Peter Jackson May Look a Bit Like a Hobbit But Don’t Let That Fool You: He’s Hollywood All the Commercialized Way

The debacle that is the movie version of The Hobbit, part one, reminds me of an old story that Dr. C Everett Koop told me over drinks just after he became Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General. “When I was surgeon in chief at Philadelphia Children’s Hospital,” Koop said, “a lot of my work was fixing mistakes made by other doctors before the kids were sent my way. We used to get a lot of botched circumcisions. I remember one where they left everything they should have taken and took what they should have left.”

So it is with Peter Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit. The spirit of the book has been almost entirely lost and replaced by a movie that looks as if it was made to spin off theme park rides and videogame derivatives rather than to tell the story as written in the beloved children’s classic.

Unlike The Lord of the Rings film trilogy that largely succeeded in maintaining the spirit and details of the books The Hobbit departs so far from the text that is has little to nothing to do with the original. Worse, the film as a film is just another overblown barely coherent effects extravaganza dud more akin to Transformers in spirit than to anything that Tolkien wrote.In porn terms this is all cum shots and no foreplay.

If you were unfamiliar with the Lord of the Rings trilogy (books or films) the movie Hobbit would be unintelligible. Enter the overused theme music for each event that is borrowed out of the earlier movies and only serves to remind the viewer of how far the Hobbit falls short of the earlier trilogy.

The subtle characterization of the leading characters in the book has been lost. The scale of the film is entirely wrong. And extraneous elements have been added that wreck the story line of the book while adding nothing but confusion to the movie.

The dwarves are now action heroes. Gandalf mostly adds what in other movies would be a voice over to explain a failed director’s attempt to tell a story. Bilbo is now an unlikely swordsman/hobbit proving his ability to kill creatures he never fought in the original story.

The bumbling grumbling dwarves of the book are a heroic crew of warriors led by a dwarf king utterly unlike Thorin as Tolkien wrote him. Instead of Bilbo Baggins gradually earning the dwarves’ trust through a series of small heroic acts in small episodic adventures everything is scaled up into theme park ride size as an excuse for over-the-top Computer-generated imagery (CGI).

It’s as if the book has been made into a movie trying to rival the epic spirit Lawrence of Arabia plus Raiders of the Lost Ark but with no story to carry the bombastic load. And it is about as appropriate to do this to this to the modest lovely children’s story that once was The Hobbit as it would be to render Winnie the Pooh in the style of Star Wars.

The Hobbit movie is little more than a prequel to the three movies of the Lord of the Rings. Battle scenes are scaled up to epic proportions for no reason. Small subtle events are replaced by massive set pieces that go on and on… and on. The few good scenes remind one of what’s been lost. The first scenes in Bilbo’s home (even though some of the dwarves are horribly miscast and look like refugees from a boy band) and the Gollum/Bilbo ring discovery scenes are good. And that’s because unlike the rest of the movie they more or less stick with the book.

Tolkien is an infinitely better storyteller than Jackson, so where the movie embroiders on the book nothing is improved on and lots is lost. For instance the simple and elegantly told story of the first adventure and encounter with the trolls becomes needlessly complicated and expanded and not in a way that improves on the old scenes. The rest of the action and interminable battles are not in the book and huge-for-no-reason.

Turns out being able to do anything via CGI isn’t always a good thing. Add unlimited budget and hubris and we’re a long way from Tolkien and much closer to the mental illness that seems to overtake certain Hollywood types (even if they’re working in New Zealand) of the kind that had producers in the 1930s giving happy endings to Shakespeare tragedies. And now the silliness that passes for creativity knows no limits because there’s always some guy with a computer that can add a “cast” of thousands where none is needed. No deaths are simple now. Everything can be played to infinity and beyond. Action without reason is just plain boring.

The extraneous bits and pieces Jackson added have to be supported by an intolerable amount of explanatory dialogue — death by expository dialogue — very much in the spirit of filmmakers giving up entirely and simply replacing dialogue with voiceover.

