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or “The reason it shouldn’t be called The Hobbit

Today, I went on an adventure. A mysterious source told me that a treasure trove of golden cinema moments awaited me, and also that if I didn’t go this weekend I’d have wasted the money I’m paying on my Unlimited card for this month. (Part of the reason I bought an Unlimited card is to motivate me to see more films in the cinema).

So, the cinema experience. Thirty seconds of my film experience today, which lasted just over four and a bit hours, was devoted to telling me how much the world would suck if Cinema was killed because of piracy. Thirty minutes of my film experience was devoted to television-style advertising, despite having paid over a tenner for the ticket. Ten minutes was devoted to advertising films I might want to see. Two minutes to how awesome the cinema chain I had ALREADY BOUGHT MY TICKET FROM was, and thirty seconds to remind me to buy popcorn. But the rest was entirely movie.

The Hobbit first edition book cover

I saw the film in 3D, because the time I wanted to go the showing was in 3D. I generally don’t seek out or not seek out the 3D versions of movies, because either the glasses are interfacing with my normal glasses oddly, or the technology is not quite there yet. Jackson’s love of gliding shots tracks badly with 3D, rendering every motion frame just a little blurry on the details until it halts. Where the camera sticks still, the action on screen is glorious, and the use of 3D is mostly natural rather than “HEY LOOK I CAN DO 3D”. Kind of like the early technocolor films, the use of films to demonstrate the awesome power of a new bit of film tech slowly fades out, and with any luck in a few years we’ll have natural looking 3D, and the slightly weird over-sharp films we get now will look as strange as the colouring of the Sound of Music does next to a modern film. Anyway, next time I go see a 3 hour movie, I probably shouldn’t go to the 3D one.

Apparently this is also in 48fps also. Either my cinema doesn’t support that, I’m too much of a peasant to notice the difference, or the people complaining can be lumped in with the folks who buy $600 2M HDMI cables.

End technical details section. Begin critical appraisal of actual movie.

This isn’t the Hobbit in the form that you read it when you were twelve.

How much you enjoy this movie will, I suspect, track pretty closely with how invested you are in The Hobbit the book that papa Tolkien wrote because he didn’t think he could sell the story of the world he wanted to tell, so filed the serial numbers off the histories and wrote The Hobbit.

The Hobbit (2012 film)
The Hobbit (2012 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the Hobbit. It was one of the first “Grown Up” books I ever read, I’ve reread it less often than I reread LOTR (And, in fact, less often than I rewatch the LOTR movies, which is a bit of a shame) but the reason I enjoy LOTR in general is the sense of this gigantic sandbox Tolkien is playing in, and how we’re only actually seeing a small corner of it. Behind every window in the plot is a vista of paths unmapped so far. The Hobbit put shutters on a lot of the windows.

Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies are two things. First, they are the movies of the children’s book The Hobbit, Or There And Back Again, by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. This movie is about a third of that story, and that story is about half of this movie. Second, they are the prequels to The Lord of the Rings, also by J. R. R. Tolkien. The same story that was told before, but with the serial numbers on the universe painted back on again. I think, in a way, that this is closer to The Hobbit that would have been written if he planned to write LOTR afterwards. Backstories are filled in, conversations that logically happen, happen. Gandalf notices the ring, Gollum is slightly crazier, the backstory of *why* the Dwarves are on this quest is better spelt out, Radagast the Brown shows up (I… am not sure about his comic relief status).

I recognise that very few of the Dwarves get personalities. This is a problem with that size of cast, really, and nothing compared to the epic whining that cutting out half of the dwarves would have caused. The purposes of a lot of them are folded into each other for ease of the audience’s comprehension. The lack of female characters is entirely the source material’s fault, and unfortunatly most of the candidates for gender-swapping are recasts from the first three films. Plus see above about whining.

The Hobbit is a a closer, warmer, more personal story that LOTR in a lot of ways; and the film turns a lot of that into a more Epic version, suitable as a prequel. As I say, about half of the film – at a rough ballpark – is things that I assume are taken from the notes and essays. They’re worldbuilding for LOTR, and indeed for The Hobbit, setups for a payoff we’ve already seen. Both problems in the Other big epic prequel trilogy, as it happens. So my conclusion is that if you go in expecting a film of The Hobbit, which is quaint, somewhat cosy, and slightly provincial, you’ll be massively disappointed, as a lot of the critics have been. If the title had been instead something that referred to both aspects of the source material, or to neither in specific, that expectation might have worked for them.

But it’s never the same as it was in your head anyway.

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  1. Good review. It’s hard to disagree with any of it. I was actually very glad about the amount of material that came from sources other than the book. I want to see as much as possible of Middle Earth on film, and the extra pieces of this film really helped to expand the story into something bigger than the small slice served up in the book.

    I’ll confess to not knowing the appendices and other books well enough to know how much of this came from Tolkien and how much came from Jackson and co., but it worked for me.

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