Note: I am aware that at least one of our good friends, James over at Biltrix, is going to strongly disagree with me over this review. You should probably also go and read his reaction to the film in order to get a “fair and balanced” view of it.
I tried hard not to include many spoilers in this, but if you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to skip to the last third of the post…I’ve marked it with an asterisk*.
My husband and I don’t get many evenings to spend together without granddaughter in tow. So this past Saturday night we jumped at our opportunity to view The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. We’re both big fans of the original Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies. [In fact, true confession: I saw The Fellowship of the Ring seven times in the movie theater. And we own all three extended versions.]
We’d been looking forward to seeing this new film, despite some misgivings about the wisdom of turning a relatively short book into three films equal in length to the three LOTR movies (which themselves are based on a book which is about four times as long).
So. We were familiar with Martin Freeman, the actor playing the younger Bilbo Baggins, from the excellent BBC series, Sherlock, in which he plays Dr. Watson. Many of the characters from the LOTR films make appearances, so one has a strong sense of attending a family reunion at the start of The Hobbit. It’s just good to be in Middle Earth again. The Hobbit actually begins at virtually the same moment as Fellowship of the Ring–Bilbo’s 111th birthday. Bilbo is writing out a full account of his adventure for his nephew, Frodo. Thus the content of The Hobbit films is established as an enormously long flashback.
The introduction of the dwarves is rightly comical, and the first half hour passes quickly. Then the adventure begins in earnest, and so do the troubles. And so does the sense of déja vu. The landscapes, the chases, the predictably-spaced perils, escapes and respite-places, the heroes and villains…all are parallels to the LOTR movies–despite the fact that some events depicted were not even IN the book version of The Hobbit. [Anna Klassen at The Daily Beast counted 19 significant departures from the book.]
It began to feel to me as if director Peter Jackson decided to reuse his old storyboards and hoped we wouldn’t notice.
Of course, maybe he was just feeling apologetic for showing us the same gorgeous New Zealand landscapes and Middle Earth miniatures, and thus obligated to ramp up the action artificially so that we could be as wowed again as we were eleven years ago: Not just one warg attack but …TWO! Not just a bridge wavering and collapsing under the last two companions, but THE WHOLE COMPANY riding a rickety wooden bridge section about a thousand feet straight down–with no casualties!
May I just state for the record that is what totally ruined Jackson’s version of ‘King Kong‘ for me? I can enjoy a good action/adventure/thriller as much as the next middle-aged gal, but seriously–how long did that dinosaur stampede in the canyon last, with NOT ONE SINGLE human injury, let alone death??! JTR could give you many more examples…me, I’ve tried to put the whole thing out of my mind. It’s this kind of self-indulgence that ruins too many of Spielberg’s later films for me, as well.
Edit, edit, edit, darn it!]
It’s disconcerting to feel a continual sense of anti-climax, when the events one is watching are in fact PRE-climax. I found myself regretting that Jackson did not succeed in getting the rights to The Hobbit in the first place, so that he could simply have made four movies to begin with, and shown these events in their proper context and relative importance.
One review on WhatCulture.com speculates that Jackson took seriously the criticism of his editing on LOTR and determined not to leave any book detail out of these films. That might well be, but can’t begin to explain why he felt compelled to add so much IN which does not exist elsewhere, or which is in fact completely different.
But not only is this character not in the book version of The Hobbit, save by brief mention, Tolkien tells us in an appendix that he was beheaded in an earlier battle (by Thorin’s father’s cousin’s son…no really, look it up).
*All of this might seem to be quibbling, if the overall effect of the film were anything akin to its predecessors. However, the fact remains that The Hobbit began life as a children’s story which so captured Tolkien (and everyone else) that it led to a lifetime of creating the Middle Earth history, languages, mythology,etc, etc. The Lord of the Rings is the mature fruit of Tolkien’s labors, and as such has a depth which deserves the time and care Jackson took to film it. To retroactively decide that The Hobbit deserves equal treatment is absurd in the first place, and smacks of a crass desire to milk the cash cow rather than a serious attempt at fine film-making.
Even more to the point, the story of LOTR is filled with heroism, self-sacrifice, and real battles between good and evil forces (both intrinsically, and the conflicting motives within individuals). The Fellowship of the Ring was released just months after 9/11, and while that timing was (from a producer’s standpoint) entirely coincidental, the American audiences who watched it were moved and encouraged by this stirring dialogue:
FRODO: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
GANDALF: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”
(Jackson found these lines so significant, he included them twice in that film.)
Frodo Baggins, although never forced into the choices he makes, feels compelled to volunteer his service in the cause of Middle Earth. His “I will take the Ring to Mordor!” cuts through a vituperative debate between all the other, more powerful, characters. “Though I do not know the way,” he adds helplessly. Love, self-sacrifice and humility are the keys to the final victory of this epic. And we received the messages of those films with a resolve that we Americans could do the same.
Fast-forward 11 years.
We’re living in the wake of an election which has underscored yet again the deep division in our country, and the utter willingness of many to surrender their liberty in return for the comforts of government entitlements. The Hobbit celebrates the story of a halfling hired to be a burglar. We’re supposed to be gripped for another nine hours and (18 months) by the quest of a group of greedy dwarves who want their gold back. (Their purported homelessness is another bogus addition by Jackson. )
And in spite of lukewarm reviews, The Hobbit had a record-breaking opening weekend. What does that say about our culture?
All I can say is, my own nobler feelings aren’t even a little bit stirred up. And this is why I feel The Hobbit is a complete failure as a film…it’s pretending to be as weighty and important as its predecessors. But it’s only empty pomp, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
12/27/12 update: If you’d like to read another review which is even more detailed in citing specific differences between book & film (yet which agrees w/ mine in principle), check out Laura Hudson’s piece over at Wired.
It’s wonderfully written and I believe you’ll enjoy it.