Why The Hobbit Makes More Sense Than Snarky Critics Say

Really appreciated this Huffington Post piece by a poet named Seth Abramson. Abramson gives very helpful backstory to The Hobbit, which as some know has taken a bit of a critical pounding of late, and shows that there is actually a good deal more history to the matters covered in and around The Hobbit then originally meets the eye. Making three movies from the book, while tricky, is not necessarily only a money-grab.

Here’s what Abramson has to say on the subject. The whole piece is worth reading if you like the film and Tolkien’s work:

What’s odd about the naysayers is not their opinions–movie-reviewing, like movie-making, is an artform rife with necessary subjectivities–but how they’ve gone about substantiating them. If there’s one biographical fact avid moviegoers have considered sacrosanct these past few years, it’s that Peter Jackson was and is a nerd-king of historic dimensions whose genuine love for all things Tolkien was and is the animating principle behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy and its now-three-part Hobbit companion. Not so, say those scions of the movie-reviewing circuit who’ve heaped calumny upon The Hobbit; in fact, Jackson’s decision to bloat the 310-page children’s book into a trilogy on par, in length and cinematic scope, to Tolkien’s 1,500-page (in manuscript form, 9,250-page) Lord of the Rings trilogy was entirely a “mercenary” one, according to CNN.

What these critics don’t know, and what Jackson most certainly does, is the history of The Hobbit as a text, and of Middle Earth as a holistic construction. While knowledge of the literature behind the film doesn’t necessarily imbue the film with automatic cinematic bona fides, it does suggest that, in the long run, critics of The Hobbit will be made to feel rather foolish for their circumspection and (in many instances) their open hostility toward both Jackson and his creation. If there’s a reason most critics panning the film don’t also encourage moviegoers to avoid it, it’s likely that they sense–as they ought to–that future generations will view the effort considerably more kindly, and that therefore The Hobbit is worth seeing now, whatever its infelicities.

If you’re considering whether or not to see the film, I would strongly encourage you to go see it. It’s not perfect, it’s younger than the LOTR trilogy, but it’s also a powerful cinematic experience and full of good things. It celebrates heroism, fighting evil sacrificially, the old ways, courage, the underdog, supernatural power exercised for the good of humanity, and much more. It’s very fun, and very cool. Don’t believe the snarky critics (on this or other films). They so often celebrate evil, murkiness, deconstruction of good things. Meanwhile, hope, virtue, moral excellence, purity, and truth are considered outmoded. Phooey.

Nothing, in my view, can top The Fellowship of the Ring, the first movie of the original trilogy. The way that Jackson smashes whimsy and horror together is nothing less than masterful. The first two hours are just stunning and in my opinion rival any film I can think of in terms of drama and suspense.

What do you think? What is the best LOTR movie? Did you like the Hobbit? What are your favorite themes from the films? 

  • http://twitter.com/cgarbarino Collin Garbarino

    Probably my favorite scene from these movies thus far would be the Riddle Contest in The Hobbit. Though my opinion might be colored by its newness.

    Personally, I think The Hobbit deserves some of the middling reviews that it has received. I really enjoyed it, but, as a long-time fan of Tolkien, I must admit that it does have some problems that Seth Abramson’s history lesson glosses over. Anyone who is interested can read my review at http://wp.me/p2uch8-1gG.

    • ostrachan

      This is a very good review. I just responded to you on Twitter. I largely agree. I think some of the parts you didn’t like relate to this being a children’s film (or at least partly so). I too groaned when in the goblin lair the towers fell roughly a mile and no one got a hurt. I also groaned when no one got a scrape after the mountain giants fought. Something like Narnia–these scenes show the movie is for kids, really. Which isn’t the worst thing, after all, because we want kids to be enchanted with this story.

      But no, it’s not a perfect film as I said. I liked the riddle contest too. Gollum was incredibly scary, I thought. I really enjoyed the prologue in the beginning; I am something of a freak for the history scenes and backstory of LOTR. I cannot get enough of it, and Jackson does it so incredibly well. He gets a chance to show heroes in their glory and battles in their fury. I love it. It’s the way I would shoot biblical stories if I had a massive budget and any skill at directing.

