Now that I’ve seen the final Hobbit movie and laid Peter Jackson’s trilogy to rest, it’s time to return to the book review I wrote two years ago in anticipation of the first installment, which included a few predictions. Let’s see how I did…
Bilbo Baggins was a respectable hobbit. He “never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.” Until the wizard Gandalf and an unexpected party of 13 dwarves arrived one day on his doorstep. Suddenly, he found himself off to the Lonely Mountain to retrieve the dwarves’ stolen treasure from Smaug the dragon. The Hobbit is a year-long journey with classic Tolkien adventure.
The Hobbit explains how Bilbo came to find the ring of power and sets the stage for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It introduces hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards and some of how they each came to be on Middle Earth. It also, in a veiled way, tells part of Sauron’s tale. It’s a fun, event-filled story all its own but it is NOT a sweeping epic with desperate stakes like LOTR. It is merely an exciting treasure hunt.
And this vast difference is why I wonder if The Hobbit will be as successful on the big screen as The Lord of the Rings. The stakes simply are not as high. Don’t get me wrong, it’s loaded with suspense and high action which I expect will make the movie highly entertaining. But it lacks the purpose given to Frodo’s task as well as the deep friendship that develops between Sam and Frodo. Bilbo is on his own among dwarves and his quest rather frivolous. It’s simply not as weighty.
Yet the story holds some surprises and ends with a history-altering event that trumps the quest for gold. In fact, by the end the value of wealth is quite called into question and a few hard lessons are learned. And once again, or rather for the first time, we are shown the nobility of this race called hobbits.
Whether the on-screen version lives up to the book or to the LOTR films remains to be seen, but either way, I think we’re in for amazing special effects, some great performances and a story with its own charm. “There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”
Hmmmm…I guess I’ve proven rather prophetic, haven’t I? The creators of the movie had to invent a villian for this one–the white orc with his personal vendetta against Thorin’s family–to try to up the stakes. And instead of focusing on the book’s main objective, that of reclaiming the dwarves’ treasure, they attempted to instill some nobility by turning it into a quest to reclaim the dwarves’ mountain “homeland”. Finally, they cooked up a special friendship between Thorin and Bilbo to try to recreate some of the magic of LOTR. I predicted all these issues, and all attempts to make The Hobbit more than it really is fell flat.
Though I didn’t say so, I also predicted a trilogy would be WAY TOO MUCH movie for this story. At the time of my review, the trilogy hadn’t been announced yet, and I thought maybe they could squeak a two-part movie out of the text. Maybe. I was so disgusted when I found out it would be three parts. And that has been my biggest complaint each time. They’re too long! Which makes them too slow. And the battles are way over done. It detracts from the simple charm of the book.
However, I was also right about the special effects. Peter Jackson has an amazing ability to create the impossible on the screen. And I was also right about the great performances. Ian McKellan is always incredible. But it was Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins that salvages a scrap of charm. I’ll even go so far as to say he singlehandedly saves the trilogy from being a total flop. He alone is the reason I went back to see each new movie. (Okay, I did like Turiel, Kili, and Bard, too.)
My final thoughts? The Lord of the Rings is still my all-time favorite epic, both book and movie. I’ve read the trilogy at least half a dozen times and watched the movies enough to memorize large chunks of dialogue. The Hobbit (the book) is charming, but it’s a distant cousin, notable mainly because of the background it provides. I’ll probably never watch the movies again. However, I’ve become a true Martin Freeman fan. When does the next season of Sherlock come out?