Movies: Big Duds

Lucy-0Okay, so now I’ve seen the final installment in the Peter Jackson The Hobbit Trilogy. In a word, Meh! (And that high because I didn’t expect more.) One bit of common praise I’ve heard suggests, “Thank God! It’s over! At least there won’t be any more of them!” These days that may be rather wishful thinking. Never underestimate Hollywood’s ability to return to a lucrative well.

I also watched Lucy, the latest from Luc Besson. I usually like Besson’s work. He’s written many good ones, and directed some as well. I’m leaning towards my lowest Ugh! rating here. I can’t decide if Lucy is so bad it’s deliberate self-parody, or if it’s genuinely, earnestly… just that bad. Or maybe just doesn’t care.

As far as I’m concerned, two big duds and I don’t mean milk!

Movies have closed the circle. Many are indistinguishable from toys, video games, and amusement park rides. Rightly so; many movies are based on toys, video games, and amusement park rides.

LEGO movie

I will say this one rose above the pack and had substance.

Not that toys, video games, or amusement park rides are bad. They’re just… shallow and, well… hello, childish (again, not that there’s anything wrong with adults occasionally indulging in childish fun).

Even shallow isn’t always a bad thing. A lot of entertainment is. Many forms are noted for their exciting fun, not their ability to engage or grow your mind.

When it comes to movies, think of them as cinematic fast food: easy to enjoy, appealing to the gut, but not the acme of fine dining (and not good for you in large amounts).

That said, some chow is just too cheap. You get the feeling the chef didn’t even try to make it taste good (let alone provide actual nutrition). You get the feeling they’re so sure you’ll flock to the feed that all they have to do it make it look pretty.

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The Hobbit 3

255 pages!

There may be no more of a cynical, naked money grab than to stretch the Tolkien novel into three super-sized high-fat, high-sugar cinematic confectionery nothings. Each one is more pointless and appalling than the last.

The tragedy is that Peter Jackson did so well with Tolkien’s Trilogy (what some call simply “The Trilogy”).

I’ve heard many remark — and have said so myself — that Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth and its inhabitants comes pretty close to what we’ve had in our heads all these years. That’s an impressive bulls-eye to hit.

My buddy is convinced (and I think he’s right) that you could take all three of the Hobbit movies and cut them down to one good movie that honors the book. What Jackson should have done and then gone on to do new things.

I have a hardback copy of The Hobbit, it weighs in at 255 pages. I also have a hardback copy of Lord of the Rings. It weighs in at 1008 pages plus 104 pages of appendices and a 24-page index. The type size is about the same, maybe a little smaller in The Hobbit. On just story page count, The Hobbit is almost exactly 25% the size of Lord of the Rings.

Lord of the Rings

1136 pages!

Jackson’s first trilogy clocks in at 558 minutes (9:18) and his second at 474 minutes (7:54). By rights a Hobbit movie should be two or three hours. I’d like to see that cut-down version!

In fairness, one thing I’ve heard people complain about is the title, Battle of the Five Armies. That actually does come from the book. Some have wondered exactly what five armies are meant. According to Tolkien: “Upon one side were the Goblins and the wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves.”

In retrospect, the truth is, there’s only one Peter Jackson movie that stands out for me: The Frighteners. The thing is, I really liked that one. I was excited about the LotR Trilogy and glad he did good. But I’m not liking this!

There is a parallel here with George Lucas and the Star Wars Trilogy. Now we have two visionary directors who created important The Trilogy movies and then went on to create second trilogies guaranteed to offend many fans (and which are arguably cinematic crap, movie popcorn at best). I would say Lucas changed the face of SF movies, so he’s more god-like than Jackson and thus his fall from grace is all the more Luciferian.

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The Fifth Element

One of my fav SF films!

I knew what to expect with the The Hobbit movies. I had hoped for better from Luc Besson. Admittedly, I haven’t liked everything, but here again, there are some I really liked. Nikita. Leon. The Fifth Element. District 13. The Transporter. Even Taken was a good ride (I’m not so sure about the sequels).

A key difference is that the films I’ve liked that he directed came earlier, whereas the films I’ve liked that came later he only wrote and produced. That might be an important difference here. He directed Lucy.

There is also that, especially in the later films, there is a common thread of being off the chain, over the top, preposterous. Lucy is no exception.

