The Hobbit: An Unexpected Plot Deviation

Reader’s note: There’s a spoiler advisory for this entire post, so if you’ll hate me for giving away sundry plot twists and random details, please come back after watching this fabulous movie.

Tony and I went on a nice long anniversary date last night. How long has it been since we did dinner and a movie together? I’m not sure how many years. It was so much fun! We drove down to Orlando, had an Italian dinner, and then watched the Hobbit at the IMAX theater.

I think the extra frames thing really did make a difference, because I was able to keep my 3D glasses on the entire time without succumbing to headache. However, I am still not sure whether watching orcs murderously leap out at me is really so much better than just watching them murderously leap at other people.  Tony’s arm was probably falling asleep from me clutching it so hard. And yes, I thought the repeated and extended battle scenes were a little much. But then I thought the same thing about the LOTR movies. Still, even though I am no huge fan of CGI, I have to say that the stone giants were spectacular.

As far as acting goes, Martin Freeman did a beautiful job as Bilbo. So much nuance and such delightful facial expressions throughout. It was a little strange to see Elrond so jovial after watching his unremitting angst in LOTR, but I guess that is in keeping with the lighter tone of Tolkien’s earlier novel. I enjoyed the White Council, with Saruman droning on and on while Galadriel and Gandalf carry on their own private telepathic conversation. And that scene where the dwarves sing in Bilbo’s house (the one that appears in the preview) was eerie and evocative and wonderful.

The weirdest part of the movie was that almost all of Thorin’s company of dwarves look like Norwegian trolls with bizarre, lumpy faces, and then unaccountably there are a couple of total dreamboats (although to be fair, they still ride shaggy, stubby-legged ponies). Strange. I don’t really think Peter Jackson stayed tuned in with the character of Tolkien’s dwarves. There’s not a whole lot to distinguish Thorin from, say, a typical Tolkien human man like Boromir in Jackson’s LOTR. And I’m afraid I must bemoan Radagast the Brown. Did he really have to be so silly? Also, I’m sorry, but the gross humor was really excessive. Come on, Peter Jackson. Let’s be grown-ups and get a little class.

On the plus side, I loved the riddle game. It was perfect, as was the dramatization of Bilbo’s all-important choice of whether to kill Gollum. However, throughout the movie the quality of the dialogue was fairly spotty.  It was so painfully obvious, especially at the beginning, where Jackson’s indifferently written fill-in narrative ended and Tolkien’s distinctive prose began. At the very least, could he not have gotten a more proficient screenwriter who could blend things a little more seamlessly?

It was a wise decision for Jackson to make the tone of the movie darker than the book, since Tolkien himself intended to go back and rewrite the Hobbit in a narrative style more similar to LOTR, and even made it about three chapters in before giving up the project. I think he would have loved how Jackson included the rise of the Necromancer in Mirkwood. And do you love the casual reference to Ungoliant that he throws in after we quiver in Radagast’s tree-house in the shadow of over-sized arachnids?

It was unclear to me why Jackson decided to take the liberty of making up his own bits of back story. If there was ever a master of the back story, it was Tolkien. In the appendices to LOTR, the Silmarillion, and sundry other readily-available writings, Tolkien added plenty of retroactive history to tie the Hobbit into the larger narrative of Middle Earth. Jackson makes good use of some of this original Tolkien material in the Hobbit, but his hubristic deviations were something of a disappointment. In particular, the whole Azog/Thorin rivalry was just unnecessary, unless, I suppose, you consider it necessary to double your battle scenes. Tolkien effects Bilbo’s transition from unwanted baggage to hero in a much more sophisticated way from Jackson, who simply has him rush improbably at the annoyingly ever-present Azog in defense of the imprudent Thorin.

Is this review sounding a bit negative overall? Because I totally don’t mean it that way. I’m not saying that the movie wasn’t awesome, it’s just that living up to literary perfection is so darn difficult. So here’s the short version: I really loved the movie, and we will probably eventually buy it, which is saying a lot, since the totality of our home DVD collection consists of three movies (which do admittedly just happen to be the LOTR trilogy).  It’s true that there are several parts where purists will (and did) cringe, but it’s hard to not be completely overcome by the sweeping narrative, spectacular scenery, and larger-than-life drama of Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien. Here’s to the several more hours of this intoxicating beautiful Tolkien tribute that Jackson has promised us.