The Desolation of the Hobbit

Barrels of fun

Peter Jackson is in love with special effects. I know – it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me when we’re talking about the man who started out by doing gory splatter films and decided to spend his newfound director stardom on yet another remake of King Kong. But man, it does get tiresome in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Of course, effects is and must be tremendously important in a film trying to recreate Tolkien’s world. The problem comes from how the spectacle takes centre stage here, actively hurting the experience. The movie shoves tedious chase sequences or battle scenes in your face frequently and repeatedly, scenes so long I have lost interest in what’s going on well before they’ve reached their conclusion. They’re drenched in CGI effects allowing for stunts so unrealistic I quickly lose my suspension of disbelief, and all the tension is lost.

Even if Jackson hadn’t torpedoed himself this way, the stakes are low to non-existent because the premise of these scenes are rarely about anything else except the characters’ physical safety – and I’m pretty sure they’ll be OK. It becomes a roller-coaster ride you watch others experience.

There’s a big difference between the adaptions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit movies. For Lord of the Rings Jackson had to edit down three extensive novels into three movies. This guided him to choose wisely what to portray in the movies, enforcing rather tight, economical storytelling. With The Hobbit he was allowed to expand a single (rather simple) novel into three long movies. 

The result tells us that the man needs an editor, badly.

Padding the story by borrowing material from the Silmarillion (and, I guess, quite a lot from Jackson himself) fragments it with endless uninteresting subplots that fail to create a cohesive whole, seemingly disconnected from a main premise that in itself doesn’t feel important.

Unlike the Lord of the Rings books, The Hobbit – the novel – simply doesn’t have what it takes to frame the epic saga of good versus evil that Jackson has envisioned for his new trilogy. It’s simply a nice little story, and that’s good and plenty if you make an adaption respecting that. But the films wear the clothes of an epic without ever truly being epic. They’re just long. They don’t seem to know what they want to say, but use a lot of words to say it.

If he would only have allowed it to be Bilbo’s adventure and no more.

Please, stop! Part 1

Clichés so worn the lining shows. Characters so laughable it’s a tragedy. Gimmicks so hollow their desperate echo drowns out otherwise meaningful experiences.

I’d like to talk about some of the flat and tired tropes the games industry keeps repeating, seemingly almost compulsively. Because maybe, just maybe, it will keep my blood pressure in check whenever another AAA budget is wasted on one of these atrocities.

Depending on your point or view, or perhaps your mood, this is either my plead to the games industry or just another rant. But I beg you.. You’re hurting us. Please, stop!

Wizards and dwarves!

Let’s start at the very beginning, with the most overused and abused genre. Yeah, you guessed it. Fantasy. I don’t need to say anything more, I’m sure, but I can’t stop myself. We’re only wasting time and electrons here.

You know, I like what Tolkien wrote. I like fantasy. But just as I haven’t read most of the me-too fantasy novels about yet another fellowship on some quest, I’m happy to not play the countless ultra-generic fantasy games out there. Elves aren’t that interesting, mate, and calling them “dark elves” doesn’t make you edgy or “mature”.

Perhaps the idea is that the races themselves are so fascinating that no further characterization is needed. But we’ve seen it all before. We’ve also seen the conflicts, the drama, the relationships and the overly simplistic and naive idea of morality of Tolkienesque worlds, and frankly, it’s boring.

It doesn’t even have to be all that new, just stop reheating the same old leftovers again and again! If you don’t have anything fairly interesting to say, then perhaps you shouldn’t be doing the writing.

Shoulder pads of Doom!

Look at my armor. I am so powerful!

I completely get why 12 year old boys think that these big, strong and emotion-less space marines are cool. It’s a great manifestation of the male power fantasy, occupying a great deal of many boys’ imagination as they’re about to mature into adults. What I don’t get is why grown men think it’s ace.

Game after game with almost identical space marine aesthetics. Someone has to be buying it. A lot of people, in fact. Plenty of designers must still think that the metal shoulder pads, and what must be the heaviest helmets ever conceived, are the best thing since… well, fantasy.

Covering characters in armor and then not allowing them even a hint of emotional tension is not a terribly good recipe for storytelling.

Zombies? Mein leben!

Zombie is the new Nazi. Ok, so it fulfills a need of endless waves of completely dehumanized gameplay targets, so I get why it is popular among content creators. What I find annoying is when otherwise serious settings all of a sudden explode into some sort of zombie apocalypse.

World at War, supposedly taking the terror of World War II seriously, has a zombie mode. Red Dead Redemption, an epic adventure in the Wild West, has a DLC add-on that sees zombies invading the prairie.

Come on. We can’t expect to be taken seriously if we just add whatever we feel like to any setting because “it’s cool”. Spielberg didn’t have alternative scenes with zombies on the DVD of Saving Private Ryan, and Clint Eastwood didn’t duel the undead in the director’s cut of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Tentacle faced horrors!

Did you know that you can make anything interesting by quoting a few Lovecraft stories? Your material will magically transform into something fascinating and dark, and you will be seen as a great designer – just add tentacles to something’s face and you’re good to go! Man, your intellectual property just got so much cooler! Well done, you artistic genius.

Truth to be told, Lovecraft hasn’t been used nearly as much as Tolkien or the space-marine-oh-my-is-that-testosterone-coming-out-of-your-every-orifice thing (yet), but it has become a staple whenever a game project wants to add some otherworldly horror into the mix, and it’s getting old.

So, game designers everywhere – there are other ideas out there. You don’t need to remake the same setting over and over again.

It hurts. Please, stop!