(originally posted on December 15, 2012)
If this film was named the way swords in The Hobbit are, I would call it Slamdrink, the Canon-Cleaver, or in the original reaction tongue, the Jackson-you-chump. This is a very spoiler-heavy review that, if you are as big a fan of the original whimsical, fun, silly-at-times book version of The Hobbit, you will be glad you read so you could save your money for things like picket signs and postage for hatemail. Avoid that horrendous fanfic version of The Hobbit’s setting, and firmly re-grasp your beloved pre-film-version-covered version even tighter than before, lest your feelings be trampled. I would not entirely have been surprised that PeeJay The Browneye had edited the highly-anticipated “pour the milk on the pantry floor” song to his own liking, such as:
Read the book once and mix it all up!
Invent new enemies and discard the lore!
That’s what loyal Hobbit fans hate–
Discard canon and make viewing a chore!
Pummel fans incessantly with foreshadowing jabs!
Turn our beloved into a bumbling bore!
Curb stomp the canon, and make them all wince!
Tempt them unawares, with a good proper score!
That’s what loyal Hobbit fans hate!
So unfaithfully, unfaithfully, a disturbing film make!
I am a huge fan of the original book version of The Hobbit, and will remain so — but I would not-at-all recommend seeing this film, for any reason. Well, if you’re an English teacher who is assigning the book version and wish to know whether your students wrote their reports based on “just watching the movie” or “diligently reading the text” it might come in handy, because the differences arrive early and nag incessantly at those who appreciate the light-hearted whimsy of Tolkien’s prose.
If you’re reading this after the movie has come out on DVD, it might be worth noting this was written the Saturday after the original theater release, so I’m going just from memory =P
The movie opens with waaaay too much backstory and forestory. We are subjected to a scene from that should have been in Fellowship that involves Frodo and Bilbo having a conversation about their mutual upcoming birthday party, while Bilbo is being secretive about what he’s writing in that book of his. Almost straightaway from there we’re given details that are revealed only much later in the book, and treated to a thoroughly forehead-wrinkling account of a battle that never happened in the book, through which a major enemy that we never knew of, becomes Thorin’s adversary. That’s right — it’s not Smaug (with the “mau” bit pronounced like the Chinese ruler) that we’re worried about and focus our sights against, it’s a “pale orc” who is quite a bit taller and lighter-colored than the others, who gets his left arm sliced off (without any blood, as if Thorin’s sword was actually a lightsaber perhaps) in a thoroughly ambiguous defeat and is hauled away screaming in pain by his lesser-ranked orcs. For some dopey reason Thorin believes the Pale Orc died, but we know better.
We also learn about the Arkenstone, the profound magnificence of the stronghold within the Lonely Mountain, the Dragon attack itself, and a distrust between Elves and Dwarves is established when the Elves refuse to help the Dwarves at some point (possibly at the Mines of Moria battle we are also treated to). In the book we only learn of some of this (not the Elves or Arkenstone bit) from Thorin, who tells Bilbo of it verbally as a summary basis for the quest. Readers really don’t know very much about it, but that much is sufficient to provide mystery about a far-off land of vast riches.
Apparently this is going to be a multi-film frame story like how Titanic was actually about a dive to research aspects of the now-sunken Titanic while a character who survived the Titanic recalls memories thereof. The problem with frame stories is that you automatically know that the storyteller survives whatever he’s telling about.. and that is the first really horrible modification to The Hobbit. In the book we don’t know whether Bilbo will actually return or not, but as the “60 years earlier” scene involving the “good morning” conversation comes up, we know that this is not actually going to be very true to the book just from the outset. My point is that the book itself does not immediately let on that Bilbo survives the adventure, which we would already know from having seen/read the LOTR series. The Hobbit was written (not just in setting, but penned) before the Ring trilogy was even a twinkle in the eye and naturally would have zero tie-in references to it. It is rather the LOTR series that references The Hobbit, instead of the reverse.
