Friday, December 14, 2012

When did "Sexy" Become a Prerequisite for "Enjoyable"?

I saw The Hobbit last night. I really really really liked it. To be fair, it is a movie based on one of my absolute favorite books in the universe, but I did go into it very apprehensive. I came out mostly converted, with very little to complain about save a few aesthetic choices and some obnoxiously cliche dialogue. Additionally, I saw it in IMAX 3D, without the 48fps, so I can't comment on the higher frame rate. I can, however, comment on how I thought the movie adapted the book, whether three movies is a mistake or not, and how much I loved Martin Freeman as Bilbo (spoiler alert: alot.)

But the reason I'm writing a blog post today is largely in response to the Negative Kotaku review of The Hobbit, which made me extra mad because it was written by a journalist I typically love and respect.
Here's the review, for your own reading pleasure (or displeasure, as the case may be): The Hobbit Feels Like a Video Game and That's Not a Good Thing

Moving past the frame rate argument, which is probably legit since I hate motion blur, my problems lie within the second half of the article, which responds to problems with The Hobbit's story line.
Kirk states: "There are almost no women in the movie, and it's all so unsexy it makes Fellowship of the Ring seem like the Downton Abbey Christmas special."

First of all, I don't know when movies started needing to be sexy in order to be enjoyable. By that logic, there are a lot of very well-respected, highly celebrated and award-laden films that shouldn't have ever been made, let alone enjoyed by international audiences. In fact, after spending a few weeks trying to get on the Game of Thrones bandwagon, a fantasy world entirely unmarred by overt sexuality was refreshing.

Second, who says the movie WASN'T sexy, just because it didn't have women in it? Do you mean it's unsexy to you, as a male viewer who is into ladies? I think that's what you meant. Because personally, I found Richard Armitage as Thorin to be sexy in the same way Christopher Eccleston's Doctor was...enriching.  Additionally, I rather enjoyed staring at Martin Freeman. And Elijah Wood. Oooohhh did I enjoy staring at Elijah Wood, as I did in all three LoTR movies. This point doesn't contradict my first, as there is still no PATENT sexuality, either plot-wise or thematically. All I'm saying here is that "No Women" does not an unsexy film make.

Finally, there's a distinct lack of women in the movie BECAUSE THERE'S A DISTINCT LACK OF WOMEN IN THE BOOK UPON WHICH IT IS BASED. If there were random female characters thrown into the mix, it would only be for the sake of Hollywood and the adoring fans. In fact, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Galadriel an addition from the world of the book? I don't seem to remember her in the text, but that could be my faulty memory at work. Imagine what would happen if Peter Jackson just started throwing ladies around for the sake of a sexy film. Suddenly "An Unexpected Journey" would have an entirely different connotation all together, and that's a different movie for a different day.

I had several other problems with Kirk's review, not the least of which being his disparaging remarks towards the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy, but the sexy argument really grinds my gears. Ultimately, the story of The Hobbit is about just that: A Hobbit, on a quest. There are dragons. There is gold. There's a lot of stomach grumbling and lost ponies and such, and by the end, there's a happy ending. Tonally, the book is much MUCH lighter than the Lord of the Rings, so it makes sense that the respective film would also lay the humor on with a heavy hand. Why shouldn't there be singing, specifically when the songs come straight from the original text? Why shouldn't there be troll bogies? Why shouldn't the goblin king have such a chin that I've nicknamed him "fatty beard"?

You explain that to me, and that will be the day I stop wishing I was a hobbit.


  1. Hi Jen!

    Hmm. Re: the sexy thing. I think it's worth clarifying that the lack of sexiness is but one of many problems I had with The Hobbit. But it's certainly worth talking about, since I want to be sure to be clear about what I meant there.

    What I'm complaining about isn't limited to the lack of women in the film - the unsexiness goes deeper than that. I deliberately chose to say: "There are almost no women in the movie, and it's all so unsexy " and not "There are almost no women in the movie, and because of that, it's all so unsexy." A small distinction, but an important one. There are no women in the film, AND it's all so unsexy.

    The lack of women is a symptom, but the Hobbit's overarching unsexiness went beyond that. It's not that there aren't characters actually having sex; as you point out, the source material doesn't have that either. But there's a lack of sensuality, of earthiness, of drama and chemistry.

    I don't find the unsexiness to have much to do with the fact that I, personally, think women are sexy. I think all sorts of things are sexy. I love sexual frission and on-screen chemistry of all kinds. And I felt there was little of that in The Hobbit. For a non-lady-oriented example, I love the show Sherlock, and think that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch have great chemistry on that show, no ladies required. (And, related, I have a feeling that Cumberbatch's Smaug could well add the jolt of chemistry that was missing from this first film.)

