"The Hobbit" Reviewed
I'm going to let alone matters of faithfulness to the text ("canon") for a couple of reasons. First is that this is not my area of expertise, and I've not read the more obscure texts related to The Hobbit. If ever rights are sold to The Silmarillion and it gets made into a movie or TV series, I'll have endless opinions on the interpretation of that, trust in that. Second is that I really do try to go into the movies much as I go into works of fan fiction (since, artistically, there's not much of a difference, if any), i.e. accepting that it is one creator's vision and that enjoyment requires acceptance of that as a precondition. So while I personally wince at the idea of the High Elves as super-effeminate salad eaters because that is not my vision, I also do try not to let it impede enjoyment of the movie as a whole. Y'all know that I have strong feelings on people who embark on reading/viewing lengthy transformative works only to spend the entirety of their response bitching about details that they would have done differently. Forest for the trees, people! ;)
I enjoyed the movie. I was tired and miserable when I arrived, and I was much more awake and straight-up happy when I left. It kept my attention; it moved at a good pace (man critics are claiming the opposite, of course, just as they did for LotR). In tone and style, it tied in pretty well with the existing LotR movies, yet it also had an added touch of whimsy that nodded toward the source text: Radagast's rabbit-drawn sleigh, some of the Dwarf humor, the personification of birds and hedgehogs. This was, of course, a big topic of conversation when word first came out that PJ was making a Hobbit movie: Would he match it more to the book or to the existing LotR movies? I think he struck a nice balance, even though the darkness of LotR--both the books and the movies--is one of the most compelling aspects of it to me.
On that point, The Hobbit--although moving well beyond its origins as a children's book--is not nearly as dark as the LotR movies. When I first saw Fellowship, the Ringwraiths scared the hell out of me--and I'm not easy to scare!--and were one of the first aspects of the legendarium that I wanted to explore beyond the published books. In LotR, Tolkien captured perfectly the sense of corruption and destruction that threatens the world, and PJ did a brilliant job of converting that to film. In The Hobbit, I don't get that same sense of darkness; the villains feel almost cartoonish, and most of the more effective scenes hinge on allusions to the LotR movies (the statue of the Nazgûl at Dol Guldur, even Dol Guldur itself, reminiscent of the ruins of Osgiliath and Minas Morgul). Azog the Defiler is somewhat effective (that wince-inducing prosthesis stabbed long-wise up his arm--yikes!) but still falls shy, to me, of the major villains in LotR, appearing somewhat like what one might purchase at a Spirit Halloween Superstore. The Goblin King barely makes it past comic. Nor do the darker scenes have the same sense of peril as, for example, Frodo waking up at the top of the tower at Cirith Ungol or Merry and Pippin being taken away to Isengard or Sam and Frodo crossing the open lands of Mordor. Perhaps it is foreknowledge from the books (although I had that for RotK at least), or maybe it is the comic overtones of, say, Bilbo's exchange with the trolls. I never felt much dread for the Dwarves in that scene. Perhaps it is because, unlike the Fellowship, which dissolves bit by bit as the story progresses, I know that the full company of Dwarves will arrive at the Lonely Mountain, so much doesn't seem at stake at this point.
The Dwarves, I think, were handled well. As a writer, I can appreciate the challenge of a cast of thirteen characters (with typically Tolkien similar-sounding names!) and trying to distinguish each individually. I think the movie does a good job of pulling out a few of the Dwarves as individual personalities and providing enough distinguishing characteristics of the others that the don't simply fade into a Dwarf-toned background. I also love the variety of Dwarvish appearances--whodda thunk Dwarves could be kind of hot?? ;)--and it is not lost on me that those who appear the most human are those who seem to be receiving the most character development. (The same is true, generally, of PJ's Elves.)
The plot itself suffers somewhat from a lack of cohesiveness: The characters face multiple foes who don't seem connected much at all at this point. I'm curious where PJ will take this. In LotR, the villains seem to all point back, if not to Sauron's seeking the Ring, then to the general dark force that has allowed him to exist in the first place. In contrast, the Hobbit villains feel somewhat disjointed: You have Smaug, Azog the Defiler, the Trolls, the Stone Giants, and the Goblin King; in the background is, of course, the Necromancer. Are any of these even connected to each other? It's not really clear. There is some attempt to connect the existence of at least some of the villains--the trolls being so far out of the mountains--to the spreading corruption of the Necromancer, but this isn't achieved as effectively as a similar idea was handled in LotR, and I'm curious where PJ is going with this. Part of it is, of course, the perils of the first movie in a trilogy: getting caught up in presenting a new world and not able to tie up (or together!) many if any of the loose ends. Part of it, too, is again the source material, which wasn't as unified within a larger narrative framework when Tolkien wrote it as LotR was. I'm reserving judgment for now (rather than stating that Azog, for example, is a superfluous character, which is my temptation at this point--notice how I managed to say it anyway! ;) and very curious to see where the next three movies will go, particularly as far as handling the Necromancer. One of the most intriguing features of The Hobbit book, in my opinion, is how the Necromancer is almost omnipresent in the periphery but never even close to fully revealed, leaving a lot to the reader's imagination. I'm eager to see where PJ & Co.'s imagination will take us.
I want to end with a nod to the character who didn't end up in the villain list above because I wanted to discuss him individually: Gollum. Andy Serkis as Gollum again stole the show; far from his portrayal Gollum becoming tedious, he continues to make the character feel fresh and, most importantly, sympathetic. The pathos when Gollum realizes his precious has been stolen is one of the most human and hard-to-watch scenes and creates the all-important opportunity when Bilbo has the chance to kill Gollum, unseen, and stays his hand. This single moment of mercy sets off a cascade of events that will allow the defeat of Sauron. Serkis and Martin Freeman--both excellent in their roles, in my opinion--allowed this moment to shine without being overstated.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!