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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
"The Hobbit" action sequences: physics, realism, fantasy, and suspension of disbelief
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arithmancer
Grey Havens


Jun 17 2013, 6:17pm

Post #1 of 174 (1282 views)
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"The Hobbit" action sequences: physics, realism, fantasy, and suspension of disbelief Can't Post

Recent discussion between posters who dislike the "overblown, ridiculous Hollywood action scenes" of The Hobbit, and those who recommend "suspension of disbelief" in fantasy films got me thinking. I tend to be (in thriller movies set in real life) in favor of believable stunts and fight scenes owing to an eduction heavy on science and experience in the martial arts, yet I found "The Hobbit: AUJ" delightful, personally.

And so I wondered, why this is? Especially, as I find on the intellectual level, the argument that breaking the laws of physics should remove our sense that characters are in jeopardy. And what I have concluded, is that the key lies in the details. Why, I ask myself, can I watch with my heart in my throat as Bilbo and then Thorin almost slip into a chasm, and fifteen minutes later, chortle with delight as the Goblin King lands with a thud on Thorin's Company at the bottom of another one?

I think it is in the details. For me, both of these scenes work because the film itself tells me it is in deadly earnest in the first, and tells me to hang on and enjoy the ride, in the second. In the first scene we are treated to dizzying views of the chasm above which Our Heroes dangle, and the reactions of the characters sell the danger. In the second, there are cues that it's going to be a wild ride. (I think I saw a dwarf literally holding on to his hat, on the scaffold).

How do others thing about this? I'd love answers with specifics about scenes that did or did not work with the poster though of course people may post what they will. Smile


Ardamírë
Valinor


Jun 17 2013, 6:22pm

Post #2 of 174 (612 views)
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Stone giants vs. Goblin cavern [In reply to] Can't Post

Ok, I just rewatched this film last week and this was one of those things that really bothered me. In the stone giants sequence we're meant to be fearful for our heroes lives, and yet just a few minutes later we're treated to seeing them all fall down a hole, through some sort of tunnel slide, and land very far down without a scratch. Then it happens a few more time! Bilbo falls down into Gollum's lair, and then Gandalf and the dwarves fall down another cavern while fighting/escaping from the goblins. It just didn't work for me.

"...not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall.
As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last.
For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men,
it is bitter to receive." -Arwen Undómiel




bborchar
Rohan


Jun 17 2013, 6:27pm

Post #3 of 174 (596 views)
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If I'm suspending my belief... [In reply to] Can't Post

...and accepting that Hobbits even exist, as do Wizards (who are angels), dwarves, Elves, goblins, orcs, wargs, etc...then I can suspend it for everything else.


"Go on. Walk on. You must be destroyed."

"Good boy! That's the spirit! Bring my miserable line to an end. Up, up! Come, Scientist, destroy me! Destroy your creation! Come!"

~Frankenstein


(This post was edited by bborchar on Jun 17 2013, 6:36pm)


CaptainFaramir13
The Shire

Jun 17 2013, 6:32pm

Post #4 of 174 (581 views)
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Embellisment [In reply to] Can't Post

Earlier in the film when Gandalf talks about “Bullroarer” Took he tells Bilbo something along the lines of “All good stories deserve embellishment.” Because Bilbo is the narrator of the story, I assume he is exaggerating and embellishing on certain parts. So the believability of the action scenes does not really bug me, I just assume it is a case of Bilbo exaggerating (or perhaps in some cases over exaggerating) what actually happened.


JWPlatt
Grey Havens


Jun 17 2013, 6:53pm

Post #5 of 174 (559 views)
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Excuses [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think Peter Jackson is leaning on the conceit of this as Bilbo's point of view as an excuse for what he has done no matter how unrealistic. I think it's simply Jackson unrestrained and he's not done as good a job keeping the tone consistent with The Lord of the Ring or within The Hobbit itself. But I think he knew that going in because he warned us that this might not be the movie we expected. That makes it intentionally Over The Top and so it is Peter's story - not Bilbo's. I wouldn't give Jackson a pass and shift responsibility to Bilbo for Peter's choices.

I would add that quite a few people wanted Gandalf to display more magic and power than he did in The Lord of the Rings - like, you know, an actual wizard. This might be the price we pay to get that and a talking dragon. It could be worse - we could get walking, talking animal food servants at Beorn's house.


