I rarely blog sequels, but since I defended Peter Jackson’s first Hobbit installment, I feel obligated to comment on the second part of The Hobbit. Or whatever it is you want to call that ridiculous thing I watched yesterday…
The dragon animation was awesome. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice is simultaneously sexy and soul-crushingly terrifying.
Pretty much everything else.
Naively, I defended part one of The Hobbit trilogy. “It’s not an adaptation of The Hobbit,” I thought. “It’s a prequel to LOTR, bringing in material from the Appendices and The Fellowship and the Sillmarillion!” And for part one this was true.
But wiser people said “What will they do in Part 2 and 3? Where will they get the content?”
Naively, I thought, “Maybe their adventures in Mirkwood will lead us to a new understanding of the elves with bits of the elf history that was alluded to in the LOTR films but much more detailed in Tolkien’s writings. Maybe we’ll see Aragorn kidnap Gollum, or form the Rangers, or just generally do all of the awesome stuff he does before the start of the Fellowship. Or maybe we’ll get to see the start of Aragorn and Arwen’s relationship and finally come to understand why on Middle Earth he would prefer her over Eowyn!”
Instead we get 2 hrs of stuff that was not even alluded to in the books with maybe 30 minutes of content that was loosely based on events from the book. Very loosely.
And here’s the kicker it wasn’t even a good film. Maybe I can accept that it was a terrible adaptation (although really, I can’t, because the LOTR films were such good adaptations and should have been much, much more difficult to get right). But it was also completely useless as a stand-alone film. There was absolutely no story arc. The company traveled several miles, fighting orcs pretty much non-stop; they got to the mountain and fought the dragon for a bit; and then the movie ended. There was a lot of action, but nothing was achieved and no characters were developed–except for some minor characters who were barely mentioned in the books or completely made up for the film.
And it kills me because I know that Peter Jackson can do story arc. I think the adaptation of The Two Towers was brilliant. He took a book which has no real climax, consisting as it does of two largely unrelated adventures told in separate halves of the book (no offense to Tolkien–his story arc is really more in the entire three book work as a whole). But by entwining the stories together, Jackson created a powerful story arc. He even helped assuage the utter, agonizing, boringness of two hobbits hiking across Middle Earth for hundreds of pages (at least a little). Another great example of his good story arc sense in the LOTR films is his choice to end The Fellowship with Boromir’s death and Frodo and Sam striking off on their own while the rest of the company follows the trail of the kidnapped Merry and Pippin. Tolkien splits this content between the end of the Fellowship and beginning of the Two Towers–he doesn’t care about the story arc in the individual books and instead lets them run together. Peter Jackson saw the superior breaking point, completing the collapse of the Fellowship in film one and setting us up for the new quests in film two.
And as for character development, look what Jackson did with Aragorn in the LOTR films. In the books, most of Aragorn’s development as a character has occurred prior to the start of the plot. He comes into the Fellowship holding the sword of Elendil proudly and takes command of the quest. He goes into every battle confident of victory, and he always wins. He is the triumphant battlelord/king of Medieval lore. But Jackson makes some bold changes in his adaptation. He takes away Aragorn’s sword, makes him self-conscious, full of guilt, and reluctant to command. Jackson gives charge of the quest to Gandalf, even giving the wizard a bunch of Aragorn’s lines (notably, it is Gandalf, not Gimli who wishes to travel through Mordor and Aragorn who cautions against it and predicts Gandalf’s death). But gradually, Aragorn gains confidence. The battle of Helm’s Deep is not just a pit stop on the road to victory, but the turning of the tide when King Aragorn comes into his own. These are pretty big changes, but they are purposeful. They create a story that is a little bit different from Tolkien’s, but powerful and more accessible and inspiring to a modern film audience.
So I ask you, Peter Jackson, where was all of this brainpower when you were doing The Hobbit? Here was a chance to create an awesome prequel trilogy for your Academy Award dominating masterworks and instead we experience Star Wars prequel-esque let-down.
At least the CGI dragon was cool. . .