I used quotations around “review” in the title because this is being typed through one bloodshot eye, and I am no professional, only a decently-informed nerd.
The LotR movies were, for the most part, beloved by casual and hardcore fans alike. Peter Jackson was applauded for summarily nailing the theming, visuals, and mood of one of the greatest stories ever told. However, like any movie produced from beloved source material, there were many nits picked and hands wrung over changes made between page and screen. While there are a plethora of minor changes that shouldn’t make grown men sweat, there were, by my count, four major deviations from the books in the original trilogy:
- Removal of Tom Bombadil/Barrow Downs
- Dramatization of the reforging/Elrond’s delivery of Narsil
- Dramatization of the Army of the Dead
- Removal of “Scouring of the Shire”
These four changes represent major deviations from the source material, but none of these changes truly meddled with the overall impact of the story. The “Army of the Dead” change did ring wholly unnecessary to me, and the removal of Saruman’s final stab at the Hobbits (those in the know will get the pun I just used) was likely made in the spirit of having a clean ending to the trilogy, for better or worse.
The other two major changes and most of the minor changes, however, didn’t strike me as terrible things. They were clearly made either in the spirit of improving the flow of the storytelling, or to add little bits of humor or drama to enhance what was already there. Peter Jackson (and any other movie director) is not writing a book report. Like any creative human being he has a vision for what he’s doing, and I’m not going to fault him for minor, largely thematic changes as long as the original spirit and wonder of the source material is preserved.
Or, in other words, there’s more than enough good to ignore the creative license, mainly because most changes appeared rather harmless and didn’t appear “corporate” or “suit-influenced”. I was willing to believe that Jackson and Co’s changes were made in the spirit of making a good movie.
“The Hobbit” and its changes don’t evoke quite the same response. But then, I also find myself a little torn. Let me explain.
My feelings when I heard they were doing the Hobbit movies, initially, were of a little bit of dread. This was born out of the understanding that the LotR trilogy was very much written in a manner that was easy to adapt to a movie (whether done purposefully or not). There was just a lot going on, and the storytelling had a definite “serious face” that added to urgency and the overall gravitas of the occurrences.. The Hobbit was not the same; this was a much more lighthearted, happy tale about a journey. It wasn’t about the end of the world. It was about little more than 13 dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard. The story’s focus rarely left the party.
And I knew that this would either lend itself to a movie that is flatly less entertaining than LotR (and would then receive criticism for it, unfairly), or that it would coax the screenwriters and directors into making thematic and iconic changes in order to “dress up” the movie as something it might not be. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, indeed.
So my approach to the Hobbit was a little cynical at best; I wasn’t hoping for a perfect representation of one of the most influential books I ever read, because I didn’t think it was possible. My hope was that there was a good balance between staying true to story while also knowing that there would be changes, and let’s hope they’re not earth-shattering, unnecessary, or trite.
And, as I expected, it’s a mixed bag.
BIG NOTE OF IMPORTANCE: Peter Jackson elected to make The Hobbit three movies instead of two in order to put in extra material gleaned from a few of the companion novels. This includes most anything mentioning “the Necromancer”, as that entire plotline was largely missing from the original “Hobbit” book. So as an example, Saruman TECHNICALLY wasn’t in the Hobbit, but he was in the companion stories, so his inclusion isn’t terrible. But Galadriel’s is, she wasn’t there at all.
Let’s cover some of the major differences:
- Hey, nothing like racism to create tension!
When Thorin and Co. get to Rivendell, they get all sour because elves are poopy and smell funny. Thorin throws a bitchfit about how elves betrayed them and blahblahblah NONE OF THAT WAS IN THE BOOK. They were grateful to have reached a haven so they could get warm food and clean beds. They gracefully accepted Elrond’s hospitality, not grudgingly accept it like assholes. Technically, this isn’t a huge deal, but it’s such a cheap tactic to create tension (for NO GOOD REASON) that I have to mention it.
- Shit, we need a villain!
Azog the Pale Orc was certainly a thing, but his appearance in the Hobbit is very much a “reimagining”. I understand the logic; having a central villain makes things easier to digest, but this change falls in line with a few others that do add up to a train of thought I have a big problem with. We’ll come back to this.
- Is that bird shit on his head? Oh well, he’s funny!
Radagast the Brown is a thing too. But again, his appearance in the Hobbit is a bit of a stretch. He is involved in the aforementioned “companion stories”, so his inclusion isn’t the problem. His level of involvement is the problem; he is only mentioned in the core book, and never interacts with Thorin and Co (let alone saving their life). I liked the character; Jackson didn’t have much source material to work with since Radagast isn’t the most fleshed out Tolkien character, but I like what he ended up. His greater role in the story is curious though; I don’t have a real problem with it, but…why? Did he really need to be there?
The final major change should be rolled into more than just a change but an overarching thought process that permeates the movie more than I care to admit: there are definitely “Hollywood” changes to this film. Thorin is, flatly, not that handsome, and not that inspiring of a leader. In the books he was a gruff, ugly dwarf who was very much still learning how to be a leader and a king. The movies have made him this story’s Aragorn, essentially. And while this single change isn’t terribly upsetting, it’s the fact that this change in concert with many others gets a little bothersome.
Add Galadriel because there’s no other women. Make Thorin a hero. Make Azog a bonafide villain. Hey, stick Frodo in there so everyone remembers. I will also bet $100 dollars that we’ll see Legolas before we’re through. If you don’t see the theme here: these are changes that are all pretty unnecessary, but together all try to cram the Hobbit into the round hole that is typical Hollywood sensibilities.
This is a story that started it all for fantasy. There were stories before it, but the Hobbit and the LotR trilogy after it are some of the most influential works in nerdery. Almost anything claiming to have swords, elves, dwarves, magic, and armor owes its influences to Tolkien and his brilliant stories. Many of us who read these books when we were just kids grew up to be nerds, liking video games, roleplaying, Dungeons and Dragons (another property that owes much to Tolkien’s writings), and other counterculture staples.
Trying to fit the quintessential cultural square peg into the round hole of Hollywoodisms just rings very false to me.
Having said all that, I really, really, REALLY want to emphasize that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I wasn’t thinking about all this while in the theater, but I was thoroughly entertained throughout. The Gollum/riddle scene was done absolutely perfect, and the general “feel” of the storytelling is different from LotR, as it should be. It still preserves that lighthearted feeling I remember oh so many years ago.
I’m not really sure what I was trying to say with this post, but in conclusion: go see it. It’s changed here and there, and maybe for the worse in the long run, but it’s still a wholly enjoyable story that is well done and well-executed.
Oh, and the 48 FPS thing? People need to stop finding shit to complain about. I barely noticed it.