Of Hungry Games and Un-Tolkien Hobbits

catchingfireWatched Catching Fire the other day, the second of the Hunger Games series of films (of which there will be four, I believe). Good film, mind, but I have to say I’m getting increasingly irritated by all these movie series. Its as if a series box-set mania has settled over Hollywood of late. I guess it was inevitable, considering the ‘safety-net’ of sequels and how they almost sell themselves.

We decided to watch the first film, The Hunger Games, the night before, to refresh our memory having not seen it for, what, a year or two? Just as well, because it improved being able to follow events/characters in the second film no end. I have no idea of what the original books are like, or what happens in them. The films seem to be quite good and I assume fairly faithful to the books. Seems the third book is being split into two films though, which is rather irritating- we get the third film November 2014 and the third November 2015? So those of us who avoid the cinema like the plague will have to wait for disc releases each following Spring. Does the third book warrant this two-part treatment, or is it a financial decision to maximise box-office and disc sales? Ignorant of the texts, I really don’t know. Harry Potter did it. The Hobbit is notorious for it, going for three.

Serials/mini-series on television have a key advantage over movies in that they can spread a story/book over several hours, and have more in-depth characterisation and narrative/plot than can be condensed into an ordinary two-hour movie. Of course, you also usually only have to wait a week for succeeding chapters/parts, whereas transferring the positives of the serial format into the movie-arena proves somewhat problematic with annual or bi-annual breaks between parts. Re-watching Catching Fire the other night with the in-laws was a telling experience, with my mother-in-law sighing “oh, no…!” when she realised that yes, the film after two-plus hours was indeed ending on this almighty cliffhanger with a year-long wait to see what happens next. Its frustrating (the cliffhanger highly reminiscent of that of Matrix Reloaded, but at least being shot back-to-back the Matrix 2 & 3 only had a six-month break between them).

I’m sure The Hunger Games Quartet box-set (or whatever its called when its released in 2016) will be a great watch for those new to the Hunger Games series- it would be nice to watch each film over successive nights/weeks and get the whole story to its conclusion in good time. Indeed I’ve recommended a friend at work to perhaps simply wait for the boxset and watch them then. But for those of us watching them right now its very irritating. I remember when you sat down to watch a film knowing it would have a definitive end, it seems a long time ago. All the super-hero films being inter-connected have the feeling of being teasers for further instalments.

smaug1Of course some films feel like they might never end, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, ostensibly based on  a rather short and simple book, transferred to film seems to be a bloated middle section of an epic without end. Complaints that the first film took a long time to get started seem to have been heeded by the film-makers, but this turns out, oddly enough, to be at the detriment of the second film, as it now just seems to race from one set-piece to another. The character-building of the first film seems to have been ditched entirely (perhaps rectified when the extended edition arrives in the Autumn?), instead new characters are thrown in proving more an irritating distraction from the guys we should be rooting for. And the troop of dwarves here are very inferior to the fellowship of the Rings films- whether this is the casting or the script I don’t know, but I think the blame chiefly lies with the skimpy source. The depth frankly isn’t there compared to the characters of the Rings trilogy- indeed  The Hobbit series seems to be proving woefully weak compared to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, clearly without the substance of source to carry a huge trilogy of films.  The Hobbit book itself was never an epic; it was an intimate, charming children’s fantasy book and re-fashioning it into this huge sprawling complex narrative is doing it a disservice. And the ending of this film is even worse than that of Catching Fire. My brother saw this at the cinema and told me there was a collective groan of disbelief/frustration/weariness amongst the cinema goers at the films denouement. It doesn’t get any better when watching it at home.

Of course no doubt many are lapping this Hobbit stuff  up- I have seen several reviews declaring DOS  better than the first film. Well, the first film was flawed but anyone stating this film is superior is patently wrong; its simply an OTT effects showcase (and oddly those are somewhat dodgy effects in places), lurching from set-piece to set-piece with interminably long action sequences that are rather clumsily staged. The really sad bit comes when these action sequences are compared to those of the original LOTR films. Compare the barrel escape and subsequent chase/fight down the river in DOS to the fight sequence with Boromir and co. at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring- its like they are staged and shot by different film-makers. There’s simply far too much don’t-I-look-cool posing and over-thought doesn’t-it-look-cool fight choreography. Rather than just keep it simple and fairly realistic we are (just as with the chase in the Goblin King’s Halls in the first film) thrown into something reminiscent of a video-game. There is a substance lacking here, its just cgi bells and whistles to impress. Yet, many do indeed lap this stuff up. Me, I’m waiting for it to stop, but when it does, I’m then being bored/irritated by some ill-thought romance between a frustrated Wood-Elf and a Dwarf- hardly the stuff of Tolkien is it? Just how much of the actual Hobbit book is in this film anyway?

