The Hobbit

Taking a bit of a break from politics for a movie review. Though perhaps not totally unrelated. I had a friend wonder about the Lord of the Rings trilogy why they didn’t make clearer the parallels of Middle Earth/Mordor to the political East and West of our world. I found the comment rather amusing and let it go at that.

Maybe it was my diminished expectations from reviews by critics and friends alike that allowed me to enjoy The Hobbit, but enjoy it I did. Sure, there is plenty to complain about and I’ll get to that. I don’t think it was nearly as bad as the reviews I’ve heard, including from people who loved the Lord of the Rings movies, live for Tolkien stuff, and had been looking forward to this for months. (And okay, yes, I’m sort of in that group.)

Firstly, I saw it in IMAX 3D and loved that. I thought it was beautiful to look at, and the 3D enhanced the experience tremendously. Towards the end there is a shot of giant eagles flying against a mountain and sunset; in only lasts a couple seconds, and in 3D on the big screen it was about as cool as anything I’ve seen at the movies.

Throughout I had the feeling that Peter Jackson really just wanted to remake The Lord of the Rings in 3D, with better CGI technology ten years on. It may actually have been a better movie if he had simply done that, though I’m sure he couldn’t have gotten funding and while there will someday (maybe not in my lifetime) be another version of Lord of the Rings, ten years is probably too soon. Still, it was clear that was the epic scope Jackson wanted to work with, and the Hobbit suffers from simply not having as rich or extensive source material.Ilana Teitelbaum at Salon via the L.A. Review of Books does a nice job outlining what few parts of the movie are taken from the novel and the parts that are Jackson’s inventions or extrapolations from Tolkien’s extensive notes.

Of course the biggest thing Jackson gets wrong (or backwards) is the casting of Bilbo. Martin Freeman would have made a fine Frodo, and Elijah Woods a fine Bilbo. As is, the miscasting and wrong ages of the characters are so distracting to anyone who has read the books as to be a near fatal flaw. I laughed out loud when reading the summary of this Hobbit at IMDB, which begins, “A younger and more reluctant Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins….” Well, I guess the writers at IMDB read, because while true of the books, that doesn’t really apply to 42-year-old Martin Freeman’s Bilbo.

I’ve heard complaints that nothing happens for the first hour and all they do is sit around and eat. Well, that is more or less true, though I enjoyed that as much as anything in the movie, if only because Jackson restored song to Tolkien. They actually sing a couple songs in that opening long sequence! Song is such a huge part of Tolkien’s worlds and middle earth and the culture of hobbits, elves, and dwarves that I greatly missed it in his first trilogy. It was just a couple minutes; more would have been better. Because, frankly, I’ve seen enough CGI swarms of Orcs to last me a lifetime. In this film those battle and chase sequences were so so so over the top that ultimately they just become boring. And knowing it was a trilogy we knew nothing fatal would befall any of our heroes here in part one.

The paucity of the source material is made evident in the band of adventurers Bilbo is sent out with. Aside from Gandolf, who we already know, only the exiled Dwarf King Thorin has any individuality, and as a king to follow, he’s no Aragorn.

While the first trilogy established actual personalities and characters for each of the band going off to dispose of the ring, here they could be any group of dwarves, and that is because the source material isn’t up to Rings. So one wonders, since Jackson decided to make up so much, why didn’t he give any of these characters better personas, make them individual, memorable. I still vividly remember each of the group from Rings; here, they are already fading from memory.

I guess Jackson didn’t have time to develop those characters because he was too busy inventing the Pale Orc, who has to be the silliest and most uninteresting foe in the history of fantasy movies. And yes, he is 100% Jackson and 0% Tolkien.

The invented bits with the elves were fun enough, but unnecessary, as though Jackson wanted to revisit some characters from the Rings trilogy, lest any viewers wonder if the stories are connected. He apparently isn’t familiar with the Tolkien fan base.

You may be asking by now, why did I enjoy the movie? Well, as others have pointed out, the bit with Gollum was straight out of Tolkien and was wonderful. And because there is a great Hobbit movie in there! If you cut out everything with the Pale Orc, and basically just had the scenes with Bilbo, so it was from his point of view, you’d be more true to Tolkien and have a more interesting film.

Cut down to half its length it would have been a good first installment. Or cut all three of the three-hour installments to one hour and you could end up with a very good one movie Hobbit. And despite my many misgivings, I was never bored, and the three hours went by pretty fast and enjoyably, perhaps in large part to basking in the great 3D IMAX environment. In 2D or on television I’m not sure it would have held my attention. And as I said at the start, I had the advantage of advance reviews from friends and went in with low expectations. And the whole thing was wonderful to look at on the screen.

For the next movie, I’d like to hope for more songs and less pale orc, though I don’t want to hope for that too hard, as I would surely be disappointed.

Before The Hobbit started (as though sitting for three hours wasn’t enough) they had several previews, the last being an extended ten-minute clip from the new Star Trek movie coming in a few months. Now that was cool, and will look great in 3D, and I have to go, because I have to see how they get Spock out of the volcano before it blows up the planet.

About JP

We're two guys who met in college, in 1980. We've stayed in touch, and like to talk politics, current events, music and religion. JP is nore liberal than Sid, but not in every way. We figure that dialogue stimulates ideas, moderates perspective, and is in general friendly. These are things we need badly in these dangerous times. The blog name is taken from a song by Bruce Cockburn.
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2 Responses to The Hobbit

  1. Jim says:

    JP, I also went to the movies, saw Les Miserables. Great movie, as good as a live stage production, and good for its own reasons, rather than to compete with the stage. I know all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but I pretty much prefer to get my fiction in only through the movies, and not through books. And I know that fiction is good for my own growth in ways movies cannot deliver. Some folks detest movies based on novels for this reason; they are radicals in the opposite sense of my nonfiction extremism. You evidently like both books and movies, which seem to me a kind of moderation. And for that, I am grateful!

    • JP says:

      LOL. Don’t think I’ve been called a moderate on the basis of liking both books and movies before. I do like both. Don’t get to as many movies as I once did, and still try and read a lot of books. I think art (and in this context I think art is fiction) does enrich our lives. As long as we get it in some form, and we both do, I think we’re better for it.

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