Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Will Critics Regret Trashing 'The Hobbit?'

Blogs
by Matt Singer
January 3, 2013 4:33 PM
25 Comments
  • |
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Well, this is certainly a unique defense of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Poet and Huffington Post blogger Seth Abramson says that someday critics "will come to regret their relentless savaging of Peter Jackson's film." And why? Because, Abramson says, despite reviewers' complaints that Jackson was driven by "mercenary" impulses when dividing J.R.R. Tolkien's children's book into two, and later three, separate films, there were actually far more altruistic motivations at work:

"What these critics don't know, and what Jackson most certainly does, is the history of 'The Hobbit' as a text, and of Middle Earth as a holistic construction. While knowledge of the literature behind the film doesn't necessarily imbue the film with automatic cinematic bona fides, it does suggest that, in the long run, critics of 'The Hobbit' will be made to feel rather foolish for their circumspection and (in many instances) their open hostility toward both Jackson and his creation. If there's a reason most critics panning the film don't also encourage moviegoers to avoid it, it's likely that they sense -- as they ought to -- that future generations will view the effort considerably more kindly, and that therefore 'The Hobbit' is worth seeing now, whatever its infelicities."

Abramson then goes on to list all the various events that occur before "The Hobbit" that connect it to "The Lord of the Rings" films, and tie the two trilogies together as one enormous work of art (8 years before "The Hobbit," for example, "Aragorn is taken to Rivendell to be raised by the elves." So he's got that going for him). "It is upon this larger narrative that Jackson has undoubtedly been focused for the fifteen years he's been working on bringing Tolkien's literary vision to the silver screen," Abramson says, adding that his "knowledge of Tolkien lore can be presumed to exceed that of any small-city film critic by a factor of twenty or more, and way he shot 'The Hobbit' reveals it unambiguously."

In other words: in Jackson we trust. And, if I've got this right, it's a bit unfair to judge just one-third of "The Hobbit" on its own, because there are larger plans at work here, and ideas and themes we won't fully understand until the trilogy is complete. Fine; Jackson is a gifted filmmaker and he's earned a certain amount of respect. He definitely knows more about Tolkien than most small-city film critics -- and he certainly knows more about him than this one, since I've never read a page of the man's work. Everything I know about Middle Earth, in fact, I learned from Jackson himself. It's possible that as the first third of a massive nine hour epic, "An Unexpected Journey" will grow in stature and esteem.

It's possible -- but unlikely. And it's certain that as a single film -- which i paid nearly $20 to see -- "An Unexpected Journey" was an incomplete and not particularly satisfying unit of storytelling. You know from the outset that this is only a third of the whole saga; my gripe isn't necessarily that there's no resolution, but that so little of the film even seems to hint at an inevitable resolution. No wonder Abramson liked the movie -- Jackson was far more concerned with ticking off Middle Earth characters and subplots for the Tolkien hardcores than telling a sleek and exciting tale for average moviegoers. As a relative Middle Earth greenhorn, I marveled at the effects, pondered the HFR, and mostly didn't care a bit about any of the characters, many of whom seemed totally interchangeable. 

Plus, even as he dwells in the darkest depths of Mordor minutia, Jackson changes things. Apparently, the primary villain in "An Unexpected Journey," a vicious orc named Azog, barely appears in Tolkien's "The Hobbit." In Jackson's telling, he's introduced in flashback, battling dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, who beats him and leaves him for dead. Later, Azog reappears to chase Thorin, Gandalf, Bilbo, and the rest of their team as they make their way to the Lonely Mountain. In Tolkien's version, Azog actually is killed in that past battle (and not by Thorin, either). 

So what is Jackson's "The Hobbit?" Is it a transcription of a great book, or an interpretation of one artist's work by another? If it's a transcription, then it sounds like Jackson missed a few words. If it's an interpretation then it's a wildly bloated one. At least until I come to regret this post. 

Read more of "Dislike Peter Jackson's 'The Hobbit?' Then You Don't Know Tolkien."

