TL:DR – If you’re a parent, don’t bring your kids until you’ve seen it. If you have any literary taste, don’t watch it. If you’re a fan, run.
Now the longer version.
I haven’t been this excited – or apprehensive – about a film in a long time. Even Abrams-Trek didn’t get the ol’ juices flowing, although once I watched it I approved.
Not everything is bad. Stick around for the compliments.
But I’ll be blunt. Firstly, the movie was written by four people. It’s obvious, it suffers for it, and they never should have let it out of the editing room in the shape it’s in. There is a violent whiplash in tone bordering each of the major story segments.
The section up through the Trolls is a campy kid’s movie, but other than the Radagast interpolation is remarkably respectful to the source material. The violence is very 30’s Sword-and-Sandal; epic, but restrained and designed to underline the devastation. During the trolls, however, the worst problem of the film arises. We’ll get to that in a minute.
I realize that Radagast is not a major character. I also realize that he’s not well fleshed-out in the source material. This is no excuse to make him a drug-addled simpleton with 2 pounds of birdshit in his hair and a really badly-CGI’d rabbit sled. Then again, he only shows up while it’s still a kid’s movie. I’ll get to that too.
Okay, back to the trolls. There’s a pervasive problem with the movie, particularly (it seems) in the parts where Jackson had more control. This is conjecture on my part. It’s almost as if, since the actual battles – of which there are precious few in the Hobbit, what with its moral being that loyalty and wit beat strength of arms – are in the hands of other people, Jackson had to wedge more in to get his EPIC BATTLE SCENE boner off. The troll fight? Reasonable. The entire scene is rewritten, however, the dialogue dumbed down, the humor made broader and cruder. Not too great a sin in a kid’s movie, and forgivable. But the way Book Bilbo defeats them, by letting them fight among themselves? Yeah. He gets captured too, the trolls only argue with him and not each other (despite some EXCELLENT foreshadowing with the troll’s weapons and their earlier behavior)… and Gandalf destroys the trolls by smiting a rock that’s been blocking the sunlight.
The next sequence is Peter Jackson all over. Several shots are jacked from LotR, there’s an epic fight with the wargs, Radagast and his rabbit-sled disappear forever, they go to Rivendell, stuff happens. The dwarves are still locked in “tiny beardy Klingon” mode, leading to the last few culture clash/”Dwarves are uncivilized” jokes.
The Council of the Wise gets shoved in here. Saruman actually calls Radagast a stoner; the other wizards are not present, only Saruman and Gandalf (with Elrond Half-Elven and Galadriel). Her telepathy is in full effect, of course. After the Council, they have a whole sequence specifically dedicated to making Gandalf look feeble, confused, and old, which is pretty much the exact opposite of his behavior throughout the rest of the movie. It’s a lot like the Faramir sequence in Two Towers, a deliberate attempt to subvert a specific character by giving him a flaw, then “fixing” it three scenes later, with a half-hour of screen time that could have been used to, say, put in something that was actually in the books instead of fuck over a character. There is, of course, a contrast with Galadriel’s purity and beauty and Gandalf’s obligatory sudden dirtiness and palsy (who doesn’t wash their hands before having dinner with Noldorin? Hint: Not Mithrandir).
The dwarves use this opportunity to >escape< Rivendell. Now, this is a pretty impressive break from the story already, what with Gandalf still chilling out with the Dwarves and all. This is where the story turns tone again.
Now we’re in Del Toro land, kids. I don’t know whether he just wrote it, or actually directed or filmed some of it, but it doesn’t really matter. This is still sort of kid-friendly; Del Toro knows how to make a fairy-tale, at least. His involvement is blatantly obvious in the monster and area design, as well as some of the shot directions and character exchanges.
The dwarves continue in the mountains. Now, the Thunder-battle sequence in the books is terrifying, but the 15 have the sense to go for cover and hide. Here? They’re doing a “killer ledge” hike on a mountain “pass”. In 80-mph wind and lashing rain. Of course, people fall off, Thorin does his angry mysterious loner schtick at Bilbo, the obligatory cliff-dangling is done. Then the cliffs turn out to be.. FIGHTING GIANTS OH HOW EPIC. Commence slow-motion, over-the-top giant boxing, complete with face-deformation and spattering sweat-I-mean-rocks. The giants are very D.T., or I’d still land this sequence in with the previous one.
Bilbo has his Q_Q no-one loves me moment on the Goblin’s “front porch”. As he’s leaving, of course, the trap activates, and now we’re really in Del Toro’s zone. Gandalf, who was on the rocks outside but is not sleeping with the Dwarves, is nowhere to be found, but his sword is apparently still there.
Speaking of which. Orcrist is CLEARLY the longsword to Sting’s shorty. Gandalf specifically mentions that, as an elf-blade from Gondolin, and not as, say, an individual power, Sting will glow around Orcs. Only Sting ever glows in the movie. Despite Glamdring glowing in LotR. And the written description of Orcrist and Glamdring as “blue flames” in the hands of Gandalf and Thorin. And even Sting doesn’t glow in several sequences, including a goddamned individual duel with an Orc. I’d call it a nitpick in any other movie, but it’s critical to the plot, and they don’t even make it glow when it’s plot-appropriate? *sigh*
Okay, back to the plot.
The Goblin city is gorgeous. The Goblin king is fat, greasy, disgusting, and unfortunately overly-concerned with turning Thorin over to his new nemesis – rather than, say, eating him. There’s more needless exposition about Beater and Biter, of course. Then Gandalf teleports in and explodes, an excellent running fight commences and ends in a Temple of Doom level-of-ridiculous minecar escape.