The next still-the-opening section does very little to explain what a hobbit is or much of Bilbo’s lineage and the important Took aspect in him except to casually mention it. There is no mention of expecting to see Gandalf the next day, so when the dwarves arrive it is a complete shock rather than the expecting someone else kind of shock from the book. Perhaps 3 of them arrive individually (with no colored caps or cloaks to speak of) and then all of the rest arrive in a huge clump instead of two additional clusters the latter of which with Gandalf as the book goes, and none of which even approach a ding-dong-a-ling-dang-calibre doorbell sound. In the film, Thorin arrives alone in a more dramatic entrance (after the “tread on the fat” song has occurred), instead of with the final party. The sign on the door in the film serves more as a waypoint marker, than the book’s funnier “advertisement” seeking adventure. The blame for the skilled burglar claim rest squarely upon the shoulders of Gandalf’s verbal statement of the kind, rather than from the sign on Bilbo’s door as if he had written it himself. The CG used for the “smash the plates and burn the corks” song after dinner, before Thorin arrives, is positively horrendous and looks more like the magic the Weasleys from Harry Potter with the way they really move, in defiance of physics. The “smash the plates” song is also very difficult to understand — I only caught a few lines here and there from this mumbled version, instead of the glory and whimsy of the original. Also, the continuity hiccups here, because part of the physics-defying plate movements involves hurtling them into the kitchen to be cleaned, but when they’re all done, they’re stacked neatly in the dining room in a big vaguely-sorted pile instead of stacked away where they belong.
I remember thinking, “I’m giving the movie a 5-out-of-10 rating so far” and by the time the film even gets to the part where the dwarves are singing about their treasure quest — which does not involve a single instrument, I might add — I was also thinking this was a very drowsy part that would very likely encourage nodding off instead of being an exciting recitation of legend and lore. In the book Bilbo decides to join the party and awakes the next day hoping they’ve forgotten him — but in the film he doesn’t agree until the next day, when he finds the contract and makes a hasty decision and runs off after them. How he knows where to run, however, is not offered, because in the book Gandalf comes to check on him and whether he was coming or not, and points to the contract (and the note of where to meet and at what time) on the mantelpiece. Bilbo sees that the deadline is very near, so scampers out the door and heads for the Inn they were to meet at, whereas in the film he just scampers out the door and meets them randomly out in the woods as they’re already traveling.
At some point during idle travelling banter, one dwarf asks Gandalf if there are other wizards, at which point Gandalf remarks about Saruman the White, two blue wizards he can’t remember the names for, and then Radagast the Brown. We are then treated to another frame story section involving Radagast in his Mirkwood region, at which point I’m beginning to wonder if we should rename Radagast to “Flaggergast The Crowd” by these incessant framed sections. Radagast is a bit of a weirdo, who is more preoccupied with saving the life of a single hedgehog than the spiders that are crawling all over his weirdly-shaped house, and then once the spiders leave, he goes off somewhere while riding a rabbit-drawn sled made from crookedy branches. The audience at this point is probably wondering which “Brown” from which Jackson has tugged this bit of information.
At one resting place, Wargs are heard in the distance and a dwarf teases Bilbo about them, and a shoe-horned scene emerges about Thorin’s lineage and the Pale Orc, and turn turns out that unaware to the film party, the audience sees that Pale Orc is alive and actively hunting them.
The film party decides to rest at a busted-up farmhouse, that is mostly burnt down except for some of the wooden frame and eaves. Two of the ponies go missing, and in the investigation of their absense, sees the light of the trolls’ fire in the distance in a fairly ordinary way in the film, rather than the terrible downpour, hunger, and need for shelter as the book’s reason for going there. Bilbo is sent out to investigate, and is caught while trying to steal a sword from one of them. The film dwarves swarm in for an attack, instead of getting trapped one by one by the book trolls. There is no argument scene with a thrown voice, and Gandalf somehow defies physics to crack open a giant rock that is blocking the sun rising, so that sunlight shines through and turns the trolls to stone. There is remarkably little cleverness about it. The film party loots the small troll cavern (and buries the treasure in the same cave, without any spells) and as they’re leaving Gandalf accidentally finds a small blade for Bilbo and a force-fed touching moment about “knowing when not to kill someone” is shoe-horned in. In the book, they find a “knife with a leather sheath” that Bilbo just takes quite ordinarily.
