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Skyfall and The Hobbit: The Critics Are Batshit Crazy

January 5, 2013

About a month ago, I took J.J. Abrams and Alex Kurtzman to task for using a much-loved fictional universe as the stage for their generic space action movie, Star Trek Into Darkness.  To be fair, their show hasn’t been released yet, but as I demonstrated, there was nothing in promotional materials that made using the well-established Star Trek license necessary, or even desirable.  When I wrote that article, I didn’t think that it might be the first in a mini-series of “WTF! They crapped on my childhood! Why?!” posts about the misuse of iconic characters and well-established fictional universes.

You can see where this is going, at least for half of this article.

The other day, I went to see Skyfall.  It was a social event and I thought, if The Hobbit is 65% and the latest adventure of James Bond is 92% fresh tomatoes, surely I won’t be too disappointed by choosing the one over the other. With Skyfall, I should be in for at least some guns, gadgets, girls, gambling, and snappy innuendo fun.  Ultimately, I while I was somewhat entertained at the time at the time of viewing, there were considerable flaws with the writing and directing, and the more I think about what transpired, the less I like the show.

Spoiler Alert – but read on anyway!

First, let me start with the good.   I like Daniel Craig.  He is the closest thing to Connery since Connery, at least with regard to physicality as presented on screen.  I also found myself smiling at several points in the film as fan service was paid to much of the content of past Bond films.  The appearance of the Austin Martin was fun*. When Bond flipped the cap off this gear shift to expose the eject button I couldn’t catch what M said sitting in the passengers seat, but the comedy was in the situation as much as it could be in any line she might deliver.  I had a good chuckle.

And that is it for the good.

Basically, most of the trademarks of a Bond movie, as listed above, were missing.  There was no clever gambling scene.  There were only two “gadgets” which would have been a novel twist for a Bond if it weren’t for the fact that they portrayed Q as an incompetent, young, yellow-belt semi-hacker.  I suppose it is possible that the writers simply didn’t have the imagination to think up new (or even research current) technology. Either way, we are left with neither exciting technology, nor respectable, humorous scientists.

There was very little snappy innuendo. This was a “serious Bond” and that is ok if we have a serious, solid story and interesting characters.  Instead, the plot holes were so numerous and large that by the end of the movie, there was nothing left to stand on.  In the final thirty minutes alone, James Bond basically kidnaps M, puts her in harm’s way without any possibility of back-up, and gets M killed?!  Yes, we can suspend disbelief when James survives getting shot and falls from such a great height that he reaches terminal velocity before he hits the water.  We can suspend disbelief when James falls through the ice, strangles a man under water, and the gets out limber and energetic to attempt to save the day.  We cannot, however, accept him getting the Head of MI6 killed.  Nope. That doesn’t work in this universe.

As for the characters, to be fair, the villain was as developed and interesting as any Roger Moore era Bond villain, so I won’t complain about that any more than I would have back then.  However, the two Bond girls were utterly lacking in any charm, personality, or development: beautiful women acting and speaking as their roles allowed, but incapable, for lack of development, of inciting desire or sympathy.  I didn’t feel much at all when the hooker Sévérine’s life was taken, and as the scene unfolded I was asking myself why?  As for Eve Moneypenny, she was a total disaster – a lethal, former field officer whom James has bedded, becomes the new M’s secretary?!  Who thinks this is good writing?  Moneypenny must be the beautiful, charming, competent, intelligent but unskilled in self-defense (dare I say vulnerable), unobtainable, preferably older woman that Bond flirts with before and after missions.  If you will pardon the pun, don’t f-ck with Moneypenny.

The film was an unmitigated disaster.  The only saving grace is that the writers and director have given Plinkett, of The Phantom Menace Review fame, incredible source material for his next, full-length feature review.

*Note: As my friend pointed out, the Craig Bonds were supposed to be a reboot of the franchise, so why are we making reference to previous Bonds at all?  Even in their moments of brief success, the writers and directors are at fault.