(This post was edited by JWPlatt on Jun 17 2013, 6:59pm)


Elessar
Valinor


Jun 17 2013, 6:59pm

Post #6 of 174 (523 views)
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My approach [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm similar to another poster in that this is all fake so I already have to accept that. Thing is I think despite what I just said it just feels real at the same time so I just roll with it. That all being said I really only have a couple moments where I think it needed to be tweaked from a bit OTT. I thought the entrance into Goblin Town was a little too long and the bridge fall scene was a too much. I've seen the Stone Giants scene used and to me that was no crazier than the falling stairs in Moria. The rest didn't bother me at all.



Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jun 17 2013, 7:12pm

Post #7 of 174 (523 views)
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Thw willing suspension of disbelief can be fragile... [In reply to] Can't Post

If the filmmakers break the rules too much for the mundane, everyday stuff then the movie falls into the category of a Loony Tunes cartoon and the audience may cease to take anything else that happens seriously. At this point, there is a serious danger of the film decending to "camp" (the level of silly parody found in the old Batman television series with Adam West and Burt Ward).

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


dormouse
Half-elven


Jun 17 2013, 7:16pm

Post #8 of 174 (510 views)
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Not sure I can analyse why it all worked for me.... [In reply to] Can't Post

That's difficult, isn't it, because if the sequence is working the one thing you're not thinking is 'would that really have happened?'. You're just lost in the story.

On the sequence where Gandalf and the dwarves plummet down the chasm on the wooden bridge, if you watch it carefully I think they were careful in animating that to show the bridge section touching the sides of the cavern enough to make the fall surviveable. And it was very clear to me at least that the bridge took most of the weight of the Goblin King's body - though, as I say, I wasn't thinking that at the time. But I don't think it was a case of 'anything goes' from the animators - I think they had thought about what would work and what would make the action credible, even if it pushed the boundaries a bit.

I know not everyone agrees with this, but I still believe there is an element of choice involved in enjoying any drama, be it on film, stage, TV.... The stage is the obvious example. Last year I saw 'Les Miserables' on stage. It's exciting, moving, breathtaking in places - the construction of the barricades, the fight scene, the scene where Inspector Javert kills himself by jumping from a bridge. On stage he jumps down about 18 inches, if that, into a pool of swirling lights, while the bridge set is hauled up behind him. There can't be a single person in the audience who doesn't know that what they've just seen isn't real, and yet on another level it's completely convincing: I think that's the key. To enjoy it the audience must choose to buy into it. They know that these people are actors, that the blood isn't blood and the streets are just sets but they choose to believe. I think it's exactly the same with a film. There has to be that agreement at the beginning between performers and audiece for the thing to work. Like in Shakespeare: 'Think when we talk of horses that you see them......'


bborchar
Rohan


Jun 17 2013, 7:30pm

Post #9 of 174 (482 views)
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Yes, but... [In reply to] Can't Post

...what are the rules?


"Go on. Walk on. You must be destroyed."

"Good boy! That's the spirit! Bring my miserable line to an end. Up, up! Come, Scientist, destroy me! Destroy your creation! Come!"

~Frankenstein


arithmancer
Grey Havens


Jun 17 2013, 7:38pm

Post #10 of 174 (468 views)
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I like the stage example! [In reply to] Can't Post

Because of course, the actor playing Javert must be selling it. His world has been turned upside down, he sees no way forward, etc. So when he jumps (18 inches into a swirl of light, rather than many meters into the Seine) the audience accepts it.

We have higher standards for film because one of its delights is the visual aspect, of showing us these incredibly beautiful places these amazing adventures. But it seems to me that the "rules" a film needs to obey are not necessarily the ones in a physics text, but also how it is presenting the events. The script, the acting, the music, the direction - can help (or fail) to sell these things.


JWPlatt
Grey Havens


Jun 17 2013, 7:42pm

Post #11 of 174 (455 views)
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Staging [In reply to] Can't Post

That really is an impressive idea to have the bridge rise to a height as if he is falling from it. Very nice. Thanks for the description.


sauget.diblosio
Tol Eressea


Jun 17 2013, 7:48pm

Post #12 of 174 (464 views)
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I think Jackson is guilty of trying to have his cake and eat it too, [In reply to] Can't Post

much moreso in AUJ than he ever did in LotR. In LotR, he was asking us to believe in the gritty realism of this historical fantasy, and for the most part he stuck to it, a few Legolas antics aside. In AUJ, he's doubled down, to the point where the unbelievable stuff outweighs the believable. It's been said a million times, but if a character can do or survive anything, there ceases to be stakes or consequences, and drama is nothing without real stakes so that we can invest in the character's situation (and yes, this even goes when the fictional world includes dragons or lightsabers or immortals).

