The Hobbit: A Long-Expected Autopsy (Part 1/2)

The Hobbit: A Long-Expected Autopsy (Part 1/2)


In mid-2015, less than a year before her death, author Harper Lee published her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, a sequel to her first and only other published novel, 1960’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Though the book was published 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird, it is generally accepted now that Go Set a Watchman was actually written concurrent to, or even before, To Kill a Mockingbird. And in the process of writing To Kill a Mockingbird, rather than encouraging her to create the entire omnibus, the publisher urged Lee to focus on the childhood aspect, and not on Scout becoming an adult and growing into a more complete understanding of who her father Atticus Finch was. Generations of people had grown up with Atticus Finch, played with such power and pathos by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film adaptation, only to then have the author swoop in 55 years later and remove the halo adorning Atticus Finch. There is some debate as to whether or not the publisher took advantage of Harper Lee, given her age and the fact that she may not have been in position of her full faculties when Go Set a Watchman was published. But it is kind of out there now that Go Set a Watchman was always kind of a part of her authorial intent. To Kill a Mockingbird was written from the point of view of an adult, reflecting the understanding of a child. But Go Set a Watchman changed the framing of Atticus, allowing for a more complete picture of the worldview of white landowners in the South, even the nicest ones. Atticus wasn’t an activist; he wasn’t terribly concerned with the plight of Black Americans in the Jim Crow South, he was just a really good lawyer who got appointed this guy’s public defender. And he didn’t want to lose a case. That Go Set a Watchman brought Atticus Finch – the moral pillar of American literature – down to the level of flawed human was heresy to some. Atticus was integral to the childhoods of so many. Why? Why add this unasked-for perspective? Why did you ruin Atticus, Harper Lee? Why did you do it? And I get that you’re wondering why, in an episode about The Hobbit, the intro is about Harper Lee and Go Set a Watchman. Well, we’ll get to that. But first: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is so good, it makes me angry. “‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.” Like, this was lightning in a bottle. We will never see anything like this again. This was back when franchises were a gamble, and Fellowship had a massive gun to its head: to do well, or sink not only the rest of the franchise, but also everyone involved’s career. It HAD to be great, and the result was so tight and streamlined that not only did it become one of the most lucrative trilogies in film history, it changed film itself. 11 years passed, and the Lord of the Rings films still elicited positive feelings… “Gimli!” Mostly… Then came the Hobbit trilogy. At the time, consensus was that these movies were, at best, a mediocre bloated mess with some enjoyable moments. Having as intimate of knowledge as I did with the source material and the first film trilogy, I was pretty disillusioned from the get-go: bored to death by the first one, and by that point already tapped out, seeing the second one in theaters only out of a morbid sense of obligation, and not bothering at all with the third film. But the Lord of the Rings came out at a particularly formative time in my development. I said back in 2012 that it was the first film trilogy that got me actively interested in filmmaking, and that is true. But that in itself is a form of bias. I wanted The Hobbit to make me feel like The Lord of the Rings did when I was a kid! And it didn’t, so I hated it! “Why does it hurt so much?” “Because it was real.” It’s been nearly 17 years since Fellowship, and six years since the release of the first Hobbit film. So maybe now is the time to re-examine the Hobbit. You cannot disentangle it from The Lord of the Rings – the film itself doesn’t want you to. But maybe I was judging the Hobbit for what it wasn’t, rather than what it was. So let’s reexamine The Hobbit. Let’s try and give it a fair shake… “Da, why are there dwarves coming out of our toilet?” “You are a coward.” “Coward? Not every man’s brave enough to wear a corset!” …if that’s even possible. The Hobbit trilogy was released between 2012 and 2014, under the subtitles “An Unexpected Journey,” “The Desolation of Smaug,” and “The Battle of Five Armies.” The creative team behind the Hobbit is almost uniformly the same as that from the Lord of the Rings, with one curious addition: “For better or worse, you’re as known for the movie you didn’t do, “The Hobbit, as the ones that you did.” We’ll get to that. A huge chunk of the cast returned to reprise their roles from Lord of the Rings, most notably Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Andy Serkis as Gollum, and Hugo Weaving as Elrond, and adding in not-in-the-Hobbit Rings characters such as Legolas, Saruman, Galadriel, and even Frodo. And Radagast is here, too. But that is not to imply that none (sic) of the new elements for The Hobbit were bad. Far from it – some of them were inspired. Martin Freeman as Bilbo is pitch-perfect casting. “Incineration?” Freeman has spent much of his entire career since the original Office playing the put-upon everyman. And that layer of wit combined with his innate sincerity works really well here. The opening scene with Gandalf and Bilbo, (after roughly 20 minutes of prologue, anyway) is almost verbatim from the book. McKellen perfectly bridges the whimsical, mercurial, difficult Gandalf of The Hobbit with the Serious Business Gandalf of Rings. There are also some story changes that improve the overall film. For instance, having the choice to go on the adventure be Bilbo’s idea, rather than Gandalf effectively forcing him into it. “I’m going on an adventure!” Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug is honestly one of his career highlights. “I smell you…. I hear your breath.” And I wish I had as much fun at anything in my life as Cumberbatch does playing Smaug. “How do you choose to die?” The scene where Bilbo and Smaug talk for the first time – at least until it starts going on for way too long – ranks alongside any of the best scenes from Rings. Adding in small details like Smaug being able to see Bilbo, which he couldn’t in the book, is another positive change that just adds more drama to the scene. Even Lee Pace as Thranduil brings a sort of otherworldly dimension to a character in the book who is just, you know, some greedy jerk. It was also necessary to develop Bard as a character before he kills Smaug. In the book he’s just an ascended extra with no lines before he shows up with his bow to kill the dragon. There are dozens more great details I could go into: the elves only eating, like, kale… the dwarves being horrified by that… “Try it! Just a mouthful.” “I don’t like green food.” Even Gimli’s gratuitous cameo doesn’t bother me. “What is this horrid creature? A goblin mutant?” “That’s my wee lad, Gimli.” The problem with the Hobbit isn’t the absence of good; good in it exists. It is more the whole weighing less than the sum of its parts. These positive elements are often used as refutations of criticism of The Hobbit. But to say that the presence of good outweighs the pacing issues, the unnecessary plot cul-de-sacs, the terrible visual effects the clumsy integration of irrelevant plot points… “Sorry.” Yeah, I, uh… I’m starting to remember why these movies frustrated me so much. The Hobbit was published 20 years before the Lord of the Rings was published and itself had to be reissued to fit with the new version of Middle-Earth Tolkien created, and, even still, is tonally a completely different animal from the Lord of the Rings. Meanwhile, The Hobbit movies have the opposite problem, billed as prequels to movies that had come out a decade prior. Add into this the popularity of all parties involved: The Hobbit is one of the best-selling books of all time at over 100 million copies, shy of Lord of the Rings’s 150-odd million copies. So, on the one hand, the filmmakers are tasked with creating faithful adaptations of one of the best-selling books of all time. On the other hand, the filmmakers are tasked with creating prequels to one of the best-selling film trilogies of all time. So roadblock number one: the Lord of the Rings was written as a sequel to the Hobbit. The Hobbit was not written as a prequel to Lord of the Rings. And we have to be faithful to both, but in publication order, the prequel was not a prequel. It wasn’t even originally planned to have any sequels. And as a consequence, the central conflict of the Hobbit, dwarves finding a treasure, and then a bunch of people fighting over it, has nothing to do with the central conflict of the Lord of the Rings, which is that the magic ring Bilbo found on his adventure oops it’s evil and will destroy the world Compare this with the Star Wars prequels, which, love them or hate them, “You were the chosen one!” their central conflicts do directly set up the plots of the original Star Wars trilogy: how the Empire formed, how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, what the Clone Wars were, The gang’s all here. The Hobbit doesn’t really work as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings because neither the conflict nor the tone flow into it. If they really wanted to do a prequel to the Lord of the Rings, one that set up the universe, how the magic rings worked, how they came into existence, who Sauron is and where he came from, why he had control over the Rings of Power, The real prequel to the Lord of the Rings with a similar epic tone was The Silmarillion. Said Tolkien himself of the Lord of the Rings in a letter to his publisher: But that wasn’t the Lord of the Rings prequel anyone wanted. We ain’t gonna adapt no dense myth-heavy Silmarillion with its paltry less than a million copies sold. Oh no, precious. We wanted the Hobbit. “Fair enough.” The truth is, the Hobbit existing in the same universe and having to logically progress into the Lord of the Rings presented huge problems for Tolkien. And a lot of what we know as The Hobbit wasn’t there in the original publication. Tolkien made dozens of tiny changes for the 1951 reissue of The Hobbit, preceding the original printing of the Lord of the Rings. But the biggest change was an almost total rewrite of Riddles in the Dark. In the original version, Gollum was a much more quirky, less sinister character, and he gave Bilbo the Ring as a gift when Bilbo won the riddle contest. The One Ring was not yet the One Ring. It was just a magic ring that would be really useful. A nice magic ring, but there was no intent to flow into something more epic. The Necromancer that Gandalf uses as an excuse to leave the dwarves at Mirkwood, We find out in the Lord of the Rings that that was Sauron the whole time And oh boy, oh boy, do they play that up in The Hobbit movies! “Sauron….” This character, of course, was not originally intended to be Sauron. The Necromancer, according to Tolkien was… So I get why people defend that decision on the part of the filmmakers to include Sauron, but to state that that was Tolkien’s original intent… that’s pretty disingenuous. But the biggest problem was in keeping the same plot, while making the Hobbit also a tonal prequel to the Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit – the novel – has a wildly different tone from the Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place in the same universe, but only nominally. Many, if not most, of the details of the history of Middle-earth existed only in sketch form. And Tolkien’s beloved Silmarillion – which yes, he’d started even before the Hobbit was published – would change dramatically as Tolkien developed the Lord of the Rings. But when the Hobbit was a success, and Tolkien’s publisher asked for a