I saw and liked Peter Jackson’s movie of JRR Tolkien’s book The Hobbit last night. For Tolkien purists, I wish I could say I thought it was falling-over great and true to the book in every way, but it wasn’t.
JRR Tolkien was a linguistics professor at Oxford and the writings that became The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy were conceived as explorations of ancient languages. The Hobbit was written and published in the 1930s as a childrens book. When it became popular, the publisher convinced him to write more – and that result became LOTR. One of JRR Tolkien’s sons, Christopher, published many his father’s unpublished writings posthumously, including The Silmarillion; a history of the times before The Hobbit and LOTR.
Seeing the movie motivated me to re-read The Hobbit last night. I got 1/3 of the way through, right to the point where this movie ended (there will be two more, to be released in mid-December of 2013 and 2014 respectively). Although the movie did generally track with the book, it hugely embellished on scenes of the book that were generally much simpler in print.
Some scenes in the movie did occur in the book, but played differently than they did in the book. For example, the scene in the book which described what gave main character Bilbo the final nudge out the door to undertake the central quest of the book. It was a note from the company of dwarves that had visited Bilbo the previous evening, and (in the book) had left a note instructing him to show up for departure promptly at 11am. But that reason was obscured in the movie. Instead, Bilbo ‘suddenly’ decided to leave home, and the scene cut to him joining the dwarves who were already underway.
A few scenes in the movie were not in the book The Hobbit, but apparently were in other Tolkien writings. A counterpart of Gandalf (a chief character in the Rings books and in The Hobbit) in the order of wizards, Radagast the Brown, who appeared in several scenes of the movie was not in The Hobbit book; although he was a (very) minor character in the LOTR books. A goblin chief with a mission to kill the dwarf leader Thorin, who had appeared several times in the movie, received just passing mention in The Hobbit book. In fact, the movie’s opening ‘setup’ scene, which – among other things – told why this goblin chief had this mission, did not take place at all in the book.
Other scenes were added or edited in the movie. A meeting in the movie between two Elf leaders (Giladriel and Elrond), the highest wizard (Saruman, who fancied himself as Gandalf’s boss), and Gandalf (who resented Saruman’s thoughts of being his superior) at Elrond’s retreat, Rivendell, did not take place in the book. A meeting between Bilbo and three trolls played out differently in the book than it did in the movie. One of the most important scenes of the entire Ring series – Bilbo’s discovery of the One Ring and his subsequent exchange of riddles with the creature Gollum – was short by about half of the riddles. And so on.
Certainly director Peter Jackson gave the movie enough duration to make it true to the book, but he didn’t. Despite that, I liked the movie. I had read some complaints that it was too long, but I didn’t feel that way. Despite almost 3 hours and no intermission, I thought it was well paced and entertaining. Visually, of course, it was fabulous. It had higher production values than the LOTR movies of a decade ago, and the integration of ‘real’ and computer-generated imagery was seamless. Any continuity issues or interruptions in the suspension of disbelief came as a result of the storytelling, not from faulty production.
If the movie The Hobbit had any other faults, in my opinion, it was that the many (many) battle scenes became a bit tedious. Also, characters went through multiple situations that would have left them badly injured in the real world, although they emerged unharmed in the movie and ready for the next scene.
I’ll go see it again in the theatres (with my mid-20s sons), and will buy the disk next fall when it comes out on DVD. It’s a force of nature – how can I avoid it?