Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Hobbit: A Defense

So the trilogy of Hobbit movies have gotten a lot of flack. Some of it is probably deserved, as obvious padding. Other detours from the original book really pleased me. Since I finally made it to a movie theater for the third installment, it's my turn to weigh in.

First the complaint I agree with:
1. The overt references to the Lord of the Rings trilogy were ham-handed and unnecessary. In my writing critique group, we call this a failure to trust your reader. All the groundwork was already there for fans to make the connection to events in the other movies. A jab in the ribs and a "Do you get it?" was clumsy storytelling. We knew that Gandalf suspected the nature of the ring Bilbo had found and had his own reasons for not taking action. We knew that Legolas, in his wanderings, would meet up with Strider/Aragorn. The people who didn't know that probably still didn't get it when they were poked roughly in the ribs because they must not know the books or movies. 

Now the complaints I'm willing to defend:
2. The added material. In more than one review, I read that the whole Tauriel storyline was unnecessary. I disagree. Tauriel did a lot for the story. She provided the reason that Legolas becomes a wanderer who does not live among his own people in LOTR. It was a great, complicated mesh of emotions in that particular love triangle. She helped viewers distinguish among the dwarves. She was a much needed strong female character (Tolkien didn't write women much at all, let alone well) that helped engage female audience members. She helped us understand what was wrong with Thranduil, the father of Legolas--he was driven half mad by the loss of love in his life. She was the way in for the allegorical discussion of points about race and loyalty and honor. It would have been a poorer story without her. 

3. Legolas's agility moments: I have a feeling this is one of those you-love-it-or-you-don't moments
and neither side will win the other over. I loved Legolas's amazing moves in the original trilogy and I loved them again here. In the same way that I admire Jackie Chan's ability to use his environment to his advantage in a fight, I enjoy Legolas's daredevil risks. It makes even more sense when you come to view him as a man in love with someone who loves someone else. Only Legolas would jump out into space and grab the legs of a giant evil bat just as a means to get from one place to another more quickly. Only Legolas views all things in terms of how he can ride them--steering a giant beast with the blade he has jammed into its brain, turning a tower into a bridge, and climbing it while it crumbles. I'm not interested in straight warfare--sword vs. sword gets dull to watch over time. I can count on Legolas to do something crazy-cool to keep me engaged in the scene.
4. The indistinguishable dwarves: The writers had quite a task here, trying to make thirteen white men, nearly all the same height and build, distinct enough for us to know them in the story, when they are all in decidedly secondary or tertiary roles to the main story lines. So we have the love story, which we all knew would end badly. The father figure. The king. Other than that, they are primarily distinguishable by their beard affectations (and one of them by being really really fat). So, yes, I agree that, at the end of the story, I don't know many of their names or their backstories. But I also think that isn't necessarily a flaw. For those complaining about length of the movies, imagine how long they'd have been if we had fully realized each and every dwarf! Thorin needed a band of trustworthy followers around him, but the group can essentially function as one character. Does anyone know the names of Robin Hood's Merry Men beyond Little John? Captain Hook's pirates beyond Smee? It doesn't matter to the overall story.

So there you go. Was it a flawless trilogy? No. But was it a really enjoyable romp? Yes, indeed.


  1. I liked this last installment. I've avoided most of the complaints about it, but I had seen the comments on the attempts to tie the The Hobbit together with Lord of the Rings for viewers. It didn't make me feel strongly one way or the other. Then again, it's been awhile since I read any of the books, so maybe there was more in there than I noticed.

    1. There's yet to be a book adaptation that pleased everyone who read the book. The Hobbit movies were rich in the same kind of attention to detail as the LOTR, and I enjoyed them, too. :-)