The Hobbit: An unexpected disappointment

Yes, I recognize I’m about three and a half months late to this particular game. All I can say is that I have a wife, a kid, a day job and this whole novel-writing hobby going. And the last couple movies we saw in theaters were Anna Karenina and Argo, which were both quite good.

Point is, our theater time is limited, so I didn’t get to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey until it hit iTunes. Thus, I didn’t see it on the big screen or in 3D. I’m honestly not sure whether that would have helped or hindered, frankly, because I found the movie a rather big letdown.

Comparisons to The Lord of the Rings are inevitable, of course. I believe LOTR was one of the finest movie trilogies ever made, with great acting, excellent writing and seriously good FX. The funny thing is, The Hobbit had many of the same things going for it, including great actors, proven screenwriters and the latest and greatest CGI out there. So what, exactly, made this movie so flat?

I think, first, let’s start with the source material: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I got a copy for my daughter for Christmas, and flipping through reconfirmed my memory that this was very much written for kids — pretty much on the border between middle-grade and young-adult, I’d say. Unlike Tolkien’s epic trilogy, this is a pretty straightforward quest story. We’re off to slay the dragon, regain our home, get a heap of gold and, hey, look, shiny ring!

Point is, the emotional stakes aren’t there. Yeah, I think Peter Jackson and company did a nice job evoking the dwarves’ lack of homeland at times. But what they didn’t do was provide more of a reason for Bilbo Baggins, played by the always excellent Martin Freeman, to go haring off with 13 complete strangers and a very untrustworthy wizard.

To me, that was perhaps the most egregious fault in the writing and structure of the film. We see next to nothing of Bilbo’s transformation from homebody to hero. One minute, he’s quite happy to never speak the word “adventure” again, and the next, he’s off. The character arc is plain busted. And since this tale is ostensibly Bilbo’s, the writers and directors could’ve given him a bit more time and space to get from homebody to hero, instead of a few moments of silence at home in Bag End. Seriously, I think Freeman did a fantastic job given the limitations of the script, and he looks very hobbity to begin with, but he wasn’t served well by the story.

I like where Jackson’s going by foreshadowing the events of LOTR a bit more. I thought the confab between Gandalf, Saruman and the elves was great, though I would’ve put it at the beginning, frankly. That would’ve helped give the proceedings leading up to Bilbo’s departure even more emotional heft. Not only is this quest about 13 dwarves trying to reclaim their home and gold, but it’s about trying to figure out where this evil shadow is coming from, a shadow that would grow into the major threat faced in LOTR.

I think the biggest problem with The Hobbit, though, is that it’s unsure whether it wants to be a serious LOTR prequel or stay true to the more whimsical book on which it’s based. Thus, you get Very Serious Moments (TM) in which you’re really wondering whether there’s something larger and more dangerous afoot, immediately followed by a roller-coaster CGI chase through goblin mines, with a wise-cracking goblin king who seems exceptionally non-scary and woefully out of place. You really can’t have it both ways. I thought we proved that with Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Finally, there was just one scene that pretty much shattered any attention I had on the film itself, leading me to laugh out loud in disbelief. You remember this, right?

https://i2.wp.com/static02.mediaite.com/geekosystem/power-grid/images/profiles/362/frodo_x270.jpg

Of course you do. It’s an iconic bit from The Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo trips, falls and the One Ring slips onto his finger. It’s since become a pop culture image on its own, parodied a million times elsewhere.

It’s also in The Hobbit. Bilbo is running and hiding from Gollum. He trips, falls and the One Ring slips onto his finger. (I tried to find an image of this online, but to no avail.) It is nearly identical, and clearly designed to be identical.

You gotta be kidding me. This scene has been parodied in the Shrek films, for Mordor’s sake. It is officially Off Limits for further use by anybody not doing a parody. And yet, there it was.

Of course, this led to a number of comparisons between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. Both are essentially road-trip quest movies. They include the gathering of all the participants, some early chases and perils, a stop in Rivendell for wisdom and eats, being caught in avalanches, being trapped by goblins/orcs underground, and the aforementioned ring-to-finger sequence. There were just too many parallels for me to think it was coincidence. They thought the first of the three Hobbit movies should be like Fellowship. A LOT like Fellowship.

I was kind of sad after watching The Hobbit, because I know that all the pieces are there. I just think they were poorly constructed. I really don’t know how you fix it — do you stay true to the source material and keep with the slapstick? Do you go darker for the current LOTR fan-base? No idea. Sadly, though, what I saw was disappointing, and doesn’t leave me hopeful for the next two.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Hobbit: An unexpected disappointment

  1. yeah, the tonal shifts and the busted character arcs are a real problem in this movie for me.

  2. Great review! I feel the same, just never articulated it as well–the question is will you be seeing the next two?

  3. Yes, I will, but I’ll certainly wait again until it’s available to rent. There’s better stuff to work with in the rest of the book, and I do like the foreshadowing bits. Hopefully they can pull it together.

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