Has Peter Jackson destroyed the Hobbit?


January 16, 2013 by brettdgale

Under the same title, this post was going to be about something different.  I was simply going to write about the concept of how filming a novel distorts the way we avid readers approach any subsequent reading. 

I first read the Hobbit (followed shortly thereafter by the Lord of the Rings trilogy) when I was eleven.  I still clearly remember my feelings on putting the books down having raced to the end of these books I still rate as some of my favourites.  Importantly, I still remember the images of Tolkein’s world I’d created in my minds’ eye solely based on the words on a page.  

Then along came Peter Jackson’s movies. Over a decade since first release, I can’t now recall whether Peter Jackson’s vision of orcs, hobbits, elves, dwarves, ents wizards and the whole Tolkein gamut was any different to mine because (and maybe I’m just weak willed) Jackson’s version has become mine. 

With four movies Peter Jackson has put his imprint on Tolkein’s world.  It is through his eyes, no longer our own, that we picture Middle Earth.  Like it or not the Gollum you now see when you close your eyes at night is the Gollum invented by Peter Jackson’s camera.

 And the first time I set eyes on Central Otago I remember calling my wife and telling her I was in Middle Earth, so thoroughly has Jackson’s conception supplanted mine.  Perhaps New Zealand now has as much of a problem as Tolkein in the popular imagination. 

This is not a criticism of what Jackson had done, I loved the movies as much as I loved the books, still I think it’s a concept worth examining – this idea of whether or not a filmmakers’ vision clashes with your own when it comes to a beloved book and what effect that clashing vision has on your enjoyment of the book. 

This is the reason I stopped watching the Game of Thrones TV series after less than 10 minutes.  I realised that I hadn’t finishing reading all of George RR Martin’s oeuvre and didn’t want some Hollywood’s director’s version of characters to distort my own mental image of them before I’d finished the book. 

But now, I’ve now seen the latest film and rather than being tongue in cheek the title question of this post is now deliberate.  Has Peter Jackson destroyed the Hobbit?

To get it over with straight away I liked the movie.  My friend and Cinephile JD over at the curlencook blog has quite a good review of the film but I do take issue with him on a couple of points. 

For a start at nine hours long, Peter Jackson has made a movie that takes longer to watch than the book takes to read.  And the reason is that Jackson has added a whole lot of stuff not contained in the original slim volume.

Many of the additions to Tolkein’s story seemed solely made for the purpose of Jackson putting his own imprint on the Tolkein universe, like a dog marking its territory, rather than in service of a better story.  I get that they will help explain things that occur offscreen, (as it were) in the book, are in fact consistent with the wider Tolkein universe, and will have resonance in later films but I’m just not sure they were necessary. (As an aside, for those interested in Tolkeinalia and the background to The Hobbit, Mark Atherton’s There and Back Again:  JRR Tolkein and the origins of The Hobbit is well worth a read).

But, I was more surprised at the deletions from Tolkein’s work.  In particular Bilbo’s reaction to the unexpected tea party in the film is at odds with that of the book and threatens to completely distort the audience’s view of Bilbo’s character.  If you are making a nine hour movie why the distortion or removal of key character building points?

My greatest criticism though rests in the darkness and bleakness of Jackson’s vision.  He has denuded the story of all the comedy and whimsy that made The Hobbit such an endearing (and enduring for that matter) children’s classic. 

Sure I’ll go see the next instalment but it may be through gritted teeth.

What’s your view? How does the new movie stack up?  Does it matter if Peter Jackson has added a whole lot of stuff?


One thought on “Has Peter Jackson destroyed the Hobbit?

  1. Jennifer says:

    What, no flurry of responses?
    I agree with you about the facility of adopting a filmmaker’s vision to replace our own, once we’ve seen the film version. I worry about this with my kids, since I want them to have their own visions of literature.
    But I took them to see the Hobbit, clueless at that point in time that it was the first of three instalments. Oy. I don’t see him “ruining” the Hobbit, because tons of people will now read the book and a fraction of those will even engage with it in some meaningful way: so, yay books and stuff.
    But the choice to focus on Radogast the Brown, for example, rather than on what is going on with Bilbo at the outset set the story up as much more of a military adventure than what it, imo, actually is: a story about the commonplace and the good as ample justification for a life well lived.

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