Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Three Hours that I Will Never Get Back

In July, I expressed my distaste for what Peter Jackson was doing with his film adaptation of The Hobbit.  I saw the film yesterday. I enjoyed the acting, the amazing production and the excitement of it all ... but felt myself huffing and puffing throughout the film. My immediately thoughts were that if Peter Jackson wanted to make a film about a grudge match between a pale orc and a noble dwarfish king that is fine with me, but please don't call that film The Hobbit, because that is not what that book was about.

It seems that I should start with what he got right. It is an entertaining film and if I hadn't read the book and loved it as both an adult and as a child, I probably would have no problem with it. The two best and most important and iconic scenes (or chapters) in the story are when the party of dwarfs show up at Bilbo's home and his meeting with Gollum (aka Smeagul). Both those scenes are fantastically done, especially the latter.  Like everything in the film the party of dwarfs goes on too long and digresses into Three Stooges like antics that is more about Hollywood than it is about Tolkien. The other success of this film is the visuals.  The 3D 48 frames per second made for some fantastic viewing. I found myself ducking a few times as projectiles came at me. The elvish city of Rivendell was stunning as was most of the film. The visuals alone might be worth the $10 ticket.

As I pointed out in my July post, the length is the obvious problem here. My paperback copy of The Hobbit is 286 pages in length. This is a fairly uncomplicated kid's book. I could see a three hour film being made of this book, but Jackson is making three 3 hour films. When I got home from seeing this first film, I pick up my book to see where he was in the story ... page 111.  How do you do this?  You make scenes much longer than they are in the book and you add stuff. The stuff he added ... much of it is unnecessary.

There are character that are just mentioned once in the book that are given a lot of time in film.  Here are a few:

Azog, aka the pale orc, is mentioned once in the book in passing. He is historical reference and was slain long before this story begins. His son Bolg is in The Hobbit but it is for a short time and it during the conclusion of the book. Azog is beheaded by a dwarf that isn't even related to Thorin nor to any of the dwarves in this story.  In the film, he is not only alive but a major character. Perhaps he was added so that there a clear enemy in the first film. Since Smaug the dragon doesn't actually appear until the end ... the film needed a bad guy. Just another reason it should be one film, not three.

Radagast the Brown is also only mentioned in the book as an after-thought. Gandalf mentions his cousin Radagast that lives near the southern most tip of Mirkwood. But takes up the screen for about 20 minutes. I have to say that the scenes of Radagast riding his bunny drawn cart through the forest are fantastic, but again, not necessary to the story.  Also, his portrayal is un-wizard like in Tolkien lore. You would never seen a wizard with bird droppings in his beard in anything Tolkien wrote.

Characters from The Lord of the Rings have been added into this story.  Saruman (aka the Necromancer) and the elvish queen Galadriel are inserted into the Rivendell scene. Some might say that adding these characters is a tie-in to The Lord Of the Rings film that some viewers might need, but wasn't that the purpose of the 20 minute intro. The first 20 minutes of the film shows the history of the dwarfs and Frodo and old Bilbo talking about the journey. Do we really need any other tie-in's at this point?  Surely, Galadriel was added just to get some femininity added to the film for those viewers on testosterone overload. The Hobbit has no female characters, a fact that Hollywood, obviously, had a problem accepting.

Finbul, the orc, and Grinnah, the goblin, are not in the book either. As far as I can tell, these are created by Peter Jackson, not Tolkien. No wargs (gigantic wolf beasts) are in the book either. The climatic scene to at the end of this first film was clearly added to give the film a climax. Spoiler Alert: Yes, they were saved by the Eagles while the trees, in which they were stranded, were set afire, but the big grudge match between Thorin and the pale orc, just doesn't exist in the book, hence Bilbo coming to the rescue is just nonsense. This is all Hollywood.

Not only did he add unnecessary characters, but he altered some of the characters.  My biggest complaint on this front what he did with the head dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield. Arguably, Jackson has made him the protagonist. He enters alone to the dwarfish party (in the book he is one of three). The literary Thorin is unattractive, is tall for a dwarf and has a very long beard. His motivation is purely gold. He wants to defeat Smaug the dragon for the booty. Jackson's Thorin is born anew. The only thing he got right was that he is tall.  Thorin is played by the very handsome Richard Armitage with a goatee. He is noble and wants to avenge his father.  This is a classic example of Hollywood shitting all over a work of literature. This is like Disney's Huckleberry Finn. You can dumb down and rework literature into a neat little formula to make it more palatable for the general public, but I don't have to like it. Jackson did such a great job with The Lord Of the Rings. I am not sure why he felt like he had to fall into this trap for this film.

I have too many problems with the film to put them all down. I had enough to make me grumble out loud during the film. Here is just a few more:

  • Bilbo is supposed to be middle aged and fat at this point.  Also, during The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf mentions that he didn't seem to have aged a day (the effects of the ring).  Then why the 40 year age difference between the actors portraying him. Time has gone by but has not affected Bilbo.
  • Rivendell is beautiful but all wrong.  The dwarfs don't sneak out of Rivendell but are reluctant to leave. The dwarfs are happy there and feel very welcome. 
  • The White Counsel doesn't meeting while they are there. This all happens in another Tolkien work and has little to do with The Hobbit.
  • The most of his dwarfs are more like Klingons or Stooges than they are like the dwarfs from The Hobbit.  
Lets call this film what it is, a reasonable facsimile. It is an elaborate ploy to get us to pay $30 rather than $10 to see a film that should be three hours long at best. It is supposed to be a children's tale, but it was made more violent and elaborate to attract a larger audience.  I hope to resist the magic that got me into the theaters this time. They got my $10, I don't plan on paying another $20 to see a film that should be over by now.

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