I just saw The Hobbit earlier tonight, and as a huge Tolkien nerd I feel it is my duty to give an honest review of the movie. Fair warning: this post will be chock full of spoilers!
I’ll start by saying that I LOVED the movie. The first thing I did when I got home was to read the critical reviews of the movie to see if anyone else noticed the same departures from the book as I did and also to temper my enthusiasm.
I still love the movie. You should see it if you haven’t already.
I’ll start by saying that I like how the back story is introduced. Tolkien fans will appreciate the references to the Sackville-Bagginses (and silverware) and the Red Book of Westmarch. I like that we see Bilbo setting his affairs in order on the day of his birthday party by leaving his account of the finding of the ring for Frodo and how his preoccupation with the ring affects his thoughts, which Frodo notices. At first I was afraid the movie would get bogged down in this introduction, but as Bilbo writes the story of how Smaug destroyed the region around Dale it keeps you from feeling as if the movie has slowed down by balancing Bilbo’s narration with exciting visual scenes. The meeting between Bilbo and Gandalf is word for word from the book, much to the joy of a true Hobbit fan, and the introduction of the dwarves is fun and accurate without being silly. I was glad that there wasn’t a lot of focus on the colorful hoods and cloaks, but rather on Bilbo’s discomfort with having an onslaught of unexpected company (during a meal no less!). The scene with the dishes being tossed around is great, as it is fun to watch and loyal to the book. I was also pleased with the reference to Bilbo leaving his pocket-handkerchief behind, as it is one of those details from the book that a true fan would notice and reinforces the truth that Bilbo is not adventuring material. I know (because I read) that some critics dislike this portrayal of Bilbo because it ignores his Tookish nature, but without a lot of Hobbit genealogy you can’t really get a feel for the peculiarity of the Tooks and showing Bilbo as a fully developed character early on would simply make him seem bipolar. He is a respectable Hobbit, who sometimes feels as if he’d like to have an adventure, but who has accepted that Hobbits don’t have adventures. He’s forced into this adventure by Gandalf, and if you ignore their dialogue early on I suppose you could make a case for Bilbo’s Tookish side being blithely ignored, but you’d still be wrong. To be true to the book, and to move the story along and leave room for character development cinematically speaking, Bilbo must be shown as doing something rather impulsive which leaves him feeling uncomfortable. Bemoaning the loss of pocket-handkerchiefs is effective in that it shows how Bilbo has become rather soft and comfortable in his little hole.
The company begins to face danger as soon as they set out on their quest. The first conflict is of course with the trolls. There is a slight departure from the book in that the dwarves attack all at once, and Bilbo is the one to play for time as the sun rises. If you feel affronted at these departures then you have taken literary purity too far. I like that Bilbo gets to show a bit of wit playing for time by having the trolls argue over the best way to cook dwarves. Gandalf of course comes in and exposes the trolls to the sunlight by breaking the rock with his staff, thereby letting the sun’s rays shine through. It’s close enough to the book without wasting time on dialogue shenanigans and it gives Bilbo a chance to find his footing in the group. The next danger they face is completely fabricated for the movie. In the book there were no Warg-riding Orcs hunting the group, but I can understand why this plot point would be brought into the movie; not only does it bring in Thorin’s back story of his battle with the Orcs of Moria, but it sets some of the groundwork for the Battle of the Five Armies to come later. It also conveniently brings the group to Rivendell where they get their map’s hidden runes exposed and translated. Some critics dislike everything about this time in Imladris, but it deals effectively with some fine plot points that no one outside of die-hard Middle Earth fans would know or understand. First of all, it shows Thorin’s pride and distrust as weaknesses of character in an otherwise strong leader. Second, it briefly shows the meeting of the White Council. The White Council met to discuss the rise of the Necromancer in Mirkwood, and it is at this meeting that Saruman counseled delay while Gandalf believed the evil needed to be confronted and banished. This is important in that it shows the very beginning of Saruman’s double-dealing. He knew the danger, but he had begun his own search for the ring and did not wish for anyone else to know of it. I speak as a book nerd of course, not all of this information is spelled out plainly in the movie. Rather, the company of dwarves use the meeting of the White Council to sneak away while those who would stop them are distracted and you get a sense that Gandalf knows what’s what and Saruman either does not or is a pacifist. (As a true fan, I’m glad the White Council is introduced to the storyline since it is crucial in the tale of the ring.)
