Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Is Wrong with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Films, Especially the Second One!


1. The Elves are sinister and antagonistic to the dwarves and Bilbo. 
In the first Jackson effort to make a movie of The Hobbit he committed this mistake.  He portrayed the elves of Rivendell as hostile to dwarves and mean-spirited.  He presented them as antagonistic to Thorin and his company.    One need only read The Hobbit’s chapter III - A Short Rest – to measure the depth of this distortion.  One paragraph from the chapter sums up their stay in Rivendell and the relationship between Bilbo, the Dwarves, and Gandalf and their hoist Elrond and his people.

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to: while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale and take a deal of telling anyway.  They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave.  Bilbo would gladly have stopped there for ever and ever – even supposing a wish would have taken him right back to his hobbit-hole without trouble.  Yet there is little to tell about their stay.”  pp. 63 - 64

A few lines later their departure from Rivendell is chronicled as follows, “Now they rode away amid songs of farewell and good speed, with their hearts ready for more adventure, and with a knowledge of the road they must follow over the Misty Mountains to the land beyond.”  p. 65

Tolkien presented Elrond as fair faced and strong, a warrior who is a friend to Thorin and company.  Jackson’s first film completely misrepresents this. 

In the second film, the Elves are once more represented as menacing, their king almost evil.  In Tolkien’s book, the name sake of the movie - but hardly its inspiration, it is the dwarves who desperately try to make contact with the elves, chasing the magical forest folk through Mirkwood in a desperate effort to get their help.  Here is the description Tolkien himself gives of the elves of Mirkwood. 

“The feasting people were Wood-elves, of course.  These are not wicked folk.  If they have a fault it is distrust of strangers.  Though their magic was strong, even in those days they were wary.  They differed from the high Elves of the West, and were more dangerous and less wise.”   [There is nothing wrong with being dangerous.  In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf explains to Frodo and his hobbit friends that they themselves are dangerous and that he, Gandalf, is more dangerous than any force in Middle Earth, except, perhaps, for the Dark Lord himself.]  “For most of them (together with their scattered relations in the hills and mountains) were descended from the ancient tribes that never went to Faerie in the West.  There the Light-elves and the Deep-elves (or Gnomes) and the Sea-elves lived for ages and grew fairer and wiser and more learned, and invented their magic and their cunning craft in the making of beautiful and marvelous things, before they came back into the Wide World.  In the Wide World the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight before the raising of the Sun and Moon; and afterwards they wandered in the forests that grew beneath the sunrise.  They loved best the edges of the woods, from which they could escape at times to hunt, or to ride and run over the open lands by moonlight or starlight; and after the coming of Men they took ever more and more to the gloaming and the dusk.  Still elves they were and remain, and that is Good People.”  p. 178

The Gray-elves of Mirkwood do distrust dwarves.   In The Silmarillion it tells that it was the dwarves who brought mistrust between their kind and the “Good People”.  From the treachery of Mim, the petty dwarf, to the murder of Thingol; to the destruction of Menegroth, and the responsibility for many evil things, it was always the dwarves that did the evil.  Thorin and his people were not party to these crimes – but the Elves' mistrust for Dwarves was earned and the stubbornness and greed of Thorin and his friends was to blame for the imprisonment of the company.  In response to Balin’s arrogant demands, the King of the elves explains his justice in holding the company: “It is a crime to wander in my realm without leave.  Do you forget that you were in my kingdom, using the road that my people made?  Did you not three times pursue and trouble my people in the forest and rouse the spiders with your riot and clamor?  After all the disturbance you have made I have a right to know what brings you here, and if you will not tell me now, I will keep you all in prison until you have learned sense and manners!”  (The Hobbit) p. 184.  He does not torture them – and although he locks them up for their “crimes” and their stubbornness –  he gives them the food and drink they crave.

