Beware! Herein lie spoilers!
I’m not in the habit of writing movie reviews, but then I’m not in the habit of going to movies either. John loves them, and occasionally he insists on taking me, but usually I’d rather spend date nights talking. I go to the theatre for big events: Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hobbit . . . the movies whose opening date you’ve known for months, the ones where your heart is pounding and you are a little bit breathless as the show finally begins. Y’all, I had actual tears in my eyes when the theme music started. This is serious stuff to me.
Why so serious? you ask. Because I am, and have been, a certified Tolkien geek for most of my life, since I first read The Hobbit when I was about eight years old. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it–and its “sequel”–since. I read it aloud to my children; I read The Lord of the Rings (yes, all 1,200 pages) aloud to my husband. Pre-fire, I owned most of Tolkien’s books, including obscure works; I had the soundtracks of the animated versions of his books; I had encyclopedias and atlases of Middle Earth; I even had the War of the Rings board game. In college, I wrote a term paper on Tolkien’s life; in grad school, I created an annotated bibliography of sources related to the languages he created.
So I’m not a casual fan, or someone who just discovered Tolkien because of Peter Jackson’s movies (which up until now I’ve mostly been pleased with). And this is a family full of serious Tolkien fans. We were so excited about this movie that we kept the kids out of school today so that we could go as early as possible.
I was skeptical when Peter Jackson announced that he was making The Hobbit into a trilogy. I knew he was going to have to make additions, but I expected that most of them would involve adding scenes from other Tolkien sources (like Gandalf’s meeting with Thorin in Bree, a scene in this movie) or expounding on things that are mentioned in the book but not fleshed out (like flashbacks to the fall of Dale and Erebor in the last one). I did not expect him to flat-out MAKE THINGS UP. His efforts to insert matters from The Lord of the Rings into the first installment were irksome, requiring mischaracterization of the relationship between Saruman and Galdalf, and I groused about that then, but for the most part his tampering was minor enough to overlook.
But not this time. You know, I could overlook Azog not being actually dead in the first movie, but I can’t overlook the appearance of Bolg as well and orc after orc after hideously ugly orc in this one, especially not in freaking Imax 3-D. THERE SHOULD BE NO ORCS IN THIS SECTION OF THE MOVIE. They go back to the Misty Mountains and don’t reappear until the Battle of Five Armies. Y’all, orcs are repulsive to look at and I’m tired of seeing them get their heads cut off. I mean the thrill is totally gone.
You know what else shouldn’t be in this movie? Legolas. Now. don’t get me wrong, I love Legolas. And I was prepared to go along with his presence, because Thranduil IS his father, and he is a Mirkwood elf, so he was probably there. So give him a few lines or whatever, but don’t give him a huge subplot, complete with a love triangle.
Oh, and don’t create a “she-elf” to be one of the vertices of said love triangle, and have her be the one who enlightens Legolas on his duty to leave the safety of the forest against his father’s will in order to help stop the spreading darkness (which is not really even mentioned in this book but which is insisted upon over and over in the movie–by the elves, Gandalf, the orcs, and even Smaug).
So belatedly I should say that the first problem I have with this movie is it adds things that never happened. More things than I’ve mentioned. But enough said.
Second, just because a movie is fantasy doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be believable. Believable, I mean, within the confines of its own universe. So yes, dragons and elves and dwarves exist, but even awesome elves like Legolas cannot physically do the things he does in the crazy action sequences (SO many action sequences) in this movie. After awhile you are just shaking your head. Nor can Thorin constantly survive blasts of Smaug’s fiery breath. Or people fall repeatedly from great heights and hop right up with no broken bones.
Third, wouldn’t you think that one of the pluses of turning a short book into three long movies is that at least nothing would need to be cut? That you would get to see every beloved scene on screen? Well, think again, Buster. Because Mr. Jackson is so enamored of his manufactured subplots that he doesn’t have time for the things that ACTUALLY happened. The weeks of weary travel through Mirkwood? Five minutes, tops. Bilbo’s time spent skulking in the halls of the woodelves? We see plenty of Thranduil (and what an ass he is) and Legolas and Tauriel (aforesaid she-elf) but we have no idea what poor Bilbo is up to until he appears with the keys. The weeks the dwarves spend on the Lonely Mountain before they get inside? They arrive moments before the keyhole appeared.
Fourth, the Ring. The chief importance of the Ring in The Hobbit is that it’s Bilbo’s little secret weapon–he’s invisible while he fights the spiders, he’s invisible in the elf king’s halls, he’s invisible while talking to Smaug. The Ring is NOT yet exerting some malevolent influence over him, for one thing because Tolkien hadn’t thought of that yet (although he goes for a little revisionist history later himself), but more important, MUCH more important, because it takes years and years and years before the Ring even begins to affect Bilbo. His ability to resist its evil effects is miraculous and a tribute to him and to hobbits in general, and Gandalf makes much of that in The Fellowship of the Ring (the book, I’m talking about here). But in this movie he has to be constantly pulling it out and staring at it and hearing the words that he does not even know are inscribed in it inside his head–in the Black Speech, no less–and even tells a spider, “It’s mine!” (At least he didn’t say it was precious.) And when he should be using it, he’s always TAKING IT OFF. Like when he is standing a couple of feet away from the MOUTH OF A FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON.
Finally, and most important of all, Peter Jackson has missed the point of The Hobbit in every possible way. It’s a children’s story that he wants to rewrite for an adult audience. It’s a simple tale that he wants to make complicated. It’s a standalone book that he wants to tie to the War of the Ring. And at its heart, it’s BILBO’s story. It’s the story of how a simple, stay-at-home hobbit left his comfortable fireside for an adventure he never knew he wanted and discovered that there was more inside him than he and others guessed. Bilbo is largely missing from the second installment, which plays partly like Thorin’s story and partly like a prelude of the evil to come. His triumphant moments are passed over quickly or even taken away from him all together (the elves come to the rescue and finish killing off the spiders, his single-handed liberation of the dwarves from the eleven king requires more elvish assistance as well as help from the dwarves and Bard). In the book the dwarves respect and rely upon Bilbo more and more as time goes on. That’s important–central–and you don’t see it here.
If I had never read The Hobbit, I would have liked this movie. It was fast-paced and exciting and visually appealing. I thought the 3D was used to much better effect this time around–there were times where the characters looked REAL to me in a way I can’t exactly explain. The spiders and Smaug were awesomely scary. I liked Tauriel’s character. But as someone who loves the book, I instead found myself constantly shaking my head, and thinking, “Did he really just do that? Really?”