The Hobbit Trilogy – A Lesson in Less is More

Song of the Day: ‘I See Fire’ by Ed Sheeran

First-Edition-Hobbit

In 2010 when I first heard that Peter Jackson would direct The Hobbit; I almost cried in excitement. That was soon followed by the news that it would consist of two parts. A little sceptical but still excited. Then those two movies were soon changed into three and I was baffled. I had my reservations. And I realised my reservations were spot-on as soon as I came out of the cinema after watching the first instalment. Argh! Why drag out a 300-page book, that could have been a 3-hour epic at most, into 3 movies? A year later, having watched the second movie, my irritation with Jackson had increased. And now another year, the last instalment watched, I can say that I am just glad that the whole fiasco is over.

I understand that he wanted to milk this cash cow for all its worth, but seriously did he need to destroy a wonderful story. We didn’t need unnecessary conflict to create excitement when Tolkien wrote enough of it in the story itself. Side stories galore! It was as though he felt the need to add every single appendix in The Lord of the Rings into the movie. And for an original story that only takes up 300 pages, Jackson still managed to not include big parts of the book after 8.5 hours spanning three movies!

There are two obvious ways a director can go wrong in adapting a work with a large and ardent pre-existing fan base. He can feel so constrained by expectation that he makes his adaptation too literal, a book-on-film. Or he can get carried away riffing on the original story, pulling in references from related works and assuming that fans’ appetites for additional material are, for all intents and purposes, insatiable.

As a general rule, I think the former temptation, over-fidelity is the greater hazard. But Peter Jackson’s trilogy of The Hobbit is proof that when you go the other way – really, really far the other way – the result can be genuinely egregious.

Bilbo

The first instalment of the trilogy (An Unexpected Journey)  – the very phrase hits me like a wave of depression – took Tolkien’s slender children’s novel and re-imagined it as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Characters from the latter book (Galadriel, Saruman, Radagast, etc.) were imported for cameos, and the entire production was juiced up – over-written, over-orchestrated, over-CGI’d – to be more epic and grownup.

legolas

In the second film, The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson goes even further. Now this was a film no longer LoTR-prequel but rather LoTR-remake! You’d have to be blind to not see it right at the beginning of the film. It opens in the town of Bree, where a small-statured traveller who stops at the Prancing Pony inn finds himself under watchful, unfriendly gazes until a mysterious figure comes to his aid. (Get it?) This time, the traveller is Thorin Oakenshield and the mystery man is Gandalf. But the sense of déjà vu, however deliberate, is suffocating. Not to even mention that the very title of the movie makes no sense as that dreadful dragon has to wait till the third movie to be done away with.

Forget cameos by LoTR veterans: In this film, Legolas (likewise never mentioned in the book) reappears as a principal character. And a brand new character is thrown into the mix in the form of a woodland elf named Tauriel, who quickly becomes the crux of an interspecies love triangle. And poor Bard the Bowman has been semi-demoted to Bard the Bargeman (the movie spends a lot of time in Laketown), though there’s little doubt that he’ll be given the chance to earn his loftier nickname using a new-fangled Dwarvish anti-aircraft crossbow in the third instalment.

battle of five armies

And finally in the third part (the misnamed Battle of Five Armies, rather it should have been Battle of 25 Armies plus a couple of random giant mountain goats, humongous worms, and a pig thrown in for good measure) I had to admit that this story was now beyond Tolkien. The script took a dive straight to rock bottom. At least the battle was interesting. And the story, now less encumbered by exposition than its two predecessors, was free to devote itself fully to action set-piece after action set-piece (most of them, involving orcs). Moreover, the identity of the mysterious necromancer who had begun forming his armies of darkness, fiercely implied in the first movie and made a bit clearer in the second, is made all too painfully explicit by the midpoint of this one. Yes Sauron, I see you very clearly!

