Si's Sights And Sounds measures up two "great adventures" against one another
|Come on Bilbo, we're getting bored...|
The only thing unexpected about The Hobbit I is just how much of a self-satisfied bore it is. As if stretching a three-hundred page book out to three films and over nine hours wasn't a barmy enough idea, Peter Jackson has taken everything we disliked about his career-defining saga and amplified it to unwelcome proportions. The story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his "thrilling" quest to help some dwarves retrieve gold stolen from them by a dragon is told in a shockingly laborious, pointless and empty manner. It's a desperate work by a desperate man trying to relight his directorial fire after his not-so-Lovely Bones misfired with the critics three years ago. Excepting Andy Serkis, who is as lively as ever as the schizophrenic Gollum, the entire cast is off their game. Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving look tired, Richard Armitage is no Viggo Mortensen, James Nesbitt feels out-of-place, and Martin Freeman never looks like he is playing a major fantasy character. It's rather sad to contrast Freeman's Bilbo with the wide-eyed vulnerability and soulfulness of Elijah Wood's Frodo and realise how far the Lord Of The Rings saga has fallen.
With its 48 frames-per-second 3-D, The Hobbit I looks like a video game where the viewer wishes he or she could have control of the participants, but doesn't. Some scenes, especially those featuring Gollum, are quite entertaining, but have been done better before. And there's no sense of progression, no feel that the journey will amount to anything – just one repetitive battle scene and fake looking creature (or vista) after another. The very bad slapstick humour (it feels offensive to watch McKellen and Nesbitt laugh and belch at Bilbo’s table near the beginning and realise that they are getting paid a lot for simply going through the motions), pompous dialogue and deus ex machina eagles (naturally) exacerbate things.
Anyone who argues that the original Lord Of The Rings trilogy was any better only because we were "younger" and "more naive" is missing the point. Peter Jackson's transition from cult filmmaker to Oscar-winning director has drained all the heart, energy and ingenuity out of his work, the same things that made his previous journey to Middle Earth, like Star Wars, a true bonding experience. To this day, I will never forget the joy of watching The Two Towers in a packed field at the Oxegen music festival; the same joy that The Hobbit I has tried so desperately, but failed, to reproduce. It's as obvious a cash grab as anything in cinemas these days. Why bother with this bloated pantomime when you can hear Leonard Nimoy tell the whole story in less than three minutes?
|What now, Richard?|
Still, Life Of Pi retains a certain appeal. Most, if not all, viewers will relate to Pi getting bullied at school and finding (then losing) his first true love. One also feels for him when his father smirks after a calculated exercise in showing Pi that tigers aren't quite as nice as he thought they were, and when he is later forced to form an understanding with a tiger – who he nicknames "Richard Parker" – at sea. The "bond" between Pi and Richard is an effective centrepiece for the film, a human alternative to all the images Lee flings in our face; some of which carry more weight than others. Ultimately, though, it's too much of a visual showcase and not enough of a visual story. Too much style, and not enough substance.