Friday, January 4, 2013

What Went Wrong With The Hobbit Movie, and How to Discuss it with Smart Kids

An illustration for the book by Greg Hildebrandt and Tim Hildebrandt (more info here) 
A still from the movie. So far, so good.

The Hobbit movie has gotten plenty of press for its shortcomings (and its long-drawn-out-ed-ness).  Well, the husband and I saw it over the weekend and . . . most of what you've heard is right.  The filmmakers have made drastic and sweeping changes from the original Tolkien book that make a big difference in the message it sends to those who watch it. 

But what do you do if you, after having watched and enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies, assumed that The Hobbit movies would be worthwhile as well?  What if THEN maybe you told your kids who also watched and enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies that if they read the book (or you read it to them) they could watch The Hobbit?  What then?

As you may have guessed, in my case this situation is not hypothetical.

I'm not the kind of person who demands that movies be exactly the same as their source material.  I totally understand that the screen is a different medium than the page and that artists need freedom to work within their medium.  As long as a movie is true to the heart of the book I can happily accept changes in characters and action.  But The Lord of the Rings is a Big Important Story involving self-sacrifice and the triumph of good over evil and literally saving the world, while The Hobbit is a fun adventure story about a fish-out-of-water hobbit who goes on a quest with some hapless, scaredy-cat, gold-crazy dwarves to get their treasure back from a dragon.  Unfortunately, Peter Jackson, who did such an admirable job on his Lord of the Rings movies, has tried to make The Hobbit into the same sort of movie that those are, and in doing so The Hobbit has lost its heart AND its moral center.

The short answer to the above question is that I plan to let my kids see the movie (they can wait until it's on DVD).  But before and after (and maybe during) I plan to talk with them about what's different and why it matters.

So, what are these big changes?

1. The Violence is Hollow
You may have wondered, as I did, how in the world they were going to turn a 300 page book into three movies, when the Lord of the Rings trilogy at over 1000 pages was made into three movies.  Well, the answer is that they added a lot of beheadings.  A lot.  A hour or so's worth of beheadings.  Dwarves, orcs, trolls, goblins, wargs, all beheaded.  Also shot with arrows, hit with slingshots, stabbed with swords, and bitten.  It was a long movie.  "But wait", you say, "the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was violent, and you said you liked that!"  True, true, but in the Lord of the Rings movies the violence was worthwhile and unavoidable.  The filmmakers try to give the action of The Hobbit the same heft, but it's not in the source material, and it never rings true.  The dwarves come across as warmongering, when they ought to just be greedy.  Which brings me to . . .

2. The Dwarves and Their Motives Are Re-Imagined
I have read The Hobbit probably half-a-dozen times over the course of my life, and I have to admit I had never imagined dwarves as handsome.  The bulk of the dwarf party is as I had expected them to look, but Fili and Kili and Thorin are all quite good-looking.  Kili gives Flynn Rider a run for his money in the smolder department.  Mostly I actually liked the casting.  I found it made them seem more real and made it easier to take them seriously, when they weren't all so cartoonish.  It made it easier to sympathize with their characterization as a pitiful band of dispossessed warrior refugees fighting to regain their homeland.  But there's where the problem comes in, which is that the dwarves were characterized as a pitiful band of dispossessed warrior refugees fighting to regain their homeland.  Where's the fun in that?  And what in the world do these guys need Bilbo for?



3. Everything Is on Purpose
In trying to make The Hobbit more Big and Important, Peter Jackson has robbed the story of all of its best happenstance.  So many things, good and bad, just happen to Bilbo in The Hobbit book, but in the movie everything is purposeful and the story has lost its feel of providential-ness.  In the book, when Bilbo finds The Ring, he is crawling on his hands and knees down a dark passage, his hand finds the ring (or the ring finds his hand) and he puts it in his pocket.  In the movie, Bilbo watches the ring fly out of the pocket of Gollum's loincloth (I know, I was confused too) as he finishes off a goblin.  Bilbo then, in full knowledge of the fact that it is Gollum's ring, steals it and puts it in his pocket.  Later, during the riddles scene, all of the charm of Bilbo's dawning realization of the ring is lost.  In the movie, Bilbo IS a thief, just as Gollum says.

