12/16/12

In Defense of Peter Jackson and "The Hobbit" - Is Peter Jackson the next George Lucas?

I am about to full-on fangirl out (A process similar to hulking out, but with less muscles.) and just straight up non-objectively argue with all of the lukewarm and cold reviews I've been scanning for "The Hobbit" this morning.

Note: I am fully aware that neither Peter Jackson nor "The Hobbit" need a crazy fangirl's overly-intense and bloggy defense. The box office has spoken. But still...it's what I do. Hooray for self-awareness!If you really want to support something, you do so with your purchasing power. So I'll be seeing it again for sure.

I sat at our kitchen counter this morning, drinking my coffee and becoming increasingly frustrated from the stance most of the negative reviews are written from. (Get over it, I end my sentences with prepositions. "I'm a loner Dottie...a rebel.")

Yes, all movies should stand alone. (Right? Hmmm...) You should be able to be Johnny Anybody and walk in off the street, plop down and totally be able to follow the whole movie.

Put a pin in that. I'll return to it.

There is a low but audible accusatory thrum beneath almost all of the reviews.

Essentially, this careful accusation goes, "Peter Jackson did 'The Hobbit' to rake in the dough. That's why he turned the much shorter source material (shorter than LOTR) into another trilogy. That's why these movies are so long."



Except that Peter Jackson earned some MUCH deserved Oscars for telling that literary epic in such an artful way. So the criticism of "The Hobbit" is reading and sounding way more like THIS because everybody still respects him and secretly dreams of meeting him in person, so they don't want to be too blatant with their negativity.

I can't help but feel like maybe Peter Jackson is going to be the next pop-culture punching bag a la George Lucas. I mean seriously, HOW many more documentaries can be made about the fans not liking all of his choices? Enough already. Your opinion is valid, I'm just tired of hearing it.

I know. I'm winning friends all over the place today.

I hope, hope, HOPE that I am completely wrong about this. But the snark in so many of these reviews and 90% of the facebook comments my husband and I posted about seeing the movie and loving it...I don't know. It just makes me feel like Peter Jackson wore the wrong dress to the school dance this year and the mean girls have decided he's "out".  I'm not just hearing, "I didn't care for the movie." I'm hearing some old school "Bash the D&D geeks" rhetoric. Not from everyone, of course. But from more than I expected.

Remember that point about money though, I'm going to destroy it later.

Last of all, the most common argument I'm reading goes, "I liked Lord of the Rings and everything, but this is just...it's too...fantasy-based. It's not realistic enough."

Let me just disclaim this.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Really. Even the snarky ones. I don't know why I'm so wound up about this today. I guess after I saw it at the midnight showing on Thursday and then went about my weekend not reading reviews, I assumed that everyone else loved it too. So I was surprised at the way those three points really seemed to pop up in almost every review of the movie across the board.

To review, I keep reading:

1. They just did "The Hobbit" as a trilogy for the money.
2. The film isn't easy enough to understand. (More specifically, "Nothing happened.")
3. It's too much fantasy to be believable.
 
When I taught creative writing at BSU, I used to tell my students, "You aren't allowed to say, 'That was bad.' or, 'It sucked' about anything we read in this class. You have to say, 'I did or didn't like it.' and then tell the rest of the class exactly why. Was the language too flowery? Do you not prefer nonfiction? Did the lead character remind you of your Aunt Faye who you totally hate? Get specific. As specific as you can. You'll learn mountains more when you do."

I mean, that wasn't verbatim. But you get the idea. So now, onto the point by point. It's about to get REAL nerdy. You've been warned.

Common Review Point the First: The movie was too long! This doesn't call for a trilogy! Peter Jackson is doing it for the money!

1. Peter Jackson, and his partner Fran Walsh, probably have more money than Scrooge McDuck and Daddy Warbucks combined. He doesn't want any more money.

Those of us who follow his career closely, and HAVE been for years and years now also feel like we know him. Like Joss Whedon or even Charlie Chaplin, Peter Jackson is a personality. As Wendy Williams would say, "He's our friend in our head." He's a walking philosophy. He's that kid who is so busy playing with his action figures that he didn't know Dad just got home, walked right past him and dinner has been on the table for thirty minutes. (Gender changed in analogy to protect the fangirl.)

Like an athlete, the majority of what he does is for the love of the game.

He's not a Sharper Image kinda guy. He still runs around sets barefoot and unkempt. He still lives for blood packs and axes embedded in heads and all that gory good stuff. Before those two reached major acclaim, they even allowed behind-the-scenes cameras into their house. Which looked completely and totally normal. Just like yours or mine. What I'm saying here is that he's not a snob. Certainly not the type of snob everyone seems to be subtly trying to allude to the fact that he's become.

This is partially the price of massive success. It's the big dream to get to Hollywood or to win an Oscar. Then you do and everyone kinda sorta hates you for it. Just ask Simon Pegg, who experienced a similar backlash in England. (Oh how I hope my blog turns into a record of the projects I'm working on someday very soon. It would be great to not have the time to rave because I'm working on my own stuff.)

Peter Jackson doesn't do things solely for money. If he did, he wouldn't have made the long string of unique project choices that he has. He takes risks. Look at his IMDB. It's filled with think-pieces and quirky horror and genre, genre, genre. 

Have we all forgotten the much-covered-in-the-press strike that almost prevented "The Hobbit" from being made at all and then tried to have the production shipped out of New Zealand? 

