I would consider myself to be a pretty casual reader of J.R.R. Tolkien by the standards of many of my friends. I’ve read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and about as much of The Silmarillion as I have read of the bible, for many curiously-similar social reasons. And I think that one of the chief troubles with that main body of Tolkien’s work that’s now Peter Jackson’s purview is that The Hobbit was written for a child. Christopher Tolkien, to be exact. And that type of writing is quite different from the very adult and richly-human LoTR. And there’s a lot of singing. Fairly goofy singing, if the truth be told.
The Hobbit in its novel form reads not only like a children’s book, but also like a video game. Each new trouble – and there are a remarkable number of them – is brought on in sequence. There is almost no narrative sense to the constant barrage of Orcs, Goblins, Trolls and Storm Giants. Really: there never was meant to be, this being originally a series of letters home from a soldier in the First World War to his son. Keeping a little one entertained was the goal. Making that whole thing seem sensible to adults is a daunting challenge.
Also: for we, the Children of the Cable, there is the matter of the Rankin / Bass adaptation. A horribly childlike take on Tolkien if ever there was one. Lame enough to be off-putting to an eight year old, as I recall.
So a Peter Jackson take on our dear Uncle Bilbo was both exciting and nerve-wracking to me.
But the first installment of the series is actually a very good bit of cinema. Three hours and I never got bored, never got burnt out on the action. Peter Jackson does an able job of marrying the seriousness of the One Ring with the intrinsic silliness of a Hobbit on an adventure. The adult themes of a gathering threat in the East, the potent evil of the One Ring and the coming treachery of Saruman are all subtly inserted into the story in ways that sort of shake the viewer out of the more childish scenes.
Yes, there is singing, but the movie never really descends too far into a musical. The two tunes sung in the movie, both by Dwarfs, are more like a montage video. They set a scene rather than dominating it.
I saw The Hobbit with a few friends, many of whom I was surprised to learn had never really read the books. For them, the One Ring was actually more of a mystery at the end of this movie than at the end of The Return of the King. So, that may not say much for Jackson’s story telling. But these Tolkien concepts are not easily summarized as anyone with a particularly nerdy friend can certainly already attest. My friends, for example.
As for the whiz-bang of another Jackson blockbuster, the movie also delivered. The biggest wow factor of the movie was for me the animation of faces. The work begun with Andy Sirkis’ portrayal of Gollum in the first trilogy continues is able form in the second. Look for the Goblin King for a particularly convincing example of what I mean.
It really feels odd to have The Hobbit broken into three pieces like it is, but again: three hours worth of movie and I never got bored. But it is clear that in order to add the adult themes to this story, some extra scenes such as those in Rivendale or featuring Ratagast required a lot more time in the movie than I remember them taking up in the book.
But let’s be honest: I was like twelve when I first read the book. I’m pretty sure I skipped a few pages.