By Michael Skywood Clifford
As a lone artist writing and composing in the wind, the wind is blown firmly out of my sails when I see productions like Lord of the Rings, or the Hobbit. The sophistication of imagery, CGI manipulation and intense 3D effect makes me realise why lone artists will never impress anyone these days with their artwork, video or screenplay unless they are supported with the backing of billions of dollars, state-of-art technology and hundreds and hundreds of animators and back room boys who really know their stuff.
The Hobbit, like many films of the past ten years, is pumped up to the core with entertainment content pushed to the extreme – content that tin pan alley always knows will work an audience – and awash with profound spectacle and delivered with state of the art-tech newness. The re-and re-scripting has ensured that every single plot-winner from the history of entertainment is in it, the twists at the end of each of the tails, the Jesus and Mary substitutes, the contemporary Heathcliffes, the Cyclops, the Sam Weller/ Jeeves type figures, and so on and on. Every character cliché is there wearing different clothes, sporting a different name but are the same stereotypes of old. As are the themes, eg: the sentimentality of war companions, the male boozing bonding, the sadism and extreme pathological nature of the anti hero, the feisty femininity of the Elfish women, and much more.
My main quibble is that a good tale requires a good hero that can be believed in yet, even though I enjoyed Bilbo, I never felt his depth. His dialogue is a merely a listing of all the things that a ‘nice guy’ would say. He is a nice run of the mill character to the extreme. And it soon transpires that to escape from the horrors and terrors he is subject to is utterly unbelievable, denying those and future horrors and terrors any dramatic teeth. He always gets past the most impossible odds, meaning that WE KNOW he will never come to harm. And after falling a thousand feet and suffering little more than a scratched chin we are left in the state of complete implausibility. Further, this age of movie makers has developed a style of black humour: After something dreadful happening, there’s almost always a joke, which makes the massive adversity that has been suffered of inconsequential importance. At the worst possible ‘lost’ moments, when nothing can save him, Gandalf turns on the wizardry (doing a Doctor Who by changing all the rules) and – in one case – brings in massive eagles to save his apparently defeated bunch of heroes from tree climbing Orc wolves. We know that NOTHING bad can really happen to him, and so there is NO DRAMA, no suspense, no nail biting. We are in a cocoon of fiction; its infantilism lacks human adult passion and it becomes somewhat silly and Tolkien's message becomes somewhat inconsequential.
Yet what makes a good tale is to follow a protagonist through a series of difficulties that he or she comes out of, if they have the character to do that (and it is interesting if they don’t). Tragedies seem to be out of fashion these days, but they still go on around us. Our heroes should be vulnerable, they should be in a situation where dangerous things do happen to them, and then they would be more like us. These Hollywood Cocoon films sever an emotional bridge between the film consumer and the protagonist. The film consumer is unable to feel deeply for the protagonist because they are so profoundly superficial, they are candy floss. I remember when I watched ET and someone asked me what I thought about it. I said I wished ET had died half way through and then I could have gone out and done something useful like buy a beer. I thought the film was dreadful and I didn’t care a fig about ET. I have more of an emotional relationship with my vacuum cleaner than I did with that stupid, over- sentimentalised, load of USA kitch. But I don't deny the excellent spooky nature of the film’s beginning… Somehow the arrival of cutesy ET into the narrative ruined it.
Yet we continue to watch because – and the real reason we are there – is because of the pictures, the visuals, the artwork, the SPECTACLE! And there is no lack of that.
The Spielbergation of Hollywood and Global film style also screws up plots. They become fairground rides, where one is bounced from one death defying situation straight into another. These films bear no relation to the entertainment, joy and art of the history of literature and early film. Compare these helter-skelter rides to great films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Or deeply complex films like ‘Who’s afraid of Virginnia Wolf.’ Or the wonderful ‘Kes’. These shed some light upon reality and its complexity. Character is deep. These might have real actors in them but the film characters are on the same characterisation level as Deputy Dawg, although the technology has gone up a few gears.
There is no doubt that computer games have had a fantastic influence on modern films. The enculturation of the 1920’s Surrealist movement, the 70’s Far East martial arts and the 80’s Dungeons and Dragons role-play games have all been eaten up and spat back out by computer nerds and a mixture of these elements make up much of the content of the Hobbit. The film follows the linear description of Tolkein’s book but it has been vastly widened with sub plots to create three full length feature films. Reflecting some of the Surrealism of Maurits Escher, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and Gorgio de Chirico, it is amazing how vast and high the stages are that the characters interact upon. How many dreams have we had where we walk a thin bridge miles above the earth. Well the characters in this story all seem to live in the stratosphere. And as far as martial arts are concerned, I can just about tolerate Bilbo bouncing around like a 2D character in a foot- kicking computer game but when I see James Bond bouncing off cranes in a similar fashion I feel long term despair for the film industry and for humanity.
First came the film, then shortly after came animation and then came the printed comic strips. If it is true that a film is simply a moving comic strip with word balloon dialogue then this film is proof of that. I had to stop myself laughing though when Gandalf kept emitting a word balloon: “Run! Run!” What else did he expect them to do when chased by such dreadful monsters?
There’s no doubt that the visual ‘spectacle’ is astonishing in the film, and that is why it will be a block buster. If you like candy floss and awesome pictures and light shows – and are not bothered about remembering a film for the questions it asks – you will enjoy it.
If you watch it in 3D you will be charged £2 extra for 3D glasses which you can keep for the next picture. (The technology may have changed by then though, and you may need higher spec glasses. )