(Answer: The Movie Is So Bad That Elrond Would Weep)
When I first read The Hobbit, I don’t recall feeling wowed. A jaded tween, I’d already inhaled The Lord of the Rings, struggling with Frodo and Sam through the reek of Mordor.
But this past summer, when I reread The Hobbit with my ten-year-old son, Tolkien’s prequel delighted me. My boy often giggled at the dialogue (“Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!”) or the songs, which I sang in a goofy voice for him.
I finally got it. Tolkien intended the adventures of hobbit Bilbo Baggins to have the quality of a saga told aloud. For instance, after a perilous ascent up a mountain pass, Bilbo and his companions find shelter from a storm. Tolkien wrote:
It turned out a good thing that night that they had brought little Bilbo with them, after all. For, somehow, he could not go to sleep for a long while; and when he did sleep, he had very nasty dreams. He dreamed that a crack in the wall at the back of the cave got bigger and bigger…. Then he dreamed that the floor of the cave was giving way, and he was slipping—beginning to fall down, down, goodness knows where to.”
I love the yarn-spinning quality of Tolkien’s book. In many ways, The Hobbit is a far more tightly crafted and voice-driven work than The Lord of the Rings, which has a thick braid of plotlines and characters. Bilbo’s journey with a company of dwarves and Gandalf the wizard to battle the dragon Smaug—over the hills, through the dark forests, under the Misty Mountains, into the Goblin King’s lair—seems perfect for a movie.
And that’s the trouble with director Peter Jackson’s adaptation. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which opened in theaters around the country on December 14, includes most of the key scenes in the first third of Tolkien’s book. Many are fun to watch on screen: the arrival of the dwarves at Bilbo’s hobbit hole, the idiot trolls arguing with each other about how to cook their captives, giant eagles swooping through the air.
It’s the extra stuff troweled on by Jackson and his New Zealand Weta Workshop, visually inventive as it may be, that makes this revamp so tedious and disappointing.