Monday, December 31, 2012

The Hobbit: My Perspective.

(Please heed warning if you have not yet seen the film and do not wish to know what happens in it).

As you might have guessed from my first blog post, I went into The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with a few misgivings.  I came out thinking that my misgivings were justified.  I enjoyed the film as an action movie; it was fast-paced, fun, and witty in places.  If you go into it without certain expectations, you might really enjoy the film.  I had certain expectations.  Personally, I didn't think that the film stayed true to the spirit of The Hobbit.

My main complaint about the story overall was the addition of an unnecessary antagonist.  Azog the Defiler, the Pale Orc, did die in the battle at Moria.  He did not come back to revenge himself on Thorin Oakenshield.  Yes, Jackson did weave in this addition with the original story line, but that only makes me think that Jackson might be developing a bit of an ego and thinking himself a better storyteller than Tolkien, and...well... he just isn't.  In Tolkien's novel, evil does not have to be personified in order to be, and including Azog is a bit of a Hollywood "our audience needs a bad guy to root against" cop-out.

My second complaint: why, oh why, Peter Jackson, did you have to do what I truly hoped you wouldn't?  You turned most of your characters into caricatures.  Radagast is described as "simple" and "a fool," but he is described so by Saruman, who obviously believes that nature and little creatures are beneath the concerns of wizards.  Because Radagast does not appear in the novel, and the turning of Mirkwood happened well before the events of The Hobbit, the inclusion seems like a mere excuse to make fun of him.  And the Dwarves?  I understand that in the novel, they did basically take over Bilbo's house and deplete his larder-- perhaps even took advantage of his hospitality a bit--but they were not so rude, silly, filthy, and disgusting as you portrayed them.

Friend and fellow blogger Brittany Jencks mentioned something about the scene in Bilbo's home that I hadn't thought of; Bilbo's desire to keep a clean Hobbit-hole and his concern for his property are unfairly mocked. She pointed out that Bilbo is "sensitive, introverted, intelligent, gentle, kind"- in short has the markers of an INF personality- so of course he is going to care if a bunch of hooligans wreck his own home, get mud all over the carpet, and use his doilies as dishtowels.  It's a perfectly natural response and yet was treated like a disease.  I think that the novel gets across the point much better: even if you enjoy creating a neat and orderly existence for yourself, you can still have a desire for adventure. In the novel, the Dwarves did not march in and defile every single surface.  In the film, Jackson drew out the scene to an almost absurd length, showing the Dwarves wrecking everything in their path.  I think he attempted to excuse his Dwarves' behavior by including the cleaning of the plates scene and showing that they left his house clean the next morning, but he asks a lot more of Bilbo than even Tolkien did if he's asking him both to go on a quest and join a group whose behavior toward him the previous night was actually repulsive.

Please, Peter Jackson, and I do mean this sincerely, try to make more than one or two characters have some dimension!  Bombur might have been the butt of some jokes in the novel, but you unwittingly (I hope unwittingly) put all the Dwarves on the same intellectual level as your Trolls, and that makes it difficult for me to appreciate them as a stalwart band loyally following their King.  Don't even get me started on William, Tom and Bert.  Comic relief characters they were, but not that comic.  I felt like Jackson's humor was actually too childish throughout the film, which is saying something for an adaptation of a children's novel.  Perhaps I am unfairly blaming Jackson in this instance.  After all, humorous is the equivalent of gross throughout Hollywood.

As I mentioned above, this was an action film, as evidenced by all of the extended fighting/battle scenes (and the addition of the Company getting tossed around by Stone Giants (?)).  It was what I expected after seeing Jackson's Lord of the Rings.  The book was an adventure.  The two are not actually one and the same.

**To finish on a few positive notes (or try to, at least)**

The scenery in the film was, as usual, gorgeous.  I know that seems like a small concession, but I think the landscape does Middle Earth justice.  You can probably tell that I wouldn't say that lightly.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Riddles in the Dark scene, and I thought Jackson did a brilliant job portraying Bilbo's mercy in sparing Gollum's life.  He didn't even need the voice over of Gandalf saying, "True courage is not about knowing when to take a life but when to spare one" to evoke it.  This actually makes me somewhat sadder about the rest of the film.  I think Jackson has a gift for magnificent subtlety when he so chooses, and that he could put it to great effect when adapting Tolkien's work, but he chooses the big-budget special effects route instead.


If you like high-energy non-stop action and don't really mind film adaptations of novels that might not be exactly what the original author intended, you might enjoy the movie.  If you aren't that sort of person and just like a bit of a romp, you might enjoy the movie.

But if you're looking for that essence of the "real thing" that isn't there, you might want to try the 1977 animated Rankin/Bass film.  It's more... fun... and who doesn't want to have fun when going on an adventure?

P.S. to Peter Jackson: So how many times can 13 dwarves and a hobbit fall over 50 feet and not even get scratched?  Just asking.

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