Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Hobbit Review: An Unexpected Thrush

I saw The Hobbit at 24 fps.  So, unlike most other reviews, I won't spend my time complaining that I saw Sir Ian's contact lenses, or that the film sets looked like film sets.  Instead, I'm going to piggyback off MA17's review of Paperman, and argue that there are two different categories of birds in Middle Earth:  Improbable birds, and impossible-except-for-now Deus ex machina birds that need to either fuck off, or get off their lazy asses and help more.

Within any fantasy story we're hard-pressed to discern a clear distinction between the improbable and the impossible-except-for-now.  No author explains absolutely everything about everything at the beginning of a story, in order to allow surprises along the way.  Yet as MA17 noted, some of these surprises seem sensible and fine while others rub us in an unpleasant fashion.  Let's start with the sensible and fine bird in Middle Earth:  The Thrush.

The Thrush:  "I am the thrush!"

When Dildo et al. visit Rivendale, they present Ren Faire Agent Smith with a semi-unreadable map.  He informs them that it contains super-special moon runes that happen to only be visible by the light of the moon that just happens to be in the sky this evening, and it also just happens to be evening when they give him the map.  Agent Smith informs them that, according to the map, the super-secret entrance into the Emo Mountain shall be evidenced by a Thrush beating the shit out of a snail.

While all of that is incredibly improbable, it is consistent with the story we've been told so far.  The invisible moon runes cohere with the mark Magneto made upon Dildo's door at the beginning of the story:  Middle Earth contains sometimes-visible markings.  The happenstance "oh these runes are invisible every day but today" coheres with previous remarks about fate and fortuitous "signs" previously in the story, having to do with dates and opportunistic seeming-coincidence.

The Thrush, itself, is a newly introduced rule:  Birds can evidence doors.  While this is a new rule, we accept the rule because it is articulated prior to its being utilized.  When Thrushy Mc Thrusherson appears later in the movie, and beats the fuck out of a snail, the audience accepts this improbable act because Agent Smith told us about it two hours ago.

All of the coherence and foreshadowing of the Thrush is to be contrasted with the god damned Eagles.

Eagles:  Take it, our suspension of disbelief, to the more time.*

In contrast with the Thrush, whose appearance is explained and predicted hours / pages before its appearance, Tolkien Eagles appear whenever the fuck it's convenient, except for all the other times when it would be incredibly fucking convenient for them to be there, and then leave abruptly for no god damned reason.

The difference is that one can explain the Thrush prior to its appearance without raising any additional questions:  At some point a Thrush will appear to show the door, and now we have to get there, so let's continue with the journey.  Suppose the Eagles were explained in the same way:  "At some point in the future some gigantic Eagles may show up, defeat our enemies for us, and then carry us to safety."  Were Magneto to say that, everyone in the audience, and every character within the story, would exclaim as one:  "WHY THE BLOODY FUCK DON'T WE JUST FUCKING RIDE THE FUCKING EAGLES ALL THE FUCKING WAY THERE YOU FUCKING FUCK?!"

As seen here:

Where the Thrush coheres with the plot and provides an improbable means of door discernment, the Eagles undermine the entire narrative:  Why are these assholes walking when they could just ride Eagles?  Why do they have to fight when the Eagles could fight?  Why is there any evil in Middle Earth at all if the Eagles can simply kick the shit out of it whenever they choose?  And why the fuck aren't the fucking Eagles helping?  And how the shit does that moth get to Eaglesville so quickly?

I take this to be the means by which one can discern improbable coherence from impossible-except-for-now Deux ex machinas.  Improbable coherence can be explained prior to its utilization in a manner that does not detract from the overall rule-structure of the fantasy world.  Impossible-except-for-now bullshit is shoehorned into the plot without adequate prior explanation for the sake of resolving some problem, and ultimately raises additional questions about the rule-structure of the fantasy world.

Also, the Riddles in the Dark scene was very good.

* This one joke justifies the entire review.


Unknown said...

Le eagle est le tired.

Caleb said...

^^That was me.

_J_ said...

Then it shall stay.

MA17 said...

General agreement.

Not sure any amount of preparing us for shit to just kind of go their way can keep the moon runes business from seeming contrived.

Also, I like to imagine that the eagles are ruled by Sam the Eagle from the muppets. Moths are coming into their domain all the time asking for favors and Sam's just like "you weirdos brought these problems on yourselves" or whatever. Gandalf gets a pass every now and again when his life is in danger but otherwise they try to pretend that Middle Earth doesn't exist.

April Teevan said...

Sorry if this was already mentioned, I'm just skimming through stuff, but Jackie mentioned that she read the reason why Gandalf can summon the eagles is bc he saved the Eagle King or some animal wizard way back when, so they can help out, but are a neutral party so they can't influence major plot twists. Which just leads to FURTHER questions when you think how in the movie they basically kept the party from being killed/burned/left to fall to their deaths.

Damnit birds, stop being semi-neutral, grow a pair, and get them to the f'in mountain. You don't have to go up against Smaug, just GET THEM THERE.

_J_ said...

So, the Eagles owe Gandalf a wookiee life debt. If that's the case, then they're definately half assing it.

"Ok, we'll save you from the orcs, but we're only taking you to the edge of Mirkwood. Fuck flying you over that shit."

The_Jolly said...

Being a Tolkein fan, I understand the issues people have with the eagles. I completely agree with the the idea in the video. The eagles do cause a problem in lord of the rings... If they are part of middle earth, then why wouldn't they be actively helping in saving it from the dark lord.

I see less of an issue with this in the hobbit however. The Eagles do help out Gandalf, and their timing is impeccable, but at no point is the fate of middle earth hang in the balance. This leaves some room for "Why the fuck should we care?" on behalf of the eagles.