It revolves around a meme that should be thoroughly discredited by now: The idea that we use only 10% of our brain. It’s not true! Not even 10% true! We use all of our brain. So the movie is either really dumb or signaling that it knows it’s really dumb (which is smart). Or it just doesn’t care (which is back to dumb again).

Lucy-Freeman

No! Not Wormhole Guy!

The thing is, the only signal I read is the one involving how utterly preposterous and dumb — even within its own contexts — the movie is. Judged on its own terms, it’s still a dumb movie that makes little sense.

To top it off, there is Morgan Freeman spouting some of the most outrageous pseudo-science I’ve heard in a good long time. And not just gibberish, but seriously wrong gibberish. No, it’s so bad it’s “not even wrong.”

From Besson I hoped for a movie I could at least enjoy, but when I’m moved to yell invective at my TV, that’s not a good sign. It’s not just that I’m out of the movie; it’s that I’m out of the movie and pissed!

And that, as I said long ago, is the cardinal sin.

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Dracula 2000To end on a bit more upbeat note, I’ve mentioned before that Dracula 2000 is watchable whereas Dracula 3000,… not so much. In fact, I’d never been able to sit through more than the first 20 minutes of the latter.

The former has some interesting twists regarding who Dracula actually is and why silver and wooden stakes (and to some extent, beheading) are a problem for vampires. Plus it stars Johnny Lee Miller who’s now doing Sherlock Holmes on CBS, so there’s that.

The other day I was channel surfing and came upon Dracula 3000 shortly after the point I’d switched it off previously. I thought I’d watch just a little more to see if it got any better (it didn’t) and ended up watching the whole thing.

It’s bad. The plotting, writing and acting are porn movie bad. Really, you can only watch it in a kind of horrified fascination. And, yet, still better than Lucy.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

14 responses to “Movies: Big Duds

  • siriusbizinus

    I don’t trust any vampire movies or shows because they’re about vampires. And vampire stories, at least in my experience, have been grossly warped into just really bad plots. Either one gets “tormented soul” vampires who yearn for a lost love, or one gets emo vampires that are really good people but are just misunderstood.

    That said, I do watch The Strain, but I liked it because they stayed away from the v-word long enough to sell me on how their vampires work.

    Also, I really didn’t like The Hobbit trilogy. I missed the second movie, and I didn’t need to have watched it in order to have understand the third movie. This is a big problem. Oh, and you can still worry about another Peter Jackson Middle Earth trilogy. The Silmarillion hasn’t been done yet…

    I recently saw Mr. Holmes, and I do have to say that it was a very delightful and thoughtful mystery. I highly recommend it. It is reminiscent of more classic Holmes films, without the deerstalker cliche. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was also a fun film, but it’s very much a formula movie.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Vampire movies are very much a matter of taste. I know a guy who is particular about them sticking close to the Bram Stoker version. Me, I like a bit of revisionism and revisiting. In fact, I like it when a vampire movie finds a new twist. I may be more inclined to favor vampire movies, so I can’t say I share your evaluation of them.

      (FWIW, I’ve written here about quite a few. Searching for [vampires] should turn up a number of posts.)

      “The Silmarillion hasn’t been done yet…”

      Yes… now that you mention it, I’ve had the same dread. I’d forgotten… [shudder]

      I am looking forward to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was a top favorite show when I was a kid. I even had some Napoleon Solo gear including the gun.

      So the movie either honors the TV show, or it’ll be like Mission: Impossible which really has no connection to its source. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen a movie actually honor its TV show…

      I Spy? None of the charm. The Avengers? It tried. Sort of. The Saint? Big miss. The Wild, Wild West? Are you joking? Hmmm… I’ll have to ponder this!

      • reocochran

        I liked the one with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Garner in “Maverick.” And even though one brother didn’t like it, other brother, Mom and I liked, “Get Smart.” I liked Steve Carrell and felt the remake had some of the “quirks” at least like talking into the shoe and the phone booth stuff. I forget who played Agent 99, though. This means she may not have been as good as original actress.

        It was not like the original but found this one very entertaining to watch, “The A-Team.” The main characters managed to have the same swagger and fun moments along with action.

        I agree with you, especially with “The Wild, Wild West,” W.S.

        I am very excited to see the new version of, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” too!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, good one, Maverick was enjoyable. I like Steve Carrell a lot, but the Get Smart movie didn’t do much for me (Anne Hathaway played 99). There’s no way to really capture the innocent goofiness of a show like that in a movie today. Making it at all was the mistake there, I think.

