Nathan and I have been waiting to watch this movie for years, and last Saturday night we found childcare for our 5 kids (including newborn!), dressed up and saw it. Here’s our thoughts (warning: spoilers!).
Our “fan creds” are decent; The Hobbit was one of Nathan’s favorite books and I’ve enjoyed it as well as reading the LOTR and The Silmarillion. We don’t speak or write Elvish. 😛 We listened to the CD recording in the car with the kids (up to the same point where the first movie stops) right before the movie to refresh our memories.
My overall feeling afterwards: Bitter disappointment. For me, the parts of the movie that I found “good” were sooo good, that it made the undesirable parts that much more annoying. Nathan’s overall feeling afterwards: How much arsenic does it take to ruin your favorite morning cup of coffee? Both of us wish we could just cut out sections of the movie.
One of the best aspects of the original Hobbit story is its solid, small, adventurish nature (until the end which is fairly epic). It is not an epic tale. Written or inspired during Tolkien’s time in the trenches, it is a simple, dramatic story of a young man’s adventure with friends. So there are no women? So what? The story carries itself along with appropriate moments of tension and times of calm, so that you end up “living” along with Bilbo. The movie, after its initial starting scenes (which are almost completely taken from the book) then feels like a too-long, nauseating theme-park ride. Others have discussed the problem with the added frames/second; I can vouch for the lack of success of the technology, at least on the big screen. I had to start covering my eyes fairly early in the movie to avoid feeling motion sick (and I am not usually susceptible to that). Nathan thinks the movie will look much better on a tv screen. I think our society is becoming more and more jaded, and that is so obvious in movies; where one murderous enemy was enough, now 5 are introduced. The Hobbit movie feels bloated with unnecessary perils and enemies and rather than keeping the story’s suspense, it makes it almost silly.
The side stories that are added in add nothing to the charm of the movie; rather, Azog the pale orc chasing them around ruins the pacing, and the brown wizard/necromancer aside feels like a great big “Huh?” and distraction from the rest of the movie. While the backstory on Thorin Oakenshield definitely adds to his character, it takes it too far into dark territory and glorifies violence far too much. In fact, the whole movie has been darkened significantly. This is an epidemic among modern films so I was expecting it but it is still noticeable enough to mention. One reviewer wrote, “We have always turned to Tolkien for lessons on how to live, and if you can recover from the relentless barrage of action, you will be uplifted.” This “uplifting” is accomplished in the movie by giving Gandalf pat little times of psycho-babble. Really? Of course, it’s hard to imagine how they could have added in Tolkien’s words instead, since in this work he did not make such speeches (he was writing a little adventure!), but imagining Tolkien saying that courage is not killing someone when you can, or that the world will be changed by people doing small acts of kindness, boggles the mind. Bilbo shows almost divine grace (undeserved favor) to Gollum by sparing his life, and Tolkien’s genius in using Bilbo’s moment of graciousness as the turning point in his “redemptive” history in the LOTR is here completely misunderstood and called “courage.”
This sounds very negative, and we liked many parts of the movie, so I’ll mention that too. 🙂 Jackson’s take on the dwarf’s arrival at Bilbo’s house and the “cleanup” scene were just wonderful – in fact, I felt totally cheated when the scene ended at the time of the dwarves “Misty Mountain” singing – that could have been elongated rather than shortened. And the music was just as good as I expected. The tie-in to the LOTR beginning was done very well. I shivered in the riddle scene (prompting Nathan to laugh at me 😉 ). The trolls were done very well, although I really didn’t like how they changed the scene so that Bilbo is the “hero” rather than Gandalf – it’s too early in the story and feels forced. I loved the scenery – again! 🙂 I liked the casting for every character, and I really wish they had spent scene time fleshing out the other dwarves, rather than introducing Azog.
Nathan says that the most shocking thing to him as a child reading the Hobbit was the death of some of the dwarves at the end; this character mortality is a significant part of the realism of the story. In the movie, however, the company has become almost immortal, comic-booky; they survive unrealistic danger with pure natural consequence-defying “luck.” Rather than shivering with Bilbo as he wanders lost in the dark of the mountains’ tunnels, we are visually stunned with such a plethora of diseased goblins (what? Did the plague hit right before they captured the dwarves??) that they look more like globs and the danger is made plastic. Rather than a scene of Gandalf and Thorin turning bravely to face a tunnel-full of goblins, you have over 100 goblins all being thrown this way and that by almost super-human skill. Isn’t it interesting that a society obsessed with safety makes movies of such over-the-top peril that the danger actually diminishes? If I was a psychologist I would say that the Western world is plagued with fear.
I don’t know what rating to give the movie. How do you rate something that is a mix of A+ and D-? This is definitely NOT a film for kids, and the level of violence/gore was more than I felt comfortable watching (I eventually just started watching the bottom corner of the screen); even Nathan, who has a much higher tolerance for such things, says that the whole cave scene was just unnecessary. Well, there you go – our review. And if anyone with Peter Jackson’s ear is reading, please ask him to tone it down! At least until the end when the story itself actually ramps up. 🙂 Because, most probably, we will be watching the next one….;)
PS – has the actor playing the Gandalf character been sick? He seems to have lost some…vitality… in this movie. I hope not, it’s just something I noticed.