The Hobbit, or, Over the Top with Bilbo!

Oh dear. This is what happens when you try to out-lord Lord of the Rings with a much simpler, shorter tale. The Hobbit has gone from a journey into maturity for young Bilbo, to a rip-snorting adventure with set pieces more at home on a Disney ride. Orcs! Goblins! Revenge!

Admittedly, all the over-the-top derring do does help the almost three hours of movie pass more quickly than it feels, although it remains a tedious affair devoid of the warmth and suspense that the original three of Peter Jackson’s franchise mustered so very well.

I lost count of the wonderful hair-dos sported by the dwarves. Was mildly glazed by the repetition of events from the other movies, such as summoning eagles with a whisper to a moth or an outstretched hand winning the ring toss. Was bemused by the lack of continuity of events in the Shire as depicted in Fellowship.

And overall just a bit saddened that, to win the respect of his travelling companions, it wasn’t enough for Bilbo to be courageous and clever, but he had to kill something, too.

Hobbit wasn’t a bad movie, just a dull one, with music, sound effects and scenery among the highlights. It finally found some emotional resonance with the interplay between Gollum and Bilbo, too little, too late.

Where LOTR had me lining up for the DVDs — indeed, we just watched the extended versions again, a form of cleansing, perhaps — I won’t be dashing out for the Hobbit, and more’s the pity.

Ewoks fight better than Na’vi

I finally succumbed to the allure of James Cameron’s 3D SF extravaganza Avatar, partly because of all the mixed reports about it, primarily because it was really hot here today and three hours in air-conditioning (with choc-top icecream!) was not to be sneezed at.

Don’t really want to dwell on it, the thing has been hashed around all over the net (for instance, at Talking Squid), but my quick reaction is: thank goodness for the 3D effects. I thought they were handled so very well. The depth of field is the real highlight of the format for me, rather than things popping out of the screen at you, and the scenery shots and even the live action stuff provided plenty of this kind of immersion.

And Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver were pleasures to watch, too.

Regrettably, the storyline was thin and hackneyed, the theme overly overt, the indigent aliens the same old patois of Earth tribes minus any of the nasty stuff — some kind of Jamaica meets Native America. And their tactics, even with a Marine at the helm (because you need a Great White Hunter to save you when you’re a native), woeful. Honestly, the Ewoks did better using bows and ropes against mechanised troops. And the Empire at least had a reason for staging a ground assault. Anyhow, I guess I shouldn’t knock the good old Gaia message too much; friends in the northern hemisphere are dodging blizzards while we’re dodging forest fires.

If Cameron had chopped the film back to even two thirds of its length, and used the money he’d have saved to fund some truly alien aliens and a storyline with a little more moral complexity, Avatar could really have been something.

In other words, it delivered pretty much what I expected. And the cinema was cool.

You can see the Avatar trailer here for a taste.

Another flick with some groovy special effects I saw recently was The Lovely Bones. I’d had high hopes for it, because Peter Jackson also directed Heavenly Creatures, which used special effects brilliantly to convey two girls’ fantasy world. (And, um, that little Lord of the Rings movie. All three of ’em.)The Lovely Bones showed us images of a pre-Heaven limbo, which were striking. Largely irrelevant to the story, but striking. Sadly, this movie also left me feeling a little underwhelmed, mainly because the narrator has so little to do with the story. She’s an observer for the most part, after her death sets balls in motion, and so we’re always kept at a remove from the characters and the action. It was too sweet and had too many endings for my taste.

So, who’s up for The Wolfman (out in Oz February 25) – trailer here?