Karen and I saw The Hobbit on Sunday afternoon. We opted for the low-tech version — both of us are more interested in old-fashioned virtues like acting and storytelling. As we sat through the endless previews, I commented to Karen that I couldn’t remember the last time I had been in a theater. After a brief review, we decided that the last film that had convinced me to buy a seat was The Return of The King. It seems, therefore, that I have high expectations when Peter Jackson takes us on a journey to Middle-Earth, and it makes me happy to state that my expectations were fully met by The Hobbit.
Minor plot spoilers below
The screenplay works well for me, in general, and very well in some scenes. I know there are folks who get their knickers in a twist at every departure from the holy writ of JRRT, who insist that any film must be slavishly loyal to the book’s plot. The politest thing I can say to such zealots is that I am very glad you didn’t make the film. Film and novels are very different media, with different strengths and demands. (You want a film that faithfully follows the book? Go see the first Harry Potter movie again. Feel better now? I wouldn’t.) The Hobbit’s screenplay fixes some of the narrative issues I have with the book. Two examples:
(1) Face it, the book’s dwarves-in-the-trees scene is very silly. I don’t want to imagine how cringeworthy that whole tableau would be if PJ had tried to shoot it exactly as written. Happily, he didn’t. The presence of Azog raises the stakes and makes it dramatically tighter, as well as propelling the plot along better and more energetically.
(2) The gathering of the White Council, which is only alluded to in the book, comes off as a dreary departmental meeting in some government office, with Saruman in the role of droning Chief Minister. I loved it, both as a reason for the delay in facing the Necromancer and as an affirmation of the timeless truth that committees rarely make bold strokes.
I really enjoyed how much the film individualizes the dwarves. Nori and Balin stand out, but they all manage to make distinctive choices. I found it very easy to care for them and invest in their hopes. All the acting is strong and faultless; this is an ensemble piece and the actors fully inhabit the world of Jackson’s Middle-Earth.
You want one more reason to see this? It’s not The Phantom Menace. Enjoy!