If you’re familiar with this blog, you know that Emily and I mostly use it to keep in touch with friends and family about our lives and adventures being so far away from home. So I should explain that I’m writing this because I consider the Hobbit to be, in a way, part of my life. I read this story as a kid and later as an adult too and it has never ceased to speak volumes to me, shaping the person I’ve become today. It is an incredible story about friendship, adventure, sin and the love of money, and most importantly, grace. So here’s what I thought of the movie adaptation:
The Battle for the Soul of the Hobbit
When the news first broke that Peter Jackson decided to split the movie into 3 parts instead of 2, I was worried because honestly, I wasn’t sure if there was that much story in a book intended for children. I mean this is a guy who made the LOTR, which is technically a 6-book series, into 3 movies. Now he’s making the children’s book prequel into 3? I had a feeling this was all part of an elaborate plan to stretch 2 decent films into 3 mediocre films (distracting the audience with plenty of special effects) in order to have 3 colossal, money-raking release dates spread out over the years. I mean who wouldn’t go see more movies by the guy who nailed the LOTR trilogy? But some of my fellow Tolkien enthusiasts told me that there was some chatter online about plans to add material from The Silmarilion into the films. Fair enough, maybe they could throw stuff in in flashback form and make a decent trilogy. Plus the guys just really did justice to the original LOTR trilogy. So I have reserved my judgements until now.
I’m sad to say I was right. Though the first Hobbit movie started off well enough. It had the right tone and feel, albeit with a few cartoonish parts (which are easily forgiven when you remind yourself that the story was intended as a child’s fairy tale). But the early warning signs began in the Desolation of Smaug. You know what I’m talking about; that ineffably long fight scene on the frozen river which entailed Legolas hopping around like the main character of a video game, pulling all the highest scoring combos, alongside a pretty lady-friend who was hastily invented and then given a disproportionate amount of screen time (Not to mention the fact that Smaug was never actually desolated in the Desolation of Smaug). Well, Battle of the Five Armies was more of the same.
Lost in the Battle
Credit where credit is due; the name gives us fair warning. This is a movie about a really big battle. But it’s not the battle that is the problem. It’s the lack of story-telling I take issue with. Tolkien once said that he intended LOTR to be something like a modern day epic poem for Europe. Sort of like an Anglo-Saxon Odysesy , and it had some great messages to tell us European-descended folk. For a people who have spent so much of history building economic empires on the backs of Asians, Africans, and Native Americans, just before experiencing the rise of the Nazi regime, the shadows of which Tolkien undoubtedly saw from Oxford, LOTR contains a powerful message of peoples and nations setting aside their own prejudices and banning together to halt the march of darkness. The Hobbit is no doubt a microcosm of this epic and the Battle of the Five Armies held the potential to help us examine ourselves in this time of riots over Ferguson and other forms of racial strife. One would hope this movie could provide a means by which we could ask ourselves who is our real enemy and who are our brothers we once thought of as enemies. But that message is sadly lost in our fascination with watching a dwarf flip and roll around an orc in a feat of computer-enhanced acrobatics lasting veritable ages.
The Story of a Film Maker Who Lost Himself in His Mountain of Gold
But in my opinion the greatest irony of this movie was it’s dual message. In his essay On Fairy Stories, Tolkien discusses the way in which great fantasies have a way of reflecting our faults back upon us, in hopes to lead us to repentance. One of the greatest mirrors in this fairy tale is it’s depiction of the love of money being the root of all evil. To his credit, Peter Jackson didn’t shy away from portraying this in the movie. To avoid leaking any spoilers, suffice it to say that these were some of the few “non battle” scenes in the movie and at times they grew to be quite moving. But the irony of it all is that the movie preached a warning against greed while loudly succumbing to it. All of the needless special effects left that message in the dust, depicting Legolas pulling magic ninja moves that teeter-tottered on the line between cool and comedic and the battle scenes that showed the bad guys dying but then–NOPE– coming back to life to fight for another 30 minutes! (over and over and over again…) It’s as if, in his efforts to portray the King Under the Mountain driven mad with greed, Peter Jackson sort of became him. We could draw a very real parallel between the mountain bearing the letters “H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D” and the bone-chillingly named symbol of avarice; the Lonely Mountain. Indeed, the message of the movie seems to be, “Beware of the ways that greed can change you… But if it does, don’t worry about it because look at all the cool stuff we made with the mountain (pun intended) of money we made from the first three movies!”
What Was Left Out to Make Room For More Fighting and CGI
(Skip this paragraph to avoid reading a few minor spoilers… minor spoilers if you’ve read the book, but medium-sized ones if you haven’t)
Lastly, I can’t help but be saddened by the ending. For those of you who have read the Hobbit, you might remember Chapter 19 as one of the most important passages in the book. We find Bilbo coming home to find his things being auctioned off but, surprisingly, he doesn’t care. He is happy to sit in his empty living room puffing on his pipe. It’s a sort of baptism so to speak. The removal of his old home signifies the death of the old Bilbo and in it’s place a new Bilbo sits, who we’re told spends his days writing poetry, visiting elves and spending his newfound wealth on gifts for children. One day Gandalf and Balin come for a visit in which the two have a conversation about the nature of Bilbo’s adventure and transformation. It is a passage that is central to Tolkien’s poetics and his theology. Bilbo has become a hobbit who thirsts for the things that are so deep, there is always more. To quote Tolkien’s friend and contemporary CS Lewis, he longs to go “further up and further in.” Gandalf goes on further to characterize Bilbo’s transformation and the events at the Lonely Mountain to be a product of–not luck–but the Euchatastrophic element of Grace. There is some Benevolent Consciousness in the world of Middle Earth that is guiding the footsteps of all, even creatures like Gollum, no matter how dark things seem. Contrast this to the movie, in which Gandalf takes Bilbo to the edge of the Shire, mutters something about Bilbo being a little guy in a big world and then Bilbo panics upon seeing all his precious things being shipped off.
Ultimately, did I hate the movie? No. It was fine. It was good entertainment. Lots of cool visual effects and the fight choreography was (if not a little overdone) spot on. But if you want to enjoy a story written by one of the greatest Christian storytellers who ever lived, calling men to live for something greater than their cozy little Hobbit holes, then I suggest you buy the book.