sequel, Tolkien didn’t really know where he wanted to go with it. It took him several years to realize that the world of The Hobbit had effectively grown up when his children did, and he wanted to write an epic fantasy for adults. Because the Lord of the Rings both didn’t hit the original target audience, children, but then again, it did. Part of the reason why the Lord of the Rings feels more grown-up is because his kids, and by extension the original kids who read it when it was published, were growing up with the stories. And Tolkien’s oldest son Christopher was integral to the creation of the book. The Hobbit was a children’s story written before any serious publisher would dare entertain the idea of epic fantasy literature for adults. It was published at a time where fantasy was either Le Petit Prince or Beowulf. And the Lord of the Rings, even 20 years later, was kind of a huge gamble, one that paid off right away and has never been out of print since. Tolkien wrote to a fan in 1955: Both The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings were stories for Tolkien’s children, but at different stages of life. You can either make a faithful adaptation of The Hobbit, one that is fun and clever and matches the childlike tone of the books, which were designed to be read aloud at story-time and even include quick asides for the reader, or you can make three three-hour prequels to Lord of the Rings, that match the tone and epic scope of the Lord of the Rings, but they can’t be the same thing. The Hobbit is about 95,000 words long, about 5,000 words shorter than the first Hunger Games book, and about 12,000 words longer than the first Harry Potter book. To compare, the Fellowship of the Ring alone is nearly twice that length at 177,000 words, with the entirety of the Lord of the Rings cashing in at about 1.5 Games of Thrones. and that doesn’t even include the appendices. This is not to say that the Hobbit needed to be the same length as the first Hunger Games movie, in order not to feel flabby. The Hobbit has an extremely minimalistic style for all that goes down in it, compared with the florid Lord of the Rings with its extreme attention to detail. Adapting The Hobbit as it is without adding any pauses for character development, or pacing, or world building, would have made a film that felt incredibly rushed. Even though the book is Hunger Games short, a lot more goes down in it, and it would feel way too rushed as a 90 minute movie or even one 3 hour movie, so I think the initial pitch of two 2 hour movies directed by Guillermo del Toro could have led to the creation of a great, original, memorable product, both in the spirit of the original novel, yet distinct from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. “Why does it hurt so much?” “Because it was real.” Maybe they got that version in the Berenstein universe. To explore the challenges of adapting the Hobbit, first we must examine the structure. It has a beginning, middle, and end – kinda – but it doesn’t really have the structure of a Hollywood screenplay, let alone three Hollywood screenplays. Compare it to the Fellowship of the Ring. The book doesn’t really have a three-act structure per se, but without changing much, the film gets rid of the Tom Bombadil stuff – good call, that – has the end of act 1 as Frodo leaving the Shire, and also has a really long act 2, with the midpoint being Frodo taking the ring to Mordor. “I will take the ring to Mordor!” And act 3 comprising a big action scene where Frodo escapes while Aragorn and the others fight the Uruk-Hai And Boromir gets a much more emotional death than he does in the book. Not a whole lot of rearranging needed to turn this into a three-act Hollywood structure. But the Hobbit is way more episodic, with the individual adventures rarely… changing the quest. The book pulls a great deal from English folk tales, fairy stories, epics, and Norse poems like Beowulf, so it includes elements that might otherwise feel out of place in a novel, because of the story’s basis. Plot points that feel out of nowhere or anticlimactic, like Ascended Extra Bard killing the dragon instead of Bilbo or the dwarves, or Smaug having one weakness, is very rooted in mythology and folk stories: Fafnir, Beowulf, Odysseus… And as it ends up in the movies, boy is it anticlimactic! This did not need to be so hideously anticlimactic, except for the way that they structured it. The third movie begins with the burning of Laketown, and Smaug dies… …before the opening title. This, like so many things, is a consequence of restructuring. Smaug’s death should have been the midpoint of the second film, not the, um… prologue to the third? The structure of the Hobbit is episodic and meandering. Not a lot of build like we see in the Lord of The Rings. Each chapter is a mini adventure in which Bilbo either learns something, gets something, or earns respect. It is effectively designed to be read by adults to children, one chapter per night. The Leonard Nimoy Ode to Bilbo Baggins song captures this pretty well: “Well he fought with the goblins!” “He battled a troll!” “He riddled with Gollum!” “A magic ring he stole!” The decision to split this book into three makes this into even more of a problem, because we need to split this tiny books into act 1 act 2 and act 3, three times. This results in adding mini climaxes that don’t go anywhere, character moments that come either too early or too late, And several elements that just don’t translate. Bilbo has nothing to do during the Battle of Five Armies, and is unconscious for most of it. This isn’t so much a problem in the book as the Battle of Five Armies takes up all of like half a chapter, but they went and made it take two hours of a two hour and 44 minute movie that relegates Bilbo into a minor role and most of the dwarves as glorified extras. But the worst problems don’t arise because the book was a challenge to adapt. There was a good movie in this mess if you edit out, like, half of it. It’s the horrible structure problems that arise from