I just finished watching “The Hobbit” on Bluray. Having not been willing to pay the ridiculous theatre prices to see it when it came out, but having been a fan of the book since 6th grade, I was looking forward to this movie more than I had been to seeing director Peter Jackson’s rendition of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
By way of prelude, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed those movies. I felt that Jackson made the best possible versions of those books, despite the pressure of the legions of rabid fans waiting to eviscerate him for any possible misstep. While he did take some liberties with the narrative by including some of J.R.R. Tolkien’s seemingly endless volumes of back-story and history of Middle-Earth, he did so in a way that remained true to the spirit of the novels, while providing modern audiences with the sort of action-packed filmmaking to which they have become accustomed.
That being said, let me say that I was terribly disappointed with “The Hobbit.” Not for its production values; it is just as glorious a rendition of Middle-Earth as we’ve come to expect from Peter Jackson. Bag End is as comfy and cozy as before, and the greens of the Shire as just as vibrant as ever. This movie was a joy to watch, a veritable feast for the eyes.
No, my disappointment with this film is in the script. Not content to take what could have—and probably should have—been one 3-hour movie, Jackson feels compelled to create another trilogy for some unfathomable reason known only to himself and the studio. While not completely abandoning the core of Tolkien’s story of Bilbo Baggins and his discovery that he is bigger than he believes, Jackson uses it simply to string together big-Hollywood versions of the events of that story.
Some of the most egregious—but by no means all—of the sins committed by Jackson are the ludicrous chase scene through the Goblin underground kingdom. In place of the cars and busses we would see in a poorly-rendered Nicolas Cage film, we are treated to a veritable cirque-du-soleil of dwarven acrobatics and slapstick “combat” seemingly designed to the film’s target PG-13 audience.
Next we are treated to the even lower-brow (is that even a word) comic relief provided by the Goblin King. David Bowie he isn’t, and his death is punctuated by some of the dialogue so infantile that Tolkien must have turned over in his grave. I won’t repeat it here, not for fear of spoiling it for anyone, but because it doesn’t deserve it.
Finally, we come to Jackson complete re-write of the psychology of Bilbo Baggins. In the climatic (for this film, anyway) battle—another in which Jackson exercises Directorial prerogative, by the way—we find Bilbo doing an impersonation of Bruce Willis’ John McClain, jumping into battle against a goblin lord and his warg.
Oh, the humanity—or hobbitanity, or hobbitness, hobbittude, or whatever—Bilbo Baggins is no HERO, not in that sense at any rate. Bilbo did not, and would not ever perform such a blatant act of courage. That is not to say the Bilbo is not courageous: far from it. The idea behind Tolkien’s hobbit hero is that his acts of heroism are personal, internal. They are the act of overcoming his own life and the limitations it has placed on him physically, mentally, and emotionally. Every situation he finds himself provides an opportunity for him to grow into the hero that Gandalf knows is needed, even if he can’t define what that is, exactly.
In the end, there is an audience for parts 2 and 3 of Jackson’s “The Hobbit,” but if he has already turned the story into a standard Hollywood fare of action first, story second. He avoided that trap in his first trip to Middle-Earth, but sadly, fell victim to his own success this time around.
To sum it up: all things being equal, , the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated version is a truer telling of Tolkien’s timeless story, and if I had to choose, I’d choose that one over Jackson’s over-caffeinated Hollywood version. Worse yet, I’d rather watch “The Two Towers” again.