Still Pining for a Simpler Hobbit Film…by Astrid Tuttle Winegar
A couple weeks before the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 2012, I figured I should quickly read The Hobbit just to refresh my memory of the plot. After seeing the movie, I thought, “why the hell did I bother?” Not that reading The Hobbit is ever a waste of time, but as preparation for the film, it’s completely unnecessary. As readers of J. R. R. Tolkien’s books know, The Hobbit is a 250-page novel geared toward relatively young children. Many probably thought, “why is Peter Jackson turning this quaint story into what might end up being a total of, let’s say, eight or nine hours worth of film, besides the obvious and cynical commercial reasons?” Let’s face it—at most, The Hobbit should be around two and a quarter hours long, maybe two and a half, regardless of how much time we want to spend in cinematic Middle-earth.
I know there are Tolkien purists who detest Jackson’s cinematic versions of The Lord of the Rings; purists might also detest the new Hobbit trilogy of films. I’ve known fans who can’t tolerate the omission of the house elf rebellion from the Harry Potter films. I’ve known Jane Austen and Charles Dickens purists who can’t stomach any filmed versions of these particular novels. I once attended a lecture by the eminent Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey who bemoaned the portrayals of Aragorn, Faramir, and Denethor in Jackson’s films. Perhaps I’m more sympathetic to filmmakers and many of the decisions they end up making. I love Tolkien’s books, but I also love Jackson’s films. I treat the two genres, film and text, as two completely separate objects, so I’m not as offended by Jackson’s decisions.
Nevertheless, I don’t love either one unconditionally; both have some flaws. After years of reading/viewing, however, even these flaws have taken on a sort of charming quality—you know, the way flaws in a good relationship become more endearing and tolerable. In a bad relationship, flaws only magnify and become annoying.
For me, these flaws, imperfections, annoyances, cringe-worthy episodes—whatever you’d like to call them—don’t bother me much, so I figure my relationships with both Tolkien and Jackson are still strong and nourishing to my soul. Here are a few of my top flaws, not in any sort of order, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. And please remember, my love for both Tolkien and Jackson supersedes any of my pet peeves! Anyway—I’m sorry, but I have never really been keen on Tom Bombadil. He just bugs me, so I’m fine with the lack of any Bombadil scene in Jackson’s films. Sometimes I skip through Tolkien’s poetry. I’m really not keen on Jackson’s occasional use of winkingly clever anachronisms. The cringe-worthiest one, for me, is Legolas zooming down a ramp at Helm’s Deep as if he is merely a skater boy. There’s more, but this isn’t a dissertation. These are completely personal issues; I’m sure anyone reading this will have their own personal peeves and perhaps think I’m crazy for not loving the happy blue-suited character.
Conversely, Jackson added/extrapolated some beautiful features to the Lord of the Rings films. I always weep when Aragorn interacts with the mortally-wounded Boromir. I love the sweeping visuals of the beacon lighting scene. I like that Éowyn is a warmer character than Tolkien’s depiction. Jackson and his exceptionally talented crew got more things right with the films than wrong.
So, I just watched An Unexpected Journey again last weekend to prepare for the DVD release of The Desolation of Smaug (April 8, 2014). Jackson got many things right with this film as well: the invasion of Bilbo’s pantry by the dwarves and the “Riddles in the Dark” scene both stand out particularly. Jackson extrapolated the whole Radagast episode from a mere mention in Tolkien’s text. I happen to love the Radagast scenes, especially the racing rabbits, yet then there are those annoying winking anachronisms with the tobacco and the mushrooms. You just want Jackson to stop trying to be so modern and so clever. The Azog episode goes over the top, as does Bilbo going on the attack. I also find myself constantly distracted by the smolderingly handsome face of Richard Armitage (Tolkien stresses that dwarves are ugly). I can easily get over the casting, since Jackson is dealing with a visual medium. However, I think John Rhys-Davies in real life is a handsome gentleman, yet he was not attractive as a dwarf. Maybe you’d disagree with that assessment, if you have a mad crush on Gimli as depicted in the films. Again, these are all just personal opinions and issues, but I have a feeling all of us fans have similar issues.
However—I seriously wondered why Jackson couldn’t, wouldn’t, or shouldn’t consider making a film of The Hobbit that is more literal and linear. An Unexpected Journey is rated PG-13 and probably should be viewed by 12-year-olds. Yet, I was under the impression Tolkien thought of seven-year-olds as The Hobbit’s target audience. Thus, we really need a PG movie.
The actual book of The Hobbit is action-packed and could definitely be turned into a single, tight, little movie. Why not just stick to the book? Here would be my fantasy—use all the same actors and sets, even (especially!) the handsome Mr. Armitage. Omit the Radagast business, even though all those animals would be delightful to see. Tone down the Orc stuff and certainly omit Azog—remember, we want a PG rating, something that I could share with my grandson when he’s six or seven, not something I have to put off until he’s 11 or 12. Brighten up the dwarf costumes somewhat, though be careful not to reduce the Dwarves to Tolkien’s own rather caricatured portrayal. Dwarf portrayal is obviously a delicate matter (Thorin Oakenshield wearing a sky-blue hood with a long silver tassel, indeed…). The trolls are great, but perhaps they shouldn’t be depicted as peevish and pretentious Top Chef judges (winking anachronism time again…).
And as much as I support women’s rights and as much as I find Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom to be lovely and talented actors, Legolas and Tauriel are superfluous. Nevertheless, as sacrilegious as it might sound, I loved the character of Tauriel. I enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug quite a lot. I would give it a solid A, or five stars, simply as a rip-roaring, enjoyable film. As an adaptation of Tolkien’s texts, I’d have to give it a D, or two stars. Again, I’m okay with that, since I treat the film and the texts as completely different entities.
But I still pine for a less-cluttered, less-epic, version as well. Could it be that after all three films have been released, someone will simply combine all the true Hobbit scenes into that single, tight, little two and a half hour movie? Would it only be relegated to a YouTube clip? That would be unfortunate.
I have a feeling I’ll love the final Hobbit film when it is released in December; there will be fabulous visuals and undoubtedly, a few more pet peeves will end up on my personal flaw list. Fine—let us have the gigantically expansive three-film Hobbit series. Please. PLEASE. But, couldn’t we also have a succinct and truer version as well?
While I’m on the subject, I wish Jackson would consider filming these items from Tolkien’s works: Farmer Giles of Ham and Smith of Wootton Major would each make amazing films. How about Roverandom as a G-rated movie? If only Hayao Miyazaki weren’t retiring—couldn’t he have collaborated with Jackson to produce a gorgeous animated film of that story? From The Silmarillion, the story of Lúthien and Beren could be phenomenal and the Tale of Túrin Turambar would be wonderfully tragic to see on film. Imagine the dragons! Oh, how I would long to see these five titles on the big screen, and then to own them in my DVD collection. But, only if they were made into five individual films, each between two and two and half hours each. Three hours at most. Will this ever happen? I guess I won’t hold my breath, but it’s fun to fantasize about these other possibilities…
Astrid Tuttle Winegar
Astrid Tuttle Winegar is the author of Cooking for Halflings and Monsters: 111 Comfy, Cozy Recipes for Fantasy-Loving Souls, which will eventually be published on the Amazon Kindle. Astrid has loved C. S. Lewis since childhood, J. R. R. Tolkien since middle and high school, all Star things, both Trek and Wars, all things Whedon, and many other things besides… She lives in the enchanted city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband and dog. Her blog can be found at http://halflingsandmonsters.wordpress.com/. You can check out (and like!) her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/halflingsandmonsters or visit her Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/astridwinegar.