For everything that was wrong with Skyfall and its treatment of the Bond universe, things were right with The Hobbit and its treatment of Middle-Earth.

The Hobbit: And Unexpected Journey is the way Lord of the Rings should have been made – at the pace and with the attention to detail that the books deserve.

First, let me start with the bad.  Peter Jackson needs to put down his New Zealand tourism books, and stop filming sweeping helicopter shots of people running along the tops of the New Zealand mountains.  Similarly, PJ needs to learn new angles and methods for filming action sequences.  The zooming and panning above the company as they ran through the goblins caverns was all too reminiscent of the action scenes from the Mines of Moria.

And that is it for the bad.

I loved every minute, every scene, every song, and every fight of the movie.   Seeing it once isn’t enough to provide a proper account of all that Peter Jackson did so well.  Therefore, I will make just a few brief comments. The famous riddle scene with Bilbo and Gollum surpassed even my stellar expectations.  Andy Serkis and the special effects team responsible for Gollum deserve great recognition for their work.  That 10 minute encounter alone was worth the price of admission.

The added content was interesting, well done, and flowed well with the rest of the story. Radagast was highly entertaining and even a little bit “Disney”, which is perfect for the goofball wizard whose only contribution in the battle for the One Ring and the fate of Middle Earth, was to get Gandalf trapped on Orthanc.

Smaug was awesome. The fact that we didn’t get a full frontal makes it all the better. He is Jaws and Police Chief Brody has just arrived at the beach to find the arm in the sand (Dun, dun, Dun, dun).

Though we didn’t get to know all of the dwarves individually, PJ did an excellent job of developing as many as he possibly could.  By the end, I was very eager to dig into the novel to see what was Tolkien and what was PJ as regards Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King Under The Mountain.

The three hours went by in a flash and the movie ended as perfectly as possible for a show that doesn’t tell the whole story.

There is much to look forward to next Christmas.  I got so much for my money.  I cannot wait to see it again and again, and again on DVD.  I will say it once more, the comprehensive coverage of source material and the relaxed direction of this film is what Peter Jackson should have experienced when making Lord of the Rings.  However, that wasn’t his fault because the industry wasn’t ready for this kind of epic film making back then.  He had to blaze that trail first. So, better late than never.  Well done!

And that is the tale of two movies: how to and how not to tell stories in rich, entertaining, and much beloved universes.  There is talk that Skyfall will be nominated for best Picture (and of course, no talk of The Hobbit).  The critics are batshit crazy.

UPDATE:  I completely forgot about the casting!  Martin Freeman, the real Jim Halpert,  was outstanding as Bilbo Baggins, simply brilliant, and the dwarves were all great.  I also appreciated the attention to continuity by recasting the others in their same roles from LoTR.

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6 Comments
  1. January 5, 2013 3:57 pm

    Woke up this morning, looking for this post. And…. Here it is!!

    Bottom line: Peter Jackson has the right kind of soul to breathe life into Tolkien’s world.

  2. January 6, 2013 5:44 pm

    Can’t believe no one is commenting on Sun’s awesome post.

    I’ll start.

    I will be seeing The Hobbit again at the theaters.

    Regarding Radagast. In many reviews I read, they all pretty much criticized his character. Bad casting? Poor interpretation? Jar Jar?

    I think they all got it wrong. Sun’s is right. I liked Radagast. He though befuddled, not so much if you think about it. He recognized evil. And investigated.
    Pursued it into the creepy old castle, and went to the heart of it. Where he not only saw Suron, but was attacked by the witch King, but didn’t leave till he came back with his gosh dang Mordor Sword. Befuddled?! Me thinks not. Brought it to Gandalf. Knew he could handle it from there.

    But this new information regarding Radagast’s herroics, brings up an interesting question regarding Gandalf. Why if they back during the Hobbit knew about the rise of Mordor, did nothing for sixty years. They could have gathered all the Wizards and taken on Soron, while he was still weak and in hiding?

