When I first heard that “The Lord of the Rings” was being made into a motion picture many years ago, I was skeptical. I find it rare that a movie can even come close to the book that it is based on and that the attempt to turn a classic book into a movie is usually a disaster. Surprisingly, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy of movies was very, very good. Then I heard that Peter Jackson was going to make “The Hobbit” into a movie as well and I was again a little apprehensive but had a little more faith in the project than when I first heard about “The Lord of the Rings.” When I learned that “The Hobbit” was going to be a trilogy, I was again worried. So worried, in fact, that I changed my plans to see the movie on opening day and put it on my “watch whenever” list. I then finally watched the first installment of “The Hobbit” trilogy and thought it was okay but nowhere near as good as “The Lord of the Rings.” Now “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” has been in theaters for a couple weeks and I finally got around to watching it. My one word review of the movie: very, very, very disappointing.
That is more than one word, I know, but I really cannot think of a single word to express my feelings about this movie. In truth, the movie is just awful for a multitude of reasons.
When “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was made before “The Hobbit,” I thought that “The Hobbit” may run into a problem because of this. If you are familiar with the books, then you know that “The Hobbit” is very different than “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy in almost every way. In fact, there are very little similarities between the books except for a couple shared characters and species (or classes) of beings. The writing style and tone of the books is night and day. “The Hobbit” is a young adult novel and this is clearly reflected throughout the story. In contrast, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is a very adult work and is written to reflect this. While the events and action of “The Hobbit” is fantastical and even a bit comical, “The Lord of the Rings” is very gritty and dark. Golem turns from a creature that likes riddles to a murderer. The monsters change from bumbling trolls to bloodthirsty goblins. “The Hobbit” is written in a simple and almost innocent way while “The Lord of the Rings” is much more complicated with mythological overtones and multiple storylines. The books could hardly be less similar.
This difference in tone causes problems in a couple different ways. Since Hollywood tends to make movies for the lowest common denominator, there was the need to bill “The Hobbit” as a prequel to “The Lord of the Rings” while this is not actually the case. This created a problem as “The Hobbit” really has little to do with the later trilogy. In order to make this a prequel, a lot of material from outside of the actual novel was put into the movies so that it could be more closely tied to “The Lord of the Rings.” This bothered me some in the first movie in that it kind of made a mash-up of material. The parts of the movie that were from “The Hobbit” novel reflected the lighter tone of the novel while the parts of the movie that were based on Tolkien’s other material was darker and more serious. (I mean, did no one notice that the goblins that Bilbo and the dwarves fight in the mines are completely different than the ones hunting them?) This bothered me some during the first movie but I let it slide.
Now comes “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” and this is a problem that cannot be ignored anymore. How can it not bother anyone that when the elves are fighting for their lives while the dwarves are riding in the barrels that the elves are dancing across the heads of the dwarves while the dwarves themselves are making cartoon faces at being stepped on. The whole scene seems out of place and forced into the movie which is not surprising since the scene is not in the books at all. This is simply a case of Peter Jackson and the creative team of the movie creating a scene that just does not really fit into the story that well. To make matters worse, they try to keep the tone of the scene somewhat light-hearted to match the barrel escape in the book and it just comes across as awkward. It was almost like watching a son dressed up in his father’s clothes trying to conduct a business meeting. All of the window dressing was present but the heart of the matter was missing.
That is the overall problem with the movie and why I will never watch the movie again. Peter Jackson feels compelled to make “The Hobbit” much more than it is and he not only adds a lot of extra material to the story, as he did in the first movie, but makes several changes to the story in order to connect it to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I am not someone who thinks that there should be no changes made in the story when a book is adapted to the screen. In fact, I think that there usually has to be some changes because the story is being converted between mediums (written to visual) that can make changes necessary. The important thing to me is that the story remains true to its roots and that is not the case at all with this movie. Peter Jackson seems to forget that he is a good director but that Tolkien was a master storyteller. Jackson feels that he has to take the story and make it fit his agenda and in doing so completely changes the feel and flow of the story. What is left is a bulky, somewhat uninteresting story that too often falls all over itself. There is very little continuity to the story but more of a jumbling of disparate scenes together. It is almost as if the movie took a grade A story, ground it up, and served it as the mystery meat or goulash that was a staple of school cafeterias at the end of the week when I was a child.
When I heard that “The Hobbit” was going to be a trilogy, I just did not understand the idea at all. Actually, I did understand the idea in that it all came down to money. Three movies mean more money than one movie. The math is simple. What I think that the producers got wrong is that they really could have taken what they have done with “The Hobbit” movie and made it into four movies (meaning one more revenue opportunity for the business side) and made the movies superior to what they are now (for the artistic side as well as the business side, since better movies generally mean more money). If Peter Jackson had stayed true to the story of “The Hobbit,” he could have made a movie that rivaled “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and then could have used the extensive extra material that Tolkien wrote and patched together a separate trilogy to be a prequel to “The Lord of the Rings.” Hey, they could have even called that trilogy something catchy like “The Middle Earth Trilogy.” Instead, they decided to steal the name “The Hobbit” and instead turn it into “Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth.” After watching the first movie, I was hoping that the video release when all three were done would pare the story down to the original story and present that separately for those who really wanted to see “The Hobbit.” After watching the second movie, I know now that this is not possible as there is very little of “The Hobbit” in this movie. Thank you, Peter Jackson, for giving us Tolkien fans a very good adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings.” I can only hope that someone may finally give us fans a good movie for “The Hobbit” sometime in the future. After watching “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” I know that this will not be the case anytime soon.