Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

UnexpectedJourneyBe very careful Mr. Jackson!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Peter Jackson and an even bigger fan of his Lord of the Rings trilogy of films.  And for those films I have faithfully defended the choices he made to deviate from the original Tolkien for various reasons, usually along the lines of:

“Tolkien wasn’t the best storyteller going.  It’s fair enough to alter things slightly to make the story flow much better”

or

“It’s a lot to fit into three films.  I can understand why they had to gloss-over that bit”.

Ok, I was a little upset that Tom Bombadil didn’t feature, and they left out The Scouring of the Shire, but I understood.  I almost didn’t forgive them for ignoring the Faramir / Eowen conclusion, but a little bit of it reappeared in the extended version, so I accepted it.

But he is in danger of going too far with The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey.

—SPOILER ALERT —
for anyone who hasn’t yet seen the film.  And for those of us who have, it was still a massive spoiler, albeit in a different way.

For a start, the second excuse I made is no longer valid.  The book is a fifth of the length of Lord of the Rings, so there is no excuse for glossing over anything.  But, more annoyingly, he has taken liberties with the story for which I just cannot find any justification.

Fine, he wants to put in slight references to the evil that is coming in Lord of the Rings.  I don’t mind that.  I can understand it.  There never was a meeting at Rivendell between Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman and Gandalf in the book, but I can forgive it.  I also quite liked the introduction of Radagast as a proactive character.  Not a problem.

But what possible reason can there be for omitting Gandalf’s brilliant (if somewhat comic) saving of the dwarves and Bilbo from the trolls?

Let’s get this straight.  In the original book, Bilbo tried to steal a purse from the trolls to prove his worth as a burglar.  Instead, in Mr. Jackson’s version, the trolls have managed to steal two ponies from under the noses of the two dwarves on guard – apparently without realising that there were twelve other ponies, thirteen dwarves and a hobbit in the same place – and Bilbo has to rescue them. Duh? Then the trolls are discovered by Bilbo bemoaning the fact that they ate mutton for the last two days, and they are going to have to eat mutton again today.  That bit is straight from the book (thankyou!), but the fact that pony is now on the menu (which belies the whole conversation) is justified, crassly, by the troll complaining that ‘he doesn’t like horse’. PLEASE!!!!!

But, even worse, in the book, Gandalf hid in the darkness while the dwarves and Bilbo were tied up in sacks, and imitated the trolls’ voices to cause an argument.  That’s what kept them talking until sunrise.  Bilbo didn’t tell the trolls not to eat the dwarves ‘because they had parasites’, and Gandalf certainly DIDN’T appear on top of a rock and use magic to strike it asunder, letting in the sunlight.

Why change it? Apart from anything else, Mr. Jackson has ignored the humour, over-simplified the story and glossed-over Bilbo’s discomfort with the role of ‘burglar’, which he gradually accepts and even relishes as the book progresses.  It’s an important part of Bilbo’s character and motivation, but I fail to see how Peter Jackson is going to give it its full importance, unless he takes even more liberties in the next two films.  The whole sequence left me wailing “WHY??????”

But that’s not the worst of it.  Mr. Jackson has also seen fit to introduce a brand new character – the ‘Pale Orc’ – with whom Thorin allegedly has an age-old grudge, based on the notion that said Orc killed his father and grandfather in front of him during a battle.  As a result, the company is hunted by orcs in places and at times which weren’t in the book, one of which is used as an excuse for the company to visit Rivendell against Thorin’s wishes.  In the book, they visited Rivendell because Gandalf told Thorin he must, which reinforced Gandalf’s authority.  Again, why change it????

And lastly … and this one annoyed me almost as much as the others, but not quite … in the film the orcs don’t set fires below the trees to kill the dwarves who have hidden in them to escape.

Yes, there is fire, but in the film it is caused by Gandalf setting fire to pine cones and hurling them at the orcs and causes no danger to the dwarves in the trees.  And when Thorin sees the ‘pale orc’ leading the attackers, he strides down the tree, which has conveniently collapsed due to some sort of earthquake and is now hanging over the edge of a cliff, and engages him in single combat, while the rest of the dwarves are all trying to hold on to Gandalf’s staff, like something out of Eric the Viking. Honestly, the jeopardy in the book, of the dwarves stuck in the burning trees, was far more nail-biting than the ridiculous imagery that Peter Jackson saw fit to introduce and, once more, what justification did he have for changing it?

I was banging my head on the nearest wall by that point, but it got worse.  Thorin collapsed during the fight and was about to be killed, when Bilbo jumped to his rescue and defended him until the eagles could rescue the company and carry them to safety.  This is the Bilbo who has never used a sword and who (in the book) has not yet truly discovered his courage or his principles.  And Mr, Jackson uses that as a reason for Thorin to accept Bilbo, rather than his being impressed that Bilbo makes it into the centre of their camp after they escape from the Goblins, without the dwarf scouts seeing him. All of which diminishes the importance of the ring, further destroys Bilbo’s emotional journey and strips the subtlety from the story.

Despite his arrogance, I will watch the next film.  But Mr. Jackson had better be VERY careful!!!

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