Meanwhile, Bilbo escapes (as in the book) by falling through the cracks, and somehow lands in a much better movie. Riddles in the Dark is everything I hoped this movie would be: adding in Gollum’s multiple personalities from LotR to the sequence makes it make more sense. It’s beautifully filmed, tense, atmospheric.. They show the goblin dying not by killing him onscreen (though they’ve had no compunctions whatsoever killing people onscreen before), but by having Sting’s light gutter and die, while thumping sounds come from the island. The additions (more light, Bilbo falling closer to the dead goblin, not finding the ring by feel, etc.) are made for the sake of filming possibility, and well-handled. It’s one of the two best things in the movie. It ends all too soon, as Bilbo pursues the fleeing Dwarves out of the mountain (leaving all but one brass button, and the last semblance of the book’s original plot details, behind).
So I’ve mentioned Thorin’s nemesis before. The made Azhag the Defiler a major character, sticking him into pretty much every sequence where the Dwarves are fighting or escaping anything whatsoever. Goblin king references him, obligatory “but I killed him” shit from Thorin, obligatory “you have failed me for the last time” scene with some snaga after the Dwarves make it to Rivendell, etc. Basically, big scary white Darth Vader. Oh, and “No, Thorin, I killed your father!” “That’s not true, that’s impossible!” etc.
This is the final whiplash in the story. Now, it’s ACTION MOVIE TIME. He pops up, with only a couple Orcs and a shitload of Wargs, and chases the dwarves downhill.. TO THE EDGE OF A CLIFF! DRAMA! Dwarves go up trees, Bilbo kills something (another serious departure from the books, and I’ll get to it in a few) and his sword gets stuck, he barely makes it, Oh noes. We now have our fifteen birds, in five fir trees. No goblins, alas, which almost explains the next bit.
So at every other place in the movie, they’ve taken the opportunity to put in the songs from the book. Heart-breakingly well-done songs. They’re fitted seamlessly into the narrative. They’re arranged and sung with great talent. But apparently, just having them trapped in the trees wasn’t enough, and making the goblins sing would mean having the spotlight taken off of the Nemesis (oh, the horror). Instead, the dwarves are chased across the (crumbling) cliff edge as the Wargs knock each tree down, until all 15 are dangling over an abyss. More “take my hand”, more dangling, more DRAMA. A short, gory fight scene ensues, Thorin gets his ass summarily WHOOPED by Orc. Bilbo charges off to defend him, gets ass also whooped, Eagles show up, people fall off of tree to get eagled by Deus Ex Machina Airlines, etc.
After they get dropped off on the Beorning, there’s a big emotional “I said you weren’t one of us, stupid Hobbitses. I WAS SO WRONG T_T” scene. Except.. Book Bilbo earns the Dwarves’ respect through his wit and loyalty, not by fighting. The first time Sting tastes blood, it’s a fegging spider’s, that’s why it’s named Sting. This Bilbo’s already shanked a couple Orcs and a Warg and we haven’t even met Beorn yet. There’s a long sequence where Dwalin* and Thorin talk about how he’s dragging around “Cobblers and toymakers”, and Thorin responds that he’d take each of them over an army of Dain’s, because they came in his time of need. Clearly, prowess is not high on his list of concerns..
Incidentally, they actually handle the fact that most of these Dwarves are civvies quite well; Filigorn and Kiligorn are unblooded young bucks, which is to say assholes. Dwalin* is an old, grizzled veteran. Bif/Bof/Bomb all do little but fight hard. Their weapons really are mostly picks and axes; only the nobles have bows or swords. One (Balin?+) has a slingshot, and a dead aim – even if it’s not all that effective. They also show that the Dwarves have a seriously hard time inflicting enough damage against bigger opponents – the Troll fight, in particular, but also when they’re taking out an Orc picket in the “Radagast Runs Away” sequence. Only the Nobs are actually fighting with serious skill; the rest are fighting with heart and strength, but often as not fucking up.
*Or possibly Balin. The other one’s a toymaking retard.
+Or possibly Dwalin. The other one’s an old, grizzled veteran.
So, remember that good stuff I was talking about?
The first chunk of the movie – the Unexpected Party – is excellent. The framing device (showing Bilbo writing the Red Book as he prepares for the eleventy-first birthday party) is anti-canonical* but an acceptable conceit.
* Book Frodo specifically mentions Bilbo reading bits of the Red Book to him as a kid, and the thing’s like 40-60 years old when he inherits it
The music is fucking fantastic. Full fucking stop. The first song brought tears to my eyes in a GOOD way (unlike the later hot tears of rage and sorrow inspired by the middle third and end of the movie). They are integrated well, even the Elvish singing in Rivendell – as far as I can tell, it’s even an accurate translation, although I’m not especially good with Quenya. The quotes from the LotR soundtrack are well-placed, although they make a couple shots seem like shitty rip-offs rather than part of an independent movie.
Riddles In the Dark is everything this movie should have been, and I wish with every fiber of my heart someone eventually makes a movie of this quality for my children.
Smaug. Yes. I hope they don’t fuck him up. Not so much for my sake – Jackson’s never making another dime from me, and I’m actively discouraging everyone I can from watching it in the hopes that something might get fixed (hah) – but for the other people watching. Well, not really, mostly so that I can get a decent miniature of the fucker.
There’s a final scene in Thror’s treasure-hold that is taken directly from one of Tolkien’s only drawings; complete with the runes on the urn and the design of the stairs. Updated in style, but gorgeous.
That pretty much does it for the good stuff.