A final point – Bilbo himself chooses the Elven King and his allies over Thorin and company; delivering to the Elven King and Bard the Arkenstone of Thrain.   In the battle of the Five Armies, Bilbo takes his stand with the Elves.  And it is the Elven King who, conducts Bilbo and Gandalf to the edge of Mirkwood, and who will eliminate the remaining goblins that have fled the battle.  At their parting, Bilbo gives the king a necklace of silver and pearls as payment for the “hospitality” that was given Bilbo in the elven halls. 

2. Everyone and everything is so dang dirty. 

a) Bree is described by Tolkien as: “some hundred stone houses of the Big Folk, mostly above the Road, nestling on the hillside with windows looking west.” (Fellowship of the Ring p. 162) The Prancing Pony Inn, itself is described as a “pleasant house “ (Fellowship p. 164), and when the Hobbits arrive - on the recommendation of Tom Bombadil, they wait outside “as someone began singing a merry song inside, and many cheerful voices joined loudly in the chorus.  They listened to this encouraging sound for a moment and then got off their ponies.  The song ended and there was a burst of laughter and clapping.” (Fellowship p. 164) 

In the movie, Bree is presented as some cross between a sewer and a slum.  The inn is full of evil people all of whom are filthy dirty.  Even Gandalf looks like he hasn’t had a bath in weeks. 

b) There is not a clean face in the movie – even the elves look moldy.  How odd for hobbits who so love to bathe that they sing songs about it.  See one of Bilbo’s favorite bath-songs on page 111 of the Fellowship of the Rings. 

The dwarves and Bilbo take a bath after escaping the goblins: “Then they took off their clothes and bathed in the river, which was shallow and clear and stony at the ford.  When they had dried in the sun, which was now strong and warm, they were refreshed . . .” (The Hobbit p 125)

3) Way too much violence and way too many Goblins.
 Bilbo and his companions do not see a goblin from the moment the eagles whisk them safely away to the Carrock, except for the one killed by Beorn when he went to the mountains to confirm the story of the killing of the Great Goblin.  What is particularly galling is that Bilbo is shown as killing goblins.  In The Hobbit, Bilbo only stings spiders.  This aspect of his character is important to who he is.  He is courageous and reliable but NOT a killer. 

The whole “movie production” battle along the river, between Legolas, that strange girl elf, the dwarves, and all those wargs and goblins is silly.  That Thranduil would allow goblins into his realm – while arresting dwarves and a hobbit –  is absurd in the first place, but that he would leave his son to faced scores of them in desperate battle is even more ridiculous.  The fact that all these ferocious goblins are so easily slaughtered; as fast as either elf maid, elf, or wounded dwarf takes a shot or swing at them, would be laughable, if it wasn’t so offensive.   Meanwhile, Bilbo and his buddies can bash and crash over cliffs and waterfalls that would kill anyone, all without a burse.

The whole interaction between Smaug and Bilbo, not to mention the “battle” he, Smaug, has with the dwarves; is ludicrous.  The Great Golden Dragon can’t even deal with one hobbit standing at his nose, or 10, (for some reason Jackson left three of them in Laketown), dwarves.   Once more we see our “heroes” bashing over cliffs without care and facing fire that melts gold without so much as singed beards.  Not only is there molten gold and dragon fire everywhere, but Thorin Oakenshield jumps in a wheel barrow and goes floating down a stream of the melted metal.  This is so incredulous as to be ridiculous.  How stupid does Jackson think his audience is?  Even if the temperature of the molten flow of gold did not melt the metal  of the wheel barrow, it would have been rendered a red hot frying pan and cooked up the “Mt. King” like so much bacon and eggs.

4) And by the way, where does the light in the caverns come from?

 It is a long journey down into the dark before the glow of the dragon gives a faint light to Bilbo’s creep into the mountain. 

5) Misrepresentation of Lake-town and Bard. 

Thorin and company were welcomed from the first in Laketown – where they crash the Master’s party and are almost immediately welcomed and well taken care of until they are sent on their way well provisioned.  “So one day, although autumn was now getting far on, and winds were cold, and leaves were falling fast, three large boats left Lake-town, laden with rowers, dwarfs, Mr. Baggins, and many provisions.  Horses and ponies had been sent round by circuitous paths to meet them at their appointed landing-place. “(The Hobbit p. 212)

Why is Lake-town a slum?  It is the prosperous center of trade, a pride of the growing influence of men in the world.  Jackson's world - which is NOT Tolkien's - is full of ruin and mess, as if he cannot picture anything beautiful.  Even his mountains are treeless and ugly.

