‘Hobbit’ film not lining up with the novelPublished 9:06am Friday, December 21, 2012
Column: Notes from Home, by David Behling
The teenager and I went to see Peter Jackson’s new film, “The Hobbit,” at the midnight showing last Thursday. We enjoyed it, though on my part, the enjoyment came with reservations and a lack of the pleasure derived from the “Lord of the Rings” films from a few years ago.
Jackson is an action movie director. So “The Hobbit” as a film is a sequence of suspense and battles as the dwarves led by Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror and their hobbit burglar Bilbo Baggins are pursued by an evil orc lord named Azog (riding a giant wolf creature called a warg) and his orcish minions.
Jackson also chose to add menace to the film by including a battle that J.R.R. Tolkien had left far in the background of the novel. That back story (which relates more to the saga of the ring than it does to Bilbo’s journey) involves characters familiar to the Lord of the Rings films – Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond – against the Necromancer (aka LOTR’s Sauron). The only connection to Bilbo’s adventures is that the dark lord wreaks havoc in the same forest through which dwarves and hobbit must travel on their way to the lonely mountain.
Jackson’s choices take the story depicted in a radically different direction from the one laid out by Tolkien. Pointing this out, however, does not make me some kind of purist fanatic who hates even the smallest deviation from the holy text of a novel. I embraced the choices that Jackson made in trimming and shaping the LOTR series. And there are some things about the new movie that help explain some things that happen in the story. But at its heart, unlike the LOTR films, Jackson’s version of the prequel is quite different in both spirit and letter.
“The Hobbit” (as a novel) is not an action story, at least not primarily. Yes, there are escapes from orc tunnels, riddles in the dark with Gollum, struggles with spiders in a dark forest, a battle of wits with Smaug the dragon, inner struggles with the greed of elves, dwarves and humans, and a final battle against orcs and wargs. But the real focus in Tolkien’s novel is on Bilbo Baggins and his journey out of middle-aged complacency.
Jackson’s version, on the other hand, is all about the danger and suspense. From the outset there is a sense the 14 companions (15 with Gandalf) are being hunted by Azog, who is genocidal, determined to wipe all the dwarves from the face of Middle-earth. There are numerous encounters with that villain, with escapes from certain destruction provided by elves — whom the dwarves neglect to thank — and giant eagles, who literally snatch dwarves and hobbit out of the claws of Azog and his wargs.
This is not to say there are only bad things for me in this film. Jackson’s additions help (or will help) viewers understand the dwarf lord Thorin’s lack of trust when it comes to the elves and humans at the end of the story. The way Jackson tells the story of the Dwarf Kingdom conquered by Smaug the dragon helps explain the spell that gold casts over Thorin, clouding his judgement as events hurtle towards disaster at the end of the novel. That change in Thorin seemed to come out of nowhere when I read the novel for the first time; it’s hard to understand why he becomes so irresponsible. The film helps me with that.
The choice of actors for Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) are also effective at bringing those characters to life. Gandalf is a proven commodity from the other films, but these two actors are new to Middle-earth, and they successfully make me believe I am actually encountering Bilbo and Thorin.
Will I go see the other two installments yet to come? Of course. Nothing will keep me out of those theaters. When they come out, will I install the DVDs on the shelf at home next to my extended version of LOTR? Of course. But am I in love with the story as depicted by Jackson? No. Not a chance. Humans, like hobbits, dwarves and elves, can be wonderfully inconsistent.
David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.