I’m a big fan of Tolkien, as are many fantasy writers. I first read The Hobbit in A.P. English in high school, and was hooked on fantasy from that day forward. The Lord of the Rings followed, of course, and that epic series has set the standard for fantasy in our era. While I generally enjoyed Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies, despite some notable objections to certain creative choices and deviations he’d made from the story, I recognize that some things will translate better into a movie than others, and overall I felt satisfied that he’d done a decent job capturing the spirit of an epic tale.
Be that as it may, I was disappointed in Mr. Jackson’s handling of The Hobbit. And when I say “disappointed”, I mean angry. I expected to love it—to see Tolkien’s beloved characters come to life on the big screen, to feel enthralled and charmed all over again by this marvelous little tale. After all, The Hobbit is a much simpler story than The Lord of the Rings, with far fewer characters and less at stake – a quest to recover a treasure stolen by a rampaging dragon, not a quest to save all of Middle Earth from destruction by Sauron. If Jackson could handle the epic LOTR, then he should be able to handle The Hobbit, right?
Apparently not. Nearly three hours and a half dozen yawns later, we’ve only advanced through a handful of chapters of The Hobbit, but have been buried alive in heavy-handed foreshadowing for the LOTR, meeting characters not present in (nor relevant to) The Hobbit. We meet Saruman, Galadriel, and a new character – the brown wizard, Radagast – all for the purpose of foreshadowing LOTR. And a big white orc to chase everyone around.
Meanwhile, poor little Bilbo is left standing in the wings, waiting for his chance to complain about the weather, about not being in his cozy Hobbit hole, being tired and hungry, and grumbling over the peculiarities of dwarves. This is supposed to be a movie about a hobbit’s adventure, not an excuse to set the groundwork for everything that happens later in Middle Earth. They even foreshadowed the thrush, a bird which later helps them find the hidden door to Smaug’s lair and eventually speaks to Bard about Smaug’s one vulnerability. This was when I realized my anger. Hey, Pete. How about focusing on telling the story at hand, rather than feeling the need to foreshadow every damned thing that happens at some future time in a different story?
The scenes that were actually related to The Hobbit were, understandably, the more interesting ones, but even these dragged on longer than necessary. And in the troll scene, for some reason they opted to ruin one of the funniest lines in the story. When the trolls capture Bilbo and ask him what he is, he begins to say “a burglar” and then stops himself and says “a hobbit”, so he says, “a bur– a hobbit”. To which the trolls very amusingly comment they’ve never heard of a “burra-hobbit” and scratch their heads. This sort of detail is part of the charm of the story. Instead, it seems Peter Jackson felt this high humor was too advanced for his audience (although this same audience is apparently sharp enough to catch and appreciate all manner of foreshadowing), and so the trolls merely call him a “burglar hobbit”, which is not funny at all. It’s sad.
The action scenes were also lacking. The escape from the goblin lair had the believability of a Saturday morning cartoon instead of an epic fantasy battle, and I kept wondering why our powerful wizard wielded a sword like a master warrior instead of blazing a path with spells or using his telekinetic staff.
The “rock giants” scene was also silly, with sections of the mountain tilting about here and there as if on stilts rather than crumbling away like rock typically does when broken. Lastly, the giant white orc that was invented for the story (so they could create yet more battle scenes) was understandable to create tension, but hard for me to remain interested in since he did not, technically, exist in the story. And to have Bilbo then attack him to save Thorin, well, that was also silly. All the other dwarves were there and could have done so instead. Bilbo is admittedly not a swordsman, and he proves his inner strength and bravery in other ways during the tale, not by volunteering to attack a ten foot monster riding a twenty foot long dire wolf. That’s not bravery, it’s suicide.
To the movie’s credit, Martin Freeman was an excellent choice for Bilbo Baggins – much better than the grouchy sourpuss Ian Holm, and Andy Serkis continues to be excellent as Gollum – providing the best scene in the movie (and the only foreshadowing necessary – the One Ring is discovered). The dwarves were a likeable enough lot (although why many of the dwarves look like humans I’m not sure), and the acting itself is without issue. The sets and scenery are breathtaking, and the elves are magnificent to behold, as is the dwarven architecture. And Galadriel didn’t turn into an evil cartoon, which was a plus this time around. At it’s core, however, the story is what matters, not the bells and whistles.
The entire story of The Hobbit could probably have been told in 3 hours, or maybe two movies of 2 -3 hours each, if they wanted to linger on certain key scenes and the lovely terrain of New Zealand’s Middle Earth. By the time the entire Hobbit series is unveiled, Jackson will have spent 8 – 9 hours telling a story less than one-third the length of the entire LOTR series, which is absurd, especially since much of this time will be spent on new material and characters (to which I shudder) as well as pandering to the subsequent LOTR movies instead of just telling the story so many people have fallen in love with and telling it well.
The applicable expression here is: “If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it.” There was nothing wrong with The Hobbit as written. I only wish Peter Jackson and friends had adopted this simple wisdom and stuck to the damned story, rather than complicating all the fun out of it.