As for the vulnerable spot in Smaug’s armor; it has nothing to do with a ballista.  It was a spot in his armpit were he did not apply an adequate layer of jewels from his hoard.  Bilbo saw this and when he reported it to the Dwarves, the thrush hears and takes the news to Bard.  Thus, Bilbo plays an important part in the defeat of the dragon. 

Bard is a captain of archers, and well respected in Laketown.  And most importantly he deals with Smaug with a regular long bow and a black arrow.  “Arrow!” said the bowman.  “Black arrow! I have saved you to the last.  You have never failed me and always I have recovered you.  I had you from my father and he from of old.  If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!  The dragon swooped once more lower than ever, and as he turned and dived down his belly glittered white with sparkling fires of gems in the moon—but not in one place.  The great bow twanged. The black arrow sped straight from the string, straight for the hollow by the left breast where the foreleg was flung wide.  In it smote and vanished, barb, shaft and feather, so fierce was its flight.” (The Hobbit pp. 260 – 261)

7) Finally, (although I could go on and on!)  is the whole Gandalf going off with Radagast to attack  Dol Guldur silliness.  

Gandalf did discover that Sauron was at Dol Guldur, but with the help of the White Council he drove him out.  (Although this is just what Sauron had planned.)  There was not battle between the two, and that Gandalf was captured and held there is a complete fabrication. 

Gandalf himself describes his adventure in Dol Guldur during his speech at the Council of Elrond: “Some here will remember that many years ago I myself dared to pass the doors of the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, and secretly explored his ways, and found thus that our fears were true: he was none other than Sauron, our Enemy of old, at length taking shape and power again. Some, too, will remember also that Saruman dissuaded us from open deeds against him, and for long we watched him only.  Then at last, as his shadow grew, Saruman yielded, and the Council put forth its strength and drove the evil out of Mirkwood – and that  was in the very year of the finding of this Ring: strange chance, if chance it was.  (Fellowship of the Ring p 263)

Not only is it implausible that Gandalf would have been captured – but even more fantastic is the thought that Sauron would have caged him and not destroyed him – as Gandalf is Sauron’s chief nemesis in Middle Earth.

Also, I am forced to consider all the wonderful things left out:  The gradual introduction of the company to Beorn, Beorn’s true character, the long and challenging journey through Mirkwood, all would have made wonderful movie scenes. Add to these painful omissions the absence of the forest revelries of the elves, Bilbo’s songs and effective rock throwing at the spiders, the careful packing of the Dwarves in the barrels, their warm welcome in Laketown, the journey to the Lonely Mountain, the meeting with the ravens, the interaction with the thrush. 

The most significant omission was Bilbo’s taking of the cup.  This is an intentional link that Tolkien makes to Beauwolf, a central factor in Tolkien’s purpose in writing the book in the first place.  If anything proves that Jackson knows little and understands even less about the purpose of Tolkien’s creations it is this error. 

As I sat through the film, I became more and more disappointed. Are the pages of The Hobbit to be thus polluted? * What was most discouraging was to think of the treasure and talent that had been thus squandered.  There will probably never be another attempt to make this wonderful book into a movie and more and more this perversion will come to be what the world thinks of when they thinks of The Hobbit – it can only harm Tolkien’s legacy.

*From Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Ch. 5 paragraph 63: “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” 

5 comments:

Ian Crookston said...

Lysis,

As a Tolkien Purist I too knew I would be disappointed with the movie. I chose to view it as a theme park ride. In this sense it was enjoyable. To jackson’s credit though, Tolkien did say that the Hobbit was merely a fragment torn from a massive myth and adapted for children. Jackson claims he was expanding back on that idea but in the opposite direction using material from the Silmarillion and unfinished tales. If this would have been the case, I could have enjoyed such a movie. This is not however, what Jackson did.