the decision to split two films into three, a matter of months before the first film was set to be released. So character beats need to be shuffled around not only according to the needs of adaptation, but according to the needs of film structures. So this moment where Thorin finally respects Bilbo happens here: Rather than after Bilbo frees the dwarves in the barrels, where it was likely originally intended to have happened and where it makes more sense to have happened because Bilbo had repeatedly proven himself to Thorin by that point. But in the final version, where Thorin has to respect Bilbo before the Eagles rescue them, the one action Bilbo gets is to… bum-rush an orc… like a linebacker. And it makes that plot point weaker, because Bilbo freeing the dwarves through his cunning and magic ring is what makes him valuable to the party. He doesn’t think like them, and his wits are his greatest asset. So his prove-myself-to-Thorin moment being, like, a football tackle just makes a rushed moment all the weaker. Bilbo’s not a linebacker. He’s a hobbit. He’s The Hobbit! And now Bilbo and Thorin’s relationship has zero development throughout movie 2. It’s just kind of at a par and then they have their falling out in 3. “When you decided to make three instead of two movies, “isn’t it hard to split a story arc from two into three?” “Well, it was actually better. “I mean we- we made that decision because it was going to be, “We thought it was going to be a better shape. I mean it was our decision, that wasn’t a studio decision.” Really? Really?? I find that VERY hard to believe. The original first film was set to end once the party got to either Erebor or Laketown. Part two would have been getting into Erebor, everything with Smaug, and then Five Armies. So the nonsense climaxes of movies 1 and 2 which… involves so much… What? What?? Are dwarves heat-resis- Metal doesn’t… what? What? The need for these contrived climaxes that add nothing to the overall narrative directly traced back to that 11th hour decision to turn two movies into three. Because all movies are trilogies now. “Is this two or three?” “Oh, it’s three, is it?” “Is this three, yeah?” “It’s three, there you go.” “It’s that easy to be confused.” And then there was the stuff they added. Oh, and the stuff they added. “Aren’t you going to search me?” “I could have anything down my trousers.” Again to compare to the Lord of the Rings, because we have to, they cut just as much out of the novels as they added into the films, and most of what they added was some expansion on material from the appendices, most notably Aragorn and Arwen. At the front, when Arwen rescues Frodo, is more of a change rather than an addition, and again a positive one in my opinion. In the book Frodo is rescued by a character who never appears again. So making it Aragorn’s one true love makes that plot point stronger. In the Two Towers, they also added a warg battle, and Aragorn getting separated, and a bunch of scenes with Arwen, and Arwen leaving and then coming back, Frodo and Sam have a tiff in the Return of the King, which you know I’m not a fan of, but I guess I get why they got it… Gollum framing Sam which is kind of dumb, but okay? And then there’s the scene at Osgiliath at the end of Two Towers that gives Frodo and Sam a climax in the second movie… Those are kind of like the only major additions. They cut out a few chapters like Tom Bombadil and the Scouring of the Shire entirely, but they didn’t add that much in the grand scheme. Here’s some of the stuff they added to the Hobbit: The White Council, this orc mini boss who’s in all three films, fighting dragon priests, Evangeline Lilly Legolas fighting that endlessly long barrel river chase scene between orcs and elves and we’re fighting Kíli’s hot and he’s in love! Gandalf and Galadriel….. huh? Legolas fighting Radagast the Browwwnnn He’s got poop on his head! useless framing device the entire climax of Desolation Evangeline Lilly is in a love triangle Legolas is soooo coooooool wow this framing device sure is going on forever B I L B O L I N E B A C K E R did they fuck? side quest to Angmar that goes nowhere Stephen Fry’s horrible henchman WHAT IS HAPPENING on-screen White Council scene God Alfred is awful look at Legolas gooooooooooooo Bard the bowman has a family now! Beorn needed a bear chase scene “Come with me, my lady!” Gandalf she’s married! Gratuitous Elijah Wood cameo True love!!!!! and that’s like not even half of it. This ties in with other adaptational problems; namely the problem of The Hobbit being so different and more childlike – read “cartoonish” – in tone than the more gritty adult Lord of the Rings. First the Battle of Five Armies… Just… all of it… It takes up about half a chapter and Bilbo is unconscious. So of course this needed to be expanded, but the result is longer than the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Which itself started to drag in the run-up: “But do not trust to hope.” “There is no hope.” “There is still hope.” We get it… “They say that it is hopeless.” We get it! Another consequence of splitting two movies into three is that movie 2 needs a climax now. And that is how we got the escape from Smaug scene and the heat-resistant dwarves. It adds a gratuitous action scene that goes on forever, but adds absolutely nothing to the narrative plot-wise. Smaug was going to go destroy Laketown either way, so this action scene is bereft of tension in every regard. This is a problem in a lot of recent films: studio will mandate X number of action scenes, but these action scenes either have no tension, either in the macro sense of how they advance the plot, or in the momentary sense of whether the characters get through or not, and whether we the audience care. This is particularly problematic in that the dwarves seem utterly resistant to dragon-fire and to heat in general. So there is no physical danger to them, so… Why… Thorin… Thorin, you know metal is a conductor, right? There is a similar problem in the scene where the dwarves escape the