Is the extended edition of The Hobbit a better movie?

Hobbit posterFinally! My very own copy of the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arrived! I spent a happy afternoon watching the movie and I’ve had some time to think about it. These things are all about editing, are they not? And we writers can learn from what the pros do. So this is my opinion on the extras. Pretty obviously there will be ‘spoilers’ if you don’t wish to know what the additions are.

Right, so they’ve left the room, we can continue.

The process of editing is all about driving the story forward, making the whole a satisfying experience. Of course, my favourites will be other people’s blerghs, and vice versa.

Jackson had actually edited back the very long prelude, where the background to the story is laid out. In this version, we see Bilbo going out to buy the fish which he never gets to eat, we see a few more pretty pictures of hobbit boys and girls doing hobbity things. Yes, I reckon I would have edited out those scenes, too. They really didn’t add anything.

However, there is a sequence in Thranduil’s visit to Thror which I felt added a lot. Thror effectively taunts Thranduil with a box of jewels and Thranduil and his people march out in a huff. Not quite the same message as came out in the original movie.

Not much changes until we reach Rivendell. There, we see more scenes of the Dwarves behaving disgracefully, a repetition of their behaviour at Bilbo’s house, complete with food fights and bathing in the fountains. Yes, I could live with that being cut. We also got to see Bilbo really enjoying Rivendell, pretty much on his own. He comes across the shards of Narcil, and the painting of Isildur facing Sauron. There is also a brief conversation between Elrond and Bilbo, where Elrond says Bilbo can stay as long as he likes. These scenes add to the gap between the Dwarves, Bilbo and the Elves, and also show the passage of time. The Dwarves don’t just stay overnight at Rivendell, an impression you’d be forgiven for in the first release. Yes, much of it didn’t add to the story. In fact, when I saw the footage of a bunch of naked Dwarves cavorting in the fountains, I wondered why Gandalf was never shown in a change of clothes, with at least clean hands. Did you notice his fingernails? However, while I thought the scenes of Bilbo really enjoying Rivendell explained a few things, it would have been hard to leave them in if the food fights etc were taken out.

One other scene added information – an overheard conversation between Elrond and Gandalf where Thorin’s parentage is discussed with references to mental instability. Bilbo and Thorin both hear what is said, and the words had this watcher’s brain ticking. I’m betting we get to meet Thrain in the next movie, and (having read the Hobbit many times) I know that strand of insanity is important.

Let’s move on to the Misty Mountains. It seems Jackson had more of the fight between the rock giants to entertain us with. Ho hum. Then down we go to Goblin Town. I’ll bet Barry Humphries had a ball playing the Goblin King. The extended version treats us to a rap rendition of the song Tolkien wrote in his book for this section, performed by the Goblin King and his band. Mistake. The Goblin King comes across already as a figure of fun without making it worse.

And that’s about it. Unlike the extended version of LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, I don’t think this extended version added a great deal. So overall, the extended edition isn’t a better movie. It’s a pity that Jackson reduced the confrontation between Thranduil and Thror to an almost king/vassal situation. The hints of other happenings in the overheard talks at Rivendell would have helped. But for the rest (most especially the Goblin King and his band) the red pen was right.

These things are always a matter of opinion, though. I’d love to know what you thought.


Why is ‘The King’s Speech’ a good movie?

the-kings-speech-movie-posterI’ve just watched the movie ‘The King’s Speech’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. For me to enjoy a movie is in itself a rare and wonderful thing. I don’t as a rule watch movies and my taste is limited. I loved the original ‘Star Wars’ films and the LOTR films. And ‘Bambi’. So now, days later, I’ve begun to wonder why I enjoyed ‘The King’s Speech’ so much. And I think we, as writers, could learn from the answers.

In essence this is an exceedingly simple tale. The man who will be king has a speech impediment. When the story starts, he is a young prince whose stammer leads to public humiliation as his failure on the wireless is broadcast to millions. Then he meets a man who fixes him. In the end he delivers an important speech to the world and does so effectively.

This is a story set in the 1930’s, when the British Empire was still a powerful entity and when Adolf Hitler was a rising threat in Germany. George V was still on the throne, his oldest son, David (who would become Edward VIII) was next in line and Bertie, the stutterer, was the Duke of York. Then David has his fateful love affair with Wallis Simpson, almost bringing down the Monarchy, a stalemate finally ended when he abdicates. The movie includes cameo appearances from Winston Churchill, Alec Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, all pivotal players in the inevitable spiral into war in 1939. But all of this is just scenery, backdrops to the main play which is the relationship between two men who could hardly be more different. The prince, born into royalty and Lionel Logue, the self-taught Australian speech therapist who refuses to call his client anything but Bertie.

So much of this movie is simply conversations between two men as Lionel breaks down Bertie’s barriers to discover the reason why he stutters, revealing a tyrannical father, abuse by a nanny, over-expectations. All of this has resulted in feelings of total inadequacy, which Bertie must confront as the horrifying possibility of him having to be king edge toward probability.

There is conflict between Logue and Bertie, of course. But also between Bertie and his brother and his father. Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth, is unfailingly supportive and we are given a glimpse into the relationship between Bertie and his two daughters – one of whom is now Queen Elizabeth.

Why does this movie work? There are no gruesome deaths, no car chases, no violence of any sort. Nobody steals anything. The background facts are well known. There is no suspense, no horror; just a man with a speech impediment and a man who treats him.

The screenwriters have created conflict in a number of ways, the most important being the differences between the two men, one a Royal Prince, the other an Aussie larrikin.  To start with we are shown Bertie’s excruciating first radio speech, then Bertie’s initial reluctance to play by Lionel’s rules in his home (‘my castle, my rules’). But  the screen writers have, I suspect, bent the truth just a little to increase the tension. For instance, in the movie Bertie learns at his rehearsal for the coronation in Westminster Abbey that Lionel has no formal qualifications, that despite his Harley Street address, he is no doctor. I find that a little bit hard to believe, but it adds to the tension. In similar vein, there are several countdowns to Bertie having to make a speech and we’re along for the ride. In the end, when Bertie delivers his ‘we are at war with Germany’ speech, the audience inevitably remembers that first speech which he completely mangled. And so, indeed, does he. After a slow start, Bertie delivers. One of the great things about this movie is he is not miraculously cured. Lionel enables him to function, but he hasn’t waved a magic wand. So for writers, use conflict, contrive conflict even if it is conflict within an individual and you can have a gripping story.

Of course, the acting is just terrific. Colin Firth does a wonderful job of showing Bertie’s shyness, his lack of confidence and his desperate attempts to overcome these characteristics as a Royal Prince. I cannot imagine how hard it must be for an actor to convey a man with a stammer – for me it was absolutely convincing. And Geoffrey Rush is great as Lionel Logue.

One other little tip for us writers – the way detail was sprinkled in. The wonderful scene where a man leads a car containing the Duchess of York up Harley Street through a London fog, Bertie storming off through a park with a horseman riding the other way, glimpses of Lionel’s family – most especially his intelligent oldest son who drives the car to take his father to meet Bertie before the final speech. That boy would be caught up in the coming war. And the scenes of Bertie with his daughters, the dying king, David and Mrs Wallis.

Just a simple little movie about two blokes talking to each other. Wow.