        I thought the A-Team movie was watchable enough. There was also that Lost in Space movie that wasn’t utterly horrible. And the Charlie’s Angels movies have been popcorn fun. Oh, and the Addams Family movies, especially the first, were okay.

        The movie versions of The Wild, Wild West and Mission:Impossible were a disgrace. Way too much buffoonery in the first! The M:I movies turn out to be fun if you ignore their supposed source. Not so much with TWWW. That movie just plain sucked. Likewise I Spy.

        All that bodes badly for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but maybe it’ll sing like Kingsman.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Totally agree with your assessments of the Hobbit movies and Lucy, although I probably enjoyed the Hobbit movies slightly more than you.

    One of the things that annoyed me with both the LOTR and Hobbit movies was the desire to make them pace like thrillers. It seems to be something movie makers think is crucial, even when the story takes place over months. TV shows like Vikings and Game of Thrones at least have figured out that isn’t necessary. Sometimes I wonder if directors watch TV.

    Lucy was just a waste of good talent on an asinine premise.

    On Dracula movies, I’m not a horror fan, and I’ve reached the point where any vampire or zombie movie has an especially high marketing hurdle to convince me to watch.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “…although I probably enjoyed the Hobbit movies slightly more than you.”

      That could well be. I did give it a Meh! rather than a Nah! or Ugh! (which Lucy got). But I do have philosophical objections in addition to storytelling objections. Sort of the flip side of “A for effort” (“F for cynicism”?).

      It gets a less negative ranking because I knew what I was getting. (Heh. I knew what I was getting when they announced the three-film project!) Lucy caught me by surprise! I was expecting better.

      “One of the things that annoyed me with both the LOTR and Hobbit movies was the desire to make them pace like thrillers.”

      Indeed. That’s exactly what I meant by movies becoming amusement park rides.

      And the truth is, when it comes to movies, that’s all many people really want. I’ve actually heard a guy say that all he wanted (on the big screen) was movement and noise. He didn’t even categorize it as “fight scenes” or “chase scenes” — just “movement and noise.”

      I wonder if the “home theatre” experience has shifted behaviors. We’re used to watching TV more actively — talking with friends, doing something else while watching, or stopping and starting to take a break. Even live sports and music events involve more than just sitting in the dark absorbed in watching a movie.

      The idea of “sitting down and watching a movie” may be getting somewhat short-circuited in this TL;DR world of ours. And if no one is really watching, if content and substance are actually filler between the bits they do want to see, then there’s no incentive for the filler to be anything but.

      Which makes the term “action porn” particularly apropos. The entire plot of most porn movies is filler compared to the real reason the movie was made. (Although, just to be clear, “porn” movies have their place in the world.)

      TV shows have their own share of that, but budgets and time constraints play a role. You can spend one or two years making a three-hour film. TV shows come out at a minimum of eight to ten hours a year, each year. (Shows like Blacklist and NCIS crank out 24 hours a year!)

      There is also, due to advertising, a need for TV to hook you, and stories are more effective a that than putting on a good show. Starting in the 1990s TV has learned to create longer and longer (and more mysterious) plot arcs designed to keep you coming back.

      It’s a weird idea compared to TV in the 1980s, but season-long, even series-long, plot arcs are common now. Back in the day, TV was episodic and static. No plot arcs of any kind. They logic was they wanted to be able to grab you with a good show without requiring all the back story. With some shows now, if you don’t start with season one, you won’t understand much of what’s going on.

      Now we have the advantage of being able to go see older seasons. Back then, you watched on the air or not at all. So the logic made more sense then.

      You can really see it evolve in the Star Trek shows. TOS was entirely episodic; you can watch episodes in any order. TNG had some multi-show arcs and a distant sense of longer arcs. The Borg was one long-running aspect. Q was another. There still wasn’t much linearity, though. The Q episodes, for example, don’t absolutely need to be watched in order.

      DS9 had way more in terms of season-long arcs, and the Voyager premise was based on one. Enterprise, likewise, was built on season-long arcs.

      The name of the game now is cliffhanger! (This mini-rant sounds like the basis for a post!)

      Anyway (and I’m just spitballin’ here), I wonder if movies are in the boat TV was back then. It’s rare that movie series work (it takes something like LOTR to pull it off). Even the Harry Potter movies (absent the last two) don’t comprise a highly connected series, although the Voldemort thread runs through them all.