I used to fear that when re-reading the books I would replace the scenes and characters of Tolkien's masterpiece with their likenesses from the movies. This has not happened in the least bit except for in the instances where I wish it to happen. For example, the Gandalf portrayal in the movie is much better than the Gandalf my own imagination cooked up, as Gandalf speaks in the book, it is in the manner and voice of the Gandalf from the movies. My ability to imagine the glory and beauty of the elves was also expanded. In this most recent portion of the Hobbit, my ability to imagine a dragon of awesome intellect and immensity was again expanded. Never in my wildest dreams could I have conjured up such a terrible exchange between Bilbo and Smaug, and never could I have imagined such an amazingly evil and awesome (I use that word in it's archaic sense) fire-drake. the ensuing battle between dwarves and Dragon was indeed ridiculous though. (I would remind you though that Bilbo in the book did actually escape the Dragon since he remained close to the tunnel entrance).

With the popularity of the LOTR in recent years though, many children are picking up the books. I work in a middle school and a good half of the boys I interact with are reading or have recently read the Hobbit. They are just as fascinated by the book as they are by the movie and they are eager for more action (which they turn to his other books for).

I am dismayed about Jackson missing the allusion to Beowulf, I would have thought Jackson would know that Tolkien began his career and gained his academic credence as a Beowulf Scholar.

I am also disappointed with the enmity portrayed between elves, dwarves, and men. Jackson is obviously adding racism-critiques here. The largest thing missed was the epic story telling. the deep truths with which Tolkien intricately laced his stories, the rich and believable world that seemed strangely similar to our own imaginations and nighttime dreams. All that is exchanged for a theme park ride of almost masterbatory indulgence in libidinous action and an exploitative orgy of CGI effects. One scene after another is defined by ridiculous and intense fantasy action and violence and intense moments of roller coaster emotions, it is if the movie makers are merely saying, “Look what we can do with computers and 3D cameras!” To top it all off, we have to keep coming back to get more of the story. These three movies could perhaps be the perfect example of commercialistic exploitation of a man’s life work. LOTR is indeed a franchise.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a thoughtful, artistic, reflective move, that explores the deep magic of Tolkien’s world and mind. As C.S. Lewis said of LOTR; 'I too can say that Tolkien’s works are like lightning from a clear sky. . . To say that in it heroic romance, gorgeous, eloquent, and unashamed, has suddenly returned at a period almost pathological in its anti-romanticism, is inadequate. . . Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart. . . .'

Ian Crookston said...

But as for the she-elf, I would remind everyone that even though there is only one instance in the entirety of the Hobbit that a woman is mentioned, the only thing that beats a beautiful golden-haired elf queen (Galadriel), is a beautiful red-haired elf-commoner (the invented Sylvan Elf lady)

I of course say this as an unwed man who only longs for an elven beauty to heal me with weeds and dramatic elvish spells followed by long slow-motion shots of the two of starring at each other and radiant light illuminating us from all directions.

Lysis said...

Ian
I once went to Disney Land. I discovered that almost all of the “attractions” were roller-coasters disguised as somethings else. They all made me sick to my stomach; like every battle scene in the movie.

I am not aware of any of Jackson’s promises – but what he didn’t do is painfully obvious.

I agree with you that some of Jackson’s images are good. I personally like most of the dwarves. I’m afraid that my childish mind – I was first read The Hobbit when I was in the fourth grade – had Thorin and company looking like an expanded version of seven dwarves form Disney’s Snow White. The Dragon was pretty good – but I have him with four legs as well as wings.

Bilbo’s interaction with Smaug in the book is far more frightening – since one recognizes that Smaug could kill Bilbo at any moment. Jackson’s “awesome fire-drake” doesn’t seem capable of killing anything. Bilbo is far more clever in the book – full or wonderful Tolkien riddles, and a growing and well earned ego.

I am glad to hear your students are reading the book – I am glad to hear of students reading anything.

