Leading up to the premier of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I read a number of reviews from people who do this kind of thing for a living. Mostly all I read were complaints, but occasionally a positive review would shine through. From these reviews I had the distinct feeling that, perhaps, most of the reviewers were not aware enough of the source material, and that others just had an axe to grind. Overall, I’m dissatisfied with everything I’ve read no matter the opinion. So, here’s mine:
Peter Jackson is a man who doesn’t really grasp Tolkien at all, and whose opinions on what goes on within the books are not exactly factually based. His interpretations strike me as that of a person who skimmed through the text once, and was maybe a little high when he did it. Now, I did enjoy his Lord of the Rings films. Really. I’m ashamed to say that I saw them first and then read the books. That may have been a good thing in retrospect, insofar as my opinions of the films may not be as harsh as they could have otherwise been. When I did read the books, and they are quite enjoyable, little details did begin to bother me. Peter Jackson tends to introduce all kinds of unnecessary changes because…who knows. I do believe that’s part of the reason why Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, hates Peter Jackson so hard. While some minor changes are understandable (the books are full of so much information that some edits are very necessary), many others are not. Aragorn had every intention of becoming king. That was kind of the whole point to everything he did. So…why does Jackson’s Aragorn feel the opposite? No clue. It’s a stupid change, one so stupid it required Elrond showing up all of a sudden bearing Andúril (traveling a very large distance, apparently by himself, despite the huge possibility for all kinds of lethal danger that would head his way). Elves showing up at Helm’s Deep? Also unnecessary. It added nothing to the plot. Moreover, in the book it’s quite clear that the Elves were more than busy fighting the war on their own front. Of course, there’s everyone’s favorite complaint about the Army of the Dead (I think Jackson could have stayed truer to the book, and his decision certainly ruined an otherwise epic battle). The dumbest change, in my opinion, boils down to the way to depict Sauron. He’s a floating eyeball? No, that’s not at all right. It’s quite clear from the book that he most certainly did have a physical form.
When it comes to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson pulls the same crap. Some have complained about throwing in some of the goings on not written in The Hobbit but described elsewhere. I don’t mind that part, personally. However, some of that is pointlessly screwed up. They talk about the Witch-King of Angmar (the head Ring Wraith/Nazgûl shown in LOTR) as if he had been a living man in recent memory, and that he and the others were all trapped in tombs. Um, what? I’m guessing that’s a kind of reference to the Barrow Wights, but it makes no sense even in Jackson’s own version of the story. The White Council was not surprised by there being darkness at Dol Guldur, they just thought the Necromancer was one of the Nazgûl at first, not Sauron returned. It’s mentioned within the movie that Gandalf got the key and map from Thráin II at Dol Guldur while on his way to discover the identity of the Necromancer (it was during this imprisonment that Thráin II had the last dwarven ring of power taken from him by Sauron). That was a very unnecessary change, and like all of Jackson’s unnecessary changes, it does absolutely nothing to advance the plot. It only serves to piss off the hardcore fans. Then there’s the whole thing with Azog. He was killed outside the eastern gate of Khazad-dûm (Moria) by Dain. I think this was an attempt on Jackson’s part to add another antagonist, though it was wholly unnecessary (as usual). Perhaps the dumbest change was to take the whole stone giant mention, which is rather brief in the book, and turn it into a ridiculous “rock ’em sock ’em” esque fight (as one reviewer described it). I have to agree with that view. There were many other silly changes aside from the ones I’ve mentioned, although most weren’t really too terrible, I suppose.
The thing is, none of that is unusual for Peter Jackson. He makes stupid and pointless changes, and he carries odd views of Tolkien “scripture”. If you can deal with it in LOTR, you can deal with it here. Eventually, Peter Jackson will probably end up like George Lucas…not just filthy rich and the head of a pop culture icon, but with his head so far up his own ass all he can do is make his alienate his own fan base at every opportunity…but that’s not quite today. All my complaints are ones of purity, of deviations from the text. I doubt the casual fan will care at all. I compare it to my complaints with military movies. As an Army veteran I’ve become hyper aware of all those things that don’t make sense that escape the notice of most anyone who hasn’t been in the military. Those things irk me, but they don’t actually affect whether or not I otherwise enjoy the movie or TV show (unless, of course, there’s simply too many of them). So, yes, I did enjoy the film in spite of Peter Jackson being Peter Jackson.
One of the major complaints I’ve read from several different sources leading up to my own viewing was how much they hated the change to 48 frames per second. I went full on IMAX 3D because I wanted the full visual experience. I have no idea what those other folks were complaining about. There was even one reviewer who insisted that, even though he liked the change, it took him a few minutes to adjust. That wasn’t true for me at all. I lunged head on into that experience. It was so crisp and real and like you were actually there…people talking of how it looked like a cheap home video or whatever else, I beg to differ on that assessment. It was so visually impressive to me that I was left wondering why we haven’t been shooting movies in 48 fps all along. I have to wonder if there were similar complaints in times past. When the first “talkie” film was released, were their complaints about it not “feeling like a movie”? What of when sepia tone gave way to black and white? What about color? The Wizard of Oz was, at least when they were actually in Oz, dramatically colorful. It was incredibly visually impressive far beyond anything seen up to that point, and color wouldn’t become prominent for quite some time thereafter. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is as much of a visual jump, and I liked it for that.
The technological changes over the past decade were obvious in how much more real it seemed versus LOTR, but that says nothing of the plot. There is some truth to the story having an “uneven plot”, but I didn’t find it too terrible. I liked how it started out. It didn’t feel slow at all. Try reading Fellowship of the Ring. That was slow. Took them a bazillion pages just to get out of the Shire. Sections were expanded more than they needed to be, but in the context of a trilogy the pacing really was about where it should be. There’s still plenty of action to go around. I did find the point at which the story paused to feel rather artificial, but if it’s going to be a trilogy I don’t think there was any better point to stop, really.
The adaptation of The Hobbit could have been done well enough in one movie, with the three sections of the story split up into an hour each, and it would still have been great. After all, The Hobbit is smaller than any of the three books with make up LOTR. Perhaps it was pure greed that lead to the creation of a trilogy? Probably, because I’ll still go see each installment and own them as soon as they come out on Blu-ray. I can bitch over fan boy issues, I can moan about poor editing choices (and there’s a lot I didn’t bring up), but when it comes right down to it I still enjoyed the film. In a purely objective sense, I give the movie 2 1/2 stars out of four, but the experience is much more fun than that rating would suggest.