*There will be spoilers in this review. Fair warning!*
Caleb and I went to see The Hobbit over Christmas. About halfway through I sighed involuntarily. Caleb asked me what the problem was.
“He’s ruining it!” I said.
Caleb nodded and said, “He konged it.”
That is a reference to Jackson’s remake of King Kong. The movie was long on action, CGI, and Hallmark movie dialogue but short on story, character development, or narrative tension. I am sorry to say that the exact same things are true of The Hobbit, though to a lesser degree.
I loved Lord of the Rings and assumed I would love The Hobbit. And I did love parts of the movie! When Jackson stuck to the novel, it was magic. The dwarves singing about blunting knives and smashing plates was adorable. I grinned and elbowed Caleb in the ribs through the whole song. The riddle scene between Bilbo and Gollum was funny, scary, and completely captivating. I was genuinely afraid of Gollum while also pitying him. When he screamed “We hates it forever!” I felt a chill down my spine. I even liked the opening scenes explaining the kingdom of Erebor and Smaug. I cannot wait to hear Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the dragon! But I still started falling asleep near the end.
So, with as little snark as I can muster, what was wrong with The Hobbit:
First, the action scenes were overly long and tedious. And I love action movies! I saw The Expendables and enjoyed it. (Yes, I really am a girl.) When Jackson ran out of plot, he threw in a battle scene. It’s a common tactic in movies and books, but it is no substitute for plot. Part of the problem is Jackson trying to stretch an already short book into a three movie series. I didn’t initially object to that plan, but now it’s clear that they spread themselves too thin, “like butter scraped over too much bread”. And yes, running from random rock monsters counts as an action scene.
Second, I cannot remember any of the dwarves except Fili, Kili, Bombur, and Thorin, and I’ve read the book twice. Shouldn’t we know a little about them? And for heaven’s sake, NOT in flashback, please! Half of this movie seemed to be in flashback. This is not Memento! Show the audience their personalities! Make me care, Jackson! He could kill them off, and I doubt many people would notice.
Third, the dialogue. I came home and checked IMDB to make sure the writers were the same as for Lord of the Rings. What happened to “History became legend, legend became myth, and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.” The good dialogue in The Hobbit came straight from the book. The rest was cheese. Gandalf’s speech about keeping evil at bay and Thorin’s apology to Bilbo belonged in a Lifetime or Hallmark channel movie. If I had written the scene after Bilbo saves Thorin:
Thorin: [walking slowly and painfully to Bilbo] I owe you a debt, Mr. Baggins. [Bilbo nods and looks at the ground.] Perhaps I can start by teaching you how to use that properly. [gestures to Sting and gently punches Bilbo’s shoulder. The rest of the dwarves laugh heartily, Gandalf winks at Bilbo, and Bilbo smiles awkwardly.]
No one is sappy in real life. Try talking like a Hallmark movie at your friend’s birthday, a wedding, or a high school graduation. People will either make fun of you, laugh awkwardly, or turn your speech into a joke. Furthermore only sociologists discuss group dynamics (who’s in, who’s out) as they are happening, and we all know they are insane. If you leave out the cheese and put something thoughtful and awesome in its place, people that claim to like cheese won’t notice. We know from LOTR that Philippa, Fran, and Mr. Jackson can write good dialogue, so I refuse to give them a pass on The Hobbit. The fans deserve better.
Finally, the scene in Rivendell with Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman, and Gandalf should never have been filmed. Radaghast the Brown and his rabbit sledge should similarly have been cut. Why? Narrative tension. What you don’t say is just as important as what you do. Jackson eliminated all narrative tension that could have been generated for Mirkwood by actually filming those scenes. It should have been background information, perhaps mentioned by Gandalf as an ominous aside if it was mentioned at all.
Two final gripes: who chose Dame Edna as the voice of the Goblin King? And what crack was he/she on? The disconnect between the King’s appearance and voice was beyond jarring. And Azog the Defiler just confused me no end. It could have been interesting, but I just couldn’t figure out why he was there.
There were wonderful things about the movie. I universally loved the scenes that followed the book. But Jackson tried to make The Hobbit something it isn’t. It is a small story, but he wanted another epic. He added long battle scenes, CGI of unnecessary monsters and characters, and sappy dialogue overtly stating things that should be shown in a wink, a smile, or a laugh.
He konged it.