Impressions of “The Hobbit”

I’ve gone to see Peter Jackson’s adaptation of “The Hobbit”, and these are my first impressions of it. I found it disappointing, but it’s important to realize that this is as much due to high expectations as to it actually being bad at all. I liked it much, much better than Prometheus and probably more than Avatar. It is not really on par with “The Lord of the Rings” (at least not yet), but it’s pretty good and I will certainly be watching it again.

I am of course a fan of the Tolkien books, so this influences my appreciation of it a lot — I’m  certainly comparing the movie with the book. Or more precisely, I’m comparing it with how I would have preferred to dramatize the book.

The Hobbit has some excellent scenes which make it well worth seeing. The “Riddles in the Dark” scene is very well-dramatized, for example.

Overall, however the movie is dragged down by a lot of rather lame additions and rewriting (the rewriter is not on the same level as Tolkein!).

Overall it has been revised to be the start of an epic “Lord of the Rings” Prequel Trilogy, rather than being true to the spirit of “The Hobbit”. And of course, we know how well that worked out for George Lucas — it’ll always be a pale imitation of the earlier films.

Dragging it out into three movies was probably a mistake, the result is much looser and yet overly-serious. The rousing music begins to feel ironic in many places — I felt thrown out of the story by these delusions of grandeur in what should be a smaller-scale, personal story.

Perhaps the most annoying rewrites for me were when very clever intelligent escapes in the book are replaced by straightforward fight scenes — which the characters apparently win by sheer luck, because (with few exceptions) they are not supposed to be great warriors and they are severely outnumbered. I can’t believe that this was actually easier to dramatize than the original concept! So it’s really just a chance to try to reclaim some of the  glory of the epic fight scenes in “The Lord of the Rings” — but that’s totally out of place in “The Hobbit”, which was a book with a very different tone.

This strains credibility, promotes boneheaded violence over thinking your way out of problems, and is ultimately very untrue to the characters as well as just, well, shallow. It felt very dumbed-down to me.

It also creates inconsistencies which are going to show up later — if the characters can boldly march into battle with swords swinging against armies of goblins, then why will they be defeated by the spiders later?

Thorin’s racism against all Elves is inconsistent with the book (where he had specific grievances against Thranduil’s people in Mirkwood).

A few of the additions are dramatizations of incidents that are part of the Tolkien cannon (typically mentioned in the LOTR appendices or referred to obliquely). E.g.: the White Council and the discovery of the Necromancer at Dol Guldur.

These are interesting, and I enjoyed seeing these bits of the back story. But they don’t fit in well with the rest of the movie, which is supposed to be _Bilbo’s_ story. So, they’re a little distracting.

Sylvester McCoy’s Radaghast was fun to see on screen (he’s mentioned in re-tellings in the LOTR, but is never in the direct narrative), although he was just a bit over the top.

Freeman is a great Bilbo, though. McKellan is great as always as Gandalf. And they did a creditable job with casting and characterizing the dwarves — a _nightmare_ of characterization with all 13 of them. In the book, only about 5 of the dwarves have really distinct personalities: Thorin, Balin, Bombur, Fili and Kili (even there, it’s hard to tell Fili from Kili). The other eight dwarves — Oin, Gloin, Ori, Dori, Nori, Bifur, Bofur, and Dwalin are pretty much interchangeable. They did try to do a little bit with this in the movie, and of course Gloin will be Gimli’s father — they made him kind of goofy in this story, perhaps to set up for Gimli joke-cracking in LOTR.

I don’t give ratings, but I did like the film despite all of my misgivings, and my opinion of it will probably improve on a second viewing. It’s definitely worth the time to see it if you are a Tolkien fan.

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About Terry Hancock

Terry Hancock is the producer and director of "Lunatics" ( http://lunatics.tv ). He is also a regular columnist for Free Software Magazine ( http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/articles_by/5 ), and a lifelong advocate for space, science, and technology. More at http://terryhancock.narya.net
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One Response to Impressions of “The Hobbit”

  1. Bruce Byfield says:

    From your comments, the movie does about what I expected: it takes a small children’s tale and turns it into grand opera. I’ll be interested in seeing for myself.

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