4.  Bilbo Isn't Childlike
The image of little Bilbo running back and forth beneath the trees as the wargs approach because he can't reach the lowermost branches has always been one of my favorites from the book.  He's rescued by Kili in the nick of time of course, but what a lovely example of the littleness and childlike-ness of Tolkien's hobbits.  Well, in the movie, Bilbo has somehow become the kind of guy who would draw his sword and charge a maniacal super-orc with a grudge against Thorin (Don't remember him?  That's because the "Pale Orc" is a new addition to the story).  The heroism of Tolkien's Bilbo is accidental and therefore, much more relatable. 

by Miko-M on DeviantArt
From an excellent article in The Atlantic
5. At Least Nobody Took a Walking Stick to the Crotch
I guess to prove that it's a kids' movie they had to throw in some completely unnecessary burping and farting and what appears to be mind-altering-substance smoking.  Shame on them for that.

Overall, I still enjoyed watching it.  Two words . . . Goblin.  Stenographer.  Seriously, a goblin stenographer is as awesome as you could possibly imagine it might be.  The whole goblin underground world, including the goblin king, was extraordinarily well done.  The acting and casting and setting really are all very, very good.  The dwarf-singing is haunting and beautiful, and the song over the end-credits is refreshingly non-radio-Disney.  But I am left with a feeling of great disappointment over what might have been, an ache over the Christian themes that have gone missing, and a feeling of foreboding over what's to come in the next two installments of The Hobbit.

So what do you think?  Have your kids seen The Hobbit?  How did you handle the changes?

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12 comments:

  1. The kids want to - especially Julian. I'm not a big movie goer so I don't know. But when I told the kids I didn't think I was going to let them. The immediate response was "The Tierneys get to, they probably already have, please mom!?" I guess we'll see - I never read the book (any of them) so what would I compare it to. Angela got the book for Christmas so for sure not until she reads it. I must say though Kendra you have a memory for detail and an excellent way of describing things.

    Tami

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    1. Thanks Tami. Like I said, my kids will get to see it eventually. Maybe we can wait until it comes out on DVD and all watch it over here!

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  2. Oh my goodness, The Hobbit was so very violent and way too long. My husband and son are big LOTR fans and I enjoyed the trilogy. But, I could not wait for The Hobbit to end. You could not pay me to go see the remaining 2 movies. Thanks for the honest movie review. Cindy

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  3. I had told my 7 year old son I would take him to see the Hobbit when it came out. Luckily, my wife suggested she and I see it first. As soon as Pale Orc and his minions were on screen, and the over the top violent battle scenes, I knew that I couldn't take my son, who still likes watching Thomas the Tank Engine. I've just begun letting him watch the old Star Wars movies, and he hasn't seen the LOTR movies yet. It will be a few years for those, and these new Hobbit films.

    I'm about as a big of a Tolkien fan as one can imagine, have been since childhood. His Middle Earth books are in a class by themselves. The LOTR films were good for what they were, but they had very little, if any, of the charm, poetry and beauty that I love in the books.

    With that it mind, I had low hopes for this Hobbit film, but I did want to see it. However, although inappropriate for my 7 year old, I myself was pleasantly surprised - I liked it for the exciting ride it was. Yes, there was so much added that wasn't in the book, but this isn't the book. It was interesting to see all the tiny minor tidbits that I have read in the footnotes etc of LOTR find their way into the film. There were crucial subplots in the film that were in no way in the book, but they were fun to watch nonetheless. One of my favorite moments was when Thorin locked eyes with the Pale Orc and strode off the fallen tree to confront him with his weapon. Pretty exciting. I cringed though, when Bilbo was cast as most-courageous-hobbit-ever to attack the scary orc to save Thorin. That is not the Bilbo in the book.

    I'm looking forward to seeing how this all plays out over the next 2 movies, but I can see how at the drawn-out storytelling pace it will fill 2 more long movies: there is so much to cover from the book even after the dragon is confronted. (BTW, I'm looking to see how they actually show the dragon speaking without it seeming completely fake and hokey).

