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Sunday, December 28, 2014

So, You Hate Peter Jackson's The Hobbit

I just got back from watching The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies. Guess what. It didn't suck. In fact, as far as the acting goes, it was probably the best of the three Hobbit films. I suppose it might take three movies for some actors to catch their stride. That's not to say they all needed to get with it. Martin Freemen did an excellent job from beginning to end. As did Ian McKellan. And I thoroughly enjoyed Luke Evans as Bard. But I don't want to actually write too much about the movie other than you should see it. You won't regret spending the money on a good afternoon's entertainment as I just did.

...Unless you are a self-appointed Tolkien purest. You know, one of those people who believe everything John Ronald Reuel Tolkien ever wrote is canon and must be literally and faithfully copied and handed down from generation to generation as some sort of holy fantasy tome. As if J.R.R. Tolkien is so much better than other artists (writers, whatever,) that no other human being on Earth could EVER match what the father of high fantasy wrote. If you are one of those people, please do not waste your time or your money on Peter Jackson's movies. They will not satisfy you. No other high fantasy will. They just can't compare to the Middle Earth epic, blessed by the man himself - as if he was some ring wielding pontiff from whom all blessings flow - which you hold so near and dear to your heart. And as J.R.R. Tolkien is dead, you'll just have to be satisfied with beating your drum, pointing at his books and telling all who'll listen how great he was. (Yes, I'm making fun of the purists. Get over it.)

That done, I just want to know two things. And both of these come directly from things purists I've spoken with personally have said.

First, to those outraged that Peter Jackson took a single book and made it into three movies. Who the hell gave you the right to have such outrage? I'd ask, "who died and gave you the right," but we already know who died, and as far as I know he only gave two groups of people the rights: his heirs, and his publisher. And both sanctioned Peter Jackson's re-imagining of The Hobbit. No, this is not The Hobbit you read as a child and loved for all it's black and white, good versus evil, pre-World War II politics inspired 1 two-dimensional plot lines.  I'm also not saying the movie trilogy is better than that. What I am saying is it is a different interpretation, but not an invalid one. Certainly those who own the rights to the estate didn't feel it was an invalid vision of where J.R.R. Tolkien might have taken the story had he been alive to guide it. The Hobbit was published as a children's book. Unless you're going to make a cartoon movie replete with singing goblins (Rankin and Bass anyone?) you need to grow the story up.

The second thing I'd like to know, and this goes to those who've not even seen one of the movies but insist on running them down nonetheless, is what the hell do you know about it? A bunch of stuff that other Tolkien purists have said about the movies? Did they bother to go see it? Or is it simply that J.R.R. Tolkien in the original English is so sacred it's blasphemy to think any other interpretation should be allowed. I mean really, espousing an opinion on a movie you haven't even bothered to watch is like believing the Earth is only 6000 years old because that's what you're preacher tells you. Blindly following convictions is the realm of religion. If you really want to have this Tolkien versus Jackson discussion with me, at least watch the bloody movies you're going to run down. That's all I ask. Otherwise, kindly keep your opinion to yourself. You don't know what you're talking about.

Here's the unvarnished truth. The movie is enjoyable. At times it's even fun. It won't win any Oscars, but it will make lots of money. That's okay by me. Actors have to eat too. Now it's time for more unvarnished truth. The book The Hobbit is enjoyable. At times it's even fun. But The Hobbit is not a great book. Today it wouldn't win any prizes except perhaps as children's literature. Tolkien did not become the father of High Fantasy until 17 years after The Hobbit was published. That's when the first book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out. That's what made Tolkien a legend.

Peter Jackson treated those books properly. I'm willing to give him some leeway to reforge The Hobbit into a story that fits into the Lore of that trilogy far better than the book itself ever has. I've read The Hobbit many times, and I always wished for a better link to the Fellowship and all that transpired later. A link that was more than a Hobbit finding a magic ring in a cave by mostly accident. That was always pretty simplistic to me. I'm an adult now. I want a better tale, one that ties in with what's happening at the end of the Third Age of Middle Earth. Peter Jackson certainly does that. His vision of The Hobbit firmly makes that tale the beginning of the end of the third age of Middle Earth. As The Hobbit should be.

 

 







  1. What, you didn't know parts of The Hobbit were inspired by world politics in the mid 1930's? That Sauron was Hitler and Saruman was Mussolini? Really? Now Tolkien did say The Hobbit was, "not about anything but itself. (Certainly it has no allegorical intentions, general, particular or topical, moral, religious or political.)" I believe him. But you don't really think he came up with all those characters out of thin air do you? All writers of fantasy have to pull from their real lives and experiences, because fantasy ISN'T REAL. I know, real shocker there. But I've read Tolkien's biography, actually two. You can't really understand the books until you understand the writer. 



6 comments:

  1. My concern about splitting the book into three movies has nothing to do with faithfulness to the source material, but is much simpler: was it cinematographically the right decision? In order to make three movies, PJ had to add material, and a discussion can be had whether this new material is any good.

    Personally, I remember moments in the first two movies (I still have to see the third one) which I felt were unnecessary, and that maybe two movies would have been better than three.

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  2. While not a Tolkien purist, having watched the three films (including the latest one twice due to a double booking issue) it does seem to me that a lot of the components that were added felt quite out of place. Even a friend of mine who has never read the book pointed out a couple of things he thought didn't quite mesh, and both of them were not in the book. They were good films, but I'd have hoped they'd have spent more time trying to iron it out to fit a single style, even if that style differed more from the book.

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  3. You've a valid point about necessity. I had (still have) the same concern. Some of the added content is necessary. I have known for a very long time Tolkien really wished he could have told the story of what happened at Dol Guldur within the confines of the Hobbit. But unfortunately he was constrained by two things, both imposed by the publisher: the book had to be shorter and the publisher felt fantasy was for children so the book had to be written with children in mind. In my mind's eye, the Necromancer sequences were very necessary. There are also some fulfilling connections made at the end of the third movie that I'll not spoil for you. One thing I will semi spoil is that I was very glad to see the deaths of members of the original company have meaning in the third movie. In The Hobbit they just die during the battle. In the movie they get a place of honor, or at least a plausible reason for their death. There are unnecessary elements as well. The whole fighting Smaug sequence in the second movie should never have happened. The dwarves never went in after Smaug, so that was just grandstanding on Jackson's part. However, it did make some great CGI. I think too often people get hung up on the question of whether the movie or the book was better. That question is mostly inappropriate. Books and movies are fundamentally different forms of entertainment. It does not matter which is better and comparing them is like comparing apples to pineapples. It only matters that both are enjoyable. To me, both The Hobbit as a book and as three movies is enjoyable. Each by their own merits. We only become dissatisfied when we inappropriately apply the merits of one to the other.

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  4. Agreed. Check my reply to Druur for details on my thoughts.

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  5. I Loved Reading The Hobbit as a kid, and indeed it is one of the books that led me down the road towards my love of fantasy. I also loved all three of the movies. I am (obviously) not a purist, so I'm not sure my opinion counts for anything at all, but I think Peter Jackson did something really special with a relatively simple story. Call it my girly side showing, but the sappy bits (if you've seen it you know what I mean, I don't want to spoil it for anyone) may not have been necessary, but I still liked how it fit into the story, and how it contributed to the tie-in with The Lord of the Rings movies. Did it need to be a trilogy? Probably not. But I enjoyed every minute anyway. Great review, by the way.

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  6. My complaint about the Hobbit movies: not as good as LOTR.

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Be civil, be responsible and most of all be kind. I will not tolerate poor form. There will be no James Hooks here. We are all better than that.