One of the things I loved about the Rings films was the incidental detail- fallen idols, ancient ruins, hints of a rich and largely unmentioned past that lent the setting a verisimilitude that gave the whole thing a gravity and drama. The Hobbit films don’t seem to have that. Yes, it looks gorgeous but it seems to lack any of the the depth of the Rings films. Perhaps it is something the extended versions will comparatively excel at.

I’m rather of the opinion that The Hunger Games films are superior films/book adaptations to The Hobbit films. I wouldn’t have expected that, to be honest, after enjoying the LOTR films so much. Its a pity, and I really think that the root cause is not being faithful to the material. The Hobbit could have been one movie, maybe two films at most. This trilogy nonsense seems more about making money than anything else- perhaps the third film will come good and prove me wrong, justifying this trilogy approach after all. Time will tell.

 

One last thing- a nod to my work colleague Steve who, having realised he’d somehow ordered two copies of this film on Blu-ray in error, simply gave his extra copy to me. I’d intended to wait for the extended version this Autumn but his generosity enabled me to see the film much earlier than intended. Cheers Steve! 

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8 thoughts on “Of Hungry Games and Un-Tolkien Hobbits

  1. I’m a little torn on the abundance of trilogies, etc, these days. Pro: we get a thorough adaptation of the entire original storyline, rather than, a) an artificially-ended adaptation of Book 1, or b) the entire series crammed into one movie. Con: failed series that only make Part 1 but end on blatant cliffhangers; plus all that waiting around, etc.

    The end of Catching Fire reminded me of Matrix 2 too, but it also brought another mid-part cliffhanger to mind: The Empire Strikes Back. Indeed I found the entirety of the relationship between first two Hunger Gameses to be reminiscent of the original two Star Warses, something I was going to discuss in my review but am worried I’ve forgotten the specifics of. But anyway, the ending… Star Wars has always existed in video for me, so the cliffhanger resolution was always just another rental away — or we may even have rented them at the same time, I was so young I can’t remember. Was it worse than all these series today because of it being so much longer a wait, or more bearable because it was more novel?

    I don’t know if the third Hunger Games merits the two-film split, but I believe they’ve been cutting subplots out of the books to get them to movie length thus far (as they did wit Harry Potter 4, 5 and 6), so maybe it really does. Equally, it’s just becoming par for the course with these young adult adaptations: that new Divergent one has barely released its first film and already announced they’ll be splitting its third book in two. The press reaction seemed suitably weary.

    1. Funny thing is, when it was just STAR WARS doing it, I didn’t mind even the three-year wait. And back then we wouldn’t have dreamed of ever owning them, never mind a box set. Maybe that’s part of it. They were special experiences in cinemas, events… I recall going back to the cinema to watch them on re-releases (the STAR WARS/TESB double bill prior to JEDI was something very special indeed ; what an afternoon that was!).

      But now with everyone doing it its just getting tiresome and threatening to swamp the market. I have to wonder if/when the Marvel bubble will burst for example, and Disney’s plan for a STAR WARS film every year is either genius or nightmare, I’m not sure which.

      1. I read a (terribly long-winded and over-analytical) article the other day about whether WB or Marvel would blink first in the Batman vs Superman/Captain America 3 showdown that’s brewing, which included a bit about how all this positioning over release dates is really about marking territory for years to come — that by 2018 each summer (which now seems to be April-August!) will bring three Marvel movies, one or two Spider-Man related films from Sony, at least one X-Men/Fantastic Four from Fox, and a DC movie or two from Warner. That’s 6-8 superhero movies a year, before you count any ventures from smaller studios, or other bug franchises like Star Wars.

        Somehow, I don’t find that feasible. I can’t imagine audiences will go for that… will they? Surely all these movies are going to start grossing less as they pile on top of each other. Or maybe it will only take one Lone Ranger-esque flop to kill the whole subgenre.

  2. I watched this last week as well, even though I found the first film about as exciting as warm Diet Coke. The main reason being that so many people are making this ‘Empire Strikes Back’ comparison…

    I was really bitterly disappointed: the things that distinguished ‘Empire’ were the fact that it branched out into different environments, had a different tone, had a different structure, and ended on a downbeat note.

    Yes, ‘Catching Fire’ has a cliffhanger [though only sort-of: you’re not left hanging in any real dramatic sense, as Catniss is perfectly safe and is discovered to have menu menu protectors around her], but it just felt like a re-run of the first film, but this time with a lot more padding before you get to the action. And even that action felt less dark and brutal than the first film.

    I mean, the bottom line is that I shouldn’t have watched it, as this sort of thing clearly isn’t for me, but the ‘Empire’ comparisons keep coming, and it riles me.

    1. The more time that passes since TESB was released (and its been a long time now, 1980- crikey I’m getting old!), the more special that film is. It flows with such confidence, is so well made, it just hints at what the STAR WARS series of films might/should have been. Your are right too, so many media hacks bring up TESB in some bullshit comparison with whatever rubbish passes for a sequel these days. We’ll never see another TESB again, I don’t think the talent or studio will is there, but we’ll have to put up with those comparisons in future, especially when STAR WARS 7 arrives.

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