After stocking up on provisions, the film party encounters the Brown wizard, who tells about his investigation into the forest’s decay as possibly come from a nearby abandoned and broken-down stronghold in which a necromancer has come to power and is poisoning the land somehow. Radagast shows Gandalf a wrapped-something off camera, and we continue on. The wargs are heard in the distance, and Radagast commands his rabbit-sled team (with him aboard) to distract them while the film party makes their escape. The party mostly escapes, but is soon cornered and the discovery is made that there’s a cave in their peculiar corner (an isolated rock in the middle of a hilly field, no less) and the dwarves slide down to safety as Elves unseen to them ride up on horses and kill off most of the assailants.
None of that happens in the book at all. The film party discovers that their little cave is actually the secret entrance to Rivendell, which is a lot like the LOTR version and excessively extravagant, not at all “homely” although the “Last Homely House” is mentioned. The book party is not being pursued by anyone, and come upon the secret entrance on their own as pointed out by Gandalf. Once nearing Rivendell, there are happy and skipping elves, many of which are in the trees, singing silly songs and laughing merrily. The film party encounters no such elves, but instead find all of them are the calm, silent boring kind from the other films.
Agent Smith, I mean, Elrond isn’t there when the film party arrives, and he returns speaking of a recent successful hunt of orcs in the region. There is some tension between the Dwarves and Elves, entirely one-sided on the dwarves’ part, and Elrond mutters something incoherently:
Elrond: “Blabbity Blabbity In Probably Elvish”
Thorin: “What did you just call me?!”
Elrond: “I was inviting you to dinner.”
Thorin: (Lowers weapon). “Uh, well okay then.”
In the book, the cooking meal can be smelled in the distance, but the film party is treated to mostly salad items including a “just try a mouthful” conversation when one of them encounters a leafy stalk of something, decrying that he doesn’t like his food to be green.
Soon the moon-runes are discerned, but not by holding the map up to the moonlight — there’s an enormous crystal map-reading podium they use that is housed somehow by a waterfall, which uses some bizarre physics to light up the stone, or something, even though the sky is clear.
Later, film Gandalf is invited to a meeting with none other than two additional people who are not in the book: Galadriel and Saruman, and shows the item that Radagast brought, which is a sword similar to the kind the Nazgul use. Saruman is up to his old tricks as he tries to throw the party off of their path by dismissing in his tired “oh that’s nothing” and “did you look it up on Snopes first” technique, and even suggests that Gandalf has been taking hits of the weed too frequently. Galadriel seems very serious about the matter and believes the story and figures out that Gandalf is actually delaying the party’s sneaky escape despite the Elves’ and Saruman’s advice, and whispers in her head-voice way to Gandalf that she figured it out, and offers her help for a future film.
It might be worth noting that I believe there was a product placement in the Galadriel-Saruman meeting scene, that DVD owners might not realize. Before the movie started, before the trailers, there were random video commercials playing, and one of them was a “if you’re not whitening, you’re yellowing” advertisement for some forgettable brand of teeth whitening product. The commercial came in several varieties and was scattered between other seemingly random commercials and movie trivia things that were just ploys for you to subscribe to text-based subscriptions. Anyhow, after all of this “you’re yellowing” being brainwashed into our minds, Saruman casually mentions in a lengthier sentence that someone’s (possibly Radagast’s) teeth have become yellowed. I’m not sure if that was deliberate, but it added to my disappointment that such a cheap shot at product placement could very well have been made, given how terrible things had gone so far.
The film party begins to traverse more rugged mountain terrain, and come upon some narrow stone passes that begin to move and a scene emerges that is a little like the Balrog scene from Two Towers near the end of Fellowship where the footing is uncertain as they pass from broken ledge to the next, but this is caused by rock giants throwing huge boulders at each other and the party find themselves on the leg of one of them. In the book, the party is only vaguely threatened by the rock battle and not directly involved. The film party accurately seek shelter in a cave that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere, but the canon departs again swiftly from there. Film-Thorin assigns one dwarf as lookout while the Gandalf-less party sleeps, and Bilbo tries to sneak away but has a shoe-horned touching moment about deciding whether to flee or stay again when the lookout confronts him. In the book, Gandalf is with them, and Bilbo has trouble sleeping and sees the crack opening and lets out a yelp as the goblins bind up the party in chains and lead them away into the mountain in the pitch dark, including a “bang” from Gandalf as several goblins lay dead and the party gets separated from our favorite wizard because the stone re-closes with him on the other side. Film-Bilbo is somehow unheeded by the goblins who walk right past him as they scurry excitedly with their dwarf captives, and eventually confronts one goblin and begins to fight him with Sting and the two fall off the wooden structures and land down in shadow somewhere.