elves. It has a plot-related tension of escape, but the action is so absurd that you can’t really feel for these guys. They appear to be made of rubber. They don’t seem to have any mortality. Kíli gets shot by an arrow, and that’s sad and hurts him, but meanwhile this is happening And cartoons barrel boing-boing all in the same scene! Are these guys impervious or not? And if they are impervious, then where is the tension? And then there was the storm giants. “This is no thunderstorm!” “It’s a thunder battle!” Oh, the storm giants… So, like Five Armies takes up about half a chapter, the storm giants (a five-minute scene) takes up about half a sentence. Here’s the sentence. And according to the annotated Hobbit, most Tolkien scholars don’t think of storm giants as like… …alternate fantasy creatures that we haven’t seen yet. They’re… you know, they’re just trolls. Cave trolls… Troll trolls. Trolls that like to play in the rain and throw rocks. You know, the fun kind of troll. Not the internet kind. But speaking of cave trolls, there is a scene in Fellowship that this reminds me of. We’re in the Mines of Moria, we’ve just found out how Balin and all of the dwarves there died, “They are coming.” And then Pippin inadvertently causes an extended action scene that goes on for about 20 minutes and ends with Gandalf’s death You see what I mean about “action scenes should advance the plot”?! “NOOOOOOOOO” Anyway “Fool of a Took!” Before this scene, we’ve set up the mithril armor. “Mithril! As light as a feather, and as hard as dragon-scales.” Which Bilbo got from Thorin in The Hobbit, and gifts to Frodo. During the scene, Frodo gets stabbed by the troll. Everyone’s like “Oh no he dead,” but ah, wait! Remember that mithril armor! “Mithril…” So with the storm giant scene, again we’re straining believability by oscillating between the mortal – Bilbo hanging from a ledge and needing a rescue – and the cartoonish, literally everything else in the scene. “The legends are true!” “Giants! Storm giants!” It culminates in this moment: they’re on the knee of a giant, who ostensibly smashes them into the side of a cliff, But no, they’re fine. See? They’re fine. Whatever, let’s go. Unlike the troll scene in Fellowship, where Frodo reveals the mithril armor, there is no payoff here. No one’s skill that had been set up in an earlier scene saves them. It’s just a wildly unlikely coincidence that they survive, action that goes nowhere and advances nothing. So unlike with Rings, where we have a constant sense of mortality and the physical pain these characters are going through, in The Hobbit it’s like action figures being smashed together. There’s never any real sense of danger. When they get caught by goblins, Gandalf shows up, and they cut through them like butter. And to be clear, this is not about knowing what the outcome of the scene is, just because you’ve read the book. You can still feel tension as an audience member, even if you already know what the outcome of the scene is. And there’s nothing wrong with a playful, cartoony tone in and of itself. But it’s really hard to include that in a narrative that also has these dramatic moments of physical danger. If this doesn’t kill them, and that doesn’t kill them, and THAT doesn’t kill them, then what would? In order to maintain tension, the rules of the universe have to be consistent, and we need to believe that these characters are in danger. It goes without saying; Bilbo and Gandalf surviving, for instance, is a foregone conclusion that can’t be helped. But there are ways to build tension in an already popular story. Fellowship of the Ring takes a character like Boromir, and it fleshes him out with an understandable personal conflict and friendship with the hobbits, so that when he does die, it feels way more upsetting and meaningful and well… human than it did in the book. Tolkien didn’t really care about Boromir as a character. But Jackson and his cowriters keyed in to his humanity, and the result is one of the strongest, most memorable performances in all three films. The entire character of Boromir is an excellent example of the way movies can improve upon their source material. “Leave it! It is over.” But these are all style choices. To me, the biggest issue with the Hobbit movies was instead of letting the movies be The Hobbit… The biggest mess in all three films is the attempt to make the central conflict in The Hobbit directly tied in with the central conflict of the Lord of the Rings. Because it just isn’t, except maybe in that really really distant Silmarillion way, where all bad things like dragons and orcs, etc., all originate from the same bad one dude. (By the way, if you want to go down a fun rabbit hole, Google image search “Sauron-Melkor fan art” it is a TRIP) Even in Tolkien’s awkward retrofit, where we find out that the necromancer was Sauron the whole time, it’s almost completely irrelevant to the conflict in The Hobbit. Gandalf mentions that Sauron is over here somewhere in the Fellowship of the Ring, But it doesn’t really mean anything to either narrative, except for helping Gandalf put two and two together when Bilbo starts acting weird. “You want it for yourself!” “BILBO BAGGINS!” So their solution was to double down on what was, even to Tolkien, kind of a contrived throwaway line to get Gandalf out of the picture. “Now, now! I’m already late because of botherings with you people.” It works in a children’s story. But when you take a plot device to get Gandalf away from the party and then try to develop it into this lush world building “Are you in need of assistance, my lady?” Still, there had to be a better way to make this work. Ultimately, there is a rising darkness in the form of the goblins, and the dragons, and the whole thrust of the battle at the end is everyone fighting each other over a petty treasure when there is a real, existential threat to all of them. See, the reveal of the Necromancer’s identity doesn’t actually matter in this story, because he doesn’t really do anything. This only matters to the