I think the freedom of the computer has ruined PJ somewhat-- he has these digital doubles and he can do anything he wants with them, so he does. And so we get our company glued to a moving, crashing cliff bombarded with boulders and no one falling off or getting hit, or tumbling hundreds of feet of stone without injury. Just because with a computer anything can be done, doesn't mean that everything should be done.


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jun 17 2013, 7:52pm

Post #13 of 174 (458 views)
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The common-sense ones? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
...what are the rules?



- Gravity is unforgiving. Long falls hurt and kill.
- Ordinary people don't perform 30-foot leaps.
- Size and mass matters (we can accept huge dragons being able to fly because they are magical in nature).

More things of this nature. Part of fantasy is the contrast between the mudane and the fantastical.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


bborchar
Rohan


Jun 17 2013, 8:02pm

Post #14 of 174 (454 views)
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My replies... [In reply to] Can't Post

 - Gravity is unforgiving. Long falls hurt and kill.

Yet Legolas can walk on top of snow.

- Ordinary people don't perform 30-foot leaps.

But a Hobbit can survive being stabbed by a huge pointy log hurled at high force because Mithril apparently also has shock absorber, too.

- Size and mass matters (we can accept huge dragons being able to fly because they are magical in nature).

Magic solves everything!

It's fantasy...which automatically means that it's *not* reality. That's the point. If it were reality, we would call it "reality" instead of "fantasy".


"Go on. Walk on. You must be destroyed."

"Good boy! That's the spirit! Bring my miserable line to an end. Up, up! Come, Scientist, destroy me! Destroy your creation! Come!"

~Frankenstein


(This post was edited by bborchar on Jun 17 2013, 8:03pm)


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jun 17 2013, 8:21pm

Post #15 of 174 (424 views)
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Magic solves many things ('though not all)... [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, Legolas can walk on freshly fallen snow. He's an Elf. No other explanation is required.

Bilbo and the spear: Jackson's excesses. The spear would have been smaller in the book and wielded by an Orc not a Troll.

There still must be some amount of the mundane to measure and contrast against the fantastic. At the same time, the point of willing suspension of disbelief will vary from person to person. You don't require much help in that regard. Neither do I, so long as the fantastic is presented convincingly. Some would balk at talking spiders and dogs serving dinner. Others would draw the line at Dwarves understanding crows, or the Great Eagles and the ravens being able to speak. Personally, I have little desire to see Beorn's hounds standing upright with dishes held in their paws, but I 'd be fine with the rest.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


Na Vedui
Rohan


Jun 17 2013, 8:28pm

Post #16 of 174 (412 views)
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Changes of gear [In reply to] Can't Post

I think it was the changes of gear that disconcerted me, certainly on a first viewing:
The Dwarves' back-story was straightforward serious, bloody stuff - death and destruction and piles of corpses, nearly Silmarillion style, let alone LOTR. Fine.
The trolls were all right - a mixture of comedy and threat that could have turned nasty without the efforts of Bilbo and Gandalf, i.e. pretty much the mix of mood in the book, despite the differences.
I came a bit unstuck with the Stone Giants (where the book provided fewer clues about how to take it) because it started off with some fairly realistic jeopardy - Bilbo and Thorin over the edge, Fili and Kili being separated - but then it got so extreme that it felt to me they couldn't possibly have got through all that without anyone being crushed or falling off, so I was having trouble suspending disbelief, being still in "realism" rather than "comedy" mode, if you see what I mean.
Azog and co seemed clearly intended to be in the "serious threat" category, although the bunny-sled pursuit somewhat undermined their dignity, and Gollum certainly was too, blackly comic though he is, but the Goblin fights and especially the falls into and out of Goblin-town were evidently meant as a different kettle of fish - which it took me a while to realise and by then I'd already done the "oh my goodness they're falling! ---- well *that* wasn't very credible, was it?" thing.
And I had a spot of bother believing the suspended fir-tree full of dwarves because it was pushing the boundaries of credibility in a scene which really was serious and would have been the end of Thorin and Bilbo if the Eagles hadn't turned up when they did.
Now I know what to expect where, I'm more inclined to just take it all as it comes, but I did have some trouble with my disbelief-suspension on-off switch the first time I saw the film! It does balk sometimes when scenes are OTT: the only time I "fell out of the film" back into the cinema in FOTR was the collapsing wall stuff in Moria.