    Sorry for the long comment :) Your excellent post got me thinking more about it.
    Todd

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    1. Thanks for the long comment Todd. I did enjoy the LOTR movies, as an adaptation, of course, and in a different way than I enjoyed the books. I almost wish that they would have just let Peter Jackson make a nine episode version of LOTR. Clearly his heart is not in The Hobbit. But, like you, I plan to see the next two. I'm wondering how in the world they will do Beorn's animals walking about on two legs and serving at table. It worked in Up, I guess!

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  4. Nice review, Kendra. I especially value your point about the killing. I think in the book up to the rescue by eagles the body count was only three trolls and a few goblins. With so much killing going on, how will they keep the Battle of the Five Armies from being an anti-climax?

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    1. I agree Kevin. The problem for a filmmaker, is that The Hobbit is enjoyable to read as much for what doesn't happen to Bilbo as for what does. The episodes with the trolls AND the wargs both end up being mostly a waiting game in the book (and a battle of wits) rather than the bloodfest they are in the movie.

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  5. Was perusing your blog, and just had to add my 2 cents to this old post. I will admit that I enjoyed the movie, though there were things that I didn't enjoy (Bilbo finding the ring, etc.) however I wanted to put out there that this was PJ's attempt to make a children's book (albeit a children's book set in Tolkien's complex mythology) into an adult movie.

    If The Hobbit had been it's own movie, and targeted towards a younger audience, like the book, it would have probably met more of your expectations (and been a lot shorter than 3 movies).

    Instead PJ made a version of The Hobbit that is meant to a prequel to his LOTR (which is why we have the emphasis on the Necromancer, who is Sauron, etc.). I think in the next movie we'll start to see more on how PJ shows us how Sauron and the Ring are already starting to shape the world for their return (the spiders, the massing of the orcs and goblins, etc.)

    P.S. In the book Azog is mentioned by Gandalf as the murderer of Thror, though he is killed by Dain (Thorin's Cousin). Azog's son, Bolg, is the one who leads the army of orcs in the Battle of Five Armies in the book.

    I'm guessing that, even though Bolg is a casted character in the movies, Azog will replace him as the leader of the final Army which will lead up to a fantastic final battle scene between him and Thorin (and Fili & Kili) since that tension has been building for 3 movies.


    Just a little food for thought, whether or not you agree. =D

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  6. I feel like we are in agreement. That feeling that it was a children's book being made into an adult movie is what dissapointed me, and I think it lost its charm in the translation, but I still overall enjoyed it. I have to admit that we STILL haven't seen it as a family, but the kids aren't likely to let that go for much longer. So, I'll get to watch it with fresh eyes.

    I still don't like that pale orc. I wish Dain would rid us of him right now.

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  7. Oh Kendra, I think you're right on in your estimation that it was a children's book made into an adult movie. It was trying to be an epic when The Hobbit is just a whimsical tale. This is inspiring me to write my own review. I knew I wouldn't like it as soon as the dwarves showed up without their hoods. Daniel and I didn't show the kids (dodged that bullet) but spent the whole movie screaming at our TV, haha.

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  8. a little behind, as i just discovered this old post, but really enjoyed your thoughts on the hobbit. i completely agree. while i get the peter jackson is setting these up as a prequel to the lotr series, i still feel he has changed the heart of who bilbo is and that just makes me sad. i was even willing to grant him some sort of scene in which bilbo has a change in his character (since in the book that doesn't happen until the spiders, really), but the attacking of the pale orc was just ridiculous. i am willing to give peter jackson a lot of ground, but not when it comes to bilbo (although he was perfectly cast, i might add). my kids have all seen the movie and love it for what it is, but we have certainly talked about the changes they made and why some matter and some don't, etc. my kids have all read the book, which i do think is a must before seeing the movie. i am already cringing over what is to come with beorn, the elves and bard... oh, well. trying to enjoy them for what they are. my kids all dressed up as hobbit characters for halloween, so obviously i was able to get over my annoyances to some degree! thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

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  9. There is NOTHING wrong with the Hobbit movie trilogy! I find it better made than the Lord of the Rings! (a very hard feat to accomplish!) I loved the fill-ins with Gandalf fighting the Dark Lord prior to the coming wars...!

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