OK. I was unable to see The Hobbit (TH) the first week it was out due to sick family, Christmas, etc. But last night we went to the theater and watched the 3D version. Because of my life-long romance with Tolkien’s writings several of my friends wanted my thoughts on the film. If you have not seen it, you ought to stop reading here and watch the film first, since I do not wish to influence your own opinion one way or the other. If you are not prepared to spend five minutes reading a review, you should also stop here. Here are my thoughts.
First, my positive evaluation. Peter Jackson worked his usual cinemagraphic magic in the production of the film. The 48-frame per second film process has apparently put some people off, but I actually liked it. It did at times make the film look surreal, but you expect a little surreal with the subject like this, to a degree (more on that later). The sets and the photography were, as anticipated, breathtaking. I like Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. He played Bilbo very believably and seems to have imbibed the spirit of the character from the book. The Dwarves comport themselves in a manner similar to Tolkien’s treatment of them, with just the right combination of bluster and buffoonery, of bravery and naivete.
There were some truly magnificent scenes, although they were the scenes that were a bit away from the action, so to speak. The “Unexpected Party” was one of the best, though it was perhaps a bit over the top in the athletic way that Thorin’s company cleaned up after dinner. Another good scene was the encounter with the Trolls. It departed from the book in both dialogue and the way the encounter ended (somewhat), but you can forgive some license in such matters. I imagine Peter Jackson thought the original dialogue was a little too out of date for a modern audience. C’est la vie! The other great scene was the encounter between Bilbo and Gollum and the “Riddle Game.” It was nearly intact from Tolkien and it played out pretty much as it has in my mind the over thirty times I have read it.
I could offer a few other affirmative comments. The way Jackson filled in the pre-history at the beginning of the film with the account of Smaug’s conquest, the battle at Moria and the subsequent history of the pilgrim wanderings of the Dwarves is related in a way different from the telling in the original, but it was effective. Also the council at Rivendell between Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Saruman is never related directly in either TH or Lord of the Rings (LOTR), but there is an allusion to some exchange of information between these persons in LOTR, so I thought that it worked OK.
That is the positive. You may want to stop reading here.
There was several aspects of the film that simply did not work at all. One of the most obvious (to me) was Radagast. The Brown wizard does not appear at all in TH (though he is named by Gandalf when he first meets Beorn), and gets only a few lines of dialogue and one or two other mentions in LOTR. But here he is a major character. Not only that, he is a buffoon. LOTR does not present him in an especially positive light, but it does not depict a fool with bird feces running down his hair and beard. (He apparently keeps a couple of small birds under his cap and has not the sense to let them out to do their business.) Further, when he shows up to inform Gandalf about the Necromancer, he gets enlisted in an attempt to divert the Orcs away from the fleeing Company. He does so by driving a sleigh led by giant rabbits. Now TH has a few outlandish animals such as those that serve Beorn, so I am not going to get worked up about the rabbits (who do not appear in TH), but Radagast, who is supposed to be diverting the Orcs and Wargs, keeps leading them back to the Company, thus requiring Elrond and a company of Elves to provide the rescue. Again, forget the fact that none of this is in TH; the whole scene was an erratic distraction and added perhaps only to provide one more action scene in a film already glutted with more action than is found in the entirety of TH. And remember, this is but the first installment of a three-part series.
Since I have brought up Radagast, let me address his new information that he gives to Gandalf. In the film, Radagast makes an excursion to Dol Guldur where he discovers the Ringwraiths gathering and the presence of another sinister being, the Necromancer, whom we learn in LOTR is actually the return of Sauron, who had supposedly been destroyed 3,000 years before. Radagast finds there a Morgul blade that he gives to Gandalf as evidence. Anyone who is remotely familiar with the map of Middle Earth (I mean, even if you have only glanced at it for a few seconds) will know that this is patently impossible, since Radagast lives somewhere between 100 and 150 leagues from Dol Guldur. Even with those speedy hares on the front of his sleigh, such a journey would take many days, perhaps weeks, even at rabbit-warp! Even in Middle Earth the laws of physics have some application!
Did I mention the laws of physics? Enter the goblin cavern with me. I could address several issues here, such as the comical Great Goblin (he is not a comedic figure in TH) or the sheer ineptitude of the Goblin warriors who do not inflict a single serious wound on the Dwarves, but I will only mention one issue. There are several significant falls on the part of the Company in this scene, including one where the Dwarves and Gandalf plummet somewhere between 100 and 200 feet down into a chasm on a wooden platform, but somehow the platform remains intact, none of them falls from the platform, and none of them is hurt when they hit bottom. Again, this is an alternative universe (or something like that), but the laws of physics seem to apply to everyone in this world except the heroes. It just gets a little trying at times.
What of the Morgul knife that Radagast discovered? He gave to it Gandalf, who then at the “little council” with Elrond and company in Rivendell produces it as proof that the Morgul Lord whose body is supposed to be buried in a grave unassailable, has somehow returned. That is not the story that Tolkien gave. The Ringwraiths wandered in shadows after the first fall of Sauron; they were not buried in some secure cemetery guarded by the ghosts of Elves past. The point is, why change the story when it serves no purpose? This part of the narrative added nothing to the overall story line.
There was much added violence to this account in comparison to TH. I imagine that this was to reconnect with audiences of the previous three films, films in which there were plenty of battle scenes. I understand that. But it detracts from the actual story of TH which is less of an account of an eschatological war (which LOTR was) than the story of a simple Hobbit who finds the courage and ingenuity to do things that no one, except Gandalf, would have thought possible. But it is here that the film goes most terribly awry.
Bilbo is pictured throughout TH and LOTR as a simple Hobbit who found the strength to do remarkable things. He has flaws, but they are common flaws. He is forced to steal for food when in the dungeon of the Wood-elves, but that is understandable. He perpetrates some immoral actions, such as lying to Gandalf and the Dwarves and later becomes possessive of the Ring, but this is attributed to the influence of the Ring on him. He is in a war, but he is untainted by the war. Most importantly, Bilbo never kills anyone. It is not that killing in war is wrong. Far from it. But in TH that task was reserved for Dwarves, Elves, Wizards, Men. Bilbo never killed anyone, not in the entire story. But in Peter Jackson’s The Unexpected Journey (TUJ), Bilbo kills an Orc in the final battle scene. It was brave, justifiable, and climactic. He saved Thorin’s life. But it was unnecessary and, contrary to the other changes from TH to TUJ, it really does change the whole narrative. It makes the Bilbo from the final few pages of TH a different Hobbit. That Hobbit was still a little naive, still a little homespun, a little “ridiculous,” to use Tolkien’s term from LOTR, but his hands had not been stained with blood, even if it were only Orc blood.
Some people ought never to have to go to war. Women, children, the mentally infirm, and Bilbo Baggins (though not all the other Hobbits) remind us that there is a corner of the world of humanity (or Hobbitry) that ought never to be tainted by the most awful, even if necessary, demand of taking someone’s else’s life to preserve freedom and liberty. Let Bilbo do his mission in TH, an important one, but he should not have had his hands stained in that way.
My thoughts. Go see the film.
Chad Owen Brand