The Hobbit – Not As Bad As It Could Have Been

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Unlike most people, I’m not a Peter Jackson fan. While I was as wowed and delighted by The Fellowship of the Rings movie as anyone, the travesty that was The Two Towers disenchanted me to such an extent that not even the largely-better-but-still-wrong Return of the King managed to rescue. I’m a purist, I freely admit it, and the thought of someone so tone-deaf to Tolkien’s worldview making three films based on the wonderful but slight story of The Hobbit made my skin crawl.

That didn’t stop me from going to see it, of course!

I made my low fat Slimming World crisps, smuggled them in in lieu of popcorn, and settled in with low expectations, imagining I was in for some beautiful pictures, a plot that mostly resembled that of the book I loved, and a moral slant that would have had the professor spitting acid. As it was the third that was most unforgivable to me in the LotR films, I was very happy to find that in The Hobbit I got the first two only.

The visuals are beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. I’d never imagined the city under the mountain to be so large and so properly-kingdomy. To tell the truth I’d imagined it as a great big hole in the ground, so I was pleasantly surprised to have my own thoughts much improved on. It was also nice to have the dwarves feature in a heroic epic. They are rather sidelined in the Silmarillion and in LotR, and it only seems fair to adapt The Hobbit into a similar tale from the dwarves’ POV.

I was pleasantly surprised by how little was made up, as opposed to being filled in and expanded on from the appendices to LotR. What was made up tended to irk me. The whole ‘lets give Thorin a named enemy among the orcs to heighten the tension, give him more motivation than simple survival, and provide him with a heroic arc’ thing, for example, annoyed me by being so… textbook cliche storytelling.

The same thing went for the invented “let’s give Bilbo an arc where he’s desperate to prove himself to Thorin,” thing, which struck me as rather undignified for a mature 50 year old gentlehobbit. Also, despite feeling glad to have a dwarven epic, I didn’t like the whole Thorin is a heeero, Look how heroic he is! Everyone’s overawed by his heroism, dudes, you should be too! thing. There’s nothing more likely to put me off someone than bludgeoning me over the head with scenes of everyone admiring him. CoughCanwesayMarySueCough. And I know from having read the book that Thorin is nothing of the sort, Bilbo is the hero of this story. Thorin is just a warrior. The two terms are not synonymous.

I found the way the film shifted tones from silly to epic and back to silly a little jarring. The book starts with silly and works up to epic so gradually you hardly notice the tone changing, but the movie tries to have both together and I’m not sure if it works. Particularly with Radagast. I also found the interminable chase and fight sequences as boring as I found the chase and fight sequences in Indiana Jones – which may be more of a personal preference thing than a legitimate critique. Possibly other people find those scenes more gripping.

On the positive side, Bilbo was perfect, and Balin was a wonderful surprise. Such a nice old lad. Fili and Kili were very engaging too, and I liked Bofur. I recognise Dwalin and Bombur, but I admit I can’t really pick any of the others out of a lineup by name. A bit more characterisation and a bit less “orcs talking like standard fantasy film badguys in subtitles” would have been good.

I sound very negative, don’t I? And I guess I came out feeling relieved it wasn’t any worse rather than overjoyed by how wonderful it was. But it really could have been worse, and it was nice to see Rivendell again. The White Council was as ineffective as I’d always imagined, and Thranduil on his battle-stag promises good things to come, so on the whole, I’m happier than I thought I would be, and looking forward to the next.

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