In part two of this review I’d like to bring up the story of The Hobbit and how I think director Peter Jackson came close to wrecking it. Now, as you pick up your hate mail pens again, remember in Part 1 I said that I really liked the movie! I liked it a lot, but to appease the die-hard Tolkieners out there I want to acknowledge how the story and the feel of the story was changed.
Characters are what make a Tolkien story. It is through the characters that the magic and fantasy of the world of Middle Earth comes to life, and messing with characters in a film adaptation is tantamount to murder in the literary world. The Hobbit (book) has some very distinct characters, the 13 dwarves as the most unique. Bilbo has a subtle strength and unspoken courage that is only shown through his actions, a trait of good literature and good cinema. Gandalf, with his wit and wisdom, brings in a reader’s imagination, creating different visions of backstory and creatures like the trolls and goblins bring suspense but humour as well. And you can’t forget Gollum!
In the film adaptation these characters are much more difficult to portray with all their intricacies. A reader spends hours and hours working through a book, a viewer gets a much smaller window to get to know characters, especially when there are so many. The Hobbit has 15 main characters present through all the book, with Smaug making 16 for the final few chapters. That’s plenty, especially for film, and Jackson’s desire to add even more is a bit over the top.The characters Jackson does use are brilliant. Each dwarf has his own personality and actions which make him unique and memorable. Mark Hadlow as an apparently gay Dori was awesome! James Nesbitt was great as always and Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner as Fili and Kili were a delight. Ian McKellen reprising his role as Gandalf brought a lot of consistency back from the first three movies and seeing Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett again warmed my heart. Adam Brown’s portrayal of Ori was perhaps my favourite, especially as the English actor made his first film appearance with this role.
The showstoppers were, of course, Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Andy Serkis as Gollum. The two appear on screen together only for a short time, but the riddle scene was exactly as I imagined it in my mind. Even the lake. Andy Serkis’ facial expressions were all the more dramatic with the new, crisp high frame 3D technology and the voice was, as ever, slimy. Freeman was the perfect actor to portray Bilbo, his stammering and huffing and frustrated looks characteristic of his great work in film, television, and stage throughout his career. I think even Tolkien would have picked Freeman for the role. [Serkis acted as second unit director for this film as well]
I don’t dislike Jackson adding characters for cinematic sake, they provide good breaks from the intense band of adventurers, but adding main characters changes the meaning of the movie. I took some education from my friend Nat that Orcs are actually in The Hobbit and some of the scenes I thought were added in are backstory from The Unfinished Tales or The Silmarillion. Radagast the brown is an example of another character in the books but who plays a much larger role (although Sylvester McCoy can appear in any movie in my books; nod to Doctor Who!). Nonetheless, some big albino cross between Voldemort and Arnold Schwarzenegger was not! Them being chased to the Lonely Mountain by a crazy band of CGI monsters sure doesn’t have the same meaning as them going on an adventurous journey of self-discovery (or the same feel of the hundreds of real-life extras from LotR).There is very little direct death in The Hobbit book, especially of main characters or human-like characters (the notable exception almost being Thorin), but the outright slaughter shown in the film was disgusting for me. Not only was it too much, especially with the kids in mind, but it was also crude. The second time I viewed the film I counted 8 outright beheadings. Sure, they were computer generated goblins and orcs, but that’s still a few Marie Antoinettes too many, if you know what I mean. My least favourite of all the deaths was the Goblin King. Not only was he crude as a visual character, his death was pointlessly visual and his dialogue was embarrassing. It directed the movie in the opposite direction from the book, a direct insult to the story and a sad grab for viewers in today’s blood-lusting market (which, let’s face it, The Hobbit would have done well in regardless).
The movie was, yes, great, but these all added up both times I watched the film. As someone who grew up with the book and loved it for the unique, passionate characters, who don’t just need brute strength to survive, the film was a let-down. As a stand-alone film it was good, but when you deal with one of the most classic books of all time, you have to be careful, and for me Peter Jackson was not careful enough.
4/5 stars for the film, 3/5 for the adaptation.