Dear Peter Jackson; I Hate You. A Short Review Of “The Hobbit.”

A detail from JRR Tolkien's drawing Conversation with Smaug.My first memory of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books was during an interminable cross-country trip when I was 10 or 11. We followed the signs to Wall Drug Store (as, I am confident, did much of America), but it was not quite as exciting as I had anticipated in my fervid imagination. As a consolation prize, my parents bought me “The Hobbit,” and “The Lord of The Rings.” I’m not sure what they expected, but I promptly shut up for the next 1,000 miles…totally engrossed in a new world of hobbits and orcs and trolls and wizards and dwarves and a host of other beings and characters that Tolkien had created, seemingly just for me.

The two books are radically different, as anyone with a functioning cortex would discern in the first paragraphs. “The Hobbit,” quite simply, is a beautiful children’s book, full of fancy and whimsy and fantastic creatures. Does it have death and destruction? Of course. What self-respecting 10 year old would read something without a bit of swordplay and battles? “The Lord of The Rings” is full of adult themes of politics and real evil and existential threats and despair and lots of violence. Both are grand books, but so dissimilar that it’s a wonder they were written by the same man.

Unfortunately, the movies were made by the same man, and he forgot to reread “The Hobbit” before he recycled all of his directorial and production techniques that he used to such great effect in his triumphant “Lord of The Rings” trilogy. I watched the first of “The Hobbit” movies and was modestly impressed. Yes, it was far too dark, but it had a taste of the childish happiness of the book. The second was darker, with less of the child in it, and I liked it even less. But I am a Tolkien junkie, and I pressed on, though the Netflix disc of the third installment sat for months — perhaps my subconscious knew that the next and last movie would be a profound disappointment.

Hobbit_coverAnd it was. Oh my, what a pathetic excuse of a movie. The technical details were the worst of any of his movies; some of the effects, in particular the battle between the Necromancer and Galadriel, looked like cheesy 1960s monster movie stuff. The cuts between scenes were odd, the character development, especially that of Thorin, was superficial. The last half of the movie seemed to be one big mess of a battle, with some trivial explanation sprinkled about just to satisfy the scriptwriters. But mostly it had none of the joy of the book! Forget the complete destruction of the story, it ignored the whole point of “The Hobbit”… was a children’s book!

I lied….I am not going to ignore the ridiculous storyline, full of characters invented out of whole cloth, transplanted from later books, twisted and tortured to fit into the downright silly plot that Jackson created, no doubt to stretch a single movie into three.

If Jackson’s goal was to amortize the huge fixed costs of the production of “The Lord of The RIngs” over an additional three movies, then I can forgive him . . . I guess. But if he wanted to make a movie faithful to a lovely and sweet book, he failed miserably.

11 comments to “Dear Peter Jackson; I Hate You. A Short Review Of “The Hobbit.””
  1. YES! Although, truth be told I think his LotR was too dark – and too action-y over magical – as well. His editorial choices were odd especially given that he stretched the Hobbit into three friggin movies.

  2. The LOTR movies were very good. I saw the first installment of the Hobbit and I was crushed by the sheer awfulness of it. And then just the thought of Legolas and his elf gal pal… urgh gluk ngagnazh grunsh, or whatever the orc is for no effing way. Never saw the second two films, never will.

  3. A wise choice.

    Maybe in 10 or 15 years somebody with a sense of what Tolkien really is will make “The Hobbit.”

    That would be great, but I’m not holding my breath.

  4. Absolutely agree! Jackson dragged in too much stuff from LOTR to pad out three movies, which distracted from the story. He forgot the title is “The Hobbit”, not “Gandalf and Galadriel’s Excellent Adventure” or “How to Succeed In Trilogies Without Really Trying”.

    And why so many gratuitous bits? Beorn as a former slave and last of his kind? Not in the book. Rhadagast and his bunny sled? Nope. A love story between an Elf maiden (not in the book) and a Dwarf? It’s The Hobbit, not a Hallmark moment.

    Jackson did get a few things right. The opening sequence with Bilbo and Gandalf and the appearance of the Dwarfs is right out of the book and nicely done. Bilbo’s dilemma about withholding the Arkenstone was good. And the king of the Wood Elves was a first class prick in the book and the movie. There were too few of these moments in too many hours of film.

    I might, eventually, get a copy of the director’s cut of The Hobbit but only if it is a good sale price. I would rather put that viewing time into my annual reading of LOTR. This will be my 50th straight year to do so.

  5. There is (was) a fanedit of the 3 Hobbit films that basically cut it back to the book, as much as possible. At around 3-3.5 hours, it’s still not short enough but is much more watchable. No love story, little or no Radagast or Necromancer, etc. There’s apparently a shorter edit out there but I didn’t dig for it. In a perfect world, we’d have 3 cuts of the film: a Tolkien cut, the theatrical cut, and a super-duper long edition with extended 45-minute, dialogue-free, pipe-smoking sequence where Bilbo dozes off.

  6. My big problem was that Jackson seemed to be actively working against the book. He carefully left out many of the best parts: the Dwarves trickling into Beorn’s house as Gandalf tells the story of how they got there and ramps up the numbers as he goes; he even left out the capper line of Smaug’s great rant (“My breath, DEATH!”).

    I rather think Peter Jackson was completely sick of JRR Tolkein before he started on the Hobbit movie, and that fatigue showed in the screenplay.

  7. By far, the best “Hobbit” I ever saw was the Rankin-Bass animated one (and their “Return of the King” was nice, too) — they showed that to us in grade school (back in the late 70’s and very early 80’s) almost every year. And yes, reading the book for the first time when I was a tiny pug puppy was a real treat.

    One small point in Jackson’s defense was that he wanted to do two movies, but the studio insisted on three. That being said, too much filler, too much change from the book, it just wasn’t really enjoyable.

  8. Rankin-Bass captured “The Hobbit” perfectly, and did a decent job with “The Return of the King.”

    It’s a pity Jackson so badly wrecked this story, especially since he and his staff so masterfully distilled The Lord of The Rings trilogy into a technical, commercial, and fan success.

  9. Jackson should be stripped of his Oscar in the most publicly humiliating way that they Cohen brothers can imagine.

    I enjoyed the first two LOTR immensely, even though Aragorn was miscast, badly written, and poorly directed.

    By the third I was somewhat less enthusiastic,primarily because the final battle in the Shire is not merely denoument to be dispensed with. It’s short, I grant you, but without that final moment demonstrating the complete change in the character of the hobbits, the whole point of the story is weakened.

    So I began to be nervous about the hobbit. Hated the first one, watched the second only out of devoted love for my then ten year old son.

    Even that will not convince me to watch the third.

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