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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Why Haven't I Seen The Hobbit Yet?

It's January 3, 2013, and I still haven't made it to the theater to see The Hobbit. Why not?

Party because of all the partially negative (or at least less-than-enthusiastic) reviews, I'm sure. But I'm an old and committed Tolkien geek, who tool Jackson's previous adaptions very seriously, even when I fully recognized all the ways they failed to work, even on their own terms as movies. Surely hang-ups with 48 fps cinematography isn't enough to dissuade me, is it?

Comments by other, certified fantasy geeks, like Alan Jacobs and Jacob T. Levy, cut closer to what is probably my main reluctance. Alan and Jacob expressing their criticisms (which are both reluctant, I should note; they both enjoyed themselves at the film) differently, but they ultimately point in the same direction: the transformation of the Thorin & Company into awesome, apparently unstoppable super-warriors or video-game characters, with the consequent diminishing of both the Gandalf-centric Important Stuff which Jackson has elected to lard these movies up with, and more importantly of Bilbo and his journey itself. That probably is the heart of it, there. Because, you see, I love Bilbo's story--and I mean its story, the way it's laid out in Tolkien's Hobbit, which I consider to be a tremendous children’s novel, really one of the very best of the genre. It's funny, exciting, surprising, dramatic, and filled with homespun wisdom--all of which is conveyed alongside hints of a deeper historical myth infecting the language and rhythm of the tale, but never stopping it from being what it is: one of the greatest works of youth fiction ever written.

The LOTR books were, by contrast, never really all that great as books. I mean, they included fantastic adventures and great scenes and powerful characterizations, but they weren’t primarily works of literature; they were works of world-creation, of myth-making. So while I think Jackson fundamentally misunderstood or rejected some of thematic basics of that myth in his cinematic adaptations of LOTR (primarily, making the overarching story more about Aragorn and the triumph of men rather than about Frodo and the end of an age), he couldn’t really do any harm to it, any more than the movie The Avengers can do any harm to the grand myths of Thor and Loki. And moreover, they brought much of it to brilliant visual life, and along the way elaborated upon or extended the myth in important ways (replacing Glorfindel with Arwen in their film adaption of Fellowship; building up an important dynamic between Aragorn, Eowyn, and Wormtongue in their adaption of The Two Towers; etc.). So even when the movies dragged (and heavens, did the adaption of Return of the King ever drag, until Jackson plugged the holes and polished it up in the extended edition), I still loved them, and saw them as a contribution to Tolkien's overall legendarium. But with this film adaption of The Hobbit, all I can see is a wonderful work of literature–a real and genuine story, not a myth but a novel–being blown up and transformed and hooked up to a myth it has no narrative business being a part of.

I’m sure I’ll eventually see the film–all three of them, in all likelihood!–and maybe I’ll repent of this judgment entirely. Maybe Jackson and Company pulled off some wonderful alchemy in making this film adaption. But from the trailers I’ve seen, the reviews I’ve read, and really all the news going all the way back to the earliest development of the movie, I just can’t shake the feeling the Jackson's Hobbit is just doing it all wrong. Whereas this adaption, I'm sure, got it right:

(Update, via Facebook: Jacob Levy pithily comments that "The Hobbit pays homage to Tolkien the myth-maker at the expense of Tolkien the storyteller." Well said.)

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