Thursday, January 2, 2014

Desolation of The Hobbit (a movie review post)

[Warning: This post may (will) contain offensive language and/or concepts, things I don't generally have on my blog. Thinking about it, I should just send this post over to the Beer Guys and let them do it in the way they do best, but, hey, it's my review, so... just be prepared.]

Disclaimer: As I've mentioned before, the main problem with what Jackson has done with The Hobbit stems from his dishonesty about his intentions. If he had said upfront, "I'm going to adapt the book to fit with my version of Middle Earth," there wouldn't be nearly the problem. However, what he said for years, right up to the release of the first movie, was "I am being completely faithful to the book." Either he's just a liar or he's delusional (and, at this point, I'm leaning toward delusional).

The terms "rape" and "childhood" are often used when anyone of my generation talks about the Star Wars prequels. I don't actually feel that way about them. My view has more to do with the fact that Lucas has the right to do whatever he wants to do with his own stuff. It's like if I want to paint my living room in orange and green stripes, you don't get to tell me I should change it. I'm the one that lives in it, and, if I like it, it's no concern of yours. You don't have to come over and see it if you don't want to. And, if my house is full of all the coolest things in the world, which makes you want to come over, you still don't get to complain about the color scheme. That's the price you have to pay to come over and play with my toys.
And, hey, my kids love Jar Jar, as do all of the "Star Wars kids" I know.

However, The Hobbit does not belong to Peter Jackson. What he's done with The Hobbit is like you coming to my house and re-painting my living room in puke green and neon pink. Except, actually, it's more like Peter Jackson bending Bilbo and Tolkien over, reaching up their asses simultaneously, grabbing their intestines, and ripping them out through their assholes. Then he uses the intestines to decorate the room. And, by the way, the stench he creates from that just doesn't go away.

Seriously, I have never seen more disrespect delivered to source material than what Jackson has done in The Desolation of Smaug. With the first movie, An Unexpected Journey, Jackson at least held to some semblance of the story from the book: a group of dwarves seeking to reclaim their homeland from a dragon. However, Jackson wastes no time at all in destroying all of that in the very first moments of Desolation. He does a dance on the bloodied corpse of Bilbo and Tolkien while waving their innards through the air and splattering the walls with their blood.

In The Hobbit, Gandalf is never fully behind the trip to the Lonely Mountain. He's willing to help the dwarves along so that they have a chance of surviving, but he views the whole thing as more of a fool's errand. And (and this is a big "and") he never intends to accompany them on the entire trip. He just happens to be going in the same direction, so to speak, so travels along with them to keep them out of trouble as best as he can while he's there. But Jackson makes the whole venture into a plot by Gandalf. It's not Thorin who decides he wants to retake his homeland; it's Gandalf. And it has nothing to do with "homeland;" it's about finding the Arkenstone and uniting the various dwarven kingdoms under one king so that he can raise an army.


Gandalf wants to raise an army? Why the heck does Gandalf want an army? The implication is that the army is needed to fight The Enemy, but, see, even in Jackson's timeline, no one knows about that yet. The ring has not been found, no one knows the Necromancer is Sauron, there is no great threat to the world. But Gandalf wants an army and sends Thorin into the mountain for the sole reason of retrieving the stone.

And, of course, everyone knows what's going on except Bilbo and the other dwarves. When the dwarves are captured by the elves, Thranduil knows without asking that Thorin is after the Arkenstone. When Bilbo sneaks down to check out Smaug, Smaug already knows that it's Thorin after the Arkenstone. The whole thing is stupid. STUPID. I cannot express how much this whole thing violates the premise and the theme of the book.

And, see, I can't even give a breakdown of where the movie deviates from the book, because it would just take too long. There is virtually nothing from the book in this second movie apart from some characters with the same names.

The worst of it is that when I saw the trailer for the movie and saw the whole barrel thing (which is beyond ludicrous the way Jackson has done it with his "magic" floating barrels (they're not magic) that never fill up with water and sink despite the number of times they go under water), I thought, "Well, that's going to be even more dumb than the domino trees in the first movie," but, really, I thought that would be the worst of it. Just more stupid stuff like that. And the Pale Orc, of course, because Jackson had already started his descent into total depravity; I just didn't realize how far into the sewer he was willing to go. And not just willingly, he's actively swimming in shit and loving it.

