You may wonder, considering how disappointed I was by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, why we decided to go see The Hobbit Saturday night.  But we had a free movie pass that was about to expire; moreover, I was feeling more kindly toward the LOTR movies, having watched my nephew spend much of his Christmas vacation devouring the books—which I doubt he would have done without having been inspired by the movies.  So last night we ventured into our local theater for the first time in nearly five years.

Yes, we were disappointed.  Peter Jackson is consistent, and so am I.  I could very nearly simply quote my review of The Fellowship of the Ring for The Hobbit.  I fault it for the same lack of attention to the basic nature of the characters (though not as badly as in LOTR), the same gratuitous rewriting and addition of scenes, the same modern-action-film-with-swords emphasis on battles and chase scenes.  In the middle of a fight that wouldn't end, Porter and I looked at each other and said, "b-o-o-o-r-i-n-g."  So sad to feel that way about a movie made to honor one of my very favorite books, one I can read over and over again without coming close to boredom.

I'd read that The Hobbit movie was not intended to simply tell the story in the book, but would have some scenes added to include some of the backstory and tie it in more directly with LOTR, and I was okay with that.  That's not at all the same thing as directly contradicting the book, which, for example, the eagle rescue scene does in spades.

As in the previous movies, this one does hobbits and the Shire best:  believable, beautiful, noble, inspirational.  The other races are more caricatures and too alien.  The character of the dwarves (that's the way the word is spelled in the book, complete with explanation) is downright maligned.  Radagast is played as a drug-crazed hippie; elves are wrongly cast as vegetarians.  The trolls, goblins, orcs, and wargs are over-the-top in their ugliness and puerility, so that they come across as more disgusting than evil.  On the other hand, Gollum, though not the character as I imagined him, is very well conceived and acted (as he was in the other films).

There are some good lines, and some funny ones, though too much of the humor is of the snot-in-the-soup kind.

I've said before that an important key to good fantasy is that if you want the audience to accept an outlandish premise (e.g. magic), the rest of the story must be down-to-earth and believable (minus the magic, Hogwarts is a normal English boarding school).  Watching the credits, I commented that it sure takes a lot of people to make a movie.  With all those folks, couldn't they have sprung for two more?  A physicist and an EMT come to mind.  When big things fall or are thrown they look too much like models (with modern CGI there's no excuse for not doing better), and even dwarfs, to be at all "realistic," can't fall a few hundred feet, have massive timbers land on top of them, then get up and go about their business with no more than a brief groan.

Would I recommend The Hobbit movie?  Only for those who aren't likely ever to read the book.  I definitely wouldn't recommend it for grandchildren.  The PG-13 rating is well deserved (and frankly I don't think anyone, of any age, can benefit from so much violence).

Still, it has its good points, and I have to keep in mind how much stronger it is, even in its weaknesses, than most contemporary fare.

The best of the movie?  Bilbo and the Shire, the music (though it owes a lot to Braveheart), and the awesome New Zealand scenery.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 6:46 am | Edit
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Just curious if you had ever seen the animated version of The Hobbit? It obviously wouldn't have all the special effects, but I was wondering if it was truer to the story.


Posted by dstb on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 7:03 am

No, haven't seen it. Nor heard of it, actually.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 7:13 am

I loved the books, and I'm one of those sat-through-20+-hours-of-special-features extended edition LOTR movie lovers. And I hated The Hobbit. With the exception of the dwarfs singing at Bilbo's house, which really had a lot of the book feel to it... the whole movie was terrible.

Posted by Monica on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 9:36 am

Very interesting, Monica. Since I found this movie very similar to LOTR, I'd love to know what you see the the latter that makes it so much better than The Hobbit.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 9:54 am

I thought PJ had excellent casting in LOTR, for one. Although he took a lot of liberties with the plot, he remained relatively true to the spirit of the story, IMO. Although he butchered Faramir (and I disagreed with his reasoning for modifying the character, which he gives in the special features), I thought he did great with Boromir, who has always been a personal favorite.

What I liked best about LOTR was that there was a *feeling* to them that was one of a great epic tale, similar to the books. Any book adapted to movie form is bound to lose something, but I felt PJ was able to hold onto the feeling of retelling a great myth, which is what Tolkein wanted LOTR to be. And PJ took incredible pains with attention to detail, and I felt used his special effects sparingly and well.

I have my complaints about LOTR, but they are mostly details relating to how the books were adapted, rather than an overall criticism. Watching the special features really did go a long way to helping me appreciate PJ's genius, even if I disagree with this or that modification.

The Hobbit, on the other hand... felt like a whole lot of filler for not much of the Hobbit. Like you, I found Bilbo to be very well-done, and the young dwarfs- Killi and Filli, if I recall correctly, were quite playful. But the overdose of "comic relief" was annoying, the deviations from the book were huge and bad, and the overuse of special effects that added nothing to the plot were distracting. I did not watch the 3-D version, and there were several scenes in the 2-D movie where I felt- aha- they filmed this just to show off their new 3-D cameras that they created for this film. The scenes did not advance the plot, and seemed to make no sense in the 2-D film.

As you mentioned, the game of riddles was well-done, and as I said, the dwarf's song at the beginning was in the spirit of the books. The rest just felt like filler in order to stretch a relatively short book into 3 movies.

It is on my list to re-read LOTR this year. It has been a number of years since I read them. I'm pretty strongly opposed to letting my kids watch any movie based on a much better book, so it will be years before they watch any of the LOTR movies...

And while we're not on the subject- how horrible was the butchering of Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Ugh. C.S. Lewis probably turned in his grave when they released that film!

Posted by Monica on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I'm with you on Dawn Treader. As I began my review of the movie, "How can you take a book without one single battle scene and turn it into an action movie?" Not to mention turning a book so full of light into something so dark and creepy!

But I fear I'm becoming a Grumpy Old Lady. Being counter-cultural is cool when you are young, but negative and reactionary just a few decades later....

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, May 05, 2019 at 11:27 pm
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