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Movie Review of The Hobbit

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Movie Review of The Hobbit

By Andrew Weitzen

It is quite easy to pick apart someone else's work. Though that is a reviewer's job, first let me say that The Hobbit movie is a masterful work. I thoroughly enjoyed it along with my mother and my nephew. What criticisms I make below are purely intellectual and take nothing away from the magnificent accomplishment the movie makers achieved with The Hobbit.

Buy The Hobbit Movies
Buy The Hobbit Movies

Some movies are perfect. Perfect movies you can watch again and again and still cannot find anything you would change, like: Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, On the Waterfront, The Maltese Falcon and Rocky. These movies are so good, that as critical of a person as I am, I still can find nothing to change. I am astounded at how people can make movies so well.

The Hobbit is not perfect. In some respects, The Hobbit is better than perfect. In other ways, I have some changes that would better suit my vision of Tolkien's tale.

The Visuals

Do you need to see the 3D version of The Hobbit?

Yes, 3D is better.

While watching The Hobbit, I did not appreciate the amount of depth 3D added to the movie. It was not until a few days later, when I sat down to watch Django in 2D, that I realized how much visually richer the 3D movie was. Watching Django, my brain rebelled against the flat images on the screen and craved the 3D immersion.

The artwork in The Hobbit is spectacular.

These movie makers are masters at cinematography and animation.

The troop rides atop horses and ponies with little Bilbo, the mid-sized Dwarves and the man-sized Gandalf, all riding on their respective mounts in the same scene, amongst each other and looking as real as can be. Remember in real life, they are all human-sized, but you would not know that when watching the movie.

There is fantastic attention to detail, the inside of Bilbo's hobbit hole is rich, the neighborhood of The Hill is luscious, the costumes elaborate and the scenery everywhere is gorgeous.

My issues with the visuals are first with the bad guys. All the bad guys look the same, just different sizes.

How come none of the bad guys have hair?

Trolls by John Bauer 1915
Trolls by John Bauer 1915

The trolls should have had hair and definitely big noses. They should look like big, human-like louts. They should have mops of unkept hair on their head. They should look kind of like Jaws from the James Bond movies, maybe fatter and bigger. They should also be wearing a full set of clothes.

According to Tolkien there were goblins, hobgoblins and orcs. Goblins were a race created by Sauron to mimic elves. Goblins were not very big, about dwarve height or a little taller, but wiry, not stocky. Since dwarves were stocky and dense, dwarves probably outweighed taller goblins. Hobgoblins and orcs were the bigger goblins, being taller and more powerful than normal goblins. My biggest problem with the goblins of The Hobbit movie, is they are too big and muscular. They are huge.

The wargs are too big as well. Wargs were big, evil wolves, big enough for goblins to ride. Since goblins are not that big, the wargs do not have to be that big. In the movie, since the goblins are huge, the wargs are as big as horses.

The problem with the size of the goblins and wargs is the fight and chase scenes.

As far as visuals go, in my opinion, the fight and chase scenes are problematic, and here is why. The tone of the movie is a realistic one, but the fight and chase scenes are not realistic. The goblins are twice the size of the dwarves, the wargs five times the size of the dwarves, they out number the dwarves by many times to one, and yet the dwarves and the hobbit defeat their enemy every time without suffering any losses.

What is the point of the fight scene?

Even though the bad guys look much stronger than the good guys, you know the good guys are going to kill tons of bad guys without getting hurt.

Why show all the nonsense?

There actually are a couple of good fight scenes when Thorin takes on Azog, because Azog is winning and Thorin is hard pressed to defend himself. Thorin looks vulnerable. There is drama.

Can movie makers learn that one fight scene against an evenly matched opponent is more exciting than a hundred gratuitous fight scenes where the good guys effortlessly slaughter countless bad guys, especially when the bad guys look much bigger and more powerful than the puny good guys that are obliterating them. I digress into a rant against stupid movie fight scenes.

The rest of the fight scenes are silly, with dwarves killing hundreds of much bigger and more powerful goblins with no trouble whatsoever.

The chase scenes are also ridiculous, with the dwarves surviving impossible leaps and falls.

One good scene is after the dwarves fall into the goblin cave, the goblins jump all over the dwarves and carry them away. That was a realistic scene.

I would change the fight and chase scenes, either leaving them out or simplifying them to make them more realistic and so more dramatic.

Music

The music was not to my taste. Perhaps I should say the tone of the story telling was not completely to my taste, which is discussed below. Maybe the music was just right for what it was supposed to be.

For me, the nature of the story is a light hearted adventure and the music did not fit my interpretation. The movie makers made a more serious adventure than my take, and the music did fit their way of telling the tale.

Story Telling

While masterfull movie makers, I thought their story telling could use a few adjustments.

Adding the back story was, for me, quite enjoyable. I liked seeing the movie makers vision of Dale and Erebor the Dwarve kingdom. I also liked the addition of Thorin's history.

We all know it is not what you say, but how you say it.

Tolkien explicitly makes this point right at the beginning of The Hobbit with Bilbo and Gandalf's "Good morning" exchange, when Gandalf says, "What a lot of things you do use good morning for!"

Tolkien chose a particular tone for his tale, which is as much a part of his tale as the words and actions themselves. That tone in the beginning is a child's tone, a fun, light-hearted, somewhat humorous one.

