Now, before people get up in arms calling me a purist who can’t enjoy things for what they are, let me offer this as a disclaimer: I liked the movie. I enjoyed it. I don’t love it, at least not yet. However, I am a fan of the books, particularly The Hobbit, as they were written. I also adore Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation, and I’m afraid that his dedication to remaining true to the trilogy set up the same expectation for the prequel, and I’m not sure that it’s really there after all.
Also, spoilers, for the eight of you reading this blog that know nothing about Middle Earth.
The biggest issue for me was the alteration of the material to accelerate Bilbo’s hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is an important concept in storytelling and especially epic fantasy, from Beowulfian epics to Professor Tolkien to the modern day. A hero unaffected by his trials is boring; we want to see development across the quest, particularly with a reluctant hero like Bilbo. And that’s the thing: Bilbo is definitely reluctant. He struggles to the very end to reconcile his curiosity with his reservation and fear. He doesn’t really begin to own his heroism until battling the spiders in Mirkwood, and even after that he waffles, particularly when they finally get to the Lonely Mountain.
So when the Hobbit team re-wrote the iconic troll scene to make Bilbo seem braver and cleverer? I was a little miffed. And we mustn’t forget the part where Bilbo tackles a fucking orc to save Thorin, who stupidly ran out to confront a pack of Wargs and orcs so that he could attack his nemesis Azog (who, as Tolkien wrote, was killed by Dain long ago), and then stands in front of the wounded dwarf, apparently prepared to fight off wolves four times his size. Bilbo is compassionate and brave, certainly, but he’s also not stupid, and he has a very healthy sense of fear.
These kinds of changes just felt disingenuous, to me. After all, they’re expanding one small book into three movies, so it’s not like they need to convince audiences that Bilbo’s a hero any faster. They have plenty of room and time for him to grow; and Martin Freeman is certainly a capable enough actor to convey Bilbo’s deep-down talent for adventure without hitting people over the head with it. Additionally, in the process of making Bilbo a traditional hero faster, we’ve lost some of the things that make Bilbo Bilbo: his fascination with maps and elves, for instance. The scenes in Rivendell, though expanded to include a chat between some Middle Earth bigwigs, showed very little of Bilbo’s excitement and apprehension at being surrounded by elves, and failed to show his interest in the moon letters used on the Dwarvish map, though “cunning handwriting” is a thing Bilbo loves.
Since Bilbo is generally regarded as an everyman who grows into a kind of down-to-earth heroism that was always within him, I was disappointed to see him acclimate to the environment so quickly, with only the odd fish-out-of-water joke thrown in to remind us.
My other grievances are minor and fairly easily overlooked. I find the Azog storyline unnecessary and annoying. The dwarves, or any of the races of Middle Earth, don’t really need any more reasons to kill orcs. Orcs are bad. We know this. Plus, Azog was killed by Dain, who is an important figure in dwarf legend. BUT I can see the motivation to pull a nemesis from the mythology to add drama, so I’ll just roll my eyes at that one. I also thought that the comedy of the movie was jarring in the sense that it really pulled me out of the setting. The Lord of the Rings movies were so good at weaving humor seamlessly into the setting. I love that there’s more humor in The Hobbit, since it is a lighter story, but it didn’t feel as natural. The scenes with the Great Goblin in particular felt awkward.
Overall, though, I did enjoy the movie and I am glad that I went to the midnight showing. There were things about it that I did love. I am completely in love with Thorin Oakenshield, for one. I was also thrilled that some of my favorite lesser-known actors were in it (Lee Pace, Bret McKenzie, Aiden Turner, anyone?). But will I see it again in theaters? Only if someone else pays for my ticket.