Let’s face it, whoever directed “The Hobbit” had a hard act to follow. “The Lord of the Rings” was a phenomenon. The fact that it was Peter Jackson who got “The Hobbit” directing gig doesn’t change that fact; he had his own big shoes to fill. I sat there mesmerised by “The Fellowship of the Ring”, relieved that a much-beloved book had been adapted to the screen with a real understanding of Tolkien’s epic tale. I also loved “The Two Towers” but found the reference to dwarf throwing and a scene of a “skateboarding” Legolas taking me out of the movie for a few minutes. The third in the LOTR trilogy, “The Return of the King” takes the story far from the novel and expands the roles of minor characters and their stories to such a degree that it is at times almost unrecognisable as an adaptation of the book.
Which brings me to “The Hobbit”. The movie follows the trend which was prevalent in Jackson’s final chapter of the LOTR trilogy, by expanding lesser characters, most notably the character of Thorin Oakenshield, and inserting events nowhere to be seen in the book, the main one being the introduction of the White Orc as Thorin’s arch-nemesis. I went in to the movie having been warned that it veers far away from the original story, but tried to keep an open mind, knowing it was in the hands of Peter Jackson.
Other reviews I’ve read have had one main gripe in common, and I can only echo what they’ve said: Jackson has tried to tell a much smaller story on too grand a scale. He’s taken the story of Bilbo Baggins and his adventures on his journey to the Lonely Mountain and worked hard to make the connection between Bilbo’s story and “The Lord of the Rings”. There are nods to iconic moments in the LOTR movie trilogy, which were fun, but some of the moments where the two stories are being tied together take away from the simplicity of Bilbo’s own story. Tellingly, the most successful scene in the movie is the riddle competition between Bilbo and Gollum, which introduces the ring, and stays true to the book’s chapter. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo Baggins is deserving of far more screen time than it’s given. He is after all The Hobbit of the title.
Movie adaptations can’t always bring a novel to the screen without some changes to the original story, but those changes can often offer a new and interesting take on what’s contained on the page. However, the radical changes from page to screen in Jackson’s adaptation has meant that the movie suffers from an unforgiveable case of being boring. It moves at a slothful pace and drags out scenes, like the one with Radogast’s rabbit sled, far too long. It’s a bloated and often lifeless imagining of what was on Tolkien’s page, a story originally written to read to his own children.
In an era of CGI, 3D and big-bucks franchising, it could be that, no matter who directed “The Hobbit”, we were never going to see a simple version of the story. It could be that directors feel they can no longer just tell a story. “The Hobbit” was originally going to be a two-movie deal, and was then expanded to three movies. The idea that there are another two movies to follow “An Unexpected Journey” is a pretty grim prospect, a stark contrast to the LOTR years, where each Boxing Day release was an event and something to look forward to.
There were a few other directors’ names thrown around for years leading up to the making of “The Hobbit”, Guillermo del Toro being the most notable alternative to Jackson. Del Toro might have been able to bring a darker take on the book, which is certainly present in Tolkien’s story.
The success of “The Lord of the Rings” has been a two-edge broadsword: it gave its audience the story on the epic scale it deserved but created a template for the stories to come, which would have benefited from a simpler touch.
Jody B. Movie – January 2013