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.