Yes, it all makes me mad to think about.

Like I said, there is not time to go through all of the things that makes this movie so horrid, but here are some of the worst:
1. The aforementioned mess with the Arkenstone.
2. Kili doesn't have a beard. A dwarf without a beard? Seriously, what the heck? [And, yes, I suppose he didn't have a beard in Journey, but Kili wasn't highlighted in that one, and, I guess, I just didn't notice, but the whole thing is wrong.]
3. Elf/dwarf romance? Again, seriously, what the heck?
4. The dwarves split up and some stay in Laketown. WHAT THE HECK?
5. There is a huge battle in the mountain between Smaug and the dwarves. WHAT THE DOUBLE HECK?

Did Peter Jackson even read the book? I mean, it's bad enough that Jackson used the spiders as an excuse to feature the elves (just like he did with Helm's Deep in The Two Towers) and Legolas doing spider surfing (what the heck is up with Jackson and elf surfing?), but he's ripped the heart out of The Hobbit, put it in a blender, and... I don't know what. I suppose he drank it. Actually, he reminds me of Gollum singing to that fish in the LotR movies. Singing to the fish and, then, beating it on the rocks. That's what he's done with The Hobbit. Followed by ripping into it with his teeth.

I'd really like to be able to tell how the movie is just as a movie, but I can't do that with this one. The Hobbit has been with me for something like 35 years, and I can't think of it from the position of "What would I think of this if I had never read the book?" What that makes me think of is how Jackson is actually destroying the book for a whole generation of readers. Can you imagine having seen these movies first and then trying to read the book? You'd be wondering where all these other characters are: Radagast, Legolas, Tauriel. Even Azog. This issue, I think, is even worse than the movies. That's saying a lot, because Desolation is like all of the worst things ever mixed into one "worst thing ever" package. And that just doesn't approach the long-term damage Jackson may be doing to kids that want to read the book.

So, yeah, I have no way to independently evaluate this as "just a movie." There is no "just a movie" in this to me. This is the kind of thing that lives in my nightmares as a writer. I mean, we all know that Hollywood can be terrible with intellectual properties and strip mine them just to get at the money. Or, maybe, these days, I should say they frack them for all they're worth. But what Jackson has done to The Hobbit goes so far beyond what typical Hollywood has ever done. And that's where I'll end, because, to go on, I'd have to start making value judgements about Jackson and what he thinks of himself, but I don't actually know the guy. I do not, however, have any "benefit of the doubt" left for him.


  1. I'll admit that I have been hesitant to go see this one, because I was so disappointed with the first. There's no way the source material allows for three movies anyway (my first warning flag), and when I saw Legolas and that female elf in the trailers, I rolled my eyes.

    I got, in LOTR, trying to make Arwen a more central player, so there would be some women to offset all the testosterone, even to the point that I could forgive Jackson for not allowing Frodo to SAVE HIMSELF when he crosses the river at Rivendell (which is how it happens in the book, and I think it is really important to show your MC able to save themselves).... but ugh. I'll probably see this eventually, but there are a couple of B and C movies on my list that will take priority (and this is from someone who LOVED the LOTR).

  2. This is such an awesome review!

    All I've heard are things about how fantastic Smaug is, and I really don't think those people even read the book.

    I guess it's like you said, if you're going to make a movie just loosely based on the book, that's fine, but don't say 'completely faithful' if you don't mean it.

    I guess I can skip this movie now!

  3. Yeah... I decided to skip The Hobbit back when I first heard it was in production and I heard they recast Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom.

    Putting characters into the story when they weren't in the book... just never bodes well.

  4. I think a large reason why it deviates is that Jackson had two movies planned - and the studio wanted another trilogy. How do you do that but jam in a bunch of extra things that aren't in the book.
    Yes, LOTR was faithful. This one isn't. Sorry, for some reason, it just doesn't bother me as much.
    And Lucas didn't destroy my childhood because I won't ever watch the second three movies again.

