I watched the Hobbit today with my Girlfriend and her seven year old son. I enjoyed it for the most part. The action was superb, the casting was excellent, and despite the insane length (2 hrs, 41 mins), it kept everyone’s attention. All things considered I would say it is worth watching, especially if you have children who are fans of the series or are budding geeks. On the other hand if you know any Tolkien purists, do not go to the movie with them — they may explode.
Aside from its prodigious length, the series has a few issues which were exacerbated in this film. The vaunted and feared addition of Evangeline Lilly actually did not really spoil the movie, at least for me. To discuss my feelings about Mr Jackson’s latest Tolkien film will require me to withdraw into spoiler alert land. Do not read them until you have watched the movie.
I would recommend the movie to any fan of epic fantasy who is not a Tolkien purist.
The heart of the novelization of the hobbit is a series of three conversations. Bilbo and Golem with the riddle game, Bilbo waking and encountering Smaug in the Lonely Mountain, and Bilbo and Thorin at the end of the book. Mr Jackson’s screen adaptations have done an excellent job on these thus far. The riddle game was awesome. If anything the interaction between Smaug and Bilbo is even better, perhaps because Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch have worked together before. That chemistry really shines through despite the fact that Smaug is not only computer generated, but his facial features aren’t human either. If Mr Jackson can manage to clinch that third conversation in the last movie I will find it impossible to hate his adaptations.
Unfortunately Thorin is, thus far, poorly written and wrongly directed. I don’t place the blame on Richard Armitage here; I know he can be charismatic when allowed. Unfortunately Thorin comes off as petulant and unlikable, especially in the scenes that Jackson adds. I feel that Mr Jackson is trying to go for an Aragorn vibe with Thorin, but he ends up being too gruff and not showing enough heart. If the dramatic finish to the movie is to have any real power then Thorin will have to be better in movie number three. It all hinges on those few words between Thorin and Bilbo at this point, at least for me.
Mr Jackson adds a lot of fluff to the series in this second movie. I feel he stretches it too thin, even with the epic action scenes. Very little happens that justify a two hour and fourty one minute movie that ends in a cliff-hanger. However, since it was action, and gave me some fun ideas for games and writing, I can forgive this.
Some of Mr Jackson’s visualizations really annoy me. I really hated his version of the giants throwing rocks in the mountains in the first movie, for example — it reminded me of a theme park attraction rather than the myth-building moment that it was in the books. I’d rather more care be spent on giving each dwarf a bit of personality than a unique look. Still, I feel those crazy visualzations were toned down in this second instalment — you don’t need to go overboard for colossal action when Smaug is on the prowl. The only offenders are run-on action scenes. An improvement I’d say.
Some of the embellishments are just plain wierd. Instead of the black arrow being an actual arrow passed down to Bard by his forebearers, that the archer regarded as lucky, it is now the last ballista bolt for an anti-dragon weapon built by the dwarves for the men of Dale long ago. I can see that Mr Jackson is trying to add a sense of drama here by having Bard’s forefather using the previous bolts (er black arrows) creating Smaug’s weakspot, and then never getting time to take the last shot. Bard is out to redeem the family name. It felt unnecessary. Bard had plenty of motive for killing Smaug in the books, and I like that Bilbo found the Dragon’s weak-spot and the thrush told Bard. The worst part about this whole scene is how Thorin comes off as an utter asshole, actually using Bard’s story and his family’s legacy of failure against him at one point. Not a good addition. Thorin needs to be more redeemable.
Mr Jackson’s character additions remain the worst part of the series. Evangeline Lilly, although a classic Mary Sue, was an exception to this. She kicked ass, but was not a scene stealer. She also added a feminine presence to the movie and the action scenes, something that was arguably lacking in the original tale. I didn’t even mind her romance with Kili, which may have to carry the third movie if Mr Jackson can’t get that key interaction between Thorin and Bilbo down. In fact, alone out of all of the add-on characters in this movie, she helped make one of the Dwarves, Kili, seem more interesting and dramatic. The other additions all flew screaming into fan fiction territory. I will deal with them in order.
