Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” [review]

Frodo in the mountains, brandishing StingI love J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “Lord of the Rings” books. I thought Peter Jackson cut out exactly what he should have to make the movies, although perhaps a bit too much of the Eowyn bits. If anything, I think he improved on the trilogy.

I didn’t read the Hobbit until after I had already read Lord of the Rings. It was a good kids book, and I would have loved it had I read it when I was a kid, but after LotR, it was fluff.

Not so for my husband, who read it first. When I listened to my husband read “The Hobbit” aloud to our child, I got a whole different perspective. The Hobbit is a stand alone book. A novel.

Of course, I had to see The Hobbit with my family over the holidays. Since 3D glasses never work well for those of us who wear corrective lenses (and I think astigmatism makes it worse) I was quite happy to go to a non-3D screening.

It was, sadly, disappointing.

There were bits that were fine. The actors were flawless. But it just went on too long. I couldn’t help noticing a great many gratuitous camera movements, which I think were there partly to emphasize the 3D thing, and partly to stretch it out. I can always tell a film has failed to hold my attention when my mind wanders and starts noticing technical aspects.

It had the feel of being padded. And added to. But when you consider that Tolkien’s “Hobbit” is much much shorter than Lord of the rings. The only way to stretch it out to fill three feature films is by adding and padding.

Mr. Jackson has certainly proven himself capable.  Still, it does call for an awful lot of additional material.

A great deal more background than I remembered from the book was laid out to lay a basis for dwarf and elf mistrust, as Jackson tells us the history of how Smaug the Dragon got the gold (and the mountain). Perhaps this came from appendices, or the Silmarillion, or maybe it was extrapolated purely to help stretch of the film. Either way, it didn’t engage me.

It was nice to see Frodo and Bilbo on the day of Bilbo’s party, but, old friends or not, there was just a bit too much of it.

When the actual story finally does begin with the meeting of Gandalf and young Bilbo, it’s rather a slow start. There’s so little to do or say, and they spend rather a lot of time smoking. I’ve not been to a cinema in quite some time, but it was a bit shocking to see such a lot of it, particularly in a children’s film.

It began to perk up with the introduction of dwarves into Bag End, with a delightful disruption to young Bilbo’s stodgy conservative life. For a while it was starting to look as though the film would be alright after all.

In the book, the Dwarvish Quest to reclaim their mountain was serious, but it was also light hearted. In the film version, the tone is much darker,

The gratuitous insertion of Galadriel apparently necessitated a scene with Gandalf and Saruman that really didn’t make any sense at all. That is to say, the sense of the scene was that Gandalf and Galadriel weren’t quite trusting Saruman. Which is odd, and totally fails to mesh with the story ahead. The only reason Saruman was able to capture and imprison Gandalf in LotR was because Gandalf trusted him.

And what’s up with Orcs that can travel by day? That breaks the rules already set, and makes Saruman’s hybrid day travelling orcs in Lord of the Rings utterly redundent.  (Ooops.)

Peter Jackson’s version of the film missed the boat on the single most important point: “The Hobbit” is a kids book, not “Lord of the Rings.”

I do love “Lord of the Rings,” it is hugely dark, grim and depressing as hell. The Hobbit book is not, and the movie certainly should not be.

Perhaps most important of all, the Hobbit book is fun. The movie version is not.

Peter Jacson in profile (circa Lord of the Rings)
“Hobbit” Filmmaker Peter Jackson

Granted, Peter Jackson is a hugely talented film maker. And he filmed things from the book in his “The Hobbit Part One” film. But the movie version is far darker than the book was ever meant to be.  While there are moments of clearly kid humour — like the “Thumper” harnessed to the bunny sled it is overall a movie for adults.  I would not recommend this film for children at all.

Instead of being a film of the book, Jackson’s “Hobbit” wasn’t a cinematic version of the standalone book, but rather a Lord of the Rings prequel.

Clearly this decision does not serve the story, although it will no doubt economically employ many people much longer, and make the Studios much more money than had if they had actually made a faithful version of the book.

Who knows, down the line, they will no doubt make a proper film version of the story. And make even more profit.

So the film is a win for them. but a loss for us. So sad.

Image Credits
A Hobbit by released under a Creative Commons
Attribution 2.5 Canada (CC BY 2.5 CA)

Director Peter Jackson by Henry Burrows released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License


8 thoughts on “Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” [review]

  1. Remakes are culture as fast food chains. A few dishes. Sometimes minor variations are heralded with big ad campaigns. Boring!

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    • Remakes don’t actually need big ad campaigns because they are selling a proven story to existing fans. Studios like having a guaranteed audience.

      It was sad to see there wasn’t a single original story among the “coming soon” trailers. The closest was for “Oz the Great and Powerful,” clearly a dark prequel to the 1939 version Wizard of Oz.

  2. I read somewhere that Tolkien himself considered The Hobbit having two styles, starting as a children’s book (e.g. silly dwarfs with colored caps and funny songs) and then developing into a darker – LOTR style – story. When Tolkien rewrote The Hobbit a bit (especially the Gollum part) after publishing LOTR, to make it fit LOTR, he conciously chose to let The Hobbit remain in that vein. (I have no link for that, think I read it in a book, I have a few about Tolkien).

    I guess it is a bit hard to capture that duality in film. I am an old Tolkien fan, and I like Jackson’s LOTR movies, but I actually just feel apathy for the Hobbit “trilogy”. The way they try recreate the big community feeling around the LOTR movies is just sad, imho.

    Just my two sword shards 🙂


    • What struck me most was that “The Hobbit” movie was darker than “Fellowship of The Ring.”

      I can well believe Tolkien would have tried to harmonize the two, as tying the two works together would increase sales, as indeed they have. Still, I would be inclined to leave something that worked alone.

      It’s easier to sell something people love again than to sell something new. Which is why the multinationals want perpetual copyright, and why we’re seeing so much reworking of the same stuff. (How many times can you “reboot” Spiderman? An infinite number it seems…)

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