Before we go any further, I am well aware that many of Jackson’s other additions and digressions are part of the larger Middle Earth canon. But despite the fact that Tolkien went back to amend The Hobbit more than once, he never chose to cram in all this supplemental material, because the book was not intended as a sweeping, multi-faceted epic, but rather as a more personal hobbit’s-eye-view adventure story.

Alas! It is not so in the hands of Jackson, who is so titillated by his various sub-plots and foreshadowing that he even loses track of his protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, for considerable stretches. Orcs – which played no role at all in Tolkien’s novel – play an even larger role in the second and third parts, all the better to supply the many impalements and beheadings he feels compelled to display.

Whether through ego, avarice, or unchecked enthusiasm, Jackson has entered deep into the realm of fan fiction. Indeed, having granted himself boundless license to re-imagine, he seems to have begun re-imagining even his own re-imaginings. The hideous orc leader relentlessly pursuing our heroes whom Jackson introduced in the first film, Azog the Defiler, is in the second replaced by a different hideous orc leader relentlessly pursuing our heroes (which frees Azog up to lend his hand to some pre-LoTR backstory embellishment), and finally the two team up by the third movie. (I was almost hoping for a third hideous orc leader at that point.)

There are so many questions unanswered and issues with the trilogy overall. Is it really that hard to make a movie that doesn’t involve a love story? The Hobbit is a legendary book as it is without it. And if you are so determined to add such a cliché, at least let it not be a badly written one. Seriously, if the elven race were capable of half the things that Jackson has Tauriel and Legolas do in battle, not only could the small group of elven warriors he added to the battle of Helms Deep (in The Two Towers film) have completely defeated the orc army in less than 2 minutes but the history of Middle Earth would be very different. Indeed, the very important and wonderful scene in the book of Beorn appearing and turning the tide, bringing relief and a change to the battle was removed because the ninja-gods, also known as our elven pair, prove that Middle Earth is located in The Matrix.

Let’s not forget to ask Jackson what happened to the mountain of gold. Come on, the entire battle was about the gold! At least take a minute to explain how it got divided. Or the poor people of Laketown? The Durins (Thorin, Kili, and Fili) didn’t even get a funeral. These are the main characters and Jackson leaves out a very conciliatory, redemptory and important part. And poor Kili basically sacrificing himself for Tauriel is unforgivable. In the actual story, Fili and Kili died defending Thorin in battle. Now the poor boy is dead because he had a crush on a badly written elf which degrades the importance of the Legolas-Gimli friendship. And lastly, Jackson must have forgotten, whilst so engrossed in his imaginings, that Bilbo Baggins is the protagonist of this story and not Thorin; it is named The Hobbit after all, and not The Dwarf!

However, at some point this level of constant re-invention threatens to become not only self-reinforcing but self-consuming. Where does Jackson go now that he has completed his expansive re-telling of The Hobbit? Will he re-issue the Lord of the Rings trilogy with new material added to reflect the changes he has made here? Will he adapt The Silmarillon? (I must admit, a 72-hour adaptation is simply torturous!) Or will he retreat from view to tinker with his High Frame Rate toys? George Lucas move over, it is the era of Peter Jackson.

Having said all that, would I recommend watching the trilogy? Go ahead. You will be entertained by popcorn cinema. Remove all knowledge you have of Tolkien’s work and you will thoroughly enjoy the three films.

lordoftheringstrilogy

It is a shame really as I absolutely loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They are three of my favourite movies and I re-watch them from time to time. However, what destroyed this particular trilogy and makes these movies so awful is that Jackson desperately tried to link The Hobbit to the LoTR trilogy. If the unnecessary Dol Guldur scenes, Tauriel, and every other side story were skipped, every good part of the book which is now cut out would have easily fit in.

As for me, now that all three movies are done, Peter Jackson’s trilogy proves, again, that less is more. And at the end, this is what I will call An Unfinished Journey.

Till Next Post!

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