: type-cast the usual suspect actors and actresses (Martin Freeman was born to be the young Bilbo), add fantastic costume, makeup and scene design, take lots of aerial shots of the lovely New Zealand landscapes and let the CGI geeks run amok. How on earth they blend all this to create a seamless and exciting movie is amazing, but to drag out the story so much has it limits. And now it seems that it will become a trilogy of films based on the Hobbit, drawing on Tolkien’s copious appendices on Middle Earth. We will be at this until 2014.
I got lost trying to figure out the trolls, the goblins and the orcs: it was one impossible fight and chase scene after another. The action scenes were so fast and closely shot that one was mesmerised: who was chopping whose head off, and how come, despite all the attempts of thousands of ghouls to destroy our heroes, none were lost?
In the end, it was a bit too cartoonish: like Road Runner, or Itchy and Scratchy, with any reality suspended, when I am not sure that was the point. Yes, there is magic, although, as in Harry Potter, any magic deployed is judiciously applied in order to fix any dead ends in the plot. That is why fantasy stories are such a cop out.
Then of course there is the cinema experience itself. By 7 pm on a holiday weekend, the floors are littered with popcorn etc., the bathrooms are in serious need of attention, and, with the advent of home theatre, no one knows how to behave: there is constant chattering throughout. Thankfully, the 7.1 surround sound was so loud, it drowned the offenders, and my cinema-going experience was not entirely ruined. For once, I did not vow to boycott movie theatres for good.
It amazes me that people still want to spend the money (it must be $25 a head with a junk food combo) and endure the travel, parking, queuing, and the other people in order to be pummeled with advertising before the movie, and with so many movies being hardly worth the effort in the first place. I am told that I could also have seen The Hobbit in 3D (I would surely have vomited), and/or in a version that was shot at double the speed, with, surely, imperceptible benefits.
Despite all this, I can’t wait for the next episode.