audience, who recognizes this character from Lord of the Rings. What it is in the book is Gandalf’s discovery of the orc army, which we later find out is commanded by Sauron. If we wanted to keep Sauron here, sure, have it be THAT angle. But the problem is, they’re already being pursued by orcs from the minute go, way before we learned that the Necromancer is Sauron. A different orc army, not to be confused with this orc army – you know, the one with the worms of Arrakis – but as it is in the final product, the reveal of Sauron is completely meaningless. But it could have flown in better, thematically, into the Lord of the Rings. Darkness rising, stop fighting over stupid shit y’all, it’s only gonna get worse. But more focus is placed on shoehorning in these plot elements and characters from Rings, which makes it just feel flabby and awkward. There’s one bit in the appendices with Christopher Lee that breaks my heart a little bit. “If it means something in the story, “And it’s what the director wants,” “So you’re using the staff in the hand and like- like so, yep, yep, perfect.” “and the audience remembers it, “that’s what it’s all about.” He and Jackson kind of parted on bad terms after the Lord of the Rings, since Saruman’s conclusion was cut from Return of the King in the theatrical cut, but he is here for this, and he’s excited to be here! And he loves this idea of playing pre-corruption Saruman and going after Sauron. “Leave Sauron to me.” One of the very few good moments in the Battle of Five Armies… “Leave Sauron to me.” “And he means it.” And this just makes me sad. Because that idea, that angle, that passion that Lee has, in a scene that, on the whole, is so unnecessary and confusing and goofy and Gandalf and Galadriel what are you DOING “Perhaps in another life? If only wizards and elves could… procreate” It’s just wasted here. And that, I think, is the essence of these movies: moments of brilliance, wasted in a product that, on the whole, tries to have it all ways, and in the process just pulls itself apart at the seams. But there’s one element in particular. A small one, but to me it encapsulates the clumsily slapped together new ending to movie 1. It’s not the Bilbo bum rush, but this right here: ♪ Nêbâbîtham Magânanê ♪ Did you catch it? Here, I’ll play it again. ♪ Nêbâbîtham Magânanê ♪ ♪ Nêtabdam dâur-ad ♪ That’s… That’s the Ringwraith theme! ♪ Nêbâbîtham Magânanê ♪ Like, you know, things mean things! Musical motifs especially mean things! That wasn’t Sauron’s theme, it wasn’t Gollum’s theme, that was, specifically, the Ringwraith theme from Fellowship. I know you know this, Howard Shore, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, all of whom put so much thought and effort into the Lord of the Rings. You explained it to me back in 2001: “Revelation of the Ringwraiths is a poem that Philippa Boyens wrote. “In the case of this, it was translated into Adûnaic which was the ancient speech of men.” And here you are just slapping on whatever ominous sounding music, because you decided it should be three films in October and it’s being released in December and Howard Shore didn’t have time to compose something new… I get that they didn’t have the time that they had for Rings, and Jackson didn’t really want to direct, and he was tapped out and exhausted the whole time. But it really shows. So maybe it isn’t just my nostalgia that it didn’t do it for me the way the Lord of the Rings did. There’s just so much that doesn’t work here, and it’s pretty easy to pinpoint. The question is: why? It isn’t like some outside studio hack swooped in and took over. The Hobbit has almost entirely the same creative team and the same cast as the Lord of the Rings. “We are very much going to be the same storytellers to making this six series story – six film series.” There are some genuinely great creative choices unique to this trilogy, and the new cast is both brilliant and distinct from the cast of The Lord of the Rings (when they aren’t characters from the Lord of the Rings that are awkwardly shoehorned in, anyway) And yet I… kind of long for death! I recall looking back at the extended DVDs of the Lord of the Rings, How watching all those extras inspired interest and passion in the filmmaking process, and added an extra layer of enjoyment to the films themselves, Seeing how by no means, no, the making of the Lord of the Rings was not easy, but everyone was here for it. And that passion comes through in the final product! And I look at The Hobbit and I’m just… I’m just tired. Like I see these extra features, the care and pain taken to create what was brought to the screen, that each movie has 10 hours of extras and I’m just like… I don’t care. And I find myself struggling to remember what moved me so deeply about the Lord of the Rings in the first place, if so many of the elements are, in effect, the same. These movies just… they make me feel drained. I don’t hate them. I just, I feel… nothing. And I find myself unable to remember why I was so passionate about the Lord of the Rings and the works of Tolkien in the first place. Is there a way to un-grow up? Be like young Scout Finch? See through that naive worldview where we can look up to the things that we loved as kids and absolutes? Can you ever really go home again? Or must we all, like Frodo, eventually go into the West? The reason why some of us respond so emotionally to media is because media helped shape us as kids. We all have a first love in movies, and the Lord of the Rings was one of mine. So no matter how “mature” you become in your consumption of media, there’s always going to be some part of you that desires not to see your childhood passions through the eyes of an adult, but instead to recapture what ignited our passions as kids. But maybe, now that I’m an adult with an expendable income, I can make a journey to find the answers to my questions, And see if perhaps that magic can be recaptured. “Lindsay, wait!” “Go back, Nella! I’m going to New Zealand alone.” “Of course you are. And I’m coming with you!”

