Jackson’s New ‘Hobbit’ Films Are a Triumph… If You’re On-Board With His Goal

This is a counterpoint article; find James’ opposing review here!

I want to start by saying, I am a fan of The Hobbit. I read the book for the first time when I was three, over my Mother’s shoulder. Between the ages of seven and thirteen, I read it about once a year, especially devouring the first half; a divine and humorous setup for a great adventure. My point is, I love that book.
Hobbit1

Peter Jackson has his work cut out for him with his Hobbit trilogy.  Reviews of the first two films so far are mixed, with most agreeing that, while the action beats in The Desolation of Smaug fall a bit more fluidly than in the first part, Jackson strays even further from the source material, making the patchwork nature of this new trilogy even more glaringly obvious.  The additions in Smaug do feel a lot less like padding than they did in the first movie, and it’s easy to see what’s starting to take shape: a story that serves more as a worthy successor-prequel to The Lord of the Rings than it is an adaptation of Tolkien’s children’s book.

It’s pretty tough to approach a story as limited in scope as The Hobbit in a world where the Rings films already exist.  Bilbo’s story is smaller than Frodo’s in length and scale, and would be a rarity by today’s standards by – forgive me – not being very cinematic. Sure, there are trolls, dwarves and a giant damn dragon, but it’s tough to go “up” after showing an audience the Battle of Pellenor Fields.

Bigger elephants, maybe?

“…Bigger elephants, maybe?”

I don’t want to understate the dragon or the dwarves, of course. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug is brilliant, massive, and a genuine threat. Possibly the best-realized, most terrifying dragon ever put on film. I’ll come back to the dwarves in a minute, because I couldn’t be a bigger fan of Jackson’s (necessary) approach there.

Addressing What We Know

When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, the ring was, well, just a ring. Sure, it turned Bilbo invisible, but it was a plot device. It never sucked souls, demonstrated heroin-like properties, or summoned the Ultimate Evil back from the ether.  With the LOTR books, Tolkien essentially, retconned the entire history and significance of the One Ring, transforming a tiny plot device into the central MacGuffin of his entire invented world.

1472089_10152456518718574_1824500499_nJackson’s burden starts here: we know all of this, now. Treating the ring, Smaug, or the Necromancer as they are described in the book just isn’t an option with an audience that recognizes the overwhelming significance these things have to the war that is coming, and even how everything will turn out. What the One Ring does when Bilbo puts it on has to be addressed in the new films, and Sauron’s rise is front-and-center. It follows, then, that the story becomes a bit less about Bilbo, and more about the events which led to Sauron’s return.

That alone is going to have an impact, and probably a good one. Broadening the scope of the films to encompass a bigger story offers more opportunities for cinematic moments, to be sure (the Battle at Laketown is stellar, and unlike any other fight we’ve seen in a Tolkien movie). A broader scope offers opportunities to address some of the character issues that are subtle in a book, but become glaring in the transition to film. For example, Tolkien’s The Hobbit book has no female characters. None, not one, nada. Passing-over this as a pretty remarkable literary feat to begin with, you just can’t make a movie that way. One of the most-praised elements in Smaug is the invention of the non-Tolkien character Tauriel, a she-elf action heroine who adds a much-needed dose of color to the somewhat testosterone-heavy adventure. In this way – I’ll go ahead and say it – Jackson greatly improves upon the source material.

PHOTO-Evangeline-Lilly-en-Tauriel-l-Elfe-invente-par-Peter-Jackson-pour-Le-Hobbit_portrait_w532

Pictured: improvement.

Tauriel brings with her a romantic subplot with Legolas (yes, that Legolas) and the dwarf Kili. A broader story is also necessary for a very simple reason that Jackson expounds on in the commentary for An Unexpected Journey: there are thirteen dwarves in the company. Thirteen! Tolkien differentiated the dwarves very little, beyond various colorful hoods and a few lines of exposition about Thorin (who, in the novel, is much older). As Jackson explains: “You can get away with that in a book, because the reader is just thinking about where the action is. But in a movie, you have to have a reason for those dwarves to be there. They all have to have something to do to justify putting them on the screen- they can’t just be standing around in the background.”

So, for the dwarves’ sake, a bigger scope is a narrative neccessity. Justification for their presence in each and every scene. A romantic plot, specific roles within the company for each dwarf, even a more stated overtone of racial tension. One film just couldn’t do it; possibly not even two.

dwarvesfinal1

I’ve started to really like these guys.

So, if three films are needed, the franchise has rightfully outgrown its source material. It’s been said that Jackson’s Hobbit feels less like an adaptation of the novel, and more like an attempt to use the book as a framework on which to hang a cinematic prequel to the Lord of the Rings.  A prequel built from several Tolkien sources, yes, but also from whole-cloth narrative developed just for this film. I submit that, not only is that a true statement, but it works to this new trilogy’s benefit. Adaptation tends to suffer a lot of slings and arrows, but in cases where it’s necessary, a work can thrive on it.  It’s no coincidence that some of the most-praised parts of The Desolation of Smaug are those that were improvised specifically for the cinematic telling.

The new trilogy isn’t what many fans expected, and many claim “The Return of Sauron” is not what they wanted. In the end, perhaps the biggest burden Jackson’s Hobbit movies carry is their title.

This is a counterpoint article; find James’ opposing review here!

ken

About ken

Ken Krahl is a web show host, blogger, event organizer, and genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. Ken founded Multiverse in 2011 after realizing big groups of pop-culture geeks are awesome. He is director of the annual GeekOut convention, and co-hosts the Figures Sold Separately Podcast & Web Show.