Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit

Let me get one thing clear right from the start.  For what he did with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I think Peter Jackson is a genius.  I was disappointed when I first learned he was not going to be involved in the making of the prequel The Hobbit and I was elated when he was brought aboard.  The love he has for the original material was obvious in the mastery of how the book (s) translated to the big screen.  He left out exactly the right things and expanded the events and characters that needed extra time.  Therefore, I will give him the benefit of the doubt this time around.

For one thing, in many ways, making The Hobbit offered difficulties the first movies didn’t have to deal with.  The Lord of the Rings was a deeply thought out, patient book with its own developed history.  The Hobbit was part of that history.  Publishers had already broken the original The Lord of the Rings up into three relatively equal parts and it was easy to break those down into three movies.  The book The Hobbit is not only a much smaller book, it was also written in a much simpliar prose.  Tolkien wrote it for his young pre-teen son and thusly it is much easier to read.  I am not sure Tolkien ever intended to have any of his works even published.  He was wrote this epic for himself. 

The fact the studio and producers decided to break The Hobbit into three movies is flat out a money grab on their part.  They know we will go see all of them.  The fact remains though; there isn’t enough material to stretch this epic into nearly nine hours.  Fortunately for us, Peter Jackson is in charge.

Just as Jackson knew exactly what to add and subtract in the first three installments, it appears he has not lost his touch.  One big issue with breaking The Hobbit into three parts is that there is no real villain for most of the book.  Jackson had to come up with one for the first film in this series.  He delved into the Tolkien penned histories and came up with one.  Azog is mentioned in the book but has no part in it.  Jackson developed this character into the story’s early villain, using Azog to stretch the story and the action.  He does it so well, if you have not read the book, or haven’t read it recently, you might not even be aware this part of the story is all Jackson.  It fits.  It is almost as if Jackson channeled Tolkien to find out what would be the best character from the histories that would fit into the film.  Rather than distracting from the overall story, this plot line only adds to the finished product, expanding the action and drama.

At first, I was disappointed in the added villain but on further contemplation, I think it was necessary (as long as they were going to stretch this into three films).  I wouldn’t want anyone other than Peter Jackson even attempting this.  His love for the books is obvious and I trust him completely not to change anything that will take away from the whole experience of these films.  The villain did add much to this installment and I am just going to trust that Jackson will push the right buttons.

Another issue Jackson had to deal with is one he didn’t handle as well in this early movie.  There are just too many characters.  As opposed to the seven Middle Earth folk who take on the quest of the ring, twice as many head out on this quest.  Unlike the first trilogy, where the characters are parted and have stories of their own, all the characters stay together for the most part in The Hobbit.  The result is that there are just too many characters to develop properly.  Although we already know two of the characters pretty well, that leaves twelve undeveloped.  Even though the film runs nearly three hours, it isn’t enough time to get to know everyone.  Really, Jackson only scratches the surface on no more than four of these newly introduced characters, all dwarves, by the way.  It has been a while since I have read the book but it is my guess that even in the book, many of these characters were not developed very thoroughly.  If my memory serves me though, all will have a part to play in the story as it unfolds.

One other small issue I had was at times the dwarves and Gollum are hard to understand when they speak.  Part of it is the accents but some of the dialogue just isn’t clear.  This is not a major issue and it was only during a couple of scenes so don’t discount the film on these rare instances. 

Speaking of Gollum, we finally learn (if you haven’t read the book) how Bilbo acquires the ring.  This is the key development which directly leads to the events that unfold in the Lord of the Rings.  It has little to do with this story in and of itself but one should never forget that The Hobbit takes place sixty years before Frodo begins his adventures.  It does have a part to play in this story, but its importance is as history in Tolkien’s larger story.

The book is also lighter hearted than the books on which the first trilogy was based.  Again, it was written for a younger audience.  This picture isn’t as dark and forlorn as the first three and some of the lighter scenes are included but there is still plenty of violence.  Like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, is not human on human violence but dwarf on goblin, or dwarf on orc violence, if that matters.  There are some battle scenes that will not be appropriate for younger audiences.  All in all, this is still a must see picture, not only as part of the larger story but as incredible movie making.  Peter Jackson’s status as a genius is solidified in my opinion.

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