Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Brave New World

If you come around here often enough, you’ll know that I’ve already made a couple of posts about Peter Jackson’s trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit. Here’s one more, one last post, in which New Developments emerge from the corners of Fandom to change everything. Even if you don’t like Tolkien or movies based on his books, read on — something interesting is happening here.

I think of Jackson as a talented, driven, hard-working man who has no sense of self-control and never knows when to stop. For The Lord of The Rings, New Line was very hands-on with its investment and insisted on Jackson working with a team of producers who somehow kept his excesses under tight control. Since the success of those movies, he has been given carte blanche on every picture he’s made; and in all that time he has failed to produce a single movie that wasn’t bloated beyond the capacity of any sensible audience to endure.

Mister King Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the world, isn’t even introduced in Jackson’s movie about him until about nine hours into the runtime. He then spends about fifteen hours fighting dinosaurs, five hours trashing depression-era Manhattan, and I know he spent around three hours staring lovingly into Naomi Watts’s eyes before finally dropping from the Empire State Building. As I recall, it takes a half-hour for him to hit the ground. And that’s in the theatrical release! God only knows how many hours those bugs chomp on Andy Sirkis’s head in the extended version.

Well… I’d better cut to the chase myself.

Turns out there are other people out there who agree with me that three long movies are more than a little bit excessive to adapt Tolkien’s 300 page novel to the screen — and some of them are doing something about it.

For someone of my generation (mostly grown up before the VCR came along and began radically altering our culture), it’s nothing short of a revelation to learn that the technology we have today, available to everyone, is now so powerful that anyone with the Will and the time on their hands can make their own re-cut of Jackson’s movies — and post it online in full high-definition video and sound.

That’s right — there are a few fans out there who have re-cut Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy into a single three-hour movie. And they haven’t just shortened it: they have re-arranged some scenes, restructured others, and basically shaped their own unique movie out of the piles of footage that Jackson so thoughtfully provided them.

I’ve downloaded one of these versions, watched most of it — and am amazed at what one fan can accomplish. All the bloat is gone, all the sub-plots are gone, all the fart and belch jokes are gone; at last we have a movie that  can stand side-by-side with the Rings Trilogy, occupying its proper proportions to those films… and here’s what’s even more jaw-dropping: it looks and sounds just as good as the theatrical release! 

The first hour of Jackson’s An Unexpected Journey is compressed neatly into 25 minutes, with no sense that we as viewers are missing anything. Beyond that point, Underhill Editor has mainly lopped out all of Jackson’s CGI Action excesses: the barrel ride down the river, which lasts an eternity in Jackson’s version and features orcs and elves flying around shooting arrows all over the screen, now lasts a few seconds and plays out just as it does in the books: the dwarves simply float down the river to safety. It is an absolute joy to watch. 

A few transitions are slightly awkward, and in the final reels the editor is forced to get quite ruthless (he solves the problem of The Battle of Five Armies simply by having Bilbo unconscious for most of it) — but what’s amazing is that the thing isn’t choppier than it is: the editor has even worked on the music cues so that the soundtrack flows smoothly. 

It is brisk, and sometimes, it must be admitted, too brisk. If Jackson had followed his original plan and given us just two Hobbit movies it might not even have been necessary. I know that there will be times when I actually do want some extra flourishes, times when I actually will re-visit Jackson’s films in their entirety… but I now regard them as “The Extended Version;” while for me the Definitive Cut, the one that I will watch every other year in conjunction with the Rings trilogy, is the one created by the Masked Man (or woman) known as “Underhill Editor.”

Now as you might have guessed, all of this Highly Illegal. I just can’t even imagine how many copyright laws this violates. So I’m not going to give you any links, you’ll have to find it on your own. “Underhill Editor” is a kind of creative Robin Hood doing all of us fans a great service; it’s my hope that the Copyright Police of Nottingham never manage to pin him or her down.

In order to get my greedy hands on a copy, I had to learn about something that was completely new to me: Bit-Torrenting. 

The sound you hear is that of Doors Opening. And all I have to say is, “Oh, my.”

That, and perhaps the same thing that the recut Hobbit makes me say: “Ain’t technology wundafil?” 

Yeah, I’ll probably be commenting on more movies in the near future.

— Freder

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