Jackson’s early films were funny and were clearly works of enthusiasm and joy. The Lord of the Rings changed that register but their stretch matched the breadth of the material and the results were genuinely compelling cinema.
I may be imagining things, but in this last instalment of The Hobbit series, I felt like Jackson was fed up with the machine he’s built and even maybe wanting to laugh a bit despite the epic pretentiousness. It was subtle and maybe I was just projecting, but by the end, I found myself hoping that, finally free, he would go off and make something as brilliantly oddball and offensive as Meet the Feebles or Dead Alive.
An archive novel organized without persistent characters. It’s an assemblage of moments that compound into an account of an event that is detailed yet intriguingly distant. A really brilliant piece of work that’s nothing like it’s adaptation.
My question: are the zombies necessary to make it work or could the same thing be done with ordinary events?
Maleficent is a character I was fascinated with as a child and who I remember today with glee because she is so wonderfully, elegantly awful. My pleasure is linked inextricably to the fact that my adoration is at odds with her mean-spiritedness and cruelty. Her character provokes what I consider to be a cautionary insight: villainy exists, it displays itself overtly, and yet, something in me is capable of finding its meanest qualities seductive. In fact, it is precisely these meanest qualities that are the most seductive.
Maleficent retells the villain’s story in a way that completely defuses this insight. In this new version, beautiful and young people are good and act badly only when driven to do so by unattractive, older villains. And the wrongs people do (and suffer) can all be undone and forgiven if only the hard edges of the human heart can be softened. And they are, as if by magic, by the love of a child. In this version, villainy only hurts itself. These changes make this second look at an iconic villain feel wishful and childish, and I don’t like it.
That said, Angelina Jolie is just great, and she has brains and drive to burn. But I’d rather see her in a movie that let her be a better villain. An animated, sarcastic villain. Like Maleficent.
After watching Ang Li’s adaptation, I decided to read the book. It was enlightening because I realized how much of what I liked about the movie was Li’s invention. What stood out for me: the spirituality of the movie, which seemed so extreme, is actually a renunciation of the even more extreme religiosity of the novel, and one that foregrounds the human agency of the story.
I got halfway through this book and stopped reading. It is well written, but the adaptation is so close that I was reading for the bits that weren’t in the film…and those bits were obnoxious to me.
(This is too harsh a comment on the book which really is quite good…but not for me.)
Life of Pi: An Appreciation
I love seeing places I know in film. They feel like a secret shared between me and the movie, a whispered “We know this place, you and I.” Here, Ang Lee uses recognizable locations in Pondicherry and Montreal in a way that maintains the integrity of the local geography alongside the imaginary geography of the story. He announces: Space matters and will be treated with care and attention to detail.
3D is a spectacle of depth attempting to deny the flatness of the screen. Objects are close or far. They are in front of or behind. In moments of frenzied action, Life of Pi uses 3D in this way. More often however, 3D is used to make empty spaces deep: air over flat water, light on rippled water. Space expands quietly offering room for thought.
Unexpectedly, during its most spectacular moments, the film arranges objects in the frame so as to flatten the image. A boat floats on a black pool of brilliant stars; or it floats in a field of buttery light, sky and sea indistinguishable except for the thin horizon drawn through the center of the frame. These moments of flatness are announced as a compositional strategy in the animal montage rolling under the opening credits, most memorably in the picture of a bird and the flowering branches of a tree. The 3D technology cuts the image’s foreground from its background, creating an illusion of depth, but the photography cancels that illusion by composing its subject in the manner of a silk painting.
The shallowness of objects pitted against the depth of emptiness. This strategy is thematic. It is also the only intellectual use of 3D technology that I have seen.
The action of the story is both constrained and enabled by the geography of the lifeboat and raft. Distances between the raft and the lifeboat, between the front of the lifeboat and its back are crucial here. The 3D underscores the distinction, and here too, it is thematic. What after all is a dance between too close and too far if not a love story? And this film is about nothing if not love.
Two images capture that story for me. In the first, a tiger hangs to the edge of a boat by a claw, desperate and lost. A young man, ax in hand and desperate too to live, looks down from above and recognizes the tiger as real and alive and worthy of care. In the second image, a tiger sits in a boat as night falls waiting for the young man (who looks on from afar) to come back to their home. Between these moments is a story of generosity and kindness, both given freely until the giving becomes a habit and the habit a joy. That feels like a definition of love to me.
Happy Valentines Day.
I saw The Hobbit with my brother the Friday it opened. We saw it in 48 fps XD digital. My expectations were sky-high and rock-bottom at the same time. So I was worried. But it was a great time and there were lots of things I liked about the movie. If that seems hesitant, it is because there was a lot I didn’t like about the movie too, but nothing damning. I’m eager to see (and to like) the next two films. Until I do, I’m not really sure I can make much of a judgement.
Two things for now though…
First, the story shifts the tone of the book substantially and in a way I’m not sure I like. As is, if the arc isn’t going to show the fall of Thorin as he becomes an evil-esque character I’m going to be disappointed. My favourite parts involved rabbits. All the pipes around dinner were great too.
Second, the tech is troubling. I’m not sure there are any brakes on the HD train and that is too bad. This film is too clear and often feels lifeless because of it. When classical Hollywood filmmakers wanted to make their stars transcendently beautiful they would soften the focus of the close-ups. The slight fuzziness of the image gave room for magic and imagination and made Garbo and Dietrich and Crawford icons. The symbolists of the late nineteenth century did something similar in their poetry. The HD fanatics have forgotten this trick.