25 Comments

  • Ivan | December 12, 2013 7:35 AMReply

    All the critics that say it's bad are dumb spoiled brats; i bet they aren't even Lord of the Rings fans. The people who love The Hobbit are the ones who have been re-reading the book for 76 years! Yes, The Hobbit book has been out for 76 years, but for some reason the movie wasn't made until 2012. So even the very fact of seeing "The Hobbit" in a 21st century theater is a dream-come-true for most people. And for avid Lord of the Rings fans like me who also read the book, the movie is a masterpiece.

    So if you're a critic and haven't even read the book, you shouldn't be commenting about the movie. Because it's impossible to express all of "The Hobbit's" metaphors in a movie and you obviously don't understand that. There's a reason why schools all across the country still require their students to read and analyze the book even if it's 76 years old. I wrote an essay about it in the 9th grade and had to pick between 3 deep metaphorical topics to write about. The Hobbit is dense and i'm not going to criticise the movie production team, because i actually liked the first part.

  • Iago | September 10, 2013 8:44 PMReply

    The Hobbit is already beloved by the vast majority of the population, so that's good enough for me. But there WILL come a time when people stop listening to idiotic critics such as this one and Rotten Tomatoes is realized for what it it- a piece of crap. When that time comes, people will forget why they didnt like The Hobbit in the first place.

  • Reamde | January 10, 2013 11:28 PMReply

    Ok first off, if you've never read a page of the books then WTF are you doing even speaking about the subject? Run off and go play with your friends.

    Second, "telling a sleek and exciting tale for average moviegoers" despite being exactly what ruins most films based on books is also something that simply *cannot* be done with this particular tale and you would know that had you ever bothered to read a classic.

    Third, you've never read the Hobbit? Seriously? What are you 12?

  • seehaa | January 10, 2013 1:27 PMReply

    I don't have a problem with the storytelling aspects nor with the acting or anything you mentioned. The main issues are with the overuse of CGI and insistence on using HFR, which really adds nothing and detracts immensely from the overall production. Your defense of HFR is laughable at best. At no point was I convinced that any of the CGI creations were at all lifelike. And this was hardly a problem in the LotR trilogy, because they used the 24 fps, and they didn't rely so heavily on CGI for all their scenes. They used models, sets they built with concrete material, and they cast extras for the orcs/goblins instead of crafting all of them in a program.

  • plutarch | January 8, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    no no no no no. People are now thinking that The Hobbit sucks because it is TOO faithful to Tolkien? no no no no no no. I haven't seen The Hobbit and don't plan to because TLOTR was an awful envisioning of Tolkien's fantasies into CGI blockbuster tropes. It would have been so interesting to see the movies made before CGI, as The Beatles tried to do by trying to acquire the rights back in the '70's. But, alas, didn't happen. Not that Tolkien is the end all or be all. Just better than the movies that were made from his stories.

  • Plutarch | January 8, 2013 5:16 PM

    I also don't buy into the idea that movies in trilogies or sequels are ALLOWED to get better. That's not the way it works. If it don't get a run the first time out, there is no second chance. Only in Hollywood do they expect you to shell out $20 then another $20 in the HOPES that it will be better.

  • dyuken | January 7, 2013 10:47 AMReply

    I am far beyond not impressed with what the Average Movie Viewer as these guys are the reason movies like Transformers Dark of the Moon come to fruition. As a person who has read the aforementioned work, I believe that Jackson did and exceedingly good job pulling us into Middle Earth once again. The characters were compelling and the motivations quite clear. I know that the amount of characters maybe a bit biblical in scope, however, each is distinct and human. I don't understand for a minute, all of the criticiam. Except for the last scene with the Dragon Smaug which I think looked Cheap and Sci Fi Channelish. Otherwise Great Job Peter Jackson.

  • Alex | January 4, 2013 10:03 PMReply

    Was I the only one who was surprised at how shoddy some of the CGI scenes looked? They practically helped pioneer it with LOTR but this wasn't great...