The Hobbit gets lost in Rivendell (a long way from the “Last Homely House East of the Sea” of the book and closer to some sort of New Age Sandals Resorts hotel spread over a geographically inept mountainside) and never recovers. We have to stop the movie again and again and have everything and everyone explained – say who and what Radagast the Brown is when he shows up (for no reason) with a sled pulled by rabbits that never was in the book and is just as stupid as it sounds.

The excuse for how bad this film is that it was made for children. But the level of carnage, violence and needless clutter “noise” in the form of extravagant needlessly complicated action that accompanies almost every scene precludes any responsible parent from wanting a child see this movie. Smart teenagers will be bored out of their minds because for all the CGI wonderment the story fails to actually deliver anything new. The simplest scenes in the now ancient Matrix were more creative. And Avatar leaves this movie in the dust when it comes to original creative CGI use.

Peter Jackson’s watchwords in this latest series seem to be Bigger, Louder, Longer and More Violent as if somehow sheer scale provides cover for having failed to tell the basic story Tolkien wrote well let alone faithfully. If Jackson undertakes the Jesus story next expect 10,000 Jesus’ to be crucified alongside a million thieves and a crèche scene set in a stockyard with a million head of cattle and armies of wise men in combat hacking their way to the Nativity scene. As for faithfulness to the book the more you love the Hobbit the more you’ll hate this sorry commercialized excuse for an adaptation. Peter Jackson may look a bit like a Hobbit but don’t let that fool you. He’s Hollywood all the way.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His books include Portofino: A Novel (Calvin Becker Trilogy)

About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.

  • Susan T.

    “No deaths are simple now. Everything can be played to infinity and beyond. Action without reason is just plain boring. In porn terms this is all cum shots and no foreplay.” – this sentence alone made your review of The Hobbit outstanding.

    Call me a child of the 1970s, but I recall a time when movies were shown with more nuance, pacing and silence (The Deer Hunter, just one example), without sacrificing extreme human pathos and bathos. Indeed, the sense of drama has been turned to juvenile levels of bombastic simplicity and the ever-present apocalyptic show-down between the Forces of Good versus the Forces of Evil.

    I often liken commercial, big-budget movies to eating at McDonald’s. You know it’s bad for you, it’s always available, it’s cheap, tastes good, but you know deep down that you’re not supposed to eat it all the time. It’s about having some minimal standards about what you push in your mouth. Well, I tend to view movies like food; I have standards, and I’m not always going to eat at a fast-food chain. For movie-goers like me, our options are limited to small theaters, and limited runs. One “block buster” movie per year is enough to satisfy my urge for instant gratification and predictable theme-park narratives.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Susan, thanks for reading my post. Me too to all of that. I think somewhere in the future the entire CGI bigger, bigger, bigger take on movies will be walked back. This is what happened with the use of color in the 1940s/50s when it was a big deal. Eventually people rediscovered the beauty of natural light and monochromatic uses of color… less was more. On the other hand those raised on video games may have had their senses so dulled as to nuance and story that there isn’t going to be a walking back. We’ll see. One thing for certain the bigger and bigger approach is now bordering on the absurd. Best, Frank

      • Susan T.

        I think your analogy between CGI (where anything is possible) and Techni-Color from the “Meet Me In St. Louis” era, is well taken. People naturally *recoil* from crass over-kill of the impulse to turn everything up to 11. It gets really boring, very fast, and ends up alienating most people who live small but very beautiful and nuanced lives without so much bloody hyperbole. I appreciate the people below who love this book, and appreciate Jackson’s faithful interpretation of it, but even Beethoven knew when to use kettle drums. Use them sparingly, and in proportion. I don’t want to turn this into social commentary, but sometimes it’s hard not to think that people need so much for so little.

  • Travis

    “As for faithfulness to the book the more you love
    the Hobbit the more you’ll hate this sorry
    commercialized excuse for an adaptation.” I feel you have generalised with this statement, speaking for people, like myself, who love the book and all it’s details and still found the movie to follow it very nicely. In fact this movie follows the book a lot more closely than the original three keeping most key scenes in tact. As for the extra scenes you speak of (the brown wizard etc) Jackson has always made it clear that he was going to include things from the LOTR books that he couldn’t put into the first movies. I don’t understand how not enjoying a movie manifests itself in a almost venemous attack on a man as if he has done something to hurt you. My daughter and I (we read the book together this year) left the cinema having had a magical and spellbinding night at the movies and it only further enhanced and added new angles to our love of JRR Tolkien’s world.