Have we forgotten that Jackson did not, in fact, want to direct these movies in the first place?

Guillermo Del Toro was slated to direct them and all of the strike shenanigans forced him to leave so he could move on to other films. Leaving Jackson with pretty much one option, shutter the production or  undertake another painstaking years-long journey with Tolkein's source material. A process that has absolutely exhausted him, his family, and cast and crew once before.

Watch "The Return of the King" special features. See how people suffered to finish those films. And I suspect they were only portraying the half of it.

But the success of those films birthed an industry in New Zealand. They created jobs and a studio. They created dependency. I believe that Jackson feels the need to keep that going for all the people who came to thrive off of his creative work and his insistence that they film in New Zealand.

So if we're going to point the finger about money, fine. But let's not pretend like Jackson is building a giant golden mansion and renaming New Zealand "Jacksonland". The man is doing it to keep people employed. This is the other side of massive creative success. Responsibility.

Point the second: Johnny Anybody and his Desperate Need to Totally "Get It" All of the Time

2. *breathes deep* Here's the thing. I've taught story accessibility before. The basic principle goes, a work must be able to stand on it's own without being explained by it's creator. But there are two different types of violation of this rule.

a. When something literally doesn't make sense. See, every movie ever given the MST3K treatment. People who appear alive in the film who have recently been killed. Characters getting from point A to point B impossibly fast or with no explanation. Mistakes in the narrative. Lazy filmmaking or storytelling. When something is just bad.

b. When the storyteller decides to go for capital A art and break the rules intentionally. J.J. Abrams specializes in broken narratives and time shifts. He tells stories out of order. On purpose. It is a manipulative storytelling tactic. But it works. It emphasizes character motivations, plot points, and surprises that are totally unexpected. Yet when you look back, they were also completely inevitable. Like a card player, he holds his hand close to his chest and plays it for maximum emphasis. Is it a trick? Yes! But it's a really really good one.

Do I always like storytellers who do this? Nope. I find David Lynch's "Eraserhead" to be almost completely inaccessible.  But that doesn't make it "bad" just because I don't like it. Some people hate the intentionally broad comedy of Tim Burton's first feature "Pee Wee's Big Adventure". I love it. I get it.

But I don't need a bunch of other people to get it for the film, or my love of the film, to be validated. Yep. I called it a "film".

Concentrated artistic endeavors are polarizing. They attract you or repel you. But they are at least completely what they intend to be. "The Hobbit" is concentrated and intentional.

Yes, it is long. Yes, it may feel slow to some people. But not to me. As a lover of the book, I wanted to linger in Peter Jackson's shire as long as humanly possible. It wasn't a movie, it was a field trip.

Also, I'd say that plenty happened. A lead character left home for the first time ever. He was almost eaten by trolls. He was kidnapped by goblins. He fell down a mountain crevice. He had to match wits with a monster that wanted to eat him.

I'd say some stuff happened.

Peter Jackson makes long movies. It's kind of his thing. You don't go to a Peter Jackson movie thinking it's going to be an hour and twenty minutes. So what?

Which brings me to...

Point the Third: Does "The Hobbit" have to be so unrealistic?

I like this. S
3. Yes. Yes it does. Because there are giant eagles and trolls and goblins and a magic ring that turns people invisible and thirteen dwarves and a city of Elves and a really scary little cave-dwelling omnivore who has been alive for hundreds of years and so on and so forth.

If you take nothing else away from this blog, take this:

The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy made fantasy accessible to the general public. People who never understood the appeal of the genre before could suddenly appreciate it. It was a beautiful time to be a geek. It was like gaining mass social acceptance. Peter Jackson represented for us.

It was like we were all from some tiny country that got a delegate into the Olympics for the first time. Except instead of just gathering around our TVs to watch him carry the flag in the opening ceremonies and being happy with that, he WON! He won the WHOLE ENTIRE OLYMPICS for us!!!

Basement dwellers of the world (of which I am one) finally had representation. "This! This," we cried, "is what we see in our heads when we play Dungeons and Dragons and read Piers Anthony books and try to dress up like "Willow" characters on Halloween!"

It was magnificent.

But that genre is still a much smaller cross-section of movie-lovers than action or drama or comedy.

So yes. "The Hobbit" is a fantasy film. 100% Jackson doesn't do anything halfway. Ever. So it's just as concentrated as LOTR, but from more innocent and humor-filled source material.

If the stakes feel lower in these movies, it's because they are. If you haven't read the books, that might be confusing. I get that.

But none of the above points make the movie"bad" or "disappointing" or "sloppy" or "money-grubbing" like so many of the reviews I read this morning seem to be accusing.

So there.


1 comment:

Arwen Undomiel said...

Hi. I am a huge fan of the LotR books and movies. I've read all 3 books in Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and the Silmarillion. I love the world created by Tolkien and the world shown to us through Peter Jackson's eyes because it is fantasy. I t helps me escape in to a different world where i can be the hero (in my case the heroine). So people saying that the movie has too much fantasy in it just pisses me off. If they did not want fantasy they should not have gone to watch the movie... as you said the movie has a dragon, dwarves, wizards and hobbits for crying out loud.

I loved the movie and the fact that it was long. It gave me a chance to spend time with the characters. I will be rewatching the movie with my friends this coming weekend.