  • Alex | January 4, 2013 10:01 PMReply

    "Jackson was far more concerned with ticking off Middle Earth characters and subplots for the Tolkien hardcores than telling a sleek and exciting tale for average moviegoers"

    THAT. You absolutely nailed it right there. Fortunately for me I am a Tolkien fan, not hard core but this was my favourite book from the Middle Earth series. My main gripe being it was such a concise but adventure laden read that I read it all in a day - so I was expecting it to be a one time thrill ride and was pissed it was being dragged out to 3 films. However, once again as you mentioned, its all one long tapestry and its nice to see where the LOTR trilogy fits in. Jackson has remained faithful to the core themes of Tolkiens books that is 100 percent true, but he's indulged himself in getting it just right that he hardly seems to care for those in the audience who may need a little convincing to return for the next two films; because I know how it ends and what happens, I was dissatisfied, virtually nothing satisfactory happens in this film and it is so clearly a build up to the next two...maybe just number 3.

  • Dr. Ron | January 4, 2013 5:23 PMReply

    I'd say safely that Jackson knows more about Tolkien's works than every critic who has critiqued his films.

  • Brian of Nazareth | May 25, 2013 10:10 PM

    You're very unsafe then, Doc.

  • Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM | January 4, 2013 12:16 PMReply

    I for one greatly enjoyed the first installment of The Hobbit which I believe ended "in a better place" than actually the first installment of the Lord of the Rings. There was a clear break in the story in this emerging Hobbit Cycle, while the end of the first installment of the Lord of the Rings quite literally required its last panel to read "To be continued ..." Second, okay The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was nearly three hours long. But the cinematography (and CGI) was so good that those who enjoy this kind of story I would suspect would join me in saying "So what?" I didn't mind spending the 3+ hours in the world of Avatar, I greatly enjoyed the some 10 hours of "Middle Earth" portrayed in the LOTR cycle. I was happy as pie spending the three hours returning to "Middle Earth" in the current film. Finally, even more than the LOTR cycle, I got the premise of The Hobbit in this first installment. Biblo was happy living a more or less uneventful life in his quiet, already half-buried little house in his village when the "Grand Wizard Gandalf" came to him with his invitation to go on an adventure. And Biblo had a choice, to stay in his little existence where _nothing unexpected_ ever happened or join Gandalf and his dwarves. "Will I return?" Bilbo asks. "I can't promise you that," responds Gandalf, "and if you do return you will be different than when you left." WHAT A GREAT CALL STORY! And one written originally by Tolkien, who did at times (like here) wear his Catholicism "a bit on his sleeve" ;-) -- http://frdennismoviereviews.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-hobbit-unexpected-journey-2012.html

  • Brian | January 4, 2013 11:24 AMReply

    I'm telling my friends that if they go see it, then walk in 45 minutes late b/c they will miss the laborious 'dwarf party' and arrive when the movie actually starts. By the time the actual quest started, I was wondering why I didn't listen to the critics and wait for the DVD to come out. But the scene with Gollum made up for it.

  • Jethro | January 5, 2013 5:14 AM

    Sounds like you were making a recommendation for lowest common denominator audiences. Audiences who don't really know how to process story or dialogue sequences, but can understand when action or comedy happens. These are the type of people who lack the ability to really appreciate films like the Hobbit and should instead just stick to "The Rock" movies.

  • Alan B | January 4, 2013 4:09 AMReply

    There is one thing that critics SHOULD regret, but won't: the universal trashing of the High Frame rate. Now, if a critic doesn't like it, that's fine: but they don't seem to give anything in the way of a cogent, informed argument. They are just trying to out-snark each other, suggesting that the frame rate is COMPLETELY WRONG and attempting to impose some lame "witticism", too that usually references soap operas or something. Now, I can't believe that the frame rate is WHOLLY BAD: there has to be SOME reason why Jackson included it. Only Richard Corliss seemed to engage with this issue in a critical, cogent way: he didn't love it, but he at least saw some of the ways in which that choice helps the action. Instead, if we're not receiving some lame quip from the likes of A.O. Scott or Dana Stevens, we've got the likes of Drew McWeeny complaining that the frame rate changes the sound quality. WTF? Frame rates have ZERO