Okay. Before you go much further than this, you will know (if you know me at all and even if you've just been reading this blog recently) that I did not like what Jackson did with LoTR. I was actually hoping that the relatively less complex thing that is "The Hobbit" would rein in Jackson's excesses, but no. Not one little bit, apparently. What he has given us here - and paritcularly in the light of the fact that he COULD NOT RESIST making this another trilogy! - is "LoTR-lite", and by GOD if he could not find enough mayhem in the actual, yanno, book then he was going to manufacture it from thin air or mine any and every other thing that TOlkien's name was ever attached to for reason to lovingly film extended scenes of mayhem....
But wait. Let me be nice. Let me list the things I liked.
TEH THINGS I LIKED
1) I said it before and I'll say it again, the star of these movies is New Zealand. Jackson lucked out with the absofrackinglutely perfect backdrop, adn, well, props for using it (although it is the one thing in the movie that has nothing to do with him or his reinterpretation of it all, he just had the scenery to eat, and he makes a meal of it...) It really made a difference that we opted to see this in a brand-new just-built IMAX theatre, in 3D, and it all just leaped out at you from that screen. Beautiful. Nice cinematography.
2) I went to this movie for a couple of key scenes. The first was the party at Bilbo's and the second was the riddle game. And let me just say that except for a few minor quibbles both of those things lived up to it for me, and as far as that goes I will say that seeing those in live-action on a huge screen was pretty much almost worth the (somewhat hefty - this was IMAX...) price of admission. I've always loved that scene of extended "At-your-service" arrivals at an increasingly puzzled and then annoyed Mr Baggins's front door, and our Mr Baggins delivers the necessary emotional component here, in spades.. Loved it. And I have ALWAYS thought that one of the best things in the film adaptation of this material was Gollum, and he does not disappoint here. I've never, personally, been that entertained by riddles - I find them somwewhat silly, and either far too easy or impenetrable, both fo which make me lose interest fast - but this scene just did work. RIGHT UNTIL THE POINT that Jackson decided to Do His Thing again and chop and change things that just make no sense in changing. In the book, the whole buttons-torn-off-the-vest thing as Bilbo squeezes through a tight space happened AT THE GOBLIN GATE. Not with Gollum being left to pick up the buttons as evidence. This worked in the original scene because those flying buttons off an invisible foe were deadly revelations, each one of them, to a number of murderous and motivated goblin guards that somebody was trying to escape their gate - Gollum, in contrast, already KNEW that Bilbo was here somewhere and did not need that sort of evidence. Story fail, Peter Jackson. Just because you could, I suppose?...
3) ALWAYS loved that song
And yes, it serves to characterise the dwarves amazingly well here. And, well, I always loved that song.
As for the rest of it... here's the rest of the list.
THE THINGS I DID NOT LIKE
1. "The Hobbit" has one of the best known opening lines in the history of literature. WHY DOES IT TAKE US HALF AN HOUR OF NESTED FLASHBACKS TO GET TO IT? It's Jackson's frantic attempt to hold on to the whole LoTR mystique - by involving Frodo and the older Bilbo! By flashbacking to things that neither Hobbit knew anything about, personally, in a sequence that made even my husband, who tends to be more generous than myself, ask plaintively, "Is the whole THING going to be in narrative...?!" And after that first loooooooong slow beginning...
2. ...the pacing gets warg-and-oc-and-goblin-laden to the point that I was beginning to be bored stupid. One can take only so many scenes of battle mayhem, no matter how lovingly photographed, no matter how increasingly unlikely the circumstances become, before battle fatigue sets in - and honestly, even dwarvish arms would have begun to ache from swinging those stupid swords. Come on. There was more story here than just whack whack whack - but Jackson couldn't resist, any more than he could resist that lovingly filmed extended carnage sequence outside of Gondor in, you know, those other movies. And I actually went back to the book to check when we got home - the whole "pale orc" thing is a folded-in manufactured plot element - and you know, if Thorin had actually managed to get that damn nemesis of his this time at a heroic stand we might have been going somewhere. As it stands it's just another stupid and pointless whack-fest. Boring now. Really. REALLY.
3. The tension between Thorin and the Elves? Not really in the book, you know. Just... not. Manufactured drama. Unnecessary. Irrelevant.