      Jackson continues to get the balance between Gandalf intervening and not intervening perfectly. This is one of the most interesting features of the books and films–that Gandalf has godlike power but must generally restrain himself. There’s something richly biblical regarding God’s divine action in this portrait. I can’t say I exactly understand the balance, but I love that Jackson gets it right.

      I enjoyed the battle scenes, though there were exaggerations that made them less enjoyable. Suddenly Bilbo becomes a war hero? Silly. And I think Jackson let the thunder crash down a little hard on Thorin. He is supposed to be the greatest of the dwarves, right? Why can’t he help himself? On Thorin, I can’t tell whether the actor playing him lacks range or Jackson’s script gives him basically one thing to do–glower manfully. I thought more of could have been done with his character. I know he’s not Aragorn, but there was more hero in that character to channel than Jackson/Armitage was able to do.

      I thought Martin Freeman was solid. I really like Freeman’s past work; I am officially a fan and have been for years. But I thought he was a little too Tim and not enough Bilbo. The journey didn’t shock him as it should have. Freeman underplays in general, which is one reason I like him (he and Benedict Cumberbatch are an amazing match for this reason). But I think he underplayed too much. I like him nonetheless and he certainly gave Bilbo the dignity he must have. I just thought he could have showed more life at times, more wonder. Jackson gave Elijah Wood too many freak-out scenes; he gave Martin Freeman not enough.

      In general, though, I love these films, including The Hobbit. Jackson succeeds in many moments throughout in giving us the feel of “life enhanced.” That is what movies do at their apex–give a sense of the drama and grandeur and power of life. He is excellent at that. And The Hobbit is remarkably moral and virtue-driven. I’m still shocked, more than a decade later, that Peter Jackson of all people is the one leading the charge here. But he is. I wish I could thank him personally for these films–they are that meaningful.

      • http://twitter.com/cgarbarino Collin Garbarino

        “Jackson gave Elijah Wood too many freak-out scenes; he gave Martin Freeman not enough.” I like that analysis. Thanks for the dialogue.

        • ostrachan

          Yeah. Elijah Wood did well. I just think he needed some more things to do. But this is a very small complaint.

          Your very well-done review is what touched all this thinking off!

      • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

        Yes, COMPLETELY agreed on Bilbo’s sudden war hero-ness. Tolkien explicitly says that he is NOT a Great Warrior or Hero in the books. I admit it was fun to watch, but inside my Tolkien nerd was cringing a bit.

        Have to disagree on Freeman’s performance as a performance though. Granted, Bilbo in the book is more expressive, and Freeman brought more of a stiff-upper-lippish flavor to it. But it’s a wonderful interpretation of the character. I think if Freeman had tried for more histrionics, it would have felt wrong. He nailed it just right. My opinion.

        • ostrachan

          Well, somehow I’m getting the sense that you, ahem, are a fan of Martin Freeman. Third rail detected.

          I do see your point in that if Freeman had been over-the-top, that’s worse than underplaying. He definitely had the whole British toughness in the face of difficulty thing going on. And as I said earlier, I love Freeman. So I’m eager to see him in the next two. I do wish that he had expressed a bit more wonder and fear. I think that’s actually part of the power of the Hobbit characters; the big bad world really is a shock to them, just as it is for us (they are obviously meant by Tolkien to be our proxy).

          But yes, we are united on the war hero stuff on Bilbo’s part. That was silly. And I do wish, again, that Thorin had been a tougher warrior. He was sometimes, other times not. The part just before he gets laid out (and Bilbo improbably rescues him) is pretty awesome, though. Jackson shoots him running down, flame all around him. Awesome. I wish there had been more of that with Thorin, cause he’s a tough dude.

          • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

            Well, er, ahem, yes. That’s okay, I’m not offended. :D I see your point, perhaps they could have had a few more shots of Freeman’s mouth hanging open or something. I certainly don’t doubt his dramatic range, the man can do anything. Clearly it was a directing choice. Once he made the choice to sign that contract, he seemed to just sort of accept everything a little more readily than is believable.

            I agree with you that Wood was a bit of a let-down in his role for LOTR. I think that whereas in the book we sense the strength of his character, in the movie he just suffers and looks scared. He can’t help his huge Disney eyes, but they could have directed him more effectively IMO.

            Thorin seemed like a tough dude to me. The shot with flames was kind of cool. I guess you’re right though that he got knocked out pretty quickly. Actually though, I think real war is often like that. Swashbuckling a la Errol Flynn is a bit unrealistic. Sometimes you do get knocked out quickly without getting to see any real action.

            That whole scene was one of those where I wished it wasn’t there but I liked it now that it was. Azog didn’t belong, all the extra chasing and fighting involving him was overkill, but by the last scene I resigned myself to enjoying it for what it was.

  • Joshua Ciresoli

    I haven’t had the wonder of seeing Jackson’s latest mind-blowing take on Tolkien’s work, but being a half-nerd on Tolkien, I know that the scope of Tolkien’s work on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy doesn’t begin or end with those title but continues in his art through volumes on Middle Earth lore, history and languages which set so much of the stage for these four stories. Tolkien was a major history buff and very talented artist. Peter Jackson is doing really well considering the limitations that exist in such a massive collection of works by Tolkien that he no doubt uses to set the scenes in the movies, without which this movies franchise would be bland and fully reliant on the secular glorification of evil wins and good loses.

    • ostrachan

      I agree. Well said. Jackson is doing a great job and is preserving the heart of the books, I think.

  • http://brotucky.tumblr.com Noel

    My favorite scene is at the end of the final movie when Samwise puts Frodo on his back and carries him up the rest of the mountain

    • ostrachan

      Awesome scene. Just achingly moving.

  • Tim A

    Best Scene: Helm’s deep, hands down

    • ostrachan

      I am going to betray how many “favorite scenes” I have: I love Helm’s Deep.

  • Jeremy Lloyd

    I would have to agree with you about the first two hours of Fellowship–especially in Moria. The ending of ROTK when Frodo, Gandalf, Bilbo, etc. sail to the Undying Lands is gut wrenching but a beautiful picture of death for those in Christ and every time I see it, I’m sad for a couple of days because I want to go with them.

    My favorite part of The Hobbit was probably being able to the the Shire again. The game of riddles was great too.

    • ostrachan

      Moria is probably my favorite part of FotR because of what I mentioned earlier: the grandeur of the backstory. Tolkien made history so big and living and cool. Reminds me of biblical history itself. It’s not flat and boring; it’s full of grandeur. Jackson gets that about Middle Earth. LOVE IT

  • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

    The _LOTR_ films were well-made and captured the spirit of the books far better than I would have expected. Still, there were many flaws. The worst, I think, came from Jackson’s own additions to the story, which were poor world-building and stood embarrassingly inferior next to Tolkien’s original vision. As they are, they are good. They could have been great. But they could have been a lot worse.

    As for _The Hobbit_, my favorite part is Martin Freeman. My 2nd favorite part is Martin Freeman. My 3rd favorite… well you get the idea. Part I of my review is here. In Part II I’ll talk more about the Necromancer thread:

    https://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/movie-review-the-hobbit-part-i/

    • ostrachan

      Very well done review, YGG. I like many of your points and agree with them, as you can see in my reply to Collin above. The goblin fall was just silly. I happen to love “The Misty Mountains Cold” with great passion so there’s that. You made many good points, and I like how technical you are in comparing the film to the book. I do wonder if in a few places Jackson improved things for cinema; I think Smaug, personally, is way cooler as a scary dragon than one with a weird voice. I think the same about Thorin. But again, a review worth reading.