The book-party is lead, chained, in pitch darkness through cramped stone passages (in stark contrast to the very well torch-lighted, wide open, wooden-bridge structures in the film) directly to the Goblin king. Book-Gandalf snuffs the big fire nearby, sending sparks that burn the goblins, and immediately stabs his Glamdring into the Goblin King and they make for their escape in the confusion. The film, party, however, is lead to the Goblin King and told that they’ve been captured and will be held according to the Pale Orc’s orders. Gandalf does snuff out the fire, but waits to kill the Goblin King a long time later in a video-game-like miniboss battle, but far too easily. The film-Goblin-King actually seems rather intelligent and to be reasoned with like a fat but stern grandfather, than a scary bloated beast that revels in torment of foes like the book’s version.
Film-Bilbo wakes up, despite having fallen down a pitch-dark precipice, now in a fairly well-lighted-(somehow) passageway, out of view of Film-Gollum who is trying to drag off the mostly-dead Goblin that Bilbo was fighting earlier. In the struggle, the ring very clearly drops off the hip of Gollum and in a film kind of way practically yells to the audience HEY YOU VIEWERS OUT THERE, THIS IS THAT RING. YOU REMEMBER THAT RING? YEAH, THIS IS IT. CHECK IT OUT. IT’S THAT RING. OH MAN, YES IT IS. LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT THE RING THERE. WHOA, THAT’S THE RING and just chews up the book’s encounter with it and sharts it all over the faces of the disappointed audience. In the book, Bilbo is captured along with the party once the crack opens, is along with them for the Goblin King bit, and trips and gets knocked out in the pitch-dark attempt to flee the mountain. Book-Bilbo then wakes up, and is feeling around blindly (not even having encountered Gollum yet) and comes across the ring only by touch and nonchalantly places it in his pocket, not even knowing why or that it has any significance and accidentally encounters Gollum when he stumbles in the pitch-darkness into the edge of the water. There’s no dead Goblin in the book, so there’s no moment when Sting flickers its light as the goblin dies. As if Sting had LED’s built into it, and the blade were clear plastic or something. Moy-chen-dizing?
The encounter with Gollum is decently treated, and mostly properly done with the same riddles exchanged, except with lots of facial expressions and split-personality arguments going on. Book-Bilbo couldn’t really see Gollum because it was so dark, so facial expressions would have done little good to him.
On the way out, book-Bilbo leaps over Gollum after accidentally putting on the ring while grabbing for it in his pocket, and then tries to squeeze through a narrow opening of a closing stone door that large goblins are guarding, and loses several buttons in the process. Film-Bilbo, however, squeezes through a purpose-less-ly placed gap when trying to escape from Gollum not having even put on the ring yet, and hasn’t even found the exit yet. The film’s version of the ring first being worn by Bilbo is a tired, slow-motion accidental tossing of the ring into the air and conveniently landing on Bilbo’s finger (very similar to Frodo’s drunken dancing scene in Fellowship). Gollum meanders past him, and blocks the way, requiring Bilbo to jump over him to go out the ungarded mountain exit that he actually sees Gandalf and film-party hurrying past to escape.
Outside, the film-party is counting themselves all present except for Bilbo, who they have decided is probably not a good person to have around and that he probably abandoned them, talking to themselves in evening daylight. In the book, when Bilbo makes his escape, he doesn’t know where he is, the sun is setting behind the mountains and casting an enormous shadow, and he stumbles around aimlessly before hearing voices in the distance and sees one of the dwarves on lookout while the others are resting. As he approaches, a dwarf on lookout looks right at him in the face but doesn’t see him because of the ring still being worn.