4. And oh BOY does Jackson still not get the Elves. Galadriel gets little to do except stnand around messianically in a gown that drapes spectacularly when she is, you know, posing, but which looks like it will snap her neck if she tries walking down a flight of stairs in it - that, and, well, being telepathetic with Gandalf without ANYONE else noticing that anything is going on here. You'd think that Saruman (and oh BOY, if you do not know after THAT scene in the Elf Gazebo On The Crag that he's on the way to turning traitor... I mean, it should have been obvious to someone like Galadriel, in that set-up - anyone who wilfully and insistently pooh-poohs every little bit of evidence as poppycock you might start to at least keep your eye on, and in that case why was Isengard and what went on there such a shock to everyone in Jackson's version of LoTR? As for Elrond, he's still managing to come across as a self-satisfied CEO of a major corporation rather than an Elvish lord.
5. THis is a prequel, right? A story that PRECEDED the LoTR narrative? Well, all I can say is, thank God Jackson made those movies before this one because without seeing HIS version of LoTR a lot of things in the "prequel" won't make sense at all. This should be a bad thing, really. But I suppose there will be those who will say that the fact that the other movies exist has changed the space-tiem continuum and it makes sense for a prequel to rely so heavily on material that happens after the story in questions, often many years after. The LoTR movies, in this scenario, were really a prequel for the Hobbit movie... and... um... my head just exploded.
6. The wizards. Two Blue Wizards, whose names Gandalf can't remember (REALLY? There are five wizards in the world, and you can't remember their names? People remember all the dwarves. YOu couldn't come up with a magical mnenomnic, if it was that hard? FIVE OF YOU? And you can't remember two names out of the five?). One Brown, Radagast - and truly, if Hobbit is LoTR-Lite then Radagast is BOmbadil-Lite and for those who don't understand why Bombadil was omitted - well, here's the reason why. It appears to be difficult to correlate Radagast with both a wizard (who presumably wields a certain amount of magical power) and a slightly loony character who travels by rabbit sled and whose foibles are laid at the door of his having "consumed too many mushrooms" (Jackson Joke, that, I suspect. It's the sort of sledgehammer humour he seems to excel at.) Saruman, who is so obviously a megalomaniac and a liability that you'd think something would have been done about him before he raised an orc army of his own. And Gandalf who is... an enigma. A wizard who will one day face down a Balrog with a "YOU WILL NOT PASS!" and be believed - who turns up in a teeming goblin city and then does nothing except exhort his companions to "fight"? WHy can't he just unleash a firebolt into the middle of the cavern and stop everything in its tracks right here? And there is moment after moment in this movie where Gandals ends up in sticky situations where a wizard of his ilk should really be able to do mroe than just throw burning pinecone handgrenades at a bunch of wargs while clinging to the top of a tree listing over a precipice. (and while we are on the subject or precipices - digressing ever so slightly from wizardry here - just how many times can that company of dwarves and hobbit fall down mountainsides or off cliffs and walk off without a scratch? Really? Particularly if a hefty corpse of a very large ex goblin king falls down on top of them and flattens them, as a secondary impact and another Jackson Joke, I suspect...?) There are times in this movie that I found myself thinking rather irately that Gandalf's only real magic seems to consist in keeping his hat on at all times - even through the midst of battle mayhem and while falling down those mountainsides. It must be superglued to his head by some veyr powerful spells.
6. It occurs to me that a lot of the storylines in this thing could have been shortcut by simply having the eagles show up IN THE FIRST PLACE. They always turn up anyway.
I suppose I'll have to go see #2 because I really want to see that scene of dwarves in barrels floating down-river. But On the whole what I feared has come to pass. Jackson has the bit between his teeth, and this franchise is WAY out of control. This is a director who seems to be eager to yell ADD MORE MAYHEM! every time he thinks the story flags - but the story isn't flagging, not really, and all he is doing is subverting Tolkien from lofty high fantasy to a movie with Chases! Battles! SFX by the bucketload!. I swear, I think if he could have worked in a nice little car chase, perhaps something nicked from "Skyfall" which was playing next door to us in the multiplex, he would have.Wargs chasing cars chasing hobbitses, my preciousssss.
I think I'll go back and re-read that book I love. Just to reassure myself that Tolkien's version still survives and hasn't somehow been changed by a histry-changing temporal (I just typoed that, I originally wrote "tamporal" and maybe I should have left it, that's exactly what it was, tampering...) tidal wave which would leave me living in a world where Jackson's version is the canon. I don't think I would like that world much.
Here's a more "official" review which appears to agree with me...