bborchar
Rohan


Jun 17 2013, 8:31pm

Post #17 of 174 (406 views)
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Well... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
1. Yes, Legolas can walk on freshly fallen snow. He's an Elf. No other explanation is required.

Soo...did the elves discover the secret of antimatter to suddenly make his mass disappear on snow? It has nothing to do with being "stealthy" and everything to do with the snow being unable to hold up the weight of a humanoid. You said that gravity should matter, so there you go.

2. Bilbo and the spear: Jackson's excesses. The spear would have been smaller in the book and wielded by an Orc not a Troll.

Still would have crushed Frodo's internal organs at the very least. No kind of chain mail will stop that much force behind a blunt instrument.

3. There still must be some amount of the mundane to measure and contrast against the fantastic. At the same time, the point of willing suspension of disbelief will vary from person to person. You don't require much help in that regard. Neither do I, so long as the fantastic is presented convincingly. Some would balk at talking spiders and dogs serving dinner. Others would draw the line at Dwarves understanding crows, or the Great Eagles and the ravens being able to speak. Personally, I have little desire to see Beorn's hounds standing upright with dishes held in their paws, but I 'd be fine with the rest.

Okay, then why does there need to be rules? If Elves are magic and can counteract gravity, and Mithril is magic and can absorb the impact of cave troll stabbing with a large spear, then there are no "rules". Or at least they don't apply when the story requires it.

I only require rules when there is an established reality present, such as a fiction set on modern day or past day Earth. They can be bent to serve the story, but not broken. Fantasy doesn't usually have that (although GoT makes a great cross between the two).



"Go on. Walk on. You must be destroyed."

"Good boy! That's the spirit! Bring my miserable line to an end. Up, up! Come, Scientist, destroy me! Destroy your creation! Come!"

~Frankenstein


(This post was edited by bborchar on Jun 17 2013, 8:33pm)


Eleniel
Grey Havens


Jun 17 2013, 8:35pm

Post #18 of 174 (393 views)
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The point is... [In reply to] Can't Post

that with LotR PJ went a long way to making everything else grounded in reality so that we could buy into the less believable, fantastical elements of the story.

With AUJ it's as other have said - everything is overblown and treated as an almost cartoonlike fantasy so that it is harder to believe the characters are any real danger, and therefore harder to become emotionally invested.


"Choosing Trust over Doubt gets me burned once in a while, but I'd rather be singed than hardened."
¯ Victoria Monfort


bborchar
Rohan


Jun 17 2013, 8:38pm

Post #19 of 174 (392 views)
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The Hobbit is a cartoonish kid's book... [In reply to] Can't Post

...and if anything, PJ is making it more "grown up". The characters are never in real danger in the books, either. But there really aren't "rules" in any of his stories is the point of my posts, which I argued with actual evidence from LotR. So yes, I did get the point. And I contradicted it.


"Go on. Walk on. You must be destroyed."

"Good boy! That's the spirit! Bring my miserable line to an end. Up, up! Come, Scientist, destroy me! Destroy your creation! Come!"

~Frankenstein


(This post was edited by bborchar on Jun 17 2013, 8:38pm)


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jun 17 2013, 8:40pm

Post #20 of 174 (380 views)
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Because... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Okay, then why does there need to be rules? If Elves are magic and can counteract gravity, and Mithril is magic and can absorb the impact of cave troll stabbing with a large spear, then there are no "rules". Or at least they don't apply when the story requires it.

I only require rules when there is an established reality present, such as a fiction set on modern day or past day Earth. They can be bent to serve the story, but not broken. Fantasy doesn't usually have that (although GoT makes a great cross between the two).



If everyone can walk on snow then there is nothing special when Legolas does it.

Mithril is a semi-magical substance (note that we do not possess it in the real world). Tolkien may not have thought through the incident with the spear sufficiently, but he did have Bilbo struck in the ribs and he did have it leave a nasty bruise, so there were consequences.

