My parents started reading to me from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien when I was very young, three or four years old maybe. Daddy was a huge Tolkien fan and possessed most, if not all – and multiple copies of, the then published books. He was able to recall the stories from memory anytime I wanted to know something about Middle Earth. Thus began my lifelong fascination with all things Tolkien. My autodidactic studies have led me back through The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, the rest of the Legendarium of Arda, and the associated works of Professor Tolkien many, many times. As you may know, I have under development my own book about law (and Natural Law) and politics in the Middle Earth. My father was a true genius and renaissance man; in this area alone I may have surpassed his knowledge and skill. Of course, I want to pass along the family tradition.
(If you have never read The Hobbit, go pick up or Kindle a version like this. Source: Google images, fair use call.)
Last fall I was delighted to discover my daughter’s interest in the subject and, so, we (to both our delights) read the story of Bilbo’s great adventure. We are currently muddling slowly through The Fellowship of the Ring. Our slow progress is due to my daughter’s innate questioning and unusually foresight-inspired comments. It seems genius skips a generation…
With great anticipation we awaited the arrival of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movie, part one of three. I admit I was somewhat suspicious of why three movies were needed to convey a book less than a third the length of The Lord of the Rings(LOTR). I told myself Jackson obviously was going to entertain great detail and perhaps show behind the scenes activity (the White Council, the assault on Dul Guldur, etc.). Then came some early bad reviews, even from sources I actually respect – authoritative sources such as Vox Day, http://voxday.blogspot.com/. I wrote them off, intent on making my own judgments.
Jackson’s interpretation of LOTR was spectacular if somewhat deviated from the book. I am a Tolkien purist and would have happily sat through three or more twelve-hour movies which depicted the story word for word and scene by scene, exactly as written. I understand and accept this would have likely decreased the profitability of the venture so as to make it unlikely any movie would have ever come forth. Nonetheless, I was happy with Jackson’s production. Changes he made I understood though I was more disappointed with some more than others (no TOM BOMDADIL!, Gandalf’s confrontation with the Witch King high up in Minas Tirith, etc.). Certain I was that The Hobbit would receive similar treatment. I passed my assurances of excellence along to my daughter; we eagerly waited for December 12, 2012.
Much like the Elves of Eregion, we were betrayed. Let us refer to Jackson as Annatar, the giver of goofs. Had this been a new, independent story it would have been entertaining if somewhat hard to follow with characters, scenes, and history coming and going like waves at the beach. The controversial speed of filming did not bother me in the least and I did not notice anyone else in the theater having seizures. It was the brutal butchering of the story that made me sick. But for my daughter’s interest and satisfaction, I would have departed after the first hour or so. Initially, I was pleased with most of the pre-staging. As time wore on I kept telling myself Anna…Jackson would hit his grove any minute. Hours later the lights came on, the credits rolled, and I broke out in a cold sweat and vomited in my empty popcorn bag.
Mercifully, I only had to see the movie once. Let us see what I remember.
The opening. The long, long opening. Okay, I liked the historical education for the most part. Smaug (what we saw of him) along with Dale and the Kingdom Under the Mountain looked pretty cool. But, wasn’t this story related to Bilbo by Thorin and not by Bilbo to Frodo? I understand the need for a link in with the three prior blockbuster$. Anyway, the opening to the opening took forever. Then Bilbo finally daydreamed about his journey. I thought we were alright at that point. They even got the Belladonna Took/buttons-at-door quote right. It seemed all (slowly, painfully) downhill from there.
(Honestly, this Bilbo was just as convincing and much more faithful to the book. Source: Google images, fair use call.)
The arrival of Thorin and Co. just didn’t sit well with me. Thorin was supposed to be an aging Dwarf wearing a blue hood with a tassel. The dwarf at the door (and throughout the whole movie) was more like the second coming of Aragorn. Tolkien allotted heroes by degree and purpose. That was one of the central, underlying themes of the Hobbit and the LOTR. Small, dull hobbits were chosen over mighty elves and men to undertake the greatest quest of the third age; their seeming unimportance was their great strength. I digress.
This Thorin was entirely to young and macho for his personage. Sure, Tolkien’s dwarves are a stout people but they never liked to take such command roles as displayed in the film. And, these dwarves didn’t look like the dwarves from the LOTR movies. Gimli looked like a dwarf, this crowd looked like short, crude men who wanted some semblance of elegance. I think Bombur was the most convincing of the troupe.
I was also bothered by the mis-introduction of Tranduil at the beginning. He never had time to mount a rescue when Smaug came and, even if he did, who could fault him for calling it off when the day was already lost. Of course, we could ask what Thorin was doing inside the mountain during the attack. We could also ask for our ticket money back. As Sec. Clinton recently scoffed, “What difference does it make?”
