The Hobbit (2012): Personal Impressions
Finally got around to seeing Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” last night. I greatly enjoyed it. This enjoyment, in turn pleased me, for while I overall expected that I would enjoy it, there has been quite a bit of heated “non-love” for the movie. All that said though, I think that it was very well done, beautifully filmed and imagined, and overall just very entertaining (which, in the end, is exactly what I wanted from the movie).
But still, what is with all the hating? While I totally respect the wide range of individual opinions, I am honestly kind of surprised by some of the vehemence and dislike of “The Hobbit.” As such, I’d like to take a bit of time to respond to some of the major critiques I’ve encountered. Again, I am not saying that people are not entitled to their opinions, they totally are, I am simply responding to some of these opinions with my own takes. Here we go:
1. It Wasn’t a Flawless Piece of Artistic Mastery: No, it wasn’t. You are right. However, a few things. One, I’d say that it never was intended to be in the first place. My take on it is that it was first, and foremost, meant to be an entertaining movie, and I think it succeeded as such. Second, what is or isn’t “flawless” is pretty subjective. If your standards for “flawless” are quite high, then likely “The Hobbit” was less than satisfactory, however, if you are more willing to allow a bit of flaw here or there, and admit that perfection is a hard-to-come-by attribute, then you probably were not quite as bothered. I count myself amongst the latter, and so, even where things were not perfect in “The Hobbit” I still was able to find them enjoyable.
2. It was Different From the Book and Not How I Pictured It: Kind of a twofer, I know, so I will try to take them both on. Yes, it was different from the book. Guess what, every movie, that has ever been based on a book, is different from the original source material. Get over it. In many ways, this is simply the nature of translation. Movies and books are two different media, and so there is no such thing as an absolute or perfect translation between the two. All that being said there are some adaptations that are better, and there are some that are worse. In my personal take of things, good adaptations of books into movies, are ones that try to stick to the main plot, do not significantly change the characters, and overall maintain the same kind of atmosphere and feel of the story ( if the book was a romance then the movie should be too, if there was a lot of suspense within the written pages there better be on the screen as well). As such, I personally think that “The Hobbit” did quite well. Now, some are going to be inclined to say, “But what about all the added stuff?” Well, yes, there was a lot of added stuff, but overall, I think that it all still worked with the flow and feel of Tolkien’s fiction, and most of what was added, was based upon Tolkien’s writings in notes and appendices, and so it simply was a means of telling a broader story of Middle-Earth. I understand why some people might not care for this, but as for me, I thought it was fine.
Now, on the second part, about it not looking how people imagined it, this should be a no brainer (but unfortunately for many it isn’t). When a movie adaptation of a book doesn’t look like how you “pictured it” that is because you are not the one picturing it. The picturing in the movie version is done by the screenwriter, and the director, and the producer, and many others involved in the whole production. It is not done by magically knowing in exact detail your thoughts and ideas and then catering to them specifically. If you don’t like this, then your only solution is to become a filmmaker yourself and make your own adaptation (but for a wide range of legal reasons as well as overall challenges, good luck at this). And here is the thing, even if you were able to make your own vision of a story, there would still be other people saying that that isn’t how they pictured it. And that is okay. One of the joys of reading is that we get to create our own pictures and ideas of the stories. When a book is made into a movie some people are lucky enough to have their own interpretation presented. We do not have to like that interpretation, but it is a weak argument to say that simply because something does not fit our personal desired view, it must be awful. For my part, I think “The Hobbit” looked stunning, and I think that Peter Jackson, et al, deserve great praise for their imagining of Middle-Earth.
3. It was Too Long!: Okay, I think I could maybe give you this one a bit. Personally I think the movie could have been about a half an hour shorter. That being said, I didn’t really feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the length, I just think it didn’t need to be three hours long.
4. There Were Not Enough Women: I hope you haven’t read the book then, because there are even less there. Look, I know that equality is a real big thing, and there are a lot of times when it absolutely should be, however, not every story is obligated to represent both genders in strong roles or with the same amount of screen time or dialog or what have you. Some stories are simply about male characters. Some are simply about female characters. This is, overall, okay. Tolkien, for whatever reasons, did not have a lot of female characters in his stories. We shouldn’t immediately rush to the conclusion that this was because of some deep seeded sexism and misogyny, but instead should just conclude that they were not characters he decided to conclude. The same could be said for racial diversity (besides like Elves and Dwarves). I, personally, wouldn’t read into it too much.
5. Making it a Three Part Movie is Just to Make More Money: Alright, this is, probably kind of true, because, let’s be honest, each movie is going to be making some mad bank. However, this is kind of what the major film industry is all about anyways. Yes, people like to make good and enjoyable films, but, they also probably like to get a nice pay check out of it. And can we blame them? If they know that something is extremely marketable, and has little to no risk of failure, should they jut scrap it because some critics are going to accuse them of just trying to make more money? I think that such a move would be extremely illogical. Furthermore, I think, if the story was condensed down to just one movie, even an extremely long one, we’d have a lot more complaints about what got cut, and how the whole thing was rushed. So, yeah, the movies are going to make a lot of money, and yes, they were partially intended to do so (right from the beginning, the decision to make “The Hobbit” at all, following form the success of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, was a move to make more money), but, I don’t think that a desire to make more money necessarily equates to the end result being bad.
6. Hype (or Anti-Hype) Inflation: This isn’t a critique precisely, but it is something that I speculate happens, especially more frequently in our day of internet based mass communications. In essence, I think that it is possible that people inflate certain reactions to things like movies, books, albums, etc. What I think happens, is that some early reviews are either glowingly positive or scathingly negative, and that in turn impacts the response of subsequent reviews. Psychologically people don’t like to stand alone, and when figures of prominence have a strong opinion, I think that this can sway the response others have. I don’t say this to undervalue people’s own opinions. Everybody is totally entitled to like or dislike what they please. However, I sometimes wonder if “the media’s” response to something has skewing effects in not so good ways. Personally, with my knowledge of the story and my love of Peter Jackson’s version of “The Lord of the Rings” I felt quite confident that I would enjoy “The Hobbit.” However, after some pretty negative early reviews, I would be lying if I said I was not a little worried. In the end it turned out all well and I liked the movie. Likewise, several others have said the same thing. But I have also talked to some folks who really didn’t enjoy it. My end take is that, if you’re really interested in seeing something, don’t read too many reviews before you do go see it (whether the reviews are good or bad). Just go see it, formulate your own opinion, and then see what other people are saying. I think, with their mass availability it is easy to turn to reviews to determine if something is worth your time or not, but the problem is, you might end up loving something that reviewers hate (which is kind of how I feel about “The Hobbit” right now) or you may feel only “meh” about something with overwhelmingly positive reviews (this was my response to Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” from last summer. Reviews were very positive, I was underwhelmed by it). Rely on your own opinion making ability. If others don’t agree with you, that is fine, it is “your” opinion, and you have a right to enjoy what you will.
So yeah, all around, I thought “The Hobbit” was totally worthwhile. The riddle scene with Gollum was my favorite part, and was, in my opinion, done perfectly (it has always been my favorite bit in the book too, followed closely by Bilbo’s bantering with Smaug, a scene which I eagerly anticipate in the next movies, especially with the wondrous Benedict Cumberbatch slated to voice the fire-drake). Last night we did not watch it in the 3-D enhanced frame rate version but I think I’d enjoy going back and seeing it in the way, just out of curiosity. I’m looking forward to the next two movies and hope they provide as much entertainment as this one.