I’ve now seen, at long last, the first ten minutes of Peter Jackson’s first movie culled from Tolkien’s The Hobbit and some of his surrounding writings; especially the Appendices attached to The Lord of The Rings.
Why only ten minutes of the first film? Because I’m saving the rest of the movie trilogy for the first week of May, when my Dad and his wife come to visit from Out West. It’s one of the few movie-type-thangs that the three of us share an interest in, and it was the chance for us all to watch it for the first time, together, that justified in my mind the expense of getting in the digital HD versions of all three movies.
Having gotten the damn things in, I just couldn’t resist peeking. It’s only human — and Hobbit — nature.
My first impressions are as complicated as you might expect, if you know me. The movie has the feel of a terrific theme-park ride, and is a rich and vivid imagining of Tolkien’s universe as a whole; but as an adaptation of Tolkien’s little novel, his children’s tale about an awakening, Jackson’s Hobbit does real violence to the source material.
Tolkien’s novel starts out in a hole in the ground, and that’s a big part of the whole point. Mr. Bilbo Baggins is a provincial type, living with blinders on. All he knows of the world is what is in front of him: his village and his hole in the ground. Then, one fateful day, Something Happens. Something happens that makes Mr. Baggins suddenly realize that… there may be more to the world than he previously imagined.
Therein lies the whole point, the entire purpose of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. He is telling you, the reader, to take off your blinders and climb out of your hole and look, just look at all the wonders out there that exist in the world.
The rest of the story is just that: a little story that opens up nicely to reveal the only other part of Tolkien’s overall intent, which is to make the point that actions have consequences, and consequences reverberate outward.
We start in a hole in the ground, we open up as people and we see that if we are not careful, even in our isolation, our actions can have unintended consequences — consequences that future generations will have to bear. This is almost the opposite of what every insipid modern Tolkien-inspired fantasy tries to tell us, and something that bears more consideration.
Well, Peter Jackson chucks all that right out the window. He opens his telling of the story in the outer world, and spends the first ten minutes or so revealing the entire recent history of the dwarven race, providing us with backstory details that we are not supposed to have until, if you are following Tolkien, much later on in the narrative.
And it is gorgeous. Jaw-dropping. This is what Peter Jackson does better than anyone and if you don’t think to yourself “WOW — WOW-ee-WOWW” in the first ten minutes of the picture than something must be wrong with your sense of wonder. It is, it must be admitted, a glorious visualization of Middle-Earth history, and a smashingly dramatic opening to a movie trilogy. Really, it is. I mean — you have to give Jackson that. Entertaining? Absolutely, one hundred percent.
Is it Tolkien’s The Hobbit? Ehm, no… and not even close. There is a huge philosophical divide between this movie Hobbit and the book, and one doubts that Tolkien would be happy with it. My tattered old paperback copy of The Hobbit bears the tagline “A Prelude to The Lord of The Rings” — even though it wasn’t written as such, but as a stand-alone story. Jackson’s movie is clearly designed not to be a prelude to anything. Instead, it is a follow-up, and an expansion upon, the movie trilogy.
I suppose that there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But those of us who just wanted a clean adaptation of Tolkien’s novel that we could watch before a screening of the movie trilogy are still going to have to settle on the animated Rankin-Bass version.