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

100 Comments

  1. 34:15 …so much yes. 34:40 yes. There is. Make the Silmarillion! (But not yet, and not Peter Jackson. 20 years from now.) And do it right, like the original trilogy. I'm not saying you can do the whole Silmarillion, but there are several books within it that would make sense if condensed into a series of movies like the novels of Dune (but not like the novels of Dune, because they're too disjointed and eventually suck and made me hate the series as a whole just like the Hobbit trilogy did to the Lord of the Rings.)

  2. So it was for us 80's geeks when the Star Wars prequels rolled out and crapped all over our beloved childhood trilogy…

  3. Gollum framing Sam isn't dumb, Frodo is almost completely taken by the ring at this point and his mind is diseased by it

  4. All the Tolkien movies by Peter Jackson are terrible, because he's a terrible director (a Dutch angle should have never been in any of those films) Even Tolkien's son Christopher hated them, he said in an interview that Jackson "took his father's story and turned it into an action movie for teenage boys"… Just thinking about all the cringe worthy and completely unnecessary "comic relief" in the LOTRs movies makes me ill to think about. David Fincher should have directed the movies, they would have instantly been better, darker, more serious, than the banal, big budget Hollywood shits they are

    P.S. I've been a diehard Tolkien fan since 11 years old (now 34)

  5. The dragon fire scène is pretty dumb but dwarves are actually more resistant to dragon fire as stated in the silmarillion

  6. "So let's re-examine The Hobbit – let's try and give it a fair shake."

    Gotta say you got a twisted sense of 'fair'.

  7. My biggest problem with the Hobbit is the constant switch between the dwarfs, the orcs, the elves. I just wanted to see the adventure of Bilbo with the dwarfs. Like when they finally reached the mountain and entered – CUT – now watch the she-elves do some weird voodoo to heal Fili and some ridiculous love-rambling.
    I did however really enjoy to see Gandalf investigating the evil of middle earth (that's his job as a wizard after all).

  8. Whatever you think that god awful noise in the background adds to your narration you are very wrong about!

  9. Seems like a lot of complaining… I actually really liked these movies. They worked with the book the best they could imo. If it would’ve been 2 movies, it would’ve felt rushed imo. I know that these movies are more whimsical than the lord of the rings but i kind of find it as a better balance than the lord of the rings which i find cringey and awkward.

  10. The worst part is, the Hobbit was such a beautiful book, it was almost like Tolkien said

    "You don't need a huge issue threatening the entire world or a heroic, selfless always right hero to make a compelling fantasy story"

  11. Disagree about Martin Freeman being a great cast. We all THOUGHT he was a great cast when we read or heard about it. He LOOKS like Bilbo should look. But…it became clear early on that he was not on Elijah Wood's level in terms of charisma and pathos. The films have quite a few problems, sure, but he's right there at the top.

  12. Mentioning that flub on the lietmotif made me genuinely angry because you're so right! Scores and music are so important in film, and other forms of media its frustrating that this lazy route was taken that ultimately undermines the dedication to producing something of real value.

  13. The Hobbit is, indeed, a bloated mess, almost impossible to endure watching. How could Jackson fall so far from The Lord of the Rings? Evangeline Lilly…ok, I'll watch the whole thing to see her again. I have to be careful while fast forwarding the barrel chase scene to not miss her, but I don't have to be careful fast forwarding through the stone giants, the entire troll scene, the…oh, god, etc., etc., etc……

  14. Martin Freeman is terrible as Bilbo. It’s hard to imagine what Jackson saw in him. And that is why the first film never really clicks. The central character is wrong.

  15. 100% Agree.
    -1 children's fairytale turned into 3 brooding action blockbuster movies creates a serious tone clash
    -The constant, pointless action was exhausting, not engaging. You never feel any character was ever truly in danger.

    My other biggest beef though was Thorin. They tried so hard to make him a badass and he is just a prick

  16. Can we have the Guillermo del Toro edit of "The Hobbit" movies, like they did with the Richard Donner cut of "Superman II?"

  17. Unpopular opinion, I liked the Hobbit, not for the story or whatever, but because the costumes were absolutely stunning

  18. I think to summarize how bad this movies are is simple: I watched them after reading the book and without knowing anything about LOTR and boy was I confused. Every half a second there was a new plot device and/or character I didn't know with absolutely no introduction nor explanation. It felt like an advertisement for the LOTR movies (I still havent watched btw) but, like really bad and messy.

  19. Once I met Sylvester McCoy, the actor of Radagast at Comic Con in Germany and I asked him, why the role of Radagast was so ridiculous. He answered, that he too felt it was a little bit too much for the character, but like Shakespear said, comic relief is absolutely essential fpr this kind of story, which is itself very dark and moody. I now think he hasn't even read the whole script, let alone seen any of the movies.

  20. I think the ringwraith theme is due to thorin seeking the same power as what corrupted the kings of men. He wanted a gem that would give him control of all the dwarf kingdoms.