      It’s fun having this interaction this time around, because social media wasn’t big during the LOTR movies. I feel so much more nerdishly connected.

      • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

        Thank you very much! I know exactly what you mean, I’ve been running around doing nerdy networking ever since I saw the movie. It’s so much fun you want to go find places where other people besides you can’t stop talking about it. :) Part II is now here:

        https://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/movie-review-the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey-part-ii/

        I did say that I liked the song “Misty Mountains,” but I just wished Shore had come up with a few more leitmotifs to spice things up. ;)

        Does Smaug have a weird voice in the book? I didn’t have an opinion one way or the other yet on what they did with him since I basically just saw his eye and his tail in this installment. I’m totally psyched that Benedict Cumberbatch is doing him via motion capture. He’s a fantastic actor. Plus, it’s a _Sherlock_ reunion (Freeman and Cumberbatch—have to admit that is funny, even though I didn’t like that show very much). I liked Thorin too. He seemed kind of Boromir-ish to me. In the book I’d say he’s a little more ponderous and pompous, but because they went so slapstick with the other dwarves in the film it felt nice to have Thorin stand out a bit more.

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  • John Watson

    I love when Sam sees the star in the sky in Mordor…”the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

    • ostrachan

      Amen. What beautiful language. So true to Tolkien.

  • Seth Abramson

    FWIW, I’ve done a follow-up article to the one linked to in this post:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/why-tolkien-would-be-prou_b_2370207.html

    (“Why Tolkien Would Be Proud: Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Is a Better Book Adaptation (and Film) Than Any of the Lord of the Rings Films”)

  • John I.

    I wouldn’t agree that the Hobbit is a better adaptation of the book than the LOTR films of theirs. I also agree with those who say that Jackson’s additions to the books were the poorest parts of the film, didn’t ring true and were unnecessary (except the beginning with more of the backstory – if one is going to do a longer movie, then that was done well). With a start in the backstory, the transition was handled well.

    As a movie, without knowing the books, it was a great though flawed movie. But as an interpretation of Tolkein’s work, not.

    The riddle scene was a disaster. As was the goblin king and his death. And what did Jackson add by deleting the ponies in the moutains and not having them retire to the cave as in the book? Nothing. and the changes weren’t necessary in terms of the movie either. It’s just Jackson wanting to put his stamp on things. Moving the button bursting scene was unnecessary and such impertinent tokenizing of material from the book. The leaving of the caves was poor. And why have Bilbo kick gollum’s head on the way out? In terms of his character development, the grand leap was a much more understated and true to his character manner of showing heroism. And the extraneous scenes in Rivendell. Argh. don’t advance the film or themes. kill the pacing of the movie. And really, if the elves wanted to keep them from going, does getting a few hours headstart matter to elves? Need one say more?

    And the scene with the wargs and the trees. Yech. Misses opportunities for humour that existed in the book. Radagast became a goof.

    I get that in LOTR Jackson picked a character (Aragorn) and focussed on his development as a thread throughout the movies, and so I get that he’s chosen Bilbo and focussed on his character development. But he has entirely missed what Tolkein was getting at–and by this I mean the only parts that work well are where jackson uses the book’s material, and Jackson’s additions or changes show that jackson doesn’t get it.

    The Hobbit, in Jackson’s hands, has become King Kong redux: bloated, full of itself, too fond of his own movie making, arrogant in the approach to the material, etc.

    • ostrachan

      We all see films differently, their strengths and weaknesses.

      I have to say that while you make some interesting points, I don’t agree on the “bloated” theme you suggest several times. I don’t like the scene with the cave trolls, not even a little. It’s just silly, and if I could personally excise it from the film I would. But other than that, the film did not feel bloated to me at all. It has a different pace than some. But I liked the slower pace at the beginning. The films breathe. They have charm.

      Not every film needs to feel like the Bourne films for me. I like tight editing, yes, but I also like films that go at their own pace. I really enjoyed The Hobbit. And a film gets extra credit when it’s promoting good principles and moral excellence.


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