So The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is out. And people are starting to complain. I mean, I started to complain before it was even in theaters.
They stretched it out into three movies. They made a fun adventure into a serious epic. They added female characters just to add some female characters.
With all of these problems, can Tolkien fans, in good conscience, even enjoy the movie? Can we go out with friends and not dismiss their praise for the movie with esoteric references to the book? Or would liking the movie be kind of like Ron Swanson discussing how delicious his pet calf was in Parks and Recreation? Sure, it’s a good movie, but watching it involved killing something we loved.
I’m never one to be happy about something, but after watching the movie I did see a way to both enjoy it and stay true to my love for Tolkien. In its three-ish hours of run-time, there was plenty to be mad about. But there were also a few elements—conveniently enough, 5—that someone who has obsessively read and re-read Tolkien’s book can appreciate. Maybe.
5. Homages to the Books
Peter Jackson et al made significant changes to The Hobbit, just as they changed The Lord of the Rings. But at least they seem to have read the books. The changes were an intentional decision, not simply laziness on the part of studio executives. This can be seen in the fact that Jackson puts many quotes into the movies verbatim, even if he has to change their timing or speakers due to adaptations from the source. And they include images that likely would not matter to anyone but Tolkien’s readers.
There was much of this in the Lord of the Rings. Gandalf’s speech about Eowyn lying sick in the house of the healing—at the end of the Return of the King book—transplanted to Grima at the beginning of The Two Towers. Treebeard giving Tom Bombadil’s speech to Old Man Willow after one of the Fangorn trees tries to devour the hobbits (although I think that scene was cut from the theatrical version). Eowyn and Faramir sharing a cute look at the end of the Return of the Kings movie, an allusion to their more fully-developed romance in the book.
An Unexpected Journey had plenty of this as well. The characters mutter “out of the frying pan and into the fire” at the end of the movie as they flee the Misty Mountains, which is the name of the corresponding chapter in the book. Gandalf, when discussing the wizards, states that he can’t remember the name of the two blue wizards, who are not named in any of Tolkien’s writings. And the thrush cracking snails on the side of Erebor at the end of the movie foreshadows events in the book that we probably won’t see on screen for another year or two.
So Tolkien fans can, and should, be upset at all that Jackson has changed in bringing The Hobbit to the screen. But let’s at least appreciate that he respects the books enough to try and salvage some bits that will only resonate with us. It’s a bit like buying flowers for your girlfriend after you call her by the wrong name. It’s not going to make her any less angry with you, but at least it shows you know you did something wrong.
This article was first posted on December 18, 2012