  • Doug Bowker

    Though I can agree a few spots certainly went way off the rails (Bilbo attacking the scariest Goblin ever to “save” Thorin was indeed ludicrous) I can’t agree it’s nearly so bad as you say. For one, if you made the movie entirely faithful to the book, it wouldn’t just be teenagers falling asleep, it’d be everyone. Tolkien also was guilty of heavy exposition and often went to great lengths to extend scenes he thought clever and witty and glossed over sections that begged to be expanded upon. The scenes that are added into the movie in some cases come from notations and other expanded stories at the end of LOTR and sections of The Similrilian. Believe me, having had read The Hobbit twice in the last 2 years with my now almost 7 year old, part of me was painfully away wehn things digressed. Some for sure did not work or watered down what was a great book scene. But both my son and I completely enjoyed ourselves and felt we had experienced a vivid re-telling of a favorite story. The other issue is that Tolkien didn’t always think through the logic of a lot of his world. Never mind it’s nearly empty of people for supposedly being civilized for thousands of years, though maybe it’s due to a 1000 to 1 ratio of males to females. Some aspects are painfully worked out, and others pitifully sketchy.

    Once you start committing a story to film there are parts that will have to be altered. Yes, the dwarves were much more jolly and foolish but then how would that jive with them being these nearly Spartan like warriors in the last Battle of the Five armies? At least this way you start them out knowing how to fight, right? I won’t just give Jackson a pass because I loved the LOTR- not at all. But I also will give him a break for trying to Go Big for a great story.

  • Doug Bowker

    One more thought: The Hobbit, whether in book or movie form never was trying to do anything like The Deer Hunter. Not that there are no more movies like that being made anymore. Probably more actually, but because the aggregate total of movies being made today is so huge it’s easy to miss them. And let’s not forget, what did the genius of The Deer Hunter do next? A MASSIVE ego trip called Heavens Gate that was panned by critics and audiences alike, and quite literally bankrupted the movie studio that signed on.

  • Lara

    =( I love Peter Jackson. I love J.R.R. Tolkein. I loved the Hobbit. I really really loved the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The books and the movies.
    I scrolled right through this post without reading most of it. I’ll read the next one though. =)

  • http://patheos threeten2yuma

    And why the hell make the hobbits’ feet bigger in this movie than in the LOTR triolgy? Did anyone else find that annoying?

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Threeten2yuma, good point!

      • http://patheos threeten2yuma

        Thanks, Frank. We finally agree on something! ;) -3:10

  • Cynthia

    I deliberately looked this up because of your quote, “In porn terms this is all cum shots and no foreplay.” But it’s not in here. What happened? This is the perfect explanation of this movie and yet it’s not in here. Censored?

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Cynthia, I’d moved the line and hit the wrong edit button. It’s there and where I wanted it now. Thanks for reading, Best, Frank

  • Ed Godwin

    I think your assessment of the movie is pretty accurate. Though I liked a few more scenes in the movie than you did, the CGI was so overblown that it got in the way of the story. What I half disagree with is your belief that Peter Jackson made a judgment error.

    The problem lies in that audience’s attention spans are so much shorter now than they used to be. Directors know this, and they have almost no choice but to insert these theme park type elements to keep the audience engaged. I’m an old time moviegoer, and love the types of movies that immerse the audience in the characters and the world which they inhabit — Dances With Wolves, Spirited Away, to name just two. The unfortunate reality is, Dances With Wolves, if made today, would probably bomb at the box office, or at least barely break even. We live in a world of instant information and short sound and video bites, and the movies in recent years that have made money (with a few exceptions like “Lincoln”) have generally followed this pattern. 3D, high frame rates, huge screens, are all byproducts of this unfortunate trend.

  • Lana

    Surprised there isn’t more comments on this. Perhaps this says something to how desensitized we’ve come. I was very disappointed in the movie. Its one book — why draw it out so much? I also felt that the movie felt random, and it was sadly too violent for such a young audience film. then again, I’m not real fond of any violent films.

    And I have read the book.

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