  5. As usual, a lot to comment on here. I'll try to hit it all.

    1. Destroying the book for future readers? I think that ship might have sailed, in that I don't see a lot of kids watching a movie and then going back to read the book. Doesn't it always work the other way? That's something I have to think about.

    2. Movies vs. books: It's one thing to cinematize a book. Lots of what reads well doesn't play well in a movie, and directors often need to cut, combine, or add to make a movie out of a book. But this sounds like more than that, so to that extent, I agree with you: if you're going to completely change "The Hobbit," you shouldn't call it "The Hobbit." Why not just have it be "Peter Jackson's Tales Of Middle Earth?" I know why, though: because of branding. "Peter Jackson's Tales Of Middle Earth" (Or simply "The Desolation of Smaug," or whatever) without "The Hobbit smacked in front of it wouldn't sell, so they have to put "The Hobbit" in to draw in the 35 years worth of people who have loved the book.

    In THAT way, movies are becoming more like best seller books, as I pointed out years ago: It's not so important whether people LIKE it as it is whether they BUY it. With movies opening on fifty zillion screens at once, and with built-in brands (Tolkien! The Hobbit! Peter Jackson!), people go see movies before word-of-mouth can really bring them down. So negative reviews won't kill Jackson, and he's already made part 3, which most people will go see just because. That's the danger of a built-in audience (and that's why Episode VII is being made.)

    I think the only thing I differ from you on is whether a director, adapter, etc., can alter the story drastically if they want. I think of it kind of like cover versions of songs I love: you can either do it superfaithfully (as he did with LOTR) or you can do it in an entirely new way and bring something to the material that nobody else thought of.

    Either of those are okay -- which is why I liked Star Wars I-III, whether or not Lucas could adapt them: he added to the myth and made them more than they were (sometimes successfully, sometimes not).

    So I think Jackson had the right to try to do something more with Hobbit if he wanted. Where he went wrong was he did it badly, from what I can tell. Seriously, there's elf-dwarf romance? Tolkien had them hating each other: Legolas and Gimli's reluctant friendship was supposed to be remarkable, but if elves and dwarves have been hooking up, what's the big deal if two are friends?

    You should put a link to this or excerpt it on Indie Writers.

  6. So, in conclusion, 4 out of 5 stars?

    Well, at least you still have the cartoon. And I'm not that bothered by changes in material from adaptations. I tend to have little issue with separating books and movies. I mean, you still have the book, that didn't change, so there's that.

    Unless there is a novelization for the movie, and they've pulled the books off the shelves. I know they did that when Jumper came out a few years ago. The movie was so radically different from the book that the author rewrote the novel and it was rereleased as the movie tie in. Then he wrote a sequel to the novelization. Crazy.

    Oh, and I guess they did something similar to John Carter too, but I didn't find that one as weird.

    I've heard mixed things about this movie, nothing quite so condemning as what you just posted, but still, Jackson doesn't have the same magic touch with these films as he did with the LOTR films for most people. Including me.

    And I had read LOTR before I'd seen the movies (only by a year or so), but there was little emotional tie ups for me to deal with when it came to the movies. I just enjoyed them.

    I'm sure there are works I would be precious about were they ever to be made into movies, but off the top of my head, I'm not sure what they are.

    So, I'm bummed that you have this thing that you hate so much now. I believe you have a close brother in arms with Christopher Tolkien, who seems to have much the same feelings about this as you do. So at least there's that.

  7. That was a pretty grumpy review. Well done! From the start this whole project was a cash grab; there's no way they ever needed 3 3 1/2 hour movies to adapt a book that's less than 400 pages long. Like I commented somewhere else instead of a longer director's cut edition of these what I'd like is a minimalist cut that just leaves in stuff from the actual book, which I'm sure would be one fairly normal-sized movie.

  8. I've heard the best thing (only good thing?) about the movie is the dragon (visually). Based on this review, that might be right.

  9. Alex H: I loved Fellowship. I thought it was as close to perfect as you can get with an adaptation. I was annoyed by Helm's Deep but, otherwise, really enjoyed Two Towers. And I agree about Arwen.

    What he's done with The Hobbit, though... there's just none of it left.

