Monday, December 24, 2012

The forest gloom got heavier and the forest-silence deeper

Earlier this year I read The Hobbit to my young sons and, coming to the book again as an adult, I was impressed by the way the landscape is so vividly described without holding up the action.  After escaping the goblins of the Misty Mountains, for example, the party set off again and the hungry Bilbo 'looked from side to side for something to eat; but the blackberries were still only in flower, and of course there were no nuts, not even hawthorn-berries.  He nibbled a bit of sorrel, and he drank from a small mountain-stream that crossed the path, and he ate three wild strawberries that he found on its bank, but it was not much good.'  They continued on until the path disappeared: 'the bushes, and the long grasses between the boulders, the patches of rabbit-cropped turf, and the thyme and the sage and the marjoram, and the yellow rockroses all vanished, and they found themselves at the top of a wide steep slope of fallen stones, the remains of a landslide.'  After escaping relatively unscathed from an avalanche of these stones, they limped onwards in deepening shadows, 'down the gentle slopes of a pine forest in a slanting path leading steadily southwards.  At times they were pushing through a sea of bracken with tall fronds rising above the hobbit's head, at times they were marching along quiet as quiet over a floor of pine-needles; and all the while the forest gloom got heavier and the forest-silence deeper.  There was no wind that evening to bring even a sea-sighing into the branches of the trees...'

On Saturday we went to see Peter Jackson's film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  In his review Philip French writes that 'the mountainous terrain, increasingly dark and menacing as the story progresses, at times resembles paintings by John Martin and Caspar David Friedrich, and is beautifully photographed by Jackson's regular cinematographer, Andrew Lesnie, who has that feeling for landscape that's such a feature of antipodean cinema.'  Unfortunately, as The Telegraph's Robbie Collin complains, Jackson's new 48 frames-per-second process may make the 'swoopy landscape shots look smoother' but it also gives the film 'a sickly sheen of fakeness: the props look embarrassingly proppy and the rubber noses look a great deal more rubbery than nosey.'  During the thunderstorm in the Misty Mountains, the dwarves hang desperately on to shiny fake rocks, surrounded by special effects reminiscent of Jason and the Argonauts.  Tolkien's description of the descent from these mountains that I quoted above ends in a moonlit clearing where the party are attacked by giant wolves and find temporary respite by climbing up the pine trees.  In the film these wolves are led by a pumped-up super-evil Orc who I don't recall appearing in the book and the dwarves all end up hanging from one tree, cracking under the strain and hanging implausibly over a precipice.  It is a bit sad to think that Peter Jackson's vision is now supplanting Tolkien's in my sons' imaginations.  However, the book's maps and illustrations still seem to intrigue them, and as I write this they are actually staging the attack of the wolves in a Lego forest scene of their own devising.

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