“I have had enough of dwarves for one day.” Gandalf
Even before “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was out of theatres over a decade ago, the internet rumours began: Peter Jackson should direct ‘The Hobbit!’ It was the natural and obvious reaction from fanboys and Tolkein nerds alike. After all, why not? He just completed what seemed to be an impossible task. He adapted Tolkein’s beloved series over three films and successfully brought “Middle Earth” alive for audiences around the world. After this accomplishment, “The Hobbit” would be a cinch. If you could do three movies back to back to back, The Hobbit as one movie would be like filming a James Bond pre-title sequence after you’ve proven you can direct an entire James Bond feature. You could even get Sir Ian McKellan to be Gandalf again if you didn’t wait too long. How cool would that be?
But then after a series of unfortunate events, including, but not limited to legal squabbles, personnel changes (Guillermo del Toro was on tap to direct before MGM went bankrupt), money woes, more money woes and even PJ’s health (ulcer), “The Hobbit” was going to be a reality and yes, Sir Ian McKellan, once again, was Gandalf.
But then we heard that “The Hobbit” wasn’t going to be one movie, it was going to be two. Making “The Lord of the Rings” into three movies made sense, as the story is generally grouped into three volumes (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of The King). But “The Hobbit” is one book, aimed at younger audiences, and could easily be adapted as a single movie. It would be a long movie, if you included everything, but you wouldn’t include everything, right? That’s what screenwriters are for. I’m not a fan of this whole “splitting a story over two or more movies” trend that seems to be the way things are done these days (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc). Doing this to “The Hobbit” seemed like an unnecessary craven cash grab. But then I remembered how I felt when I heard Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are” was being adapted into a movie. This is a 10 page children’s book with maybe a hundred words total, and I was skeptical, and yet Spike Jonze’s film was moving, brilliant and lovely and I took back every mean thing I said about it beforehand. Maybe “The Hobbit” was going to be the same way? Plus, as a Tolkein fan, why would I complain about having MORE Middle Earth? Crazy, right?
Look at this teaser poster! I mean, it is such an invitation back to the familiar world of Middle Earth with a promise of adventure. How could it fail?
And then about a year ago, we saw the first trailer, and it looked and felt AMAZING, and all doubts were erased. But shortly after that, we heard that “The Hobbit” wasn’t going to be 2 movies after all (oh thank God!)…………..it was going to be 3. (Wot.)
At that point, I thought it was time to revisit the source material. I hadn’t read “The Hobbit” since Jr. High, so it was time for a refresher. I actually read it in one night, so that can give you an idea of how long it actually is (and I am not an overly fast reader). I read it the night before my colonoscopy, as I was up all night purging anyway and I wanted to read something easy and familiar and somewhat comforting. As I made my way through it, on the couch and in the bathroom (TMI?) I realized how much of it was the dwarves running around in the woods, in the mountains, in the caves etc and I thought to myself (there is going to be a lot of running scenes if they adapt this faithfully. And I sort of understood why PJ may have decided to pad the story for the movie. If he didn’t, it would just feel like watching a video game.)
Fast-forward to last Saturday night. Our daughter was back on her schedule (sleeping before 8 pm!). My wife was wrapping some presents and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life“, a movie I HAVE NEVER SEEN front to back, but I feel like I sort of know it through osmosis.
“You know, I could almost make it to a movie tonight,” I mumbled aloud.
“Why don’t you? You hate “It’s a wonderful life” anyway and you’ve been wanting to get out to a movie for awhile” was my wife’s response.
So I looked up movie times and lo and behold “The Hobbit” was playing in glorious 2D (don’t get me started) at 9:30 pm. It was too late to call anyone, and I knew some friends had made plans to see it on Christmas Day, so I toddled off to the theatre; my own personal ‘Unexpected Party” as it very much were.
Even though it was a Saturday night at a good time, the theatre was only half full, so I got a good seat. Maybe everyone else was going to the 3D showings, or the 48 FPS showings? Or maybe they were Christmas shopping. I was a little worried, as a couple of my friends, who were die-hard Tolkein fans and who had already seen it prefaced their reviews by saying things like, “Well, as a Tolkein fan, I would love anything in Middle Earth but….” or “Peter Jackson can do no wrong, but…” so even the superfans were hedging their bets.
Despite all that, I was ready.
