Column: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Defense Of Jackson's First Prequel
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013
Updated: Sunday, March 17, 2013 23:03
The orchestral theme of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy is one that resonates deeply with any fan of Peter Jackson’s film rendition of the epic Tolkien fantasy tale. It leads us through hours of monotony in the library, and imbues a run around the reservoir with a sense of grandeur and purpose. Its powerful brays and booming tones leave a mark on our minds that join all the other impressions left by masterful artistic representations of both director and author. This is a truly great trilogy—an unforgettable one. And, if you’re like me, it’s one you have strong allegiance to—I don’t want anyone to muck it up. Some would say that Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit did. I’m here to tell you that it didn’t, but not because it lived up to the same standard as LOTR.
Those of you who haven’t seen The Hobbit in theatres will soon have the opportunity to view it at home—it comes out on DVD this Tuesday. To save you from your preconceived notions about the franchise before you see its next movie (as these notions could hinder your viewing pleasure), I offer the following analysis.
Before I say anything, let me quell the rumors that have been going around. The Hobbit is not a work that has any power as a detriment to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Idiot friends of mine whimper: “It betrays the first three,” or “It ruined LOTR” because the movie wasn’t their taste. Their arguments are erroneous. It’s apples and oranges, people. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are completely separate writings/films from each other—artworks meant for different audiences and different age ranges. Confusion can arise here because both works are set in the same “world,” so to speak and do inform each other, but saying the former can “ruin” the latter is like saying that Reservoir Dogs can ruin Pulp Fiction (another two works that exist in the same world). That being said, people expecting to get the same LOTR entertainment value out of The Hobbit are destined to be disappointed for one simple reason.
The Hobbit is a children’s story. Tolkien did not write it to be fodder for literati or, really, people older than 17 (not that they shouldn’t read it or can’t enjoy it). Bilbo’s story is more satisfying to a different appetite. It was meant for entertainment and instruction of its audience—youth. The book was, after all, born out of Tolkien’s bedtime stories for his children. The film, too, is written for children (there is, of course, plenty to enjoy for adults). It, like the book, lacks seriousness, scope, and many of the more mature and complex elements that so enthralled us in LOTR. But The Hobbit by definition doesn’t need them, and is not hurt by not having them. The film is supremely enjoyable within its own genre. Jackson relates the nature of the children’s book inventively in two ways that are standout differences in style from LOTR.
First, and most notably, the CGI and digital effects of The Hobbit make the visuals delightfully whimsical and rich. Pixie dust is in the air, and we are removed from reality to a place of magic and imagination. Many screenshots are easy proxies for book illustrations. The movie is very amusing to the eye in different ways than LOTR—it’s more surreal, controlled, and theatrical.
Second, evil is a less powerful force. Instead of one hulking amalgamated antagonist, the system of evil is distributed and comically feudal. The villains exist in their own separate little camps across middle earth, and do not share power, reputation, or strong affiliation for that matter. They don’t have much of a combined force, so they are less scary. Evil personalities are more caricatured and quirky—more entertaining than bone chilling.
But in the back of my head, I do think to myself: “Pixie dust is just OK, and I do miss those sweeping naturalistic vistas from the original trilogy. Feudal-type evil is fun and novel, but I want that one, quintessential, epic bad-guy.” Liking one over the other is a matter of taste. My take? Compared to LOTR, The Hobbit just seems trivial, but compared to a novel, a children’s book seems trivial too.