Middle-earth IS supposed to be past-day Earth (if a romanticized and fictionalized version of it). That is why the rules of normal physics should only be broken when magic is directly involved.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


arithmancer
Grey Havens


Jun 17 2013, 8:41pm

Post #21 of 174 (384 views)
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Did you really find "every" scene overblown? [In reply to] Can't Post

The two early action scenes are the Prologue depicting the destruction of Dale and fall of Erebor, and the Battle of Azanulbizar. Next is the Trolls.

This is not intended to "pick on" your answer; I'm just interested in understanding in more detail what did and did not work for people, which things they could accept and which were indeed OTT and what made the difference.


Eleniel
Grey Havens


Jun 17 2013, 8:44pm

Post #22 of 174 (379 views)
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If you are a child reading it... [In reply to] Can't Post

you can believe they are in danger...such as the Trolls sequence - the reader does not find out that it is Gandalf "throwing his voice" to confuse the Trolls, until the danger is passed.

I firmly believe that he Hobbit can be as adult as the imagination allows. Yes, PJ has tried to make the movies more " grown up" with the addition of the DG subplot, etc., but he's also added in schoolboy humour and played it for laughs (and yes, I know the book has humour in places, but it's a different, gentler kind of humour, which is often the narrator poking fun at the oh so pompous Thorin and the uptight Mr Baggins!)


"Choosing Trust over Doubt gets me burned once in a while, but I'd rather be singed than hardened."
¯ Victoria Monfort


Eleniel
Grey Havens


Jun 17 2013, 8:49pm

Post #23 of 174 (368 views)
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No, not everything... [In reply to] Can't Post

I was generally referring to the action sequences and over-use of CGI. The destruction of Dale and Azanulbizar were great, and more reminiscent of LotR...but even Erebor I found to be "exaggerated" in some respects: did you ever imagine Erebor to be the size of Moria when you read the book? I didn't! Yet again, PJ chose to depict a fantastical kingdom as a huge open space criss-crossed with perilous walkways and staircases, allowing for plummeting shots and twisting camera angles...


"Choosing Trust over Doubt gets me burned once in a while, but I'd rather be singed than hardened."
¯ Victoria Monfort


LordGawain
Rivendell

Jun 17 2013, 8:52pm

Post #24 of 174 (363 views)
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About falling and entering in the goblin cave [In reply to] Can't Post

You could also make the point that the dwarves are actually half as small as humans. In the scene where they fall in Goblin town, Gandalf is not around, so you forget that fact, but actually, what seemed like them falling 10 metres was probably just 5 in reality. Also, since they are smaller, they weigh less, so they fall slower. I know this doesn't really make the scene feel more credible, but if you want to be scientific about it...


bborchar
Rohan


Jun 17 2013, 8:55pm

Post #25 of 174 (349 views)
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It's magic! [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
-If everyone can walk on snow then there is nothing special when Legolas does it.

I never said that, I simply pointed out that it breaks the rules. If you want to say "it's magic!", that's fine. But that means that there really isn't a rule because magic can overrule it.

-Mithril is a semi-magical substance (note that we do not possess it in the real world). Tolkien may not have thought through the incident with the spear sufficiently, but he did have Bilbo struck in the ribs and he did have it leave a nasty bruise, so there were consequences.

When a person's chest is crushed, even without penetration, it would affect their lungs and heart, causing internal bleeding, perforated or collapsed lungs- a person can even drown in their own blood because of that. Rupture the aorta and someone is dead almost in less than a couple of minutes. It could also break the spine. That is essentially what should have happened to Bilbo, but again, magic!

-Middle-earth IS supposed to be past-day Earth (if a romanticized and fictionalized version of it). That is why the rules of normal physics should only be broken when magic is directly involved.

Except that it's not Earth as it shares almost nothing with actual Earth except part of the name and men. Otherwise, it's simply a world Tolkien created using influences from European and Biblical mythology, some European history and the landscapes of different areas of Europe.



"Go on. Walk on. You must be destroyed."

"Good boy! That's the spirit! Bring my miserable line to an end. Up, up! Come, Scientist, destroy me! Destroy your creation! Come!"

~Frankenstein


(This post was edited by bborchar on Jun 17 2013, 8:57pm)

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