I had not managed to see the new Hobbit movie until last night, and the only review of it I’ve read so far has been Bruce Charlton’s, with which I (naturally) agree on some points but disagree on the overall impression – I find it awfully hard not to like the movie, even if it strays from the spirit of the book a wee bit. I guess I just don’t *care* about that as much as I used to – I take it for what it is, and understand what it isn’t and can’t be. It just doesn’t seem to me to really be *possible*, for instance, to maintain the sort of light-hearted silliness that characterizes the novel. I don’t think it would work on-screen. It may be that I’m guilty of reading *into* the movie what I *know* should be there, but I just can’t help seeing this glass as half-full. I want to see it again, if that means anything.
Here are some various points that come to mind, roughly from Bad to Good. Truth be told, there really wasn’t that much of the Bad, or at least I didn’t *mind* even if it was there in an objective, clinical sense. There were a few moments during the film that made me say, “Yech, that’s not How It’s Supposed To Be” – but not many.
-the Dwarves: like Dr. Charlton, I abhorred the post-modern characterization given to many of the dwarves, beginning, as he notes, with the introduction of the dwarf with the tattooed skull. Too bad, because I really liked Dwalin otherwise, as the stereotypical “tough guy”. Then there was the Effeminization of Dori. I was not sure whether I was reading too much into this, and haven’t Googled the issue, but I was pretty sick over the subtle “gay” joke being played out here. (If there was no such thing, please let me know. Similarly, I have – sadly – never been able to fully enjoy Ian McKellen’s Gandalf knowing as I do how deeply sunk into the homosexual movement the actor is).
-there was quite a bit of stuff in the movie that wasn’t in Tolkien’s source material. But, you know, I didn’t really care.
-perhaps more importantly, there was a fair amount of stuff, I felt, that viewers wouldn’t really grasp unless they were familiar with Tolkien’s material. Maybe this was the case with the original LOTR films and I didn’t really get it back then. In any case, I didn’t mind it, but I can see why a more casual viewer would. Some of it I quite liked – the portrayal of Erebor allowed me, as noted by others, to really “see” the glory of the dwarf kingdom in a way that I hadn’t been able to visualize before. (And the *savaging* of that kingdom by the dragon – the breaking of the door – extremely well done. It helped that I had just received a Tolkien bestiary for Christmas and had been reading about the history of the dragons as war-machines of Morgoth.)
I also quite liked the portrayal of Dol Guldur, and Radagast’s confrontation with the Witch-King there. The history of Angmar is one of my favourites aspects of the mythos.
-Radagast. Unforgiveable. In fact I would call this the worst rape and mutilation of any character in the four films, and possibly the *most* unforgiveable, except that he is such a minor character that it doesn’t *truly* matter. But just so we’re clear, let me spell it out absolutely starkly: the Istari are spiritual, celestial, angelic beings. They do not behave this way. Yes, Radagast is odd, a recluse – but in a schizoid-personality-disorder kind of way. Not in this Disney-esque 10-year-old sort of way. And the rabbit sleigh belongs in Narnia, not Middle-Earth.
-also hated Gollum as much as I did in LOTR. He is NOT supposed to be comedic in any way, shape or form. The scenes with him “arguing” back and forth with himself would have made my blood boil if I hadn’t already had that experience in TTT.
-the pacing and editing: Bruce complained about this. Quite honestly, I hardly noticed it, and was absolutely on the edge of my seat for most of the movie – but I guess that is because I am such a fan that I ate up everything. I will admit that there were scenes or lines in the movie that came across better when I saw them in the trailer, moments that in the trailer were very dramatic but came across in the film kind of “flat”, I think because the trailer was better edited. Critiques that the movie was “too long” are likewise lost on me; in fact I was one of those who had been skeptical about making the story into three films, but not anymore. I agree with commenters I’ve seen who’ve said that the three-hour span just made this movie easy-paced instead of crammed full and pared down.
-the scenery: not much needs to be said. I always wonder, when you see those gorgeous panoramic scenes, how much of New Zealand actually looks like that. Is it miles and miles? Or do they cherry-pick the locales and use tight camera angles to convey the impression of a never-ending expanse that, in fact, is not so large?
-the soundtrack: as much as I love the original LOTR score (and I do), I like this one even better, particularly the “main theme”.
-there were a few things that I frankly liked better in this movie than in the original LOTR series: particularly the portrayal of the orcs and elves. Leaving aside the gratuitous and unnecessary inclusion of the chief orc-warrior, I did feel that the orcs were more “realistic” in this film. In the three originals, there were no small number of scenes where the “extra” orcs were done fairly sloppily, coming across as bumbling, lame, manifestly *not* terror-inspiring. Not so in this movie. I wondered whether this represents PJ et al’s receptiveness to past fan criticisms.
(Relatedly, it occurs to me that between all four films thus far, we’ve now got enough on-screen orc villains that we could really begin holding competitions to see who is the baddest. Does Azok strike you as tougher than Lurtz? Not me, but opinions are welcome.)
Similarly, the elves: I have argued elsewhere, and maintain, that no “real-world” depiction can really capture the full majesty, aloofness and ethereal nature of the elves. Nevertheless, this film comes closer than the originals did. Elrond in particular is much better done than he was in FOTR, with more gravitas, yet still youthful and vital. In this film, you can believe that he’s 4000 years old with the wisdom of the ages.
(To venture onto a further tangent, one that may not come across clearly, because I’m not sure I can explain what I mean: it struck me that we’ve now seen enough peoples of M-E on-screen to gain a better appreciation of the uniqueness of each indivual people. I think particularly of Rohan, my favourite “people” – it’s now easier, I find, to see them in TTT and ROTK as a *distinct* people, battling to defend *their* way of life. Previously, we might have thought that that’s just how Men *are* in M-E. Now, with more peoples to contrast them to, we can see the Rohirrim as a unique class of warriors – which makes them all the more enjoyable.)
-Saruman: agree with other commenters that CL was pretty lacklustre. I choose to forget that this misstep ever happened.
-the Dwarves. I added this back in again because, in spite of my criticisms, I really quite liked them. Post-modern appearances notwithstanding (can anyone doubt that these movies will look terribly dated to our children?), I enjoyed and respected the dwarves’ loyalty, their courage… they really felt, to me – as I never felt about the comrades in LOTR – they felt “real”, like a group of *real* men, with *real* character flaws, a group that you’d want to be part of, for better or worse, just the same as you want to hang with your buddies even though sometimes they’re cranky, or not that bright (Nori!), or whatever. The scene where Fili and Kili tease Bilbo about the orcs – come on, that is *exactly* what mates do to each other. In fact, that PJ acheived this sort of depth even though he had to portray 13(!) different dwarves is no mean feat, IMHO. Really well-done here. I feel sure that other observers will disagree.
Likewise, the battles were great – honestly, if your blood didn’t get fired up when the dwarves charged the trolls all at once, I don’t know what to tell you. Perhaps our friend Dr. C doesn’t get invigorated by watching a good battle charge…?
I also enjoyed the fact that (making-it-into-three-films notwithstanding) this story is less of an “epic” than LOTR. It makes it feel more accessible, somehow.
-Bilbo: Martin Freeman is outstanding. Good job on making sure we get to see “the pity that stayed Biblo’s hand”, although the way it was done I’m not sure it would come across clearly to a viewer not familiar with the source material. Hopefully so.
That’s it for now.