    RG: Smaug was wrong, too. No jeweled coat of armor on his stomach. That was sad. Because why leave that off?

    Misha: When Bloom was announced, it was announced as, basically, a cameo, which I was okay with, because it's believable that he would be around in the court of his father. However, there is a whole story line around him.
    It's just wrong.

    Alex: What I read was that Jackson pushed it to three because he wanted to elaborate on his side story. I'll have to check.

    Briane: I don't know; I know a lot of middle schoolers who see movies and, then, want to read the book(s). That's how I do it at this point, too, because, too often, reading the book first will make me more dissatisfied with the movie than I might otherwise be.

    And the elf/dwarf thing is part of the problem, because, basically, Jackson is having things happen in The Hobbit that really shouldn't be happening, like the Gandalf wanting an army to fight a non-existent bad guy when he was completely caught unawares in LotR. What did he do, forget?

    Rusty: The cartoon is a good adaptation. I should get that on dvd since I only have it on vhs.

    I'll have to look up Christopher's reaction. I've been wondering about it, but I haven't had time for the research. I suppose he must have known, because he refused Jackson more access.

    GP: Thanks!
    The problem with trying to cut this the way you're saying is that there wouldn't be -any- of the movie left. Um... You'd have Bilbo climbing a tree and Bilbo entering the room with Smaug and the very beginning of their conversation. I can't think of a single other thing that is accurate enough to say that it's from the book. It would be about 10 minutes long.

    Jess: I don't even know that I can say that, because Smaug, visually, isn't accurate. He's not really red, not in the way he's described in the book, and he doesn't have melted gold and jewels on his chest as armor.

  10. @Andrew - check the link if you want, I read this article about a year ago. Honestly, it made the Tolkien family look a bit unhappy about money more than anything, but still.

    Some quotes from the article I linked to below:

    'Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? "They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25," Christopher says regretfully. "And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film."... Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time," Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. "The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away."'

  11. Rusty: I will try to make time to read the whole thing tomorrow. I'm interested in reading the money aspects of it. Interesting fact:
    J.R.R originally sold the movie rights to LotR for less than $10,000 because he needed the money to pay taxes. Of course, that movie that was made then was godawful and the world has mostly forgotten it.

  12. I haven't seen it, so I'm commenting more on your comments. Personally, I'd like directors to retain the spirit of the source material and to treat it with respect; like Briane, I think it's ultimately the director's choice as to what to do with the film.

    As for ruining the book, I don't see it. People who are interested may say, "Yeah, but where's Legolas?" "Hey, what happened to the dwarf's love interest?" but I doubt it will ruin it. If they're open to literature in this style, I'm sure they'll be able to discover the joys of Tolkien's words.

  13. After reading this, I don't know if I want to even see the movie. :/ I remember reading The Hobbit as a child. I hate reading the book and then they make a movie about it and it isn't anything that was in the book- like The Vow- the movie was nothing compared to book. Great Post and review. I'll really think twice about renting the movie.

  14. JeffO: I agree with you in respect to adults but not in respect to kids. I work with kids and know how they are and when and why they read things. Many of them are not actually open to reading at all and only decide to read a book because they liked the movie/TV show. If the book, then, does meet their expectations, they often decide that reading is not worthwhile.

    G_G: I actually didn't want to see it. Not really. It was more of a need to see it. A "I had to know" kind of thing.

  15. I do understand. I adore the book. Always have. I'm still working out how I feel about what Jackson has done. Going to see the third one next year is a certainty, even if he throws in a TARDIS and flying monkeys.

    But as I mentioned in a previous comment on this blog, there's no excuse for the giant golden dwarf.

  16. TAS: I know what you mean. I wish I could say I would not go and see part three, but, when it comes to it, I will; because I will have to know.
    It makes me hate Jackson even more.
    Which tells you how I've worked out my feelings about all of this.

    And there is no excuse for the gold dwarf. It was even just bad from a movie-making standpoint. I had to explain the whole process of pouring molten metal into a mold to my kids, because they had no idea where it came from and why it fell apart. It made me wonder how many other people had that reaction. You can't (or at least you shouldn't) just throw something so esoteric into something without some sort of explanation.

