Genre: The Hobbit – Fantasy. The Returned – Supernatural (TV Pilot)
Premise: (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. (The Returned) A group of people who died in a horrific accident in a remote town, begin to reappear four years later.
About: Reviewing TWO things today. The Desolation of Smaug is part 2 in Peter Jackson’s never-ending Hobbit six-tology. The Returned is a French TV show that was brought over here to the states via The Sundance Channel. It’s being heralded as one of the best shows (some even say THE best) of the year. I’m talking some people believe it’s better than Breaking Bad, folks.
Writers: The Hobbit – Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro (based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien). The Returned – Fabien Adda
Details: The Hobbit (149 minutes) – The Returned – 52 minutes
Edit: I’ll put up a post about the Black List tomorrow – so save your thoughts until then. :)
There are very few people in this world who can pull off reviewing a giant fantasy blockbuster sequel AND an obscure French horror TV show, and tie it all together. I am not one of those people, unfortunately. So you’ll have to endure a very confusing Monday post.
You see, the plan was to review The Hobbit 2: Older Legolas’s Return. Problem is, the movie bored me so much that I didn’t know if I had anything constructive to say. So disinterested did I become with the film that I had to come up with things to occupy my brain in order to stay awake.
I noticed, for example, that Evangeline Lilly (Kate from Lost) was in the film. I then remembered that Lilly once dated Dominic Monaghan, another cast member on Lost, who also happened to be… you guessed it (or probably didn’t) a hobbit (in the form of Merry) from the Lord of the Rings trilogy! This odd connection swam through my head for a good ten minutes as I wondered if Peter Jackson auditioned her as just another actress, or if she was on set for the previous movies because of Dominic and THAT’S how she got the part.
But back to the story (I guess). My issue with this movie was two-fold: Too much talking and too much plot. Starting right out of the gate, we get a 7-8 minute scene (not positive on this but that’s how long it felt) of a hobbit sitting in a bar talking to Gandalf.
Now I understand WHY this scene was here. Jackson had to remind the audience (or explain to those who hadn’t seen the first film) what our main characters were going after. But see, this scene highlights one of Jackson’s key weaknesses as a writer. Straight up telling the audience, in a boring manner, what the characters are after is not the only way to do it. There are more entertaining ways to convey info.
Such as doing it on the move!
Start with our characters continuing forward from the last movie and figure out a clever way for them to remind the audience what’s going on. It could be as simple as a dangerous villain-like character stopping them and demanding to know where they’re going (which ends up happening later in the movie anyway). That way you don’t have to waste 7 minutes (7 OPENING minutes – some of the most precious minutes of a film) on something you can slip in in under 60 seconds while we’re hopping along.
And you want to know the funny thing? That opening scene didn’t even achieve what it set out to do! It was supposed to clear up what the goal was, but because there was SO MUCH TALKING, all the important stuff we were supposed to hear got lost in the noise. That’s actually a common beginner mistake – believing that lots and lots of explaining will lead to clarity. It’s always the opposite. The less you say, the more impact the words will have. It’s sort of like a beautifully written song whose lyrics are drowned out by 5 electric guitars, two sets of drums, a synthesizer, a trumpet, and a tambourine. How are we supposed to hear the lyrics with all those instruments hiding the voice?
This became a theme throughout the script. Talktalk talk talk talktalktalk talk talk talk talk. So much freaking TALKING. If that Elf King guy had one more endless conversation with one of the other elves, I was about to stab myself with Orlando Bloom’s chin. Whatever happened to DOING??? Whatever happened to SHOW DON’T TELL?? Isn’t that what makes cinema great? I mean, sure, if we’re watching a Woody Allen movie, talk all ya want. But this is a freaking blockbuster about elves, orcs, bear-men, and monsters! Leave the damn talking to the radio jockeys.
Think I’m being too harsh? Consider this. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is based on 3 books. The Hobbit trilogy is based on 1 book. Yet each Hobbit movie is just as long as its Rings counterpart! Why are we adding 40-some minutes to a typical run-time if the source material is 1/3 the size? It makes zero sense. Which brings us back to WHY it’s 40-some extra minutes. BECAUSE OF ALL THE DAMN TALKING! If the characters did more DOING and less TALKING, this film would actually play out at an acceptable 2 hours.
Anyway, once we got to this Venice-like fishing village, I mentally checked out. I was so bored. I had no idea what was going on anymore (too much talking – I lost track!). And it just verified what everybody said about these films when they were first announced – that they’re not needed. They’re superfluous in the worst way. They’re smaller versions of the original films. If you’re going to make a sequel trilogy, it needs to be bigger and badder than the first one! Or else what’s the point?
Which brings us to The Returned. My favorite new show! I feel really good about trumpeting this one because I was pretty nasty to the French during my “French Week.” Mon amis, all that has changed! Whereas everything about the Hobbit world was tired and familiar, everything about The Returned feels fresh and different.
The opening pilot takes place in a remote mountainous French town where (big spoiler) we see a school bus lose control and shoot over a cliff. Everyone on the bus is killed. However, four years later, a mother and father, still grieving the loss of their child, are shocked when their daughter walks in the house like nothing happened. Naturally, the parents are beyond freaked out, and are so scared that this hallucination is going to end, that they do everything in their power to pretend like nothing’s changed (not easy since the parents have since divorced).
Also returned are a young man looking for his girlfriend (who has since married someone else and had a child) and a young freaky-ass boy, who follows a lonely woman home and convinces her (without saying a word, mind you) to let him stay with her. To round matters out, a young woman with no connection to the bus is murdered inside an underground walkway.
While much of what carries The Returned is the creepy melancholy directing style, the writing is just as stellar. Just like any good television pilot, the show starts out with an amazing teaser (spoiler). You are not expecting that bus to go shooting off that cliff. The writer then knows how much power there’ll be behind each “returned” character, so they milk each one, allowing your anticipation to grow as each “dead” kid is reunited with their loved ones.
That’s a nice trick every screenwriter should know. The amount of time you can milk a scenario is directly proportional to how big that scenario is. The dead coming back to their non-expectant families after four years? – that’s big enough to milk the shit out of (the long walk home home, the approach to the house, hanging out in the kitchen and getting food – screenwriter Adda really takes his time reuniting the family members). We’re dying as we can’t wait to see how the parents will react to seeing their kid again.
The script is also a great reminder of how important the “remote” scenario is to a story. I mean, it’s not for every story, but putting your characters in the middle of nowhere increases that feeling of helplessness that can really unsettle an audience. It’s a big reason Lost worked so well, and why movies like The Shining, Let The Right One In, and The Thing were so good. Cut your characters off from the rest of the world, and you add a heightened sense of fear.
I also loved how interesting the choices were. Remember that tidbit in my “Voice” article from last week? How a big part of your voice is reflected in your choices? (Spoilers) Here, they could have done the obvious and had people from the bus crash start coming home left and right. But then we learn the weird kid WASN’T on the bus. He was standing in the road and made the bus crash. So then who is he? We also have a murder in the middle of the script from two characters who had nothing to do with the bus. That also throws us off guard. These are the unexpected things that keep audiences tuning in every week.
I could keep going but instead I encourage you to go watch this show right now. It’s the first truly exciting thing to hit TV in years.
Desolation of Smaug rating:
[ ] what the hell did I just watch?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
[ ] what the hell did I just watch?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth watching
[ ] genius
What I learned: Too much dialogue can dilute your point. When having your characters convey key plot points, don’t over-state them. Keep them simple. Tell the audience the information they need to know, then move on.