Last night, I took the kids and my nephew to see The Hobbit. In essence, it was less the classic tale woven by J.R.R. Tolkien than a sequel to The Avengers with a cast of Dwarves.
Peter Jackson has made, as he did with The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, a visually stunning film with The Hobbit. Jackson once again excelled at translating many physical settings of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth into screen reality. Erebor looks the way you would expect an age-old Dwarven kingdom should. Dol Guldor (alluded to ever so briefly in the book) appears to be the place of dread that would attract a great malevolent spirit like Sauron, This extends to some of the characters; the Great Goblin’s semi-comic personage manages to capture some of the original charm of The Hobbit as a children’s story before it later became part of the narrative for Tolkien’s larger and darker romantic epic, The Lord of the Rings.
Unfortunately, the tendency that Jackson demonstrated as the films of The Lord of the Rings progressed,to take ever greater artistic liberties with Tolkien’s story, have, with his swollen ego, run riot in The Hobbit. The primary antagonist in the film, Azog the Orc chieftain is lifted from other Tolkien material, given mutant powers, a scary metal hand and an albino warg by Jackson and is brutally imposed on the story. The wizard Radagast the Brown, whose head for some reason is encrusted with bird crap, gets much screen time as he zips around Middle-Earth like Mario Andretti on a sleigh pulled by magical bunnies when he is not getting high on ‘shrooms.
What began as a necessary fleshing out of narrative allusions and foreshadowing to effectively translate literature into a movie ended up as Jackson’s sheer invention and gratuitous abuse of the characters, all of whom sword fight more often than Conan the Barbarian and more bloodily than Leonidas. If Thorin had shouted in the midst of battle with the Goblins, “Dwarves! Tonight we dine in Mordor!” no one in the audience would have been the least bit surprised. Zorro and the Three Musketeers had less skill with a blade in hand-to-hand combat than do these Dwarves, Gandalf or at times, Bilbo Baggins.
The only scenes where Jackson manages genuine fidelity to the story are the ones with Gollum, Bilbo and their Riddle-Game – perhaps out of fear of trivializing his previous movies, Tolkien’s actual dialogue and plot enters the script before vanishing again into a Jacksonian cinematic homage to every American action movie ever made. No wonder Christopher Tolkien looks on with weary despair.
There’s a name for this kind of genre….