or, An Over-long Expected Movie
[Yes, there will be some spoilers.]
All joking aside, I enjoyed the first part of Peter Jackson's three movie Hobbit adaptation. Yes, it's a deeply flawed movie, and I'll get to some of those flaws in a moment, but Martin Freeman is brilliant as Biblo and there are some truly brilliant visuals at times. The riddle game scene in particular was very, very good. I've probably read The Hobbit a dozen times over the years, and as a child I watched the terrible 1970's Hobbit movie numerous times, so I both love the story and am tremendously glad to see it done better than the old version. Further, my beefs with Jackson as in some sense enabled by his own work. While there are parts of the Lord of the Rings movies that make me cringe these days, the fact remains that they significantly raised the (previously shockingly low) bar for Fantasy on the big screen.
The biggest problem, I think, with the Hobbit movie is that it is too long. Having given himself three three hour movies in which to tell a story whose original is far shorter than even one volume of The Lord of the Rings, Jackson finds himself more able to insert his own content (loosely based on the appendices of The Lord of the Rings) and most of this is pretty inferior. The sheer quantity of story in The Lord of the Rings kept Jackson's instincts more in check. I think the movie would have been significantly stronger is much of the "extra" material had simply been cut: The execrable (literally) sections with Radagast, the White Orc (it's a bad sign when the story slows down whenever the extra antagonist who's been added to increase tension appears), the White Council.
Other over-long portions resulted from Jackson's need to expand anything resembling an action scene to the Nth degree. The scene of Smaug's arrival is okay as a prequel if one wants to start that way, but shoehorning in a battle at the gates of Moria did nothing for the story. The stone giant battle added nothing to the story and simply added an extra scene of action so unbelievable as to pull one out of the story. And the gimmicky escape-from-the-goblin-kingdom scene seemed like a scene from the video game that somehow made its way into the movie.
What's good in the movie is, in the main, quite good. But I felt that by simply cutting it down to about two hours it would have been a much stronger film.
The main thematic change which concerns me, especially as it gives me pause as to what will occur in the later movies, is a subtle shift in the character of Bilbo and his relationship with the dwarves. In the book, Biblo has an adventurous streak which is offended when he's describes as being "more like a grocer than a burglar", but he remains very much a hobbit, if an adventurous one. As such, he is never a warrior. He is courageous and loyal, yes, and the dwarves come to respect him deeply for these qualities, but he remains inherently peaceful.
The movie can't quite stand to leave this alone. Thus, in one of the last scenes of this movie we see Thorin wade into battle against a band of orcs while the rest of the dwarves seek shelter in a tree. Thorin looks like he's about to be killed when Bilbo, who till now has been scorned by Thorin as so much baggage, draws his little sword and rushes into battle. Bilbo's fierce defense of the wounded Thorin against a crowd of wargs and orcs inspires the other dwarves who then raise their battle cry and charge into battle after him.
Bilbo having saved Thorin's life in battle, and the whole company having been rescued by eagles, Thorin sheds man-tears and embraces Bilbo, declaring that he had never been more wrong than when he had questioned Bilbo.
In other words, rather than the dwarves coming to respect Bilbo for being a courageous yet non-warlike hobbit, in the movie Bilbo wins respect by becoming a warrior, by becoming more like the dwarves. (Actually, I think Jackson way overemphasizes the warrior element of the dwarves. But they are, at least, capable of being warriors in the book, even if that isn't their primary character.) In addition to not being like the book, it seems to me that this is a weaker and less interestingly character choice, and a concession to the unstated but frequent trope that worth in adventure stories is wholly synonymous with martial prowess.
The Mencius, Book VI
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