Thoughts on The Hobbit Trailer

I have things to say (or else why write?), but I suppose you might want to see the trailer, in case you have not yet done so:

Are we ready? Set? Good.

I was initially tempted to call this a review, but that would be too grandiose for the reality of blathering about a two and a half minute series of scenes, some of which may not make the actual movie.  On the other hand, there is more than enough material here to blather about, in some detail.

My major concern is that Peter Jackson simply does not appear to be able to leave well enough alone.  I have written on this subject before in discussing his films of The Lord of the Rings, though in that post I focused on his understanding of character.  Here the problem seems to be a misconception of plot and genre.  He intends, clearly, to tie this film into his previous Lord of the Rings project.  Tolkien, you may remember, did the reverse, and without particularly bothering to make the connections formal in the later work.  True, The Lord of the Rings is clearer for having read The Hobbit: clearer, but the story seems to me perfectly clear without it.  In fairness I should probably say that I did read The Hobbit first, so I could be wrong.  At any rate, there are these two facts: the stories are independent as books; and The Hobbit is first.  Jackson is thus incidentally approaching the project backwards, and in approaching it backwards seems to have fallen into an error of regarding The Hobbit not as a prologue but instead as what we of recent years have dubbed a prequel.  This leads, probably, to two further errors.

In the first place, The Hobbit is not epic in scale.  It is, obviously, something Bilbo would tell Frodo about.  It is equally a story which might, if we can imagine Middle Earth for a moment without the genius of Tolkien to tell its stories in full glory, have been told years later in embellished summary and in simple sentences, with the rain pouring down outside and the children wrapped up in an afghan by the fire.  Or if we allow for Bilbo the novelist (or here autobiographer), a book read in similar circumstance.  It is a novel, an adventure story, even a fairy tale.  Jackson either does not realize this, or is not content with this, and instead appears to be bringing in all the elements which Gandalf, when questioned, left out, as if Tolkien were pointedly reminding us of the nature of this story.  There indeed – and back again.

Which has, in fact, somewhat neatly touched on my second objection.  If the plot of The Hobbit is self-contained, and (but for the Ring) connected only tangentially to anything within the wider world of Arda, the characters drawn in the book are, in comparison to The Lord of the Rings at least, simply and brightly drawn.  The Hobbit is filled with characters which are in places more nearly caricatures.  Bombur does not particularly have Character: he is The Fat Man.  Thorin is the King – or the Exile.  Balin as counselor, or wise man.  Gandalf is a wizard: wizardry is his thing, I am tempted to say his hat.  Even the orcs of the later longer book receive names and characterizations: in The Hobbit they are cut-rate stage-prop villains (except possibly not cut-rate, since Tolkien was, after all, a great author) with two names given between the horde of them.  Yes: at the end of the quest we see a glimpse of greater depth and the wider world – and Bilbo is neatly removed from it, except for the scene of Thorin's death (which provides the moral of the story, if there is one besides that of any adventure), so as not to spoil the tone.  In this I am in fact somewhat encouraged: Jackson is at least capable of understanding levity and humor and the value of breaking an overloaded chair.  At the same time, by dragging in, as he seems to intend, the events of the White Council, he will be unable to retain the simple characterization at least of Gandalf: and the heavy tone of Gandalf's lines given here about the result of the adventure seem to lack the underlying humor found in Tolkien's few similar lines – and to be emphasized in a way almost directly opposed to how Tolkien downplayed that element.

As I noted at the beginning, it is a bit early and a bit silly to say anything purportedly conclusive about the movie, so I think for now I will end.  The score does at least give me one good sign: I think I will say that for now I remain hopefully pessimistic about the final result.


  1. But...but...this is going to be an adaptation! It's not a faithful retelling: we knew that long before it even began filming. Heck, we knew that all the way back in 2002 when we saw Jackson go "LOL @ Tolkiens f4ram1r, heres mine and ITS BETTER!!!1!"

    My point is that Jackson does branch out. Expecting him to maintain the self-contained nature of the book, ESPECIALLY given the Marvel Film Universe nature of modern film franchises, is unwise, in my uninformed opinion.

  2. Sure. Equally, I am allowed to not like the changes in the story. Fair?

    I could – and now mentioning it almost certainly will – elaborate at some length on the difficulties, practical and artistic, inherent in The Franchise (both film and novel), but now is not that time.

    Applied to this particular filmiverse, the main source of my objection is that Jackson seems to view his films as faithful to the spirit of the book, when in fact it seems a facile exercise to demonstrate that that is at best not entirely true.