Here are my thoughts, in no particular order.
- It’s an adaptation. Furthermore, it is an adaptation from one medium to another. If you are demanding the same experience you got from reading the book, then you need to get out of the theater, go home, and read that instead. That is just an unrealistic standard.
- It’s actually both an epic and a children’s story. Furthermore, this is perfectly faithful to Tolkien. He wrote a book that, in terms of distance traveled and portions of the world effected, just the sheer scale, is way more epic than Beowulf, and possibly more than the Iliad. Furthermore, said book is also a children’s story. So if you ask me, Jackson struck the right note.
- Jackson dwelling on the epic portions and including stuff from the Unfinished Tales, etc., is very consistent with Tolkien. This was a children’s story that retroactively gained epic stature as a prologue to his more sprawling work. He fully acknowledged this and wrote about all the epic things going on during the events of The Hobbit. The only reason that the book remained a children’s story, is that by the time he realized the full implications of what it was, he had already published it.
- Because it is a trilogy, Jackson had every reason to make Bilbo mature faster than in the book. Yeah, it makes us feel a little jipped as readers, but it makes the first movie work better and gives him more room to deal with other themes in the next two.
- Speaking of themes, the book made a big contrast between Bilbo’s love of food and other homely things over against the dwarves’ obsession with gold. Jackson has shifted the dwarves’ primary motivation to a recovery of a lost home. About this, I have two things to say:
- We have plenty of stories today telling us how bad the mad rush for wealth and power is and how homely and humanizing things are to be preferred. We are the generation that obsesses over organic food, indy music, and how horrible big business is. This is a narrative we have down pat. But in a rootless generation with fast travel and faster communication, this story gives us something else. It gives us the chance to think about belonging somewhere. In addition, it lets us do while giving equal respect to Bilbo’s belonging in the Shire and the dwarves belonging in Erebor, while that belonging is something that unites rather than divides them. I could go off on a big tangent here, but I won’t. Just think about that theme. I like it.
- The short shrift given to the love-of-money-is-bad narrative in the first movie does not mean Jackson is abandoning it. Actually, if he can pull off this “searching for a home” thing, it might lend greater weight to the gold and glory vs. homeliness thing later on. How? Imagine Thorin finally gets his home back, something we’ve all been rooting for. Immediately he risks its destruction for the sake of all that loot. If pulled off well, that could drive the point home even more.
- Radagast was… interesting. I liked the bunnysled (you know you did too) and the general idea of a woodland wizard that was just a bit crazy. Problem is, they made him slightly too crazy. And plastered his face with a big, distracting streak of white bird poo.
- The length of the opening was a plus. Gave us time to love Bag End a little bit, and gave Bilbo a solid place at home.
- Oh, and Martin Freeman. All of the parts with him were good. But especially the parts where he was also with Andy Serkis. Those were really good. But you already knew that.
- The troll scene was… unnecessarily different, I thought. Having Gandalf confuse them as in the book would have been far more fun to watch. I’m not sure the change did much for Bilbo’s character development, which is what I think they were going for. So, meh.
- Saruman was horrible. Jackson cannot give him a tenth of the respect Gandalf would have us give the guy. That, to me, is a far bigger problem that how long we spend on the stone giants, the existence of Azog, or the poorness of the dialogue in general. Saruman was played up as this great guy both in the LotR movies and earlier on in The Hobbit. Jackson fails to deliver not only on something important to Tolkien fans, but on something he has told us is important. I think this guy was right when he said that Jackson simply does not understand Tolkien’s view of evil.
So, overall? I enjoyed it. It wasn’t half bad, and I loved being back in Jackson’s vision of Middle-Earth. But honestly, I’m more excited to see it in the context of the trilogy than standing alone. I am practically on the edge of my seat waiting to see how Beorn comes out. And Mirkwood has the potential to be really awesome, especially if Jackson does end up portraying humorously tipsy and working-class elves rather than the airy and soft, blond, flowing-haired pretty-boys he’s been giving us. And I really want to see what this rendition of Thorin (one I really like) finally does when he gets to Erebor. And I think the Battle of Five Armies has potential. In short, thumbs, and give me some more.