The opening dragged on and on. I was fearful Bilbo would actually read that contract from end to end and even, perhaps, consult someone at Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes for advice. The little circus finally departed the Shire and entered lands that bore an odd resemblance to Rohan. Then, apparently having overcome his death at the hands of Dain Ironfoot, came Azog the orc looking for vengeance.
As if that wasn’t enough of a shock we soon got to meet Rastagast, the ridiculous Brown hippy, darting hither and yon on his rabbit-drawn sleigh. For someone who was only mentioned by name very briefly in the book, old bird-poop, nest head got a lot of air time in this telling. Funny, he was in the original LOTR, but like Bombadil, got the shaft during the movies. More importantly, he did not discover the identity of the Necromancer; that was Gandalf’s business! And, contrary to this movie, it had been discovered for some time.
That leads us into the hidden valley of Rivendell, reached it seems by falling through a sinkhole. All was well again when the great swords of Gondolin were named and Thorin’s map read by Elrond. The conference of the White Council was appropriate too, or so I thought. If you’re going to devote so much time to so short a story, why not show some speculative behind-the-scenes action which inevitably had to happen somewhere at sometime anyway. But, like almost everything else in this film, this imaginary scene was stood on its head. At this point in the story the WC would have been putting the finishing touches on their plan of attack, not debating what was already known and decided years before. Did Galadriel have a crush on Gandalf?? He was her favorite Istari, I know, but she was a happily married Elvish Queen and he a great though veiled power. Alliance yes, flirting – who knows…
The passage up into the Misty Mountains was good, as far as it goes. I thought the Stone Giants were a bit over the top. They were a dire threat it seems, but not an amusement park ride. Also, I distinctly remember the crack opening in the back wall of the cave, not the floor. Small potatoes, sure.
What occurred inside the mountains, though, was a giant, rotten, slimy potato of a fiasco. First of all, Goblinland was supposed to be all tunnels and caverns. Instead, these bubblegum-imp looking critters lived on a vast complex of rope bridges and bamboo platforms any child from the East Farthing could have constructed. True to his given inconsistency, Jackson’s goblins here bore no resemblance whatsoever to their cousins a few doors down in Moria. The LOTR Moria goblins looked right – fierce and evil. The “Great” Goblin’s brood looked like rejects from Fraggle Rock. They were as comical as they were unconvincing. The Great Goblin!! He was supposed to be the fiercest and most menacing of all. Instead he looked like one of those 500 pound slobs on a medicare scooter one might encounter at a Wal-Mart in south Alabama. I’m extra glad Gandalf killed him.
At least Bilbo managed to find the ring. His detour into Gollum’s lair was out of sequence but it worked well enough. By this time i would have accepted the Tooth Fairy appearing to gift him the ring. Moving on…
Once outside the company was immediately set upon anew by zombie Azog and his host of wargs. These wargs looked more like wolves than the latter-day Jackson wargs from LOTR (I thought those were giant hyenas). But wait, in the book it wasn’t wargs at all, it was supposed to be actual wolves. And, where were the angry Fraggles to sing “Fifteen Birds in Five Fir Trees?” It really didn’t matter as Jackson cut the number of trees down to three and then like dominos cut them down to one – over a cliff. Clear glades don’t have cliffs. Arrrgh!!! I was happy to see the eagles save the day. It could just as easily have been Radagast in a make-shift, squirrel-powered helicopter.
Wargs, Goblins, and Azog. Oh, my! Each of these mistakes demonstrate yet another disappointment with this sad affair. There was too much reliance on computer-generated animation or CG. CG should be reserved for big things like Smaug or the Witch King’s flying steed. And then, it should be as realistic as possible. Jackson’s Hobbit, like the last Star Wars episode looked like a cartoon to me. Rankin/Bass Productions already made a cartoon Hobbit in the 70’s – see the above picture of cartoon Bilbo.
After the amazing success of the LOTR films I was devastated by this interpretation. A great childhood book has been reduced to a pile of rubb… Wait! We still have two more movies to go. Maybe Jackson will take some criticism to heart and salvage what’s left of the story. Then again, maybe we should look forward to seeing the U.S.S. Enterprise swoop down from space and kill Smaug with a photon torpedo. Why not?
I give this show Two Rings of Power (out of a possible nine – hey, I’m a mortal man). Yes, I will view the next two installments if for no other reason than morbid curiosity. I look forward to the day when some director decides to make a real live-action movie version of The Hobbit. That may take some time. Old Toby, anyone?