“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – The Hobbit
So I watched the Hobbit last night with Miri. We went to the final showing, 10:25; practically an empty theater. I found myself humming tunes from the old 1977 cartoon version (which I'd just re-watched to prep myself for the new movie). Friends had been telling me to go see The Hobbit for weeks, and raved about it.
Well, what's the verdict?
While the movie is certainly entertaining, family-friendly fun, it doesn't deliver the same magic as the LOTR trilogy. Not by a long shot. You're not watching a movie, you're going for a roller coaster ride of lights and magic. As Gandalf said in the original 2001 film: "Do not take me for a conjurer of cheap tricks!" Unfortunately, The Hobbit might have done exactly that.
Now a lot of people liked it. It had sentimental value – opening with Elijah Wood and Ian Holm, playing the right music at the right time and zooming in Gandalf saying something profound.
But there were no challenges. No attempt to reinvent the world of the prequel and give it the same level of mystery, and terror, like the original film did. Plenty of luster and little wonder. There was a problem with the way Peter Jackson "built" this world. More on that in a moment.
I mentioned the cons. Here are some of the pros.
Some parts of the film were visually fantastic: the epic rock giants battling each other, the grotesque Goblin King and his eerie hoards of minions that inhabited the mountain. And aside from their oddly polished faces, I thought the dwarves had terrific costumes and personalities.
There were jokes a-plenty, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) did a wonderful performance, though I wish his perspective was shown more throughout the film.
Some of you might be wondering about the infamous scene with Gollum. Here is where I think the movie failed to do something genuinely new, instead relying on the audience to giggle and delight over the return of this beloved creature. He wasn't scary. A lot has improved since the first film, CG-wise. So he looks great. Gollum's facial movements are by far, more realistic and expressive.
But what about the fear? Real fear (something along the lines of the image above). So many creatures in this world, from goblins to trolls to Gollum himself, could all very nearly gobble up Bilbo and his companions. The movie didn't really capture that. I think the original 1977 film did it far better. Check it out:
Tolkien believed that writing stories and making good art allowed us to create what he called a "secondary world." Art is only successful to the extent that it creates a portal into these imaginal spaces. World creation, for Tolkien, was not so much world engineering as world discovery. Good story-telling acts like a portal into these worlds, approximating their likeness and giving them a nearly numinous presence. They become living myths. As artists, we can only hope to relate the audience to the real magic that comes from exploring the murky realms of the imagination. Tolkien coined a word for this. It's called "mythopoesis," or myth-making.
As far as good myth making goes, I have to say Peter Jackson's The Hobbit was a far fly from the original LOTR trilogy. Let's hope there are far less conjuring of cheap tricks and a lot more good story telling in the next installment.