My take on “The Hobbit” 2

We’re on the road, and Friday we were caught in the ice storm in Oklahoma City, taking shelter in a hotel in Bricktown, OKC’s very cool entertainment district.  It was 9:30 p.m. and I was just settling down for a long winter’s nap, when my wife said, “Let’s go see the Hobbit!”  Showing that we nearly-senior citizens can be just as impulsive, reckless, and irresponsible as the callow young, we walked four blocks through the freezing rain, slip sliding away to the nearly-empty multiplex where we were just in time for the 9:45 p. m. showing.  (It was nearly 1:00 a.m. when we made our way back, way, way past our accustomed bed times.)

As my wife commented, most critics have been saying that the first installment of the Hobbit was kind of slow, with all that atmosphere and exposition, and that the second installment, The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug is much better, with non-stop action from the very beginning.  As often happens, the critics describe something true, but fail in their interpretation and in their assessment.   There is way too much action in this second movie, which is not nearly as good as the first one.

In fact, I would say that the Hobbit franchise is following the pattern of the Narnia franchise.  The first movie of both stories was true to the original not only in its incidents but in its atmosphere and its “feel,” which are especially important in what we most enjoy about fantasies.  But then the second movies were made following all the conventions of the action-thriller–as if we don’t have enough of those already–throwing in a female action hero that was not in the original (Susan as superhero in Narnia; a new girl elf Thauriel in Middle Earth; notice how all of them are archers, like Katniss in the Hunger Games) and an extraneous love story.  (Here the girl elf falls for a dwarf!  But to make that believable, director Peter Jackson made the boy elf good looking!  So the whole dwarf company is composed of beings with squat forms, funny beards, and big noses, except for one, who stands out because he is handsome with a fashionable five-o’clock shadow.  So of course he becomes the love interest.  So the virtues of showing a love story across Middle Earth ethnic, social, and species lines are undermined by Hollywood “lookism”–what, you can’t show a romance with normal-looking people?)

I understand that turning the Hobbit into a trilogy of movies requires adding characters and plotlines.  But they need to complement the main plot and not distract from it.

Also, Hollywood is so enamored with its technology and what it can do with special effects that they have come to dominate show after show.  But, as Aristotle says, mere “spectacle” is the lowest of the dramatic arts, secondary to plot and character.   There was just too much of chase scenes, fights, mayhem, and computer animation for my taste in Hobbit 2.  And it seemed too self-conscious.  (For example, some people accused The Lord of the Rings movie of being racist because the Orcs had dark skin.  So this time the Orcs that are slaughtered mercilessly are bright white, which makes it all right.)

Not that it was a bad movie, by any means, and we enjoyed it immensely.  It had a good cast.  (Did you know Sylvester McCoy is in The Hobbit?  [Anybody catch the allusion I just made to the recent Dr. Who parody?]  Stephen Fry is even in it.)  And it advances the over-all story arc that leads to the Lord of the Rings.  I appreciate how it handles the re-emergence of Sauron.

Certainly all Tolkien fans will want to see this movie.   I am criticizing it while still urging that you see it.

If you’ve seen it, please weigh in.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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