What I’ve Been Watching: The Hobbit

TheHobbit


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again

Humpty Dumpty is one of many nursery rhymes whose beauty lies in its simplicity. Like so many stories it has a three act structure:

The Set-Up
Humpty Dumpty is on the wall.

The Confrontation
Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall.

The Resolution
….Or in this case lack thereof. Despite the best efforts of so many humans and animals, Humpty Dumpty is left in pieces.

A simple tale and one can have fun imagining what various directors would do wit the story. Quentin Tarantino would probably give Humpty a long tense speech before showing his eventual demise in all its gory detail; Werner Herzog would bring out Humpty’s existential struggle between his yolk, egg and shell; and Peter Jackson would somehow turn what is a very simple tale into an epic three part trilogy.

I first read The Hobbit over a decade ago. Like Humpty Dumpty, what appealed to me was the simplicity of the tale. This is certainly not Lord of the Rings, despite existing in the same universe. It is a much smaller, more personal tale about Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo, and the adventure that sees him obtaining, quite by accident, the “one ring to rule them all”.

The book is mostly about a character who is perfectly content with his home comforts, but who finds himself thrust into a journey of adventure. How could this little hobbit possibly be of any use to a group of warrior dwarves? Surely Gandalf has made a huge mistake in insisting Bilbo come and try and get their homeland back from the dragon?

What also makes it different to LOTR is its humour. Bilbo will often be seen getting himself, or the group, out of danger through wit and fooling his enemies rather than the more heroic/violent methods of Frodo and the Fellowship.

I mention all this because I think Jackson, in trying to replicate the success of his adaptation of Lord of the Rings has failed to capture the spirit of the material. As such, while the location and setting fully fit the story being woven, the underlying story feels bloated and at odds with itself.

For me, the highlights of the movie were the bits that captured the much less serious tone Tolkien was aiming for with his introduction to Middle Earth. So, as we see Bilbo struggling to cope with hosting thirteen dwarves; defeat some rather dim trolls by distracting them; and playing ‘riddles’ with Gollum, we get a sense of the playful nature of the source material dying to get through.

If I had one message for Jackson, it would be that not every tale is epic. It’s actually okay for some stories to be simple, and contain humour, and maybe even be contained within two hours. At 160 minutes (and we’re apparently only a third of the way there), The Hobbit feels too much like a vanity project and not enough like the simple, magical fable it should be.

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