I’m glad we agree on Beowulf – Bilbo is the sacred king you know.

I didn’t know Elves had commoners, and I am glad you found some pleasure in her red haired beauty; far more titillating that computer generated carnage I am sure. I do not find CGI of any kind libidinous, [articulating strong sexual desire]. However, I am sure that Jackson would have doubled the movies take if the elf girl would have taken off Fili’s shirt. As my daughter pointed out, it is sad that the woman added to create diversity in the cast, only plays into female sexual stereotypes rather than representing a complex character of her own. I miss Tolkien’s women, who, although few in number, are noble and powerful as well as beautiful.

My son pointed out to me that the tally of a Bilbo’s accomplishments that is the driving theme of Tolkien’s book is completely missing from the movie. In Tolkien’s Hobbit it is Bilbo that saves the Dwarves from the Spiders, Bilbo that saves the Dwarves from the cells of the Elven King, Bilbo that faces the dragon all alone and discovers his weakness, and it is Bilbo that arbitrates the peace between the three peoples [I guess that Jackson still has a chance to give us that.] But, Jackson’s Bilbo is not even the center of action – one would think that Thorin is the hero of the tale, instead of the stubborn cause of many problems. Or that the central theme of The Hobbit is a love triangle between two elves, not even in the book and an oversexed dwarf.

Riley said...

Lysis,

I agree with all of your points, but especially on the poor portrayal of Laketown – in Jackson’s vision it was a dark, dreadful place that only the destitute reside in – not at all an area I would like to visit. The “master” of the town is hideous and whining all the time. The townspeople treat Bard as if he is nothing more than a street beggar. Every aspect of the portrayal leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Yet in the final moments of the film (a climax, of sorts) when Smaug threatens Bilbo with the idea of destroying Laketown, Bilbo is horrified at the thought of it. What? Why?! I suppose he could pity them, but his expressions seemed to indicate that he loves the people there. In his brief stay he couldn’t possibly have developed any meaningful relationships – he hid in a barrel filled with fish to get in, snuck around, climbed out of a toilet, was arrested by the guards – how could he possibly care about the people there?

I am, of course, referring strictly to Jackson’s version of the tale with these comments.

This was possibly my biggest problem with the movie. The ending is supposed to leave you feeling empathy for the people in Laketown as Smaug approaches. The audience is supposed to feel dread for the coming onslaught.

I personally thought “Who cares?” as the screen cut to black. It was a dreadful place anyway. Most of the characters I DO care about are now safe in Erebor.

It’s natural for a person to dislike the thought of innocent people dying, but Jackson could have made the emotional impact of the ending so much more powerful if he had properly portrayed Laketown and made its people likeable.

Lysis said...

Dear Riley,
Thank you for your comment. I think your point on Laketown is excellent. The total lack of any kind of overall theme, any long vision of story, is one of the most painful flaws of Jackson’s “version”. Everything is for titillation of the audience by momentary violence and shock. All characters, including Bilbo’s, are shallow, artificial, and inappropriate. I find it hard to care for anyone in the film version – they are just so many props for the next collapsing wall, exploding what-ever, or other special effect. It if the driving force of the film was how many ugly goblin faces could “make- up” come up with today.

I have been discussing the film with my students, most of whom have seen the movie – many without ever having read the books. They were surprised at my aggravation at the murder of the goblin by Thrandail. Elves are the heroes of Middle earth – angles – and that their king would murder a prisoner of war is abhorrent. [I know there are fallen angles, but Legolas’ father is not one of them!] But then, I know folks that are willing to excuse Homer’s Hector the same sin – while condemning Achilles for demanding justice. I am reminded of an obscenity in the extended version of the Return of the King. In the Jackson movie, Aragorn murders the “Mouth of Sauron” under a flag of truce. I am afraid that these painful incidents point to flaws in Jackson’s own character.

It is that "these things" will come to be linked to J.R.R. Tolkien that pains me the most. Tolkien sought to create an epic of heroes for the English Speaking world – Jackson would hijack them for the latest run at sex and violence on the big screen. How sad!