The movie makers depart right away from Tolkien's upbeat, children's tale, to a serious story for somber adults, almost like chronicles of a war.

Tolkien starts with a forward and notes about ruins and the map that are like an historian's, but this is before the tale.

The tale itself starts with the child's story narrator, not the same voice that did the forward. The narrator starts the story with:

In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

What kind of tale do we have after this first paragraph. One that is going to be light-hearted with a sense of humor.

After introducing us to Bilbo, the narrator has Bilbo meet Gandalf.

"Good Morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was green.

Bilbo is quite pleasant, cheery and welcoming according to our narrator. It is only after Gandalf suggests adventure that Bilbo puts Gandalf off. At which point Bilbo, in a fluster says, "Sorry! I don't want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea -- any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!" Then Bilbo regrets inviting the wizard to tea.

In the movie, Bilbo good mornings Gandalf in a skeptical, distrustful manner right from the start and soon closes the door on Gandalf without any invitation whatsoever. When the Dwarves arrive the next day, Bilbo insist he had not invited anyone and he had not, at least not in the movie.

In the book, Bilbo was expecting Gandalf, not the Dwarves.

Why change Tolkein's story? The change does not seem to be an improvement to me.

There are many other changes, which do not seem to improve the telling, or worse, take away from the story. While I will let most pass, I will mention just a few more. The first to reinforce how the movie makers changed the mood.

In the movie the elves were a somber folk, serious with no laughter.

In the book, the elves are a fun-loving people, loving laughter, silliness and teasing their guests. As the narrator tells us

there came a burst of song like laughter in the trees:

O! What are you doing ...
O! tra-la-la-lally ...
O! Will you be staying ...
To stay would be jolly ...
ha! ha!

So they laughed and sang in the trees; and pretty fair nonsense I daresay you think it. Not that they would care; they would only laugh all the more if you told them so. They were elves of course.

At this point in the book, the troop has escaped danger, but the reader is still having a jolly, good time.

By this time in the movie, the story is quite serious, with no joking around, a different feeling from the book.

Another change is both Bilbo's role and Bilbo's character arc.

In the book, Bilbo is the central figure in the story, with Gandalf a close second. The Dwarves are only backdrop material. Bilbo experiences little growth from the time he leaves his home until the group is left on the Carrock by the eagles, which is when the movie ends. While Bilbo has left his comfortable home to go on an adventure and managed to save himself from death at the hands of Gollum, these are only experiences that happened to him, his character has not yet shown any change. Bilbo's character does not experience growth until Gandalf leaves and the party enters Mirkwood.

Perhaps the movie makers felt like Bilbo needed to grow within the confines of the first movie. Maybe this is the reason for the many changes to the story.

In the book, Bilbo is sent to investigate a fire and finds the trolls. Rather than warning the others, Bilbo, the fool, tries to pick a troll's pocket and endangers the lives of all the Dwarves. In the disaster that ensues, frightened and helpless, Bilbo stays hidden out of sight until Gandalf rescues the Dwarves. Rather than growing, Bilbo proves his unworthiness to adventure, although he did show gumption in attempting to pick the troll's pocket.

In the movie, Fili and Kili push Bilbo to rescue the ponies from the trolls. After the trolls capture the whole lot of Dwarves, it is the quick-witted Bilbo who tricks the trolls into wasting time, until they turn into stone at sunrise. Rather than Bilbo being the cause of the trouble, in the movie he is the rescuer.

Later on, at the battle at the meeting place of the wargs, a similar thing happens.

In the book, all the Dwarves climb into the trees, but Bilbo cannot reach the lowest branches. Dori has to climb down and risk his life to save Bilbo, which Dori bravely does. Bilbo once again proves his liability to the group.

In the movie, Bilbo climbs into the tree himself. Thorin comes down from the tree to fight Azog. Thorin is knocked to the ground and about to be executed when Bilbo rushes to Thorin's defense, saving Thorin's life. Gandalf meanwhile sits by doing nothing. Unlike the book, in the movie Bilbo is already showing heroic behavior.

Maybe also, the movie makers felt Bilbo was not strong enough to carry the movie and they needed to develop Thorin. Maybe they felt they needed to create conflict and resolution between Bilbo and Thorin. The problem with this, is the movie makers left Thorin as flat as Tolkien made him. Even though the movie makers gave Thorin a large role in the tale, they did not give Thorin depth and growth.

Humor

The last thing I will mention is humor.

Humor is good in movies.

The only humorous character in The Hobbit movie is the Great Goblin. The Great Goblin is a great character, but his part is short-lived, as is his life. Here the writers show their skill in story telling, improving on Tolkein by giving the Great Goblin personality.

In the book, Tolkein's is humorous on many occasions. While Tolkein does not provide us with any witty characters, except Gandalf, the troll's dialog is fun and the overall tone of the story, at least for the part covered in the movie, is light-hearted, as already noted.

A movie can have funny, witty, silly and humorous characters that are entertaining even in dire straits.

As in life, opportunities for humor are everywhere. There are attempts at humor in the movie, but I would say this is an area the movie makers have an opportunity to do better.

Conclusion

Though the movie makers deviate from Tolkein enough to be criticized by an extreme hobbit aficionado, even that same aficionado can say, The Hobbit is an immensely enjoyable movie, with fantastic scenes, artwork beyond belief and a lively adventure.

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