- Azog the Defiler: Azog keeps becoming more and more important. I don’t see why. He has no personality whatsoever. The only thing that distinguishes him from other orcs is his unique appearance and combat prowess. In the first movie he kicks the crap out of Thorin. In this movie he challenges Gandalf — seriously? Azog adds nothing to the movies. Why give the orcs faces and names if they all have the same personality? Azog is another potential problem character in the third movie — I suspect he will deliver the fatal wound to Thorin, a feat which he is not worthy of. Azog is a kind of villainous Mary Sue — an invention of the director placed in another author’s works who seems to get more and more powerful, bashing down established characters. People often feel they can beat Tolkien in the villain department, and Azog is a spectacularly visual enemy, but rather hollow as a character.
- Bolg: Azog is called to muster, so he sends his Lieutenant, Bolg, to deal with Thorin. Bolg is another orc with a unique appearance, but no personality. In everything but appearance he is exactly interchangeable with Azog. He hates dwarves, but so do all the other orcs. He does kick ass though, rampaging through the Elven Part of Mirkwood and living to tell the tale and also going toe to toe with Legolas and actually surviving to escape. He is actually the only character in the series to make Legolas bleed a bit, something that apparently deserved a closeup and some screen time. Again, another super-powerful character added by the director for no good reason beyond visualization.
The worst character addition in the second Hobbit movie is actually an old favourite from the Lord of the Rings series: Orlando Blood returning as Legolas. In the first trilogy Legolas is a scene stealer, but this is forgivable since he is part of the story and presented as quite awesome. Last time I checked however, Legolas wasn’t in the Hobbit, and he certainly wasn’t the main part of the action. Stealing a scene you are supposed to be in is one thing, stealing scenes you aren’t mean to be in is an egregious offence on the part of Mr Jackson.
- The barrel escape from the elves turns into a running action scene in the movie as orcs attack the barrels in the river. The Dwarves show great resourcefulness and wonderful teamwork in the first part of this scene, in what amounts to a creative and fun fight scene that lets the dwarves shine as a company. Sadly it is immediately overshadowed as Legolas shows up and makes the whole group of dwarves, who seemed awesome a heartbeat ago, seem like lackluster amateurs. At one point he even fells a squad of orcs while standing on the faces of two the dwarves as their barrels race down the river, which more or less sums up the whole scene for me. Legolas steals scenes at the expense of the Dwarves. I hate this. I disliked that Jackson reduced Gimli to comic relief in most of the first trilogy, I hate that Legolas outshines the Dwarves in their own story, which he is not even supposed to be in. 😦
- Legolas in the Hobbit movies is a terrible kind of Mary Sue. He is not an avatar of the writers or the director, however he is an insertion that excels at everything he does, and really steals every action scene he appears in. In the Rings movies his prowess was countered by the fact that Mr Jackson was *mostly* held to adapting scenes that were actually in the books. Not so now, where he gets scenes written more or less for him! I really dread what Mr Jackson in going to do with him in the final adaptation. Again, this not Orlando Bloom’s fault, if anything a bit of age has made him a better Legolas — it is the way the character is inserted into the script at the cost to other characters that were originally there. Mary Sue, Mary Sue, Mary Sue. Bard was supposed to be the archer of this set. UGH!
Perhaps the best way to sum it up is this. When we left the movie, the young lad I was with was leaping off snowbanks, shooting his imaginary bow and arrows at imaginary orcs. No doubt he was like Legolas firing at Azog and Bolg, in his imaginary mindscape. But I had to agree with my girlfriend when she thought it was sad that he wasn’t pretending to be any of the dwarves.
What I get out of this is that if you have to add characters to modernize or expand a great work, fine, but don’t do so at the cost of the characters that are already there. Inserting your own characters, and having them outshine the characters that already exist, is a kind of Mary Sue authorship — it may not be a direct author avatar, but it certainly has that same feel to it. Perhaps showboating would be a better term.