28 December 2012

The Hobbit, film version: a brief critique

A few days before Christmas I saw part one of Peter Jackson's film version of The Hobbit. Since I've already blogged about the book, I thought I'd add a few comments about the movie.

Before giving some specific criticisms I should say that I generally liked the film. It would be hard for me not to; I was already a fan of Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, and many of the same positive elements found in the LOTR films are also present in The Hobbit: beautiful scenery, a believable mythos, and a moral foundation that makes it easy to recognize and cheer for the “good side.” I don't want the fact that I criticize particular aspects of the film to get in the way of my general enthusiasm for it; I am glad this film was made and look forward to seeing it again.

Now to the critique. First, the scene with the mountain giants was gratuitous and unnecessary. It was a pointless expansion of the book's story, and made a long movie longer than it needs to be. It does not advance the plot. I also don't want to be reminded of Rock'em Sock'em robots when I am supposed to be in Middle-earth, and unfortunately that's the visual impression I had. The appropriate approach here would have been to let the characters hear and then see the giants as they do in the book, express their amazement and fright as some rocks hit too close, and then head on into the cave.

Second, has anyone associated with making this movie ever fallen more than six or eight feet? The repeated scenes of dwarves, goblins, and Bilbo falling for hundreds of feet and then landing with no harm done were ridiculous. This happens (in another pointless change from the book) when the party enters the goblin caves and the crack in the cave floor opens; it happens again to Bilbo and a goblin shortly after that. Any body remotely similar to any animal on earth falling that far would hit with a splat. While I learned suspension of disbelief from Tolkien as much as from anyone, your physics, like your magic, have to apply consistently in your fantasy world for it to believable. Jackson's film lacks visual consistency in this regard.

Third, Radagast is overdone. While I agree with the general decision to make him an on-screen character in the film, rather than one who is briefly mentioned as in the book, he is too silly. With Radagast, Jackson runs the danger of committing the Jar Jar Binks mistake: making a character who is supposed to be agreeable one who is despised instead. For me, Lucas and the latter Start Wars films never recovered from Jar Jar Binks (or weak dialog). I hope Radagast doesn't make the remaining hobbit films equally joke-worthy. I am ready to have sympathy for a mushroom-munching nature-mystic wizard, but over the top is just that.

Given those problems, I will go back to my previous remark, that I do like the film and look forward to the remaining two parts. I hope the silliness level decreases; Tolkien deserves it, and so do ticket buyers.

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