      So for movies the name of the game is find something that’ll bring’m in. And if relatively (or entirely) mindless action does that, then so be it. And the track record does indicate it works.

      Fortunately, for those of us who loving sitting down and watching a movie, those are still being made, too.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On DS9 and arcs, a few years ago when I started a rewatch, I noticed that I could actually tell which season it was in compared to B5. Given that B5 was originally accused of being a ripoff of DS9, it’s pretty ironic how much DS9’s arc took its pacing from B5 for the first 3-4 years.

        I know movie producers are optimizing to what works, which is big, loud, fast, and mindless, which is fine as far as it goes. But I think it’s made them the wrong choice now for most book adaptations. I’ve been pretty happy with the recent trend of SF&F books being adapted as TV shows or miniseries; TV seems a much better fit these days.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Given that B5 was originally accused of being a ripoff of DS9,…”

        [snort] Yeah, if it’s anything, it’s the other way around! And I’m not entirely sure how much anything there really was. Some cross-pollination, I’m sure, and far more likely from B5 to DS9 than the other way around. B5 was JMS’s baby!

        “TV seems a much better fit these days.”

        I agree. I think TV is more literate than film. There are very few films of books that really work (there are a few). As you say, TV has a better success rate. The sheer narrative length of most books lends better to episodic TV. Very good fit, actually.

        As you likely know, some of the first content TV broadcast was plays and scripts written for TV but in the manner of stage (where camera and editing play no role). Pure TV, as it were. The power of camera, editing, and special effects, makes film a different animal.

  • Steve Morris

    I haven’t seen Lucy, and that was my deliberate choice. Once I heard the 10% thing, I just thought, “Oh no!” I loved Luc Besson’s other works though.

    As for the Hobbit, yuck! One film should really have been the limit.

    Personally, I blame Harry Potter. Splitting the final episode into two parts signalled a trend to drag things out. SImilarly the trend for movies to grow ever longer. Whatever happened to editing?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, Lucy is kind of a mess. It wants to be a SciFi movie, but with such blatantly bullshit science, it’s not a good one. (I kept looking for signs Besson was tongue-in-cheek, but he seemed entirely serious.) It has some Matrix-like action scenes, so it wanted a piece of that pie, too. And [SPOILER ALERT], Lucy dies due to her enhancements and stuff gets especially magical at the end (I really hooted at the “deep space” memory stick), so it’s also reaching for (and missing completely) your heart-strings.

      The more I think about it, the more the Ugh! (this movie never should have been made; I’m sorry I watched it) rating stands.

      I’m not sure I quite agree the last Harry Potter novel didn’t rate two films. They didn’t really add anything to the films to pad them out, and it’s hard to see what they could have removed from the book to make a single film. I’ll grant that one. As I understand it, the Twilight series used that as an excuse to stretch out their final novel, and I believe the Hunger Games folks did the same. The impression I’ve gotten is that neither final novel warranted two films and considerable padding was necessary there.

      And the Hobbit movies are mostly padding considering there’s just one actual story being told and that it would pretty easily fit into one movie. So we’re talking two full movies of nothing but padding.

      (Those Twilight movies? I do like vampires, but I’ve known to avoid that series. Even the Cinema Sins YouTube channel (where they do these excellent, really funny, “Everything Wrong With…” videos) pieces on the Twilight films, I just can’t watch. Even clips of those movies offend my brain!)

      ((Far better to watch this! If you’re not familiar with the channel, it’s a great introduction.))

  • reocochran

    I like some of Luc Bessons films (you listed them) and oldest daughter gave me “Lucy,” I will have to let you know on this one. Good to know about your opinion. 2 of 3 my grown children like the “Lord of the Rings” movie series. They also read all the books. I only liked The Hobbit book, never read the rest nor watched the films. I dont like the “Gollum” creature but love Bilbo Baggins.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Lucy might be more of a problem for those with a background in science, since as science fiction, it’s really pretty bad. As just an action movie maybe it plays better. My problem is: I can’t always turn off my brain.

      You might enjoy The Lord of the Rings (book) if you gave it a shot now. I just finished re-reading The Hobbit, and I have to say it’s really very much a book for children. LotR is a lot more interesting and rich. It’s one of the key works in fantasy! So many other works take their cues from it.

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