The next danger the company will face is from the mountain-giants. I was surprised to see these creatures featured in the movie, as they aren’t hugely relevant to the story. The threat they pose to the group is overdone and exaggerated, and if I had one complaint it would be that these creatures take up time that would have been better spent on some other plot point. (Having said that, they are in the book and should tickle your purist funny-bone.) The mountain-giants effectively run the dwarves into a cave, where they camp for the night. In the book, a secret door opens to a passage where Orcs enter and kidnap the group, but in the movie the floor opens up, dumping the company into a sort of trap. What follows is a departure from the book, but also provides one of the best fight sequences you’ll see in a movie. Dwarves, young and old, kick serious Orc butt. (Gandalf rejoins the group at this time.) This is also where Bilbo gets separated from the group and ends up in Gollum’s cave. I know some people angrily nit-pick exactly how Bilbo ends up with Gollum, but I can see why Jackson would hurry that particular sequence along. While it may be fun to read about a Hobbit stumbling through the dark for hours, it isn’t exactly movie magic. Movie-goers would rather watch Bilbo fall down a slope after an Orc attack and then see Gollum kill the Orc with a rock. It also shows how the Ring ‘leaves’ Gollum at this time. (Keep in mind that the ring has gotten all the use out of Gollum that it can and now its desire is to be active in the world again!) This is where some critics go hog-wild with venting their ire. The scene is not exactly as it is first shown in LOTR. To those critics I’d have to say, “Watch the beginning of The Hobbit again, then read the books!” Bilbo didn’t tell the tale completely or truthfully of how he came by the ring! He only revealed the truth to Gandalf after much time and questioning and to Frodo in his written account in the Red Book of Westmarch. To depart from a previous version at this time makes perfect sense!
The next sequence of events also departs from the book and sets some purists’ teeth on edge. As the company escapes the Orcs of the mountain, they fall into the hands of the Warg-riding Orcs. Again, this is understandable as a plot device. In the book, the group actually gets chased into the trees by a pack of Wargs, and the Wargs wait for nightfall when the Orcs will leave the mountain and pursue the group. Orcs shun the daylight, and it weakens them, but after a defeat they’d be hungry for revenge. It makes sense to use this devised group of Warg-riding Orcs with a personal vendetta against Thorin to speed the story along, although it ends with a short fight scene that I can only guess is used to reconcile Bilbo to the dwarves so as to end the first movie on a note of solidarity within the company. Lots of critics see it as an unnecessary departure into the cliché, and while I agree that it isn’t relevant to the story, it is necessary to bring some cohesion to the group at this time. As a matter of fact, if I had any complaint about this sequence of events, I’d say the Eagles got short-changed. Again. Those noble birds are forever being treated as nothing more than Middle Earth transportation!
Some random things I noticed that I felt were a bit lazy: Gandalf scares people with his room-darkening trick again, the Orc battle is oddly like the battle in Moria with all the collapsing structure, and Gandalf asks a moth to send the Eagles. Other things will be familiar, namely scenes (Weathertop) and musical themes. It makes Middle Earth feel familiar, like an old friend, but in my opinion plays a little too much to the crowd that wants to relive LOTR instead of revisit Middle Earth. It’s small criticism of an over all exceptionally well-done adaptation, though.
The one thing that I haven’t decided how to react to yet is Radagast. When I read all the books, I imagined Radagast as a quiet, solitary wizard. Gentle, perhaps. In this movie he’s an eccentric, nervous, and almost motherly wizard whose primary purpose is to care for animals. That’s not to say that this portrayal is inaccurate. Radagast was known to have a rapport with animals and spoke to them. He even sent them on missions for the Council. What I find difficult to embrace about this character is that he allowed birds to cake one side of his head in poo and he rode a sleigh pulled by bunnies. Watching his Rosgobel Rabbits outrun the Wargs was pretty funny, but seriously if you were a wizard that talked to animals wouldn’t you ask the birds to kindly not crap on your head?? I would.
So anyhow… that’s what I thought of The Hobbit. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section!