"The Hobbit" Review - Heavy-Handed Peter Jackson Trades In Faux Virtuosity

The Hobbit world premiere in Wellington, New Zealand
The Hobbit world premiere in Wellington, New Zealand
Vincent Malausa

-Film Review-

PARIS – Since December 2001, movie fans all over the world have been divided into two categories. On one side, you have the Peter Jackson fans – the “chosen ones,” possessed by an unwavering and somewhat disturbing faith, and on the other side, you have the heretics, pagans and other trolls of the dark empire who are incapable of recognizing the genius of this insatiable blockbuster machine.

One thing is for sure: After ten years of tireless devotion, the most servile of “the Ring’s” minions will find it hard to convince anyone that this very anticipated (or not) The Hobbit is another masterpiece from heroic fantasy’s big Buddha.

There is a fine line between Buddha and bullsh*t and Jackson crosses it with the grace of a herd of horny midgets.

Without a hint of emotion or surprise, the Kiwi bard strings together scenes like a sausage factory pumping out sausage by the mile – stacking pictorial tableaus one after the other, with no actual direction.

Jackson puts as much personal imagination into the adaptation of Tolkien’s books as he would renting a tractor-trailer. Not once did the filmmaker try to incorporate his own interpretation, his own vision, and the result is like having to endure an endless guided tour.

The Hobbit brings us back to the familiar locations we already know off by heart after having watched the very long 10 hours of the first trilogy, and introduces us to an esoteric bestiary that feel just as trite: big nosed dwarfs, cruel orcas, idiotic trolls, pervy goblins, musical elves. Only the truly obsessional role players will find something interesting there.

Better not have read Tolkien

What’s even sadder is that even the “apostles” favorite tactical argument – you need to have read the book to be allowed to weigh in on this movie – doesn't hold for one minute with this film.

It was never a good argument to being with – no need to have read Stephen King to be able to recognize that “The Shining” is a masterpiece – but it is dead in the water faced with this stack of lifeless shots.

You would probably fare better as a Tolkien “virgin” to be able to experience a minimum of surprise from these run of the mill plots and twists.

The technical aspect was supposed to bring something new. What we have instead is a hi-tech ragbag, a jumble of different formats that experts will have to watch at least four times to be able to determine accurately the number of hairs in Gandalf’s beard.

The Hobbit is purely and solely a copy-paste of what we in the Lord of The Rings trilogy ten years ago: roller-coaster shots of a lifeless landscape, cameras moving non-stop and a battalion of fake characters that look faker than your average garden gnome.

So has-been it’s painful

The inability for Peter Jackson to renew himself or try out new ideas raises this question: did he do it for the money (which is totally plausible since he didn’t want to do it in the first place)? Or, which would be even worse – is it some sort of artistic masochism that forces an author to confine himself to a universe which he has already done to death and of which there is nothing left to exploit?

When you see the incredible feats still being produced by James Cameron and Steven Spielberg – the challenges these men are setting themselves, you have to wonder how Jackson was able to sink so low.

One scene illustrates perfectly how everything fell apart in Jackson’s kingdom of grandiosity and excessiveness: the epic fight between two mountains coming to life in the middle of raging elements. It could have been an unforgettable scene but Jackson filmed it in such a prosaic way that we are left with the feeling that we have just watched a boring old match between two has-been fatsoes in full “Superstars of Wrestling” gear.

When directors think they are giving us virtuosity – that instead is totally devoid of lyricism, breadth and inspiration – they embody the kind of heavy-handedness that is the worst enemy of wonderful.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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