The film part moves along and soon Wargs with orc-riders are chasing them again, with the Pale Orc in sight of them, and they are cornered at the cliff-edge with several tall pines (?) which they must scramble up in order to avoid capture. In the book, they had fallen down an old rock slide and come to a wide clear opening and first hear the wargs in that clearing, and scampered up the trees to avoid them — but there was no cliff edge or dangling dwarves to worry about as with the film. The book-Wargs gathered in the several hundreds all around the glade around the trees, and were addressed by a leader-like Grey Warg that spoke in a warg-tongue to the enormous number gathered there, but the film-wargs are just wolf-like horses to be ridden and never speak.
In the film there is a confrontation between Thorin and the Pale Orc, that Bilbo manages to contribute to that saves Thorin’s life. There’s more shoe-horning of vaguely heroic and vaguely-climactic battle going on, and Gandalf whispers to yet another moth that just-so-happens to be on one of the limbs, and sends for the eagles to come rescue them. In the book, though, the Lord of the Eagles hears the commotion of the warg meeting (and the attempt of Gandalf to through flaming pine cones down at them and set them on fire which is done similarly in the film) and just flies over to investigate rather than being beckoned by Gandalf.
None of the goblin battle from the book happens in the film, where the goblins see the warg meeting (having planned to meet them and team up with them for a raid but the death of their king causing an unexpected delay), and then decide to team up with some of the Wargs to choke the book-party with smoke from a ring of fire they build on the ground below the trees they’re hiding in. The book-goblins dance around near the fire like stereotypical American indians, while others watch from a distance. The smoke pressed the dwarves to climb higher up, and they were soon rescued by the Eagles who surprised them. The book-eagles negotiated with Gandalf about how far they were willing to fly them, as long as it wasn’t near the lands of Men, instead of just dropping them off on some seemingly random really high platform-mountain without any discussion as in the film, whereupon is surgically implanted yet another huggy-feely moment between dwarf and hobbit about sticking together.
If you can get past the very serious infractions made by totally upsetting the balance of friend and foe by inserting the Pale Orc and Radagast sections, and force-feeding us Galadriel and Saruman cameos, and changing the already out-of-order scenes so much that bits within scenes themselves are out of order, I would give other technical aspects like color correction, ambience, sound effects, lighting, and such high marks. There weren’t any points I can recall where a technical issue came into play, and the music was most splendid (with the exception of the instrument-less song about the Smaug quest during the first gathering, and the other missing lyrical songs like by the giggling elves and the dancing goblins who made the fire toward the end). The effects were mostly good (except the CG for the plate-throwing bit during the dinner party).
Aside from that, the film is fraught with error regarding time of day, weather, whole scenes entirely riddled with glaring omission of important aspects and over-emphasis of matters that the book treats as fairly unremarkable, fundamental changes in pace and tone (departing from the chipper, whimsical nature of the book into a somber, serious and sometimes unnecessarily hectic film) to complete reversals like the very nature of the Elves, Wargs and Eagles almost entirely, and utterly and unacceptably fabricated major (!) characters inserted into the film — all of which which is perhaps all in the name of tying the film in with PJ’s other three LOTR films for some gawd-awful reason.
At this point, I have no intention of seeing the next two films. The idea that I will be subjected to two more ~3 hour versions of high-budget fan fiction is completely out of the question, if perhaps only to provide further evidence that Peter Jackson has gone completely bonkers.
There is actually a boycott on LOTR-related Warner Brothers-issued product, based on a cease-and-desist order that has halted a DECADE-long volunteer-made, fan-produced, not-for-profit Skyrim mod (originally as a Morrowind mod) that changes all of the scenery and such into the Middle Earth world called MERP (Middle Earth Roleplaying Project, with video interview and petition currently up to 24,360 signatures).. and with as hideous as PJ’s Hobbit film is, doing so may very well be quite easily done.
I hope this review has assisted your decision to abstain from paying real money to see this terrible film. Don’t pay full price for your undying resentment — perhaps just rent it once it comes out later or something. Perhaps we can consumer-ally force this stinker into the bargain bin where it belongs. Please add your two gold below about inaccuracies of my memory from the film, or disagreements with my assessments ~_^