The Hobbit and the Video-Gamization of Movies

the-hobbit-battle-of-the-five-armiesMuch of The Hobbit was about as enjoyable as watching someone else play a high-definition video game. In other words, not very.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a Tolkien fan, and I enjoyed the opportunity to make a memory by seeing the final Hobbit movie with my oldest son, especially since we read the book together last year. I’m also a fan of Peter Jackson’s work, although my appreciation for the Lord of the Rings trilogy has been tempered by what he has done with The Hobbit.

Still, I wonder about the extent of gaming’s influence on movie-making. It won’t be long before we can play Lego Hobbit on the iPhone, and you’ll be able to step into the boots of these characters and battle the bad guys as long as you want.

Is this a good thing?

For many years, popular movies have been made into games. From Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, movies have transitioned to games, and with the forthcoming Angry Birds film, it looks like things are going the other way too. But after watching The Hobbit, I got the feeling that Jackson already anticipated the tie-in to gaming, and that he was deliberately crafting the film toward that end.

That’s why many of of the battle scenes felt like a gamer trying to defeat a monster in order to get to the next level and “beat the game.” It felt overdone, as if every individual battle had to be invested with maximum significance, which then led to moments of sheer unbelievability. (Dain the Dwarf king takes out orcs dressed in full armor by headbutting them? Seriously?)

Instead of epic battle scenes, we were given one-on-one encounters between heroes and villains. Legolas’ battle with one particular villain went on so long that my son looked over at me and said, “How long is it going to take?” He wasn’t enthralled; he was bored, in the way you’re bored waiting your turn for the controller.

I don’t want to give the impression that The Hobbit was horrible. The moment when Bard used his son to create a crossbow and send the fatal spear into the dragon was the best part of the film. It merged the excitement of a David and Goliath battle with the trust and confidence of a son in his father. Dragon-slaying may be common in myths and fairy tales, but Jackson’s flourishes in this moment enhanced the inherent drama of Tolkien’s original story.

And who isn’t inspired by the lowly dwarves finally being led by their King Thorin into battle after his change of heart? Or the sight of the shire’s luscious green hills after the cold and snowy battles at the mountain? In these moments, we’re reminded why the battles mattered, and we’re given a picture of virtue, self-sacrifice, courage, and peace.

The problem is, gaming can’t deliver any of that. So when we watch lengthy individual battles go on and on for two hours, we are watching the video-gamization (that’s a word now!) of movie-making squeeze out the whimsy and joy from The Hobbit as a story. In the end, we have a spectacle that delivers on special effects but misses the reason the battles matter in the first place.


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