Monday, January 7, 2013

Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold

I have not yet watched the hobbit, since I tend to shun movie theatres. I'm somewhat apprehensive about it. Granted, Jackson &co. have proven themselves a class above the usual concern that any adaptation will only serve to discredit the book it's based on, but they are not yet entirely above suspicion.

The adaptation of the Lord of the Rings itself had some glaring problems, all of which obviously stem from the same motivation. For one thing, though Gimli certainly serves as comic relief to some extent in the books, this aspect is played up in the movies. Legolas gets disproportionate amounts of screen time. We get poetically-licensed elves at the Hornburg but no extra dwarves anywhere. There are no dirty, clumsy hill-people leading the Rohirrim to the Pelennor fields. Worst of all is Arwen's ridiculous feminist uprising, usurping Glorfindel and even her own father's screen-time and eating up what could've been Tom Bombadil or Legolas and Gimli on their sightseeing trip with tedious, unnecessary romantic interludes.
It all amounts to an appeal to the lowest common denominator. Obviously the glorious tale of the beginning of the fourth age of Middle-Earth, hope, camaraderie, power-lust, dedication, bravery and warfare... needed some sex-appeal. This brings us back to The Hobbit.

Admittedly, I can't claim to have spotted the main problem myself. I found it as a joke in a webcomic, probably somewhere in the archives of Weregeek, though for the life and undeath of me I can't find it now. Here's the glitch: The Hobbit is very light on pretty people. The bulk of the story features only burly, grumpy, hairy dwarves. Aside from a couple of scenes staying with Elrond and Thranduil, there are no elves. The only humans aside from the inhabitants of Esgaroth are... well, Gandalf and Beorn aren't even humans, and they're certainly not "Mr. Universe" material. Even more terrifying to Hollywood, there are no female characters. Ya can't make no movie without tits!

Well, from the ads, it's obvious they added at least one pair of tits, Galadriel. It's a fair assumption we'll also see an Arwen/Aragorn/Arwen, Arwen and more Arwen interlude at Rivendell. I must concede that it's clever to use material from the appendices of LoTR and The Silmarillon for discussions between the wise which would include more screen time for Galadriel, Elrond, etc. but I'm afraid it won't stop there. I'm dreading the full-on Hollywood treatment, the dwarf company acquiring a fifteenth member, some buxom, golden-haired elvish broad wielding two claymores at once, the march of the sword-princess Leia-something.

Well, maybe they'll compensate for it by doing a good job in other respects. Maybe Smaug will be the best dragon to ever hit the screen, and maybe Mirkwood will be the epitome of the fairytale "Dark Forest" cliche as it's meant to be. There is one scene in particular which, if done right, would compensate for much Hollywood stupidity, and it's not one normally seen as iconic. Other bits like Bard shooting down the dragon, giant spiders, the hobbit stealing from a dragon, have all become much more frequent reference points. As I've said before though, it's more rare to find scenes which capture not only the fairytale feel but the nature of our own fascination with fairytales. Possibly the best such example is the scene at the beginning of The Hobbit with the dwarves singing "far over the Misty Mountains cold" in the light of a dying fire in a smoky room.

This is the call to adventure which sets the hero on his journey. The anticipation, the promise of dangers to overcome, trials through which to prove oneself, a moral imperative to set wrongs aright and a hefty reward at the end, these promises keep us coming back to fairytales no matter how many times we've heard them, and every element is embodied in that one scene and in the song itself. Get that right, Jackson, and I can tolerate more Arwen pandering.

1) Guillermo del Toro. Good addition. Jackson's take may have been more realistic than necessary, since The Hobbit is more of a fairytale than LoTR and del Toro has proven himself quite imaginative in the past. "Let this remind you why you once feared the dark."
2) In the course of writing the post, googling this-and-that, I ran across the best thing I've seen recently. I can't even say anything about it. I just love it. Mr. Dale, you're a were-hobbit after my own heart.

edit 2017/07/22:
Went back to capitalize my Is.
Also I must note how horribly, horribly right I was about the Hobbit movies turning into a pile of rancid effluvium trickled out Hollywood's nether regions, utterly unlike the LotR movies. If XenArwen was cheap pandering to female chauvinism, Tauriel was an utterly inexcusable capitulation, a dead ringer for Jeph Jacques' redneck fantasy heroine.
As for the rest? Mirkwood was forgettable, Smaug only slightly less so thanks to Cumberbatch's voicing. Bard vs. dragon was ruined by more utterly gratuitous rape of Tolkien's story.

But hey, I got my song. Though abbreviated, Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold was one of the few scenes in all three movies played honestly to a fair approximation of Tolkien. Perhaps the only long-term value the flicks may hold is providing scattered visuals to accompany various youtube videos like these twenty minutes of dwarvish singing.

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