The Hobbit and Its Critics

Having seen The Hobbit three times so far in its theatrical run, I felt it was time to deal with some of the most common complaints I’ve seen.

“I thought The Hobbit was a charming children’s story about hobbits and dwarves.”

You thought wrong. After finishing LOTR, Tolkien went back to The Hobbit and started work on a Hobbit 2.0, darker and more adult like LOTR, which strengthened the connections between the two and made the dark events of the book, spiders, trolls, orcs, more directly connected to the rising threat of the Shadow in Dol Guldur. It was abandoned because no one wanted it; what remains of it is recorded in the work “The Quest for Erebor”, to be found in the Appendices of LOTR. It is this enhanced Hobbit that Jackson is adapting. So, if you complained about all the “added” material, your complaint lies with Tolkien, not Jackson.

“Thorin was just a repeat of Aragorn in the movie.”

Aside from the fact that they are both heirs to a kingdom, they have nothing in common. Aragorn does not want to take his throne back; Thorin does. Aragorn is humble and kind; Thorin is arrogant and full of pride. Their fates are quite different as well.

“They invented the Pale Orc.”

Wrong again. Azog the Defiler was indeed the chieftain of the Moria Orcs, who slew Thror, just like in the film. He also faced Thrain and Thorin at the Battle of Azanulbizar, which stood at the gates of Moria. It was at this battle that Thorin gained his title Oakenshield, just as in the film. Unlike the film, Azog was slain in the battle by Nain, son of Dain, and his son Bolg took his place, finally perishing in the battle of the five armies at the climax of The Hobbit. It seems clear that to streamline the story, Jackson and company combined Azog with his son Bolg, who does actually fight at the battle of the five armies, representing a rather small change in the overall storyline.

“The movie was too long.” Or “The first hour was boring.” Or “The opening was really slow.”

Don’t tell me that after years of people complaining that films today run too fast, sacrifice too much character for the “wow” factor, or even that the LOTR films cut out too much, or that adaptations always change things, that you’re now complaining they stuck too closely to the book?

“They changed too much.”

The last complaint and this one are often heard in conjunction with one another. Basically, the person is complaining that they both stuck too close to the book (“it’s so boring”) and that they changed too much from the book. But there wasn’t much that was actually changed. 90% of the additions were things Tolkien himself wrote about. The only real invention of Jackson was the inclusion of Azog instead of his son Bolg, which was done to give Thorin an arc for this film, and an antagonist that personified the nameless issues with which he struggles throughout the story. Something like the Pale Orc would have been necessary as an addition anyway, so there isn’t much choice on that regard. The only other change was that Gandalf actually discovered the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, where Thrain lay imprisoned, taking from his body the key and map he has at the start of The Hobbit, instead of Radagast discovering it in the film.

“The things I didn’t like would have been avoided if it had been done in one or two movies instead of three.”

Unlikely. Jackson was always going to include the additional material, which likely doubled the length once the second half was added, necessitating at least two films. But would you really want the Hobbit chopped down into a rush of a single film? Are you actually advocating spending less time in Middle Earth? I thought similarly at first myself. I managed to write an adaption of The Hobbit for a class in under 300 pages, but that’s with a lot of skimming. What struck me about Hobbit 1 was how little they could have cut out. A few songs at the start, the stone giant scene in the middle, maybe some of the warg chase. That gets you from 2 hours and 50 minutes to about 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a third of the story told. In fact, most of what they did was develop the emotional core of the film so that each arc and character has emotional beginnings and payoffs (what you would have to do to make the thing interesting and not just a rushed documentary). We invest in the characters by the end precisely because they took their time.

“The Hobbit is basically like the Star Wars prequels.”

If ever there was a comment designed to make me lose my mind to the Dark Rage Monster, it would be this one, because of its sheer ignorance. The Star Wars prequels were terrible on every level, with poor writing, acting, plot, story, character, everything. The Hobbit retains both the core of the story and good writing, acting, plot, story, and character. It is the opposite of the Star Wars prequels. Largely, however, I think this complaint comes from ignorance. If you’re just looking at the book of the Hobbit and go to the film, there are what appear to be a lot of serious deviations that seem arbitrary. It is my expectation that more of the decisions here will make sense once the behind-the-scenes is seen and the other two films have been released.

  6 comments for “The Hobbit and Its Critics

  1. January 2, 2013 at 10:12 am

    The only other change was that Gandalf actually discovered the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, where Thrain lay imprisoned, taking from his body the key and map he has at the start of The Hobbit, instead of Radagast discovering it in the film.

    Part of this — at least, in which Gandalf finds the imprisoned and possibly insane Thrain — will likely be shown in the second film, or else in the Unexpected Journey extended edition. Phillipa Boyens has said that they felt they couldn’t show this sequence in the first film, though it appears in the first trailer for The Hobbit part 1.

  2. January 2, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I thought the five Hobbits from the LOTR movies did a pretty good job prior to watching The Hobbit. But now having seen a Hobbit played poorly, I see that Wood, Astin, Boyd, Monaghan, and Holm did a wonderful job of playing five distinct members of the same race.

    Freeman played Bilbo as a modern Englishman. Bilbo is neither modern nor is he a man.

  3. Nicholas Gourlay
    January 2, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Well said. Although I am happy with the adaptation of the ‘Battle of the Stone Giants’.

  4. January 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Good post! I wholeheartedly agree!

  5. January 2, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    Mickey, not sure what film you watched, but Freeman was perfect for the role. He and Gandalf were highlights. Just sayin’.

  6. January 3, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Well, I’m glad so many people enjoyed this film. I wish I had too.

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