Thursday, January 03, 2013

The road goes ever on and on ...

A very holiday thing to do - though for the past few years one we've kept till the day the schools went back - is to make the trip to Glasgow to see a movie in a big cinema with huge screens and wrap-around sound and comfy seats. Yesterday we saw The Hobbit, not necessarily because I thought it would be hugely gripping - after all, I think I first read the book in 1968 - but because I couldn't ignore the fact that the sounds and visuals would be stunning.

And stunning they were. There were some amazing interiors - the dwarves' kingdom, the huge lair of the trolls - but what I loved most was the sweep of the New Zealand landscape. And of course there are some amazing actors in this film, and there was the distraction of identifying who lay behind the beards and noses of the dwarves: sometimes it was only the voice that gave the clue. Richard Armitage's name (or Lucas North, if you like) only came to us later; James Nesbitt and Ken Stott were vocally unmistakable. Martin Freeman (Dr Watson)  makes a very convincing Bilbo while Sylvester McCoy, FP of Dunoon Grammar School, is a batty addition to a trio of wizards (Iain McKellen and Christopher Lee, natch, are the others). I never clocked Barry Humphries; if you haven't seen the film yet, see if you do.

And the film itself? Well, there's too much of it. That's it, really - the book can be read from cover to cover in a matter of hours, and yet it is given the same three-film treatment that the massive Lord of the Rings had and needed. (It took me an eight-day illness to read that way back in my youth). So there were moments when I found myself thinking "get on with it", and there were, as Mr B observed, too many creatures rushing about and too many bangs and thumps: both are thrilling in small helpings but tedious when they recur every time someone stops talking. (My father used to relate how he fell asleep while a spectator of the Battle of Alamein, in his signals truck). I realise that three films make far more money than one, and when you've hauled all these actors to NZ and set everything up there's a temptation to get more out of them - apparently action scenes from the desert war movie The Desert Fox  reappeared in The Desert Rats a couple of years later - but it makes for a thinning of the narrative, a slowing down of pace that has to be compensated for. So we have racing wolves (scary teeth), racing rabbits (scary ride for Radagast) and hordes upon hordes of racing Trolls.

The opening of the film makes a neat - but over-long - reference to the first part of Lord of the Rings, and the music provides a subliminal linkage, landing me with an earworm that lasted the rest of the day. I knew I had been sucked into Middle Earth again when I saw the departing audience as trolls flooding down dark stairways, and found myself looking behind me in the street outside when an unexpected noise seemed suddenly threatening. But it's a lazy sort of enjoyment, the sort of enjoyment I sought when I re-read Lord of the Rings over the years as an antidote to stress instead of tackling a new book (I must have been incredibly stressed - I think I've read it seven times). I didn't see it in 3D, and I'm glad - wearing two pairs of specs for so long would have been incredibly tiring, and would also have brought on one of my heads...

Don't be put off, however, if you enjoyed the other trilogy. But do treat yourself to a good meal after the movie rather than before. You'll stay awake better, and you'll be pleasantly peckish.

Unless you go for the popcorn ...

I'm writing this on Tolkien's birthday, by the way.

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