    Did Gandalf faulter at his duties? Radagast risked his life to find out the truth, warred with the witch King, looked Soron in the eyes, and brought back proof. A friggin Sword that was supposed to be buried hundred of feet deep in a sealed tombs. And they did nothing. Hmmm… Something to think about regarding LoTR’s. Changes my thinking about it anyway…

  3. Blankman permalink*
    January 6, 2013 9:58 pm

    Great post, Suns! I’m without a computer right now because I’m currently in moving limbo waiting on the townhouse to be ready for move in. Typing on my iPhone sucks. Anyways, back to your post. While I agree with the majority of your pros and cons about The Hobbit, I disagree with your take on the panoramic scenery shots. The reason being that there are still people who haven’t seen any of the LoTR films. Imagine that. Therefore, many do not know what Middle Earth (New Zealand) looks like. To keep the continuity, PJ included a variety of New Zealand’s beautiful landscapes which amounted to no more than ten minutes in total, as well as make some of the interior actions shots feel the same as those in the Fellowship. Every director has their own style. Take for instance, the late Tony Scott; his freeze frame and gritty, shaky camera shots would eventually grate on your nerves. However, that raw & unrefined feel was Tony Scott. This was clearly evident in his later films like Enemy of the State and Man on Fire. What do I know, I didn’t go to film school. I figure if I enjoyed the film, you’ve done we’ll enough for me. 🙂

    You hit Radagast in the bullseye, Kenai. It took balls to investigate Dol Guldar, battle the revived Witch King, challenge the darkness that was cast on Mirkwood, and bring evidence of the Morgul Blade. We have to understand that Saruman had possession of one of the palantirs unbeknowst to anyone and was succumbing to its influence since Sauron was manipulating him from the other end. Since he was the “white” wizard and the leader of his order, his say stayed the elves’ involvement (the last great army/people left on Middle Earth). Saruman was overconfident because he thought that since he possessed one of the palantirs that was thought to be lost, he could see & know all of the happenings on Middle Earth. When he realized Sauron’s growing power too late, he felt that there was no other choice but to form an alliance with Sauron to preserve himself. Also, if they had ended Sauron’s resurgence at Dol Guldar, there wouldn’t be a trilogy. 😉

  4. January 6, 2013 10:34 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Guys! When you see a great movie or play a great game, you just want to talk about it and see if others felt the same.

    Understood about the landscapes. Good points about Radagast and Gandalf and the discovery of evil. Evil is always easier to see in hindsight, and then wonder how it was that we were so blind at the time – like slowly warming the frog in the water until he gets boiled. I think it is a natural, observable, predictable cycle – with present day implications. And yes, the ramifications of the treachery of Saruman cannot be underestimated. It is often only through treachery that a fortification can be penetrated.

    And just the fact that these themes are coming up in our discussion highlights the relevance and profundity of the movie (especially when compared to so much of the other garbage out there).

    By the way, I saw it in 3D/24fps and it was great! I highly recommend it if you can handle it. I am trying to set up a schedule with my friend here to see it a second time.

  5. Blankman permalink*
    January 6, 2013 10:49 pm

    OT: Do you realize that in PJ’s LoTR films, the combined ages of Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, and Ian McKellen amount to 144 244 years(81, 90, 73, respectively)? Wow!!! It’s going to be a sad day when these fine actors pass. You thought Trekkies take it hard when members of the cast passed away.

  6. January 9, 2013 1:33 pm

    “But this new information regarding Radagast’s herroics, brings up an interesting question regarding Gandalf. Why if they back during the Hobbit knew about the rise of Mordor, did nothing for sixty years. They could have gathered all the Wizards and taken on Soron, while he was still weak and in hiding?”

    This is the main problem with writing new material into old stories that aren’t in chronological order. Radagast didn’t do all that in the book, that was all added by the scriptwriters to pad out the book into three films, perhaps?

    I haven’t seen the film. I know I’ll like it, but I have no real desire to see any film in the cinemas anymore. Yes, I’m a cranky curmudgeon. I have a BluRay player, and it’ll cost less to get the BluRay than to get tickets for me and my wife and get someone to watch the kids.

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