2.28.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 29, Conclusion 2)
2.28.14 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Film Comments 29, Conclusion 2)
Gratefully stumbling into Friday night through a receding haze of flu, & want to finish my assessments of Peter Jackson’s 2013 film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
That is, solely within the context of the (soon-to-be) six Hobbit and LotR films, we’re going to have a story that explains why Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom with the One Ring was necessary (failure to destroy Sauron & his flight to Mordor, corruption of Saruman & his betrayal of the White Council, etc). I believe that this element is what critics of The Hobbit are essentially missing, and why I’ve spent 28 blogs that (1) related the essentials of Tolkien’s original Chapters 7-12, (2) how Jackson interpreted it each of those chapters, and, finally, (3) offering my ideas about how the films worked for me as adaptations.
There’s the elephant in the room that the so-called Tolkien “purists” refuse to acknowledge: Peter Jackson’s films are inspired by Tolkien’s entire oeuvre, and ostensible “adaptations” of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but they are Peter Jackson films. (Did we get irritated that Alfred Hitchcock appeared in cameos in his own films? Why the uproar when Jackson does the same thing? Does anybody even remember the 20th Century, when there were no live-action films of either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit in sight?) Even when that fact of creator-rights is acknowledged, most of the negative reviewers dismiss out-of-hand the artistic right of a director to realize his or her work, and promptly launch into some form of tirade that generally (1) accuses Jackson, Warner Brothers, New Zealand, Planet Earth, et al of making a mockery of Tolkien’s original work by giving into “Hollywood” and the temptations of CGI-enhancements, and then (2) giving a discourse on the size of the chasm that exists between Jackson’s films and Tolkien’s book, with the accusations variously falling along lines of “How dare Jackson try to tie in themes, characters, and plots that aren’t part of Tolkien’s original story of The Hobbit?” or “How dare Jackson make three films out of a one-film story?” What about Jackson’s rights as an auteur who actually took Tolkien’s work from the literary page and put it onto the silver screen? That part of the equation always seems to get lost in the tirades.
Indeed, when I read the criticisms in the enraged parts of the blog-sphere that castigate Jackson and his fellow screenwriters for how they’ve adapted Tolkien’s works, I wonder repeatedly if any of them have read with a “story-telling” eye The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales. Try it. Especially with an eye to making those works reflect everything you truly love about Middle Earth. For instance, would there be women in your screenplay? There weren’t in Tolkien’s book. Would the dwarves have any personality or characterization? Only mere sketches of a few dwarves in Tolkien’s version. There also have been many suggestions about how to approach this scene or that scene in the critiques, but I’ve not read any that suggest an adaptation I’d be interested in watching, certainly when I’ve been so entertained by the 2 of 3 films of the trilogy that I’ve seen so far. Those who really need to appreciate the scope of what Jackson, Walsh, Boyens, and del Toro have accomplished are especially those critics who take pot-shots at certain developments or characters that depart from The Hobbit “canon” (read: the Necromancer storyline and Tauriel). Spoiler-alert: Jackson isn’t Tolkien.
The director and screen-writer obviously loves J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, and is passionate about rendering them on screen as best as he’s able, but he’s also spending what’ll be over a decade of his life bringing to the silver screen another artist’s work, an artist who worked in a completely different medium. The realization of a literary work into cinematic experience isn’t ever going to be perfect, and we don’t expect it to be. As much as I love Middle-Earth, when I go to one of these Peter Jackson films, neither he nor I want to spend screen-time watching a four-page discourse on the history of hobbits (which Tolkien gives in opening pages of The Fellowship of the Ring). While he arguably could have made a one- or two-film adaptation of The Hobbit that went linearly through the novel from A-Z, I’m sure he would’ve been lambasted for not making a film appropriate for 21st-century audiences; that is, there could certainly have been an all- Bilbo fest like Tolkien offered, but I think we’d also get no real interaction with any dwarves, no women, and really the only connection to the LotR films occurring with the finding of the One Ring when Bilbo meets Gollum.
The Hobbit was a children’s book that — along with The Lord of the Rings in the popular mind — created an entirely new genre of epic fantasy in the 20th Century. When I see scenes like the gigantic golden statue of Thrain being melted by desperate dwarves, the cynical adult in me realizes that Jackson’s created something from whole-cloth that would never seriously threaten a dragon of Smaug’s stature. That side of me understands the critics’ uproar and disappointment with changing this part of Tolkien’s story. However, the child part of me (and as the parent of two kids, that part can still glimpse a fantasy story through their eyes!), that child-like part of me sees a fantastic symbol both of dwarvish greed and the physical effects of what the Arkenstone did to Thorin’s grandfather (and what desire of it is already doing to him).
On that level, evoking a truly childlike wonder from the audience and including the dwarves as Tolkien never did, Jackson truly succeeded. These films are cinematic adaptations that include many of the elements that made Tolkien’s story work so well, but expanding upon the novel to stand alone as a couple trilogies of films that capture many, many aspects of the Middle Earth mythology that Tolkien spent most of his life building.
I’ll always have Tolkien’s original stories to read and enter Middle Earth on his terms, just as I’ll have Jackson’s two film trilogies to give me visuals of parts of the stories that have meant so much to me over the years, a fondness that I can now pass along to my kids in both literary and cinematic mediums. I don’t think that the ability to discriminate between the two makes me less of a Tolkien fan, but one who is appreciative that after 77 years from its publication date, we’re finally seeing someone putting some version of The Hobbit on the big screen. And it’s more than just throwing something onto celluoid/digital-space and seeing what will stick; much, much thought has gone into these adaptations.
At two of three films into his trilogy, I love what Jackson’s done with the source material, and I also appreciate that my kids can enjoy aspects of Tolkien’s work with themes and characters that he never bothered with: females as a viable presence in epic fantasy; dwarves who matter as characters rather than just making a number and rhyming names, and cinematically tying into the previous LotR film trilogy with which most audiences are familiar; and, finally, a backstory to Sauron’s return and the last defense of the White Council that works really well with the way that the films are written.
More, Jackson’s made his six movies on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with a mind to standing alone as a complete, fully realized story that stands alone in their own cinematic space. “Stand-alone.” That’s what these three Hobbit films will be, just as the LotR films were before them. That’s the true accomplishment of these productions. Thirty years from now, you’ll be able to watch both trilogies and come away feeling as if you’ve got some sense of Tolkien’s works. As with any film adaptation of literature, if you want the “full” experience, exit the theater/turn of the dvd player and read the original Tolkien books. Those books aren’t going anywhere, people…
I think you’ll find that you’ll be rewarded by Tolkien’s writing, but you might also come away from the experience with a new respect for what Jackson and his fellow screenwriters have done here. How many people you’ve met who’ve read all of Tolkien’s books, really understood them, and can offer a viable alternative to the work that Jackson, Walsh, Boyens, and del Toro have put in here? Not many. Let’s give them some credit for putting a story that stands on its own legs, and then go back and read The Hobbit from cover to cover and come up with a better version. (Hint: it’s already been done, in the animated 1977 Rankin-Bass production, but even that cartoon had some omissions from the original text. However, watching it will give you a sense of the kind of movie an A-Z linear narrative would give the movie-goer)!
Now, with head full of NyQuil & hopes for December’s The Hobbit: There and Back Again, I’m going to crawl off to bed & hope that when I awaken into March I’ll be able to rise from bed without a head full of cotton!
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