Three hours later…
Okay, that was a hot mess. Peter Jackson needs an editor. It seems like he’s got the George Lucas, “I can do anything I want” syndrome now and that’s too bad. At least I sat through to the end. I counted about 10 people who got up and left and didn’t come back. I didn’t feel like I saw “The Hobbit”, to be honest. It felt like I wandered into a production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” when all I really wanted was to watch “Hamlet”. There was so much extra unnecessary nonsense, like the shit-stained Radagast, that I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Tom Bombadil and his hot wife showed up (there’s still ample room in Parts 2 and 3, though, right?)
The maddening thing is that the three scenes that really felt like “The Hobbit” to me: The supper with the dwarves, The Three Trolls, and of course the marvelous “Riddles in the Dark” sequence were all pitch perfect. I would love some clever geek out there to create a “pure” edit of the film, excising all of the extraneous stuff. It might just be 45 minutes long, but what of it? Who knows? PJ is just crazy enough that when all three movies are out, instead of “extended editions” (of which the theatrical versions, by definition, surely are), maybe he’ll release a “contracted” one volume edition of “The Hobbit” much closer to the novel. We can dream, right?
I realize this is an “adaptation”, people. And that Peter Jackson and friends can write whatever screenplay they want, and they sure did. I liked some of the changes. You have to tweak novels to make them cinematic, no question. For example, Richard Armitage is reminiscent of an Aragornesque hero as Thorin Oakenshield, much more than as merely as a bumbling dwarf from the novel. Also, the dwarves’ quest is given an almost Zionistic quality: a return to their homeland, rather than just a revenge plot to get back their gold. It makes their quest a little more noble and gives it more weight. I even didn’t mind the embellishment of Azog “The Pale Orc” as a nemesis for Thorin. It reminded me of the head Uruk-hai from LOTR, and that’s fine. These are the artistic choices that are made, and you can agree or disagree. For example, the dwarf-tossing business and the arrival of the elves at Helm’s Deep in LOTR? Pure fantasy on PJ’s part, but it didn’t bother me. Aside from the “pale Orc”, there were other things (falcons, sweeping mountain shots, soundtrack etc) in ‘The Hobbit” that just felt a little “been there, done that”. I was constantly reminded of how good LOTR was and just wanted to watch that again rather than sit through this retread.
I would love to get the opinion of someone who has not read the novel, to see if the movie worked as a “movie” for them. I have a feeling I’m bringing a lot of baggage to this that might not matter to those going in “cold”.
As a fan, I would have much preferred a single movie. It would have been so much more satisfying. As it was, I was sitting in the theatre with a mental checklist of all the scenes that needed to happen before I could leave. “Gandalf and Bilbo meeting? Check. Arrival of the Dwarves? Check Trolls, Rivendell and Goblins? Check, check, check.” I never once got absorbed into the story. The only other time I could remember that happen to me in a theatre was about 15 years ago in this film called “Conspiracy Theory” with Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. I was aware the whole time that I was watching a movie and couldn’t seem to shake it. The same thing happened at “The Hobbit”.
Hindsight is 20/20, obviously, but I think getting Peter Jackson to direct “The Hobbit” was a mistake. The tone felt more like “LOTR” than a children’s book, and he seemed to try at every turn to tie it into his former glory, even having Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee show up at Rivendell at the same time as the Dwarves. Rivendell is a Motel 6, apparently. A stroke of casting genius would have been to get John Cleese to play Elrond and you could have had all kinds of hijinks. “Don’t mention the WAR (of the ring)!” The Dwarves were already eating Waldorf salad, after all. A missed opportunity.
It would have been fun to get an animated version instead, maybe? (I KNOW there is already an animated version out there, people.) Jackson (and Spielberg) used animation to great effect with “The Adventures of Tintin” last year, and you could still get the actor’s voices from LOTR. Heck, you could even get Ian Holm to voice Bilbo. I love Martin Freeman, but he was a little underwhelming as the titular character. Maybe he’ll shine in parts 2 and 3? (You KNOW I’ll go, despite everything.) Animation would have really gone a long way to set a different tone from LOTR, and yet still tie the two stories together. Heck, Gollum is already CGI. Why not go all the way?
After the success of “The Lord of the Rings” books, Tolkein himself went back and tried to rewrite “The Hobbit” to bring it more in line with the tone and continuity of the longer series, but he gave up before he was done.
He said whatever he was writing, it just wasn’t “The Hobbit”.