The Hobbit

Since Christmas I have been rereading the Hobbit for the first time in, oh I'd say, about 40 years. It's an engaging little book but not really a demanding read. The plot is inventive but not very complex. The characters aren't very well developed, and are not meant to be, for, as the constant asides from the author to the reader remind you, this is a children's book.

So I was intrigued to go to the Rialto last night and watch the Peter Jackson movie in glorious 3-D. To be frank, I wasn't expecting much, as the reviews have been muted and I couldn't see how the 315 pages recounting the doings of a small band of adventurers could possibly be spun out to cover the 9 hours or so of the projected 3 Hobbit films. I was pleasantly surprised. Very pleasantly indeed.

We plonked down our $43(!) for tickets, coffee and glasses and sat in the fairly full theatre. The credits rolled and within a minute or two my eyes had adjusted to the technology. I found the 3-D just a little disconcerting: it looks like the pictures you see in a Viewmaster. The people in the action are all magnificently delineated in 3 glorious and convincing dimensions, but the backgrounds all looked flat. Things pop out of the screen in a most satisfactory manner (check out the scene where Gandalf speaks to a moth) but even when the rivers are flowing and the birds are flying the scenery looks like paintings. I suppose this isn't helped by the New Zealand scenery, some of which I know well, being ever so slightly (and sometimes hugely) computer enhanced.

The film did start slowly. Dwarves arrive, and then more dwarves arrive, and then more dwarves arrive, and then there's a knock on the door and guess who it is? But then the action gathers its momentum and the two and three quarter hours whizzed by. Which is no small feat on Peter Jackson's part. In the Lord Of The Rings, the central plot takes place in several locations simultaneously. There are myriad subplots which all have a huge, cosmic setting in Tolkien's invented mythology. There are dozens of characters, many of them subtly and skillfully drawn. There are invented languages, poems, songs, myths, spells and magical objects which all play their roles and need to be fitted in somehow. In Lord Of The Rings, the problem was paring the material down to fit into the time available. In the Hobbit, Peter Jackson had the opposite problem: how to pad things out to make a trilogy that would sit as a companion piece to LOTR, equal in grandeur and scope.

He has done it by setting the fairly basic, linear plotline into some of the mythic stuff pilfered from the Silmarillion and LOTR. He has developed the characters of the dwarves, although their somewhat cartoonish costuming does tend to make them into caricatures. In the opening scene he has tied the film to LOTR so that knowledge of the earlier film brings depth and recognition to the later one. The cosmic stuff has been played up: so that whereas the book was really just a jolly ramble from adventure to adventure as the little band of  hobbit, wizard and dwarves pursued their limited aims, the film portrays the early days of the rise of Sauron and the setting is an archetypal battle of good and evil. So far so good. With its rollicking Indiana Jones type underground shenanigans and wargs and giant eagles and Gollum and the promise of things to come it's a great film and I look forward to the other two.

One particular bouquet is the CG. Gollum is a tour de force. The pivotal scene of the riddling in the dark has not got a lot of action. it is a couple of blokes swapping Christmas cracker jokes by a barren pool, but it is riveting. The scene depends for its great power on the facial reactions of  Bilbo and Gollum as the battle of wits develops. Neither lets us down, due in part to the astonishing acting ability of  Martin Freeman, and the astonishing programming ability of Weta Workshops.

One particular brickbat is the almost complete lack of women in the film. There is one, Galadriel, who is more goddess than real woman anyway. I know that this is a Tolkien legacy: there are NO women in the book, but given the other liberties Peter Jackson has taken with the script you think he might have worked in a few more. There is an orc city, for instance, seemingly populated only by male orcs. Well, I know that according to a scene in LOTR orcs reproduce asexually, but couldn't Weta have amused themselves mightily (and us too) by equalling out the genders a little?  A gender invisibility which may well have worked in the aftermath of World War 1 seems, in 2013, simply bizarre.


Katherine said…
Some of the dwarves could have been female... oh wait, I'm getting confused - that's Terry Pratchett dwarves. No, I'm right - wiki, if it's to be trusted, says that "... Tolkien stated that female dwarves are rare, and disguise themselves as male when they must travel." Both sexes have beards...
So there might have been more than one female in The Hobbit after all.

Brian R said…
Glad you liked it, I was hugely disappointed. I must have read LOTR more than a dozen times since being entranced in my early 20's. I saw each film twice within a few weeks and have bought and watched the DVDs since. In fact I watched the Fellowship of the Ring again this week to cheer me up. I did not really like The Hobbit on first reading many years ago but read it again a month or so ago and was pleasantly surprised although it is not a match on LOTR. But as you say it was written for children. However I found the film (I only saw it in 2D)long and boring and I even wonder if I want to see the sequels.
Wynston said…
Saw it today. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Was pleasantly surprised at how few liberties were taken with the storyline. Am amazed how anyone could find it boring! Am looking forward to the next two films.