  21. people need to view these movies, not as a shot for shot adaptation of the book The Hobbit (it FAILS in this regard), but The Hobbit as was written AFTER and DURING the writing of LOTR BY TOLKIEN. Tolkien ADDED so many details to the Hobbit books in the Appendices of LOTR to bring the 2 stories together, such as naming the Elvenking Thranduil, and making him Legolas' father. There are so many details like this. It seems like ever since it came out up to now, its been super fashionable and cool to hate the Hobbit movies–but let me tell you , after seeing the Making Of documentaries featured on the extended discs, you can see they made these movies with great care and adhered (mostly) to the source material and were faithful to the aesthetic and did a really god damn good job with what they were given. This was no Star Wars prequel CGI hack job. All the digital effects were made with great care and under the guidance of some AMAZING artists like John Howe and Alan Lee. Making Azog a CGI character at the last minute and also, the Fili Tauriel romance are literally my only gripe, and are very small gripes. I think history will treat these movies a lot better than all ya'll youtubers who seem to love to hate it. And to all those who say it's 'too long', and 'not like the book'. I could watch these movies for days., and would rather have a LOTR-like experience and not a movie of a children's book. you guys also have to remember that the movie LORD OF THE RINGS is NOT perfect in any way and I assure you if it came out now, you guys would be ripping it to shreds too. Its just those rose-colored glasses and nostalgic filter everyone sees it through renders it invincible to all critique. In the end I think peter jackson and all the writers and artists involved in The Hobbit deserve WAY more credit than you guys give them.

  22. I just realized that the money behind large movies think that every movie is a Superhero movie. Like the dwarves are basically Marvel heroes or something. Superhero movies are a cancer on popular culture.

  23. I pretend this is how Bilbo chose to write his memoir……….and probably had a crush on Killi and Filli and that is why they are hot.

  24. Ugh. Why a trilogy, honestly. Two movies would have been fine. Extending a few things (like showing the battle of five armies when in the book Bilbo got KOed early on and missed the whole thing) would have been fine, but a third film simply stretched things two hours too far.

  25. I have watched The Hobbit once and I have watched Lord of the Rings twice. I have read The Hobbit four times and I've finished Lord of the Rings twice, but I've read the first and most of the second volume three times. I wasn't able to finish LOTR on the first try because it's long winded and as my man Randall noticed in Clerks 2; it's mostly about walking. I never finished Silmarilion because I found it to be boring as hell.

  26. Giants are just trolls… that's so fucking wrong I can't even start to fathom. You even got the quote, but not the entire paragraph telling us of how fucking powerful they were and how it seemed as if two thunderstorms clashed with each other and their laughter was heard through the entire damn mountain. Yeah, sounds like the fucking trolls killed by the fellowship could totally do that. I hate intellectual dishonesty to further criticize a movie because the general(unfounded) consensus is that it is bad.

  27. Something i did like about the gold melting plan was that it kinda was a reference to the title of smaug. "Smaug The Golden"

  28. I think the problem was it didn’t have the same tone as LOTR. Jackson said when making LOTR that he wanted the world to feel real, like it was a part of history. The Hobbit feels like he completely forgot about that.

  29. The problem is that Tolkien's son would not sell the rights to The Silmarillion. Well he would but he was way too greedy.

  30. This is very off-topic, but at 14:14 there is a BerenstEIn Bears book shown (rather than BerenstAIn) – what is the original title of this book?

  31. 31:00 'Perhaps in another life, when wizards and elves could procreate.'

    Wizards were Maiar who took the form of old men to make them more relatable(?) to the peoples of Middle Earth.

    The progenitor of Elrond and his twin brother, Elros, was Melian, a maia of Vana and Este. She fell in love with Thingol, an elf. Their daughter was Luthien, who fell in love with a mortal, Beren. And their son, Dior, was the beginning of the half-elven.

  32. The most isssues are in Battle of five armies where they cuz several important character scenes and didnt even add them in extended editions, they just added more of fighting and beefed up the dwarven army, Instead of exanding Thranduil where Gandalf confronts him, where Bilbo plants the acorn, full funeral scene with speech from Gandalf and other scenes. But no more of fighting and not fixing the plotholes from theatrical version is more important

  33. As much as I liked Glorfindel, I liked that they switched him for Arwen. It was a way to bring in her Luthien ancestry (Luthien was a badass who never got coverage in the film) and show why she's worthy of being a warrior's queen. It also makes her appear older than in the books when she's just…there.

  34. the only fun part about the hobbit extras and behind the scenes was benedict cumberbatch rolling around on the floor in a motion capture suit growling in his deep british voice and living out my life goals

  35. don't believe the video description, this is actually a 3-part series. i'm not sorry for ruining the joke (after more than a year), the people need to know!

  36. Its worth mentioning the great performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice actor for Smaug. Link is a YT video of how he did it..amazing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXN9IHrnVVU

  37. I thought the first movie was going to show how bright and happy everything was and slowly descend into darkness in the third movie but that didn't happen.

  38. I hate needlessly complicated fights, I always think of the 'ladder fight' from…The Musketeer? One of the 2000s adaptations, anyways. The barrel fight, the ice fight, the gold fight, etc it just drags it on until its d o n e but for some reason its still happening

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