Why I hated the Hobbit

HobbitFull disclosure: I still haven’t quite forgiven Peter Jackson for the last Lord of the Rings movie, during which I had to pee really bad but didn’t want to leave because the movie was about to end. Turns out the movie wasn’t even halfway done.

A painful hour followed.

He’s done things to redeem himself (King Kong vs. two T-rex’s!) and things to make it worse (King Kong ice skating?) since, but overall I don’t consider myself a huge fan, if only because he seems unable to locate and remove narrative fat.

Here’s why I didn’t enjoy the Hobbit:

1) I didn’t know it was a part one.

One book, one movie right? Wrong. Chalk this one up to my ignorance, but I wasn’t aware that this was going to be a three movie series. As a result, I was expecting a cohesive, satisfying moviegoing experience. Instead I felt, just like the movie’s adventurers, that the giant eagles had dropped me off miles from my goal, when they could just as easily have taken me all the way.

2) Narrative fat

The film’s lack of a satisfying ending makes its excess unforgivable. Ratigast the Brown’s appearance added nothing to the film except runtime. And the entire scene with the battling rock giants seems engineered partly as pure visual spectacle, and partly so Thorin Oakenshield can deliver a line questioning Bilbo’s fitness for the mission. There are more compelling and economic ways to convey such a moment, and I think here the action actually detracts from the moment’s power.

3) Tone

Jackson at his best has an epic sweep that can be mesmerizing. But he’s at his worse with smaller, multi-actor scenes, which tend to be deliberate and ponderous. A great example of this is the Sarumon episode with Cate Blanchett as a mind-reading elf, which is staged so slowly its almost comical.

4) Character

For my money Martin Freeman plays an uptight, neurotic hobbit as well as anyone could. But I still found myself scratching my head when he decides to join the adventure. I know dramatic theory dictates that character is revealed by action, but I didn’t feel like this moment was given enough cinematic weight.

Andy Serkis turns in a great Gollum performance, showing off clear advances in performance capture technology. But these technological steps forward feel undermined completely by the Goblin King, whose voice feels as out of place with his body as his bizarre, dangling neck goiter.

To be fair, there were bright spots. Thorin Oakenshield is a compelling character, its hard to top the WETA folks for sheer spectacle, and Azog the Defiler is the best execution of a Mike Mignola character to date.

Bottom line: I just had breakfast with a friend who absolutely loved this movie.  His reason?  It’s a worthy addition to Tolkien’s universe of story, made more enjoyable because its a small part of a massive whole. Turns out a lot of the scenes I despised were paying off “narrative debt” from other Tolkien stories.

While I don’t share his love for that world, I understand where he’s coming from. But if you’re not a Middle Earth-dweller and would prefer a satisfying, self-contained cinematic experience, I’d say steer clear of this one.

What did you think?