    So, for me, the whole thing feels sexLESS, sort of neutered, with little on-screen chemistry. And of course, that's but one of the raft of other problems I had with the film.

    1. Hi Kirk!
      Thanks for responding! This does clear things up a bit, and I really appreciate the open dialogue. It will be an interesting concept to track as the movies continue on.

      I found there to be plenty of chemistry between the characters, but that may just be a point on which we will forever agree to disagree. In fact, I wonder how a movie like The Hobbit would play out with an all-female cast of characters... hmmmmm

      I think CHEMISTRY, however, is different from sexiness. In fact, I thought Fili and Kili were almost identical in their relationship to Merry and Pippin, who have some of the best on-screen chemistry in the whole LoTR trilogy. And though I joke incessantly about Frodo and Sam, there's a raw chemistry between them without any overt sexuality; but that may be me opening a different can of worms all together.

      The fact that the 48fps translates as motion blur sucks, because the movie was quite spectacular without it. Yes, it doubles back on tropes from LoTR, and the car ride home was a long discussion about repeat musical tracks (I liked them, my comrades did not); like I said, there were parts of your review I definitely agreed with, but as far as the sexiness and/or chemistry goes, I think we've hit a dissonant chord.

    2. Yeah, chemistry, sexiness - I put the two under the same umbrella, at least in this thing I wrote. Sounds like you felt it and I didn't, which, you know, that's how it goes.

      I do look forward to watching the film again on DVD in 24FPS (though god, will we get a directors' cut? This one already felt like a director's cut!). Even then, I doubt my more fundamental problems with the film will be ironed out. But hey, anything's better than that ghastly 48fps.

  2. Quite honestly Kirk, a children's adventure film isn't supposed to have much sex appeal or sensual chemistry. They are focused on the adventure. A band of dwarves. Gandalf enlisting an unlikely member of the team bent to reclaim what was lost. Meeting Gollum. Adventure stories like that are in effect rather simple, and the concept is very old fashioned. This is why a lot of traditional tales and fairytales are no longer interesting to people, because they are very straight forward and blunt without much trappings. They could have added a female member to the "band" of characters, perhaps a female "action girl" elf, but that is obvious tokenism if they did that, even though the lack of female characters as leads IS an important issue and needs to be addressed in movies, and in the fantasy and action genres in particular. This movie however isn't one to do that. The source material is too beloved. Was it a wrong choice to draw the novel out into an eight hour spectacle? Probably. That's really long for just one book.

    It is one thing to criticize the frame rate, which is loads important, I watched Shutter Island, a great film, on my uncle's HD tv once on some awful HD motion interpolation setting that rendered the sets as looking like actual sets, and Leo's beet red face as sharper and redder than ever, it did look like a soap opera. That is one thing that is perfectly fine to criticize. It also okay to criticize a film for feeling bloated, that's another thing that's perfectly okay to criticize.

    It is also okay to criticize actors for not having great or believable chemistry or acting skills with one another, if the acting isn't smooth in your opinion or they don't work as an ensemble, then that's something to criticize, however its entirely another thing to call it "unsexy". I mean it is a children's story. Children's literature isn't meant to be sexy. It's not there for you to watch sexy stuff. The uncomfortable and boring feeling of you not seeing anybody that's sexy, that there are no girls in the film for you to look at: girls have to deal with that nearly every time they watch a movie or tv show or videogame or reading comics while also dealing with watching barely dressed or overtly sexy "strong female characters" or just token girls being half there for purely fanservice and objectification. It's uncomfortable isn't it?

    In contrast, while you can say the female characters in the Rings movies were both simultaneously elevated in some cases and also downplayed their importance or involvement, they aren't presented as overtly sexy, and it's actually safe to say that Jackson's Rings have more objectification of gorgeous men in it being used as obvious eye candy for women and homosexual viewers than most action and fantasy films. Was there really any other reason to hire Orlando Bloom other than he looked really pretty? Not much. You didn't see anybody that was "sexy" in the Hobbit, but ask girls who went to see it, and perhaps some gay guys too, and Dwarves I don't think are meant to be very sexy, though I'm sure many will attest that their casting of Thorin has filled the criteria for eye candy and "sexiness".

    But really you have to remember, this is a children's book. It was meant to be a children's book, while the Trilogy, obviously was not as directed towards children. And even the trilogy isn't very sensual, there is romance, but I wouldn't call it a 'sexy' story either. It's a different feeling, not being pandered to doesn't it?