December 13th, 2012


Scales of Justice

Some figures in the news in recent days...

The British Government is to pay Sami al-Saadi £2.2 million for having helped send him to Gadaffi's Lybia.

The BBC paid Lord McAlpine £185,000 for indirectly implying that he was a paedophile.

The Metropolitan Police are paying £15,000 to a victim of child rape whose case they handled so badly that a judge labelled the investigation a "disgrace" (apparently they had decided that car crime was a greater priority). If she had taken them to court she could only have expected to win about £5,000...

...which is 2,160 time less than Rebekah Brooks received as a payoff from News International.

The Hobbit

[Here be spoilers...]

I've just come back from seeing Peter Jackson's latest, and I haven't had time to think too deeply about it yet, so these are immediate and fairly random impressions.

There was plenty to like, as expected, from a visual point of view.

Martin Freeman was excellently cast as Bilbo, as I think most people expected the moment they heard. His encounter with Gollum was played straight and canonically (almost), and worked well.

I wish someone in Middle-earth would invent handrails - they'd make a mint.

The dwarves' escape from the goblins' mountain was a rerun of Moria, with Barry Humphries's Goblin King as a kind of anti-masque Balrog. I actually quite enjoyed that bit, if a trifle guiltily.

I thought they did a good job with the trolls. The balance of humour and action was good, and Gandalf's trick of splitting a large rock to let in the sun was suitably dramatic - although how the trolls ever hoped to cook and eat the dwarves in the half hour or so they had left before the sun cleared the rock naturally is a mystery.

They're being a bit cagey about Thrain's fate, which in the book was made clear back in Bilbo's house. Presumably this will be sorted out in a later film, but I get the impression they're holding it back for a reason.

Now, as to the added business. I felt okay about some of it, and distinctly queasy about other parts. Yes, there were too many battle scenes and orc skirmishes (in this film orcs and goblins are definitely different creatures), but I do see why Jackson feels he needs to provide them in the wake of LOTR. This is what comes of doing things in the wrong order. The battle for Erebor did at least establish Thorin's bona fides as a warrior, and give a reason for his distrust of elves. I'm not sure that either was necessary, but you could see what Jackson was getting at.

I quite enjoyed seeing something of Radagast (not so much his rabbit-drawn sled), and even of Dol Guldur, though I wouldn't want to live there. The half-formed Sauron and Witch-King are perhaps picking up in cinematic terms on a pre-existing Voldemort vibe, but since in that respect Voldemort was riffing on Sauron in the first place, why dizzy ourselves with questions of priority?

However. However. I do object to the tying of an essentially episodic book such as The Hobbit quite so tightly into the "larger narrative" of good-v-evil in Middle-earth. It seems Hollywood just doesn't get episodic narrative, or doesn't have the nerve to let it happen, being tied to some jejune aesthetic of organic narrative "unity". We saw this a few years ago with Tim Burton's Alice, which co-opted Carroll's story to the service of a sub-Tolkien epic in which the rightful queen's rights had to be asserted, Alice was donned in armour like Achilles, and the Jabberwock was a kind of Smaug substitute. Way to miss the lack of point!

It's not quite so out of place in The Hobbit, because the book does indeed hint at a larger context - at the Necromancer's existence in Mirkwood, for example. But that is not the subject of this story, as Gandalf makes very clear in the book when he dissuades Thorin from fighting the Necromancer. Smaug is enemy enough for Bilbo and the dwarves, and diluting their story with a macro-political superstructure really does it no favours. The most embarrassing moment was at Rivendell, when Gandalf finds himself in awkward council not only with Elrond but with Galadriel and even Saruman (sounding more like Rowan Williams than ever). When Tolkien wanted that kind of epic treatment, he was quite capable of giving it (vd. The Lord of the Rings). If he didn't, it's because The Hobbit is a different kind of story - one that lies outside the narrow generic range Hollywood recognizes.

I'm now imagining how Jackson would remake The Odyssey, so as to tie up all the loose ends. Odysseus thinks has beaten back the suitors, locks the palace door, turns back to Penelope, and sees a familiar figure emerging from behind his throne...

"Priam! It can't be! You were - you were -"
"Dead? You don't want to believe everything Cassandra tells you..."
"That's right, Odysseus - with a little sup from my cup he was soon back to normal."
"Circe? What are you doing here?"
etc etc.

Would that really be an improvement?