It should come as no surprise, then, that I hurried out to see the long-delayed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as soon as it hit the big screen. What did I think? Click below the break to read some of my more rant-worthy thoughts.
Oh, and just so there's no unpleasant surprises: I'm not going to make any effort to avoid spoilers here. The book has been out for nearly a century; there's a statute of limitations on this stuff, guys. And if you don't want to know about the stuff they added that wasn't in the book... well, maybe this isn't the commentary for you. Fair warning.
First thing's first: I knew from the outset that this movie was going to leave me angry and disappointed. In case the title of the blog post didn't tip you off, I don't have much tolerance for directors who toy around with source material in which I feel invested--even when that change is generally agreed to be a positive (or at least, necessary) one. To give you an idea of the kind of person I am in this regard, I went to the midnight showings of Jackson's LotR movies dressed as Tom Bombadil as a particularly silly (and apparently ineffective) protest over his exclusion from Fellowship. I skipped the costume this time--I'm getting too old to dress up for movies--but my general attitude remains unchanged. So take everything I say with a grain of salt; realistically, this movie was never going to satisfy me.
Anyway, I went to the theater with a few friends, and although we made sure to get there early, the best seats were already taken. We ended up about five rows too far forward and perhaps as many columns too far to stage (screen) left for best sound, which is always kind of annoying. But hey, it's not like we were in edge seats or anything. We saw a few previews, and then the movie began.
It started... poorly. A long, rambling backstory of Eribor and Smaug's coming ate up the first ten minutes or so (estimated: it's not like I was checking my watch), and served no useful purpose. In fact, it seemed designed to alienate all possible viewers: anyone who had never read the book would find the backstory thick enough to be incomprehensible, and anyone (like myself) who had read them would find it bafflingly redundant. There's literally nothing in this intro that is even slightly necessary to understand what's going on throughout the rest of the movie, since the dwarves' motivations and such are spelled out quite clearly in their meeting at Bag End. Also, having Thorin and his quest introduced before said meeting sort of spoils the effect of a bunch of dwarves showing up unannounced for anyone who's coming into the story fresh.
Once the intro was done, though, I was actually pretty happy with the next few segments. Jackson thankfully kept the proceedings light and whimsical through to the point where Bilbo agrees to join the quest, rather than trying to match the heavier tone of LotR. I was especially grateful that a couple of the songs were preserved; I know many readers skip over them, but I like Tolkien's verse (well, usually). All in all, it was a solid stretch, which had me feeling much more positive about the story than I had at first.
Things went downhill rapidly from there. I dislike changes to the source material regardless of necessity, but I'm both baffled and enraged by changes that serve no obvious purpose, and the scene with the trolls was full of them. What's the point of replacing Gandalf's ventriloquism with Bilbo stalling for time? I could at least understand that if it was supposed to make the dwarves trust him more, but it explicitly does not--that's saved for later in the movie. Why replace the dwarves being captured piecemeal with a depressingly slapstick fight sequence? It's not like the movie was hurting for action in the early going--we'd just come off an extended flashback of the battle outside the gates of Moria, and there was plenty more added content combat prior to Rivendell. I may not like them, but some changes I can at least understand--books and movies are different beasts, and a certain amount of re-imagining is required to transfer a story from one medium to another successfully. But pointless alterations like these are infuriating to me.
I'm not going to talk about Azog, because it will just make me angry. Apparently, a quest to slay a dragon which is interrupted by hostile goblins, hungry trolls, vicious spiders, suspicious elves, and one skulking proto-hobbit wasn't interesting enough for Mr. Jackson. No, Thorin needs an albino with a vendetta stalking him all across Middle-Earth, because why the hell not?
The whole bit with
Speaking of the Brown Wizard, it may be just a sign of how much the rest of the movie disappointed me, but I actually kind of liked the rabbit-driven sled. If nothing else, it was one of the few wholesale additions which fit the tone of the book, rather than being either action-violence-y, or lowest-common-denominator comedy (or both--the escape from the Goblin King's lair was almost physically painful to watch. The fact that people in the audience were cheering as Gandalf and the dwarves rode a collapsing bridge down a rocky slope like a sled only made it worse).
Best non-canon line/meta-joke in the movie: Gandalf being unable to remember the names of the two blue wizards. I laughed out loud when he said that.
The Gollum scene was actually not bad--at least by comparison to the unspeakably awful capture by and escape from the Goblin King which surrounded it. That said, the abundant lighting in the deep, forgotten caverns under the mountains really bothered me. Andy Serkis does a very credible job with the role (again), though to be honest, Peter Woodthorpe's portrayal in the Bakshi LotR always fit my mental image of the character better (and that's probably the first and last time you'll hear me say anything nice about the animated LotR).
On the whole, I disliked The Hobbit (part one) even more than I thought I would, and I knew I was going to dislike it going in. Every time I started to feel a little bit of nascent goodwill towards this movie--and I've done my best above to mention those occasions--Peter Jackson would throw in something that reminded me just how much I like the book, and how much this movie pales in comparison. From special effects failures (such as The Necromancer's single scene, which I'm pretty sure used the same distort-expand effect as my friend's high-school Star Wars fan film did back in the day) to fight sequences that alternated between incomprehensibly dark/fleetingly-shot and painful slapstick, and Azog (my God, was the freaking dragon not enough of a villain? We really need a "this time, it's personal" angle invented out of whole cloth, too?), there was an awful lot about this movie that left me upset.
And the worst part is that when part two rolls around, I'm going to shell out and go see it, too. And I'm going to hate it--probably even more than I did this one, based on how their setting up the Thorin/Thranduil dynamic, and what Azog means for the Battle of Five Armies. But I'll still go, because that's the kind of fool I am.