  17. Well, why don't you tell us how you really feel? LOL. I was so bored during the first one that I decided not to see this one. OYT, who has had The Hobbit read to him and has read it himself and is a major Tolkien fan (books and movies)said, "It was a good movie because it was my friends birthday party and we each got our own popcorn, drink and candy. But it sure wasn't The Hobbit." He's 14.
    As to Star Wars, I can't stand the first 3, don't consider them real Star Wars movies, actually. I watched a long (1.5 hours or so) documentary (on the special edition DVD set of the real trilogy) and it showed Lucas' passion for film making and his intense desire to make something that hadn't been done before. In the others, he just made movies with special effects, which I found boring. I have tried watching all of episode 3, three times but canNOT stay awake. That's a bad movie. Thanks for the warning about this one. Well done review.
    Tina @ Life is Good

  18. Tina: You actually don't want me to do that, tell you how I really feel. It would burn out the Internet. Be happy that I held back.
    Yes, I held back.
    OYT is astute; it was not The Hobbit.
    However, I think it probably isn't a good movie, either, for reasons like the giant golden dwarf that the squid mentioned.

    And I'll just hold my tongue about the rest of what you said.

  19. So i LOVED Desolation. Really and truly. It was pure movie magic. This is my opinion as a movie-goer.
    As for its adaptation from the book, well, yeah it was off, and yeah Jackson shouldnt claim he's been faithful to the book, but he's taken a story that some may have never bothered to read, and given it this amazing life in the cinema, creating new fans that'll discover Tolkien for the first time. Movies always deviate. Sometimes it bothers me, sometimes it doesn't. In this case, I loved the deviations. As a female, I was thrilled to see more of Legolas, as well as a kick-butt elf chick, and while it didn't appeal to you, fans like me loved it. My daughter loved it too. Does that mean I'm not a fan of the actual book? No way. It just means I can appreciate both forms. I love every film Jackson does--in terms of cinema experiences, it's top notch for me.

  20. Pk: As an adaptation of the book, it wasn't. At all.
    Unfortunately, the movie itself has too many stupidities for me to like it even if I hadn't read the book.
    1. The dwarves, being chased by Beorn, break into his house and lock him out, but he's -not- angry at them? And helps them? The whole sequence with Beorn was dumb.
    2. The barrels and Legolas hopping on the heads of the dwarves while fighting orcs... dumb. Everything with barrel ride.
    3. Spider surfing.
    4. Giant golden dwarf.
    I could go on, but... there's no real point.

    And, um, you liked King Turd? I mean, King Kong.

  21. Love it. You had exactly the same reactions that I did ( The thing is, with Fellowship, I was willing to understand why Jackson made certain changes, and what he did do gave the whole adventure a lovely setting and scope.


    Middle Earth is Europe not New Zealand (roughly).

    If there's time to add junk like Aragorn floating downstream and having Arwen visions, why is there no time (in 3+ hour movies) to include some of the great stuff from the books that was left out?

    What is bloody point of having Faramir in the films if you're going to make him act just like his brother?

    Gandalf and Denethor fist fighting?!?!?!?

    I could go on :-)

  22. PK, I guess it also depends on the types of films people enjoy. I'm not a huge fan of action-and-nothing-else. I guess it was a barrel (hee hee) of fun for people who do like that sort of thing. But I just wanted more character interaction, more conversation, more depth.
    Actually, as a female, the addition of Tauriel bothered me because they had to give her a romance. It's not enough to have a kick-ass captain of the guards? I would have liked that. But no, she has to get into a whole love triangle thing...
    Anyway, I am glad if the movies bring more readers to Tolkien :-)

  23. Deniz: I was generally okay with LotR because Jackson held to the spirit of the books. Mostly. I don't know what it is he's done with The Hobbit, though; it's not book is all I know. I don't even know what the movies are about.

  24. Oh, yeah, looks like we had some of the same issues with this. I agree with your last comment by the way. The LOTR series was more in the spirit of the books, which is why I don't have a big problem with the changes he made there. The Hobbit, not so much.

  25. S.L.: I have zero respect for Jackson and, really, I think LotR was an accident, at this point.