Having discovered Tolkien while at the same time discovering my love for reading and books, and growing up in an era where the story is synonymous with gaming I’m likely the target demographic. I’m not sure where the hate is coming from since it’s pretty much what I expected from the LOTR movie franchise and I really enjoyed it (although I too have my bones to pick). Desperately needing to focus on something other than current events I put together a few thoughts on the movie from a gaming perspective.
The important scenes
I’ve read that the first scene shot for the film was the Golum and Bilbo sequence. This shows in a good way. Martin Freeman is excellent throughout (which surprised me since it was his first scene) and Golum especially is extremely well rendered (note I didn’t see the film in the new 48p format, purposely skipping that since I heard it destroys the immersion) – It seems Golum had a lot of post processing time. His facial expressions and acting are amazing and you totally forget that he’s CGI (not so with other overly CGI characters).
The scene is pretty true to the story and is an iconic one for gamers – it’s perhaps the quintessential rogue mini-sidequest. Separated from the rest of the party, your rogue uses guile to belay the attack of a very unusual creature, engages him in a battle of wits solving puzzles, finds a magic item, and somehow figure it how to use it to escape.
In design it’s these smaller, side-moments from the larger quest, and the combination of puzzle and action (thinking and doing), that give players a moment to immerse themselves and shine. These deserve your full attention and prep time, and often the larger action scenes we think we need to focus on can play out themselves (more on that later).
Too many Players“Thirteen dwarves is one of the reasons I dreaded The Hobbit. It’s why I really didn’t think I would make it for such a long time.” -Peter Jackson
It’s tough to flesh out and get people to care about that many characters (which would be a good reason to draw out the movie length, but this doesn’t really seem to be what’s making it so long). As a movie goer, let’s see, you had the leader, the archer, the fat one, and the older wise dwarf that sucks you into the backstory. That’s four dwarves that I distinctly remember from scenes. Now I think there were twins… or brothers? Not sure and uhm…
Have you ever tried to run a fourteen person game? (I think had a 12 person weekly game or so once, it was a cluster). Jackson had the same problem. Having lots of dwarves helps make Gandalf and Bilbo more interesting, but there are too few moments for each player to have their own in the sun. I think most gamers keep their parties small. And each player needs to have their regular moments to shine, otherwise the player isn’t going to have fun. NPCs too, need more than just a brief line and a fancy costume to be memorable. There’s a reason why boardgames tend to top out at about 6 players, and why four player Co-op has been such a popular format.
Too much Backstory spoils the plot.
People are complaining that the film is drawn out and bloated. I think people forget that the books are also somewhat dense and rambling but OK, I get the perspective, and it was over an hour before we left hobbitsville. This is due to extremely long flashbacks, interesting from a fan perspective and good foreshadowing (although mainly of a badguy that doesn’t belong in the story at all, but I digress…) but wholly unnecessary.
Middle Earth is more than a setting, it’s the key character. Exploring it is the main reason for participating. Setting up the film with a long historical exposition into the nuances of why and what happened before actually hurts the exploration. This history should be teased out as little treasures throughout. The backstory needs to be there (and some thought put into it) but the long scenes belong in the extended disk release for fans. Meanwhile Bilbo’s perspective is and should be the perfect for adventure. It’s his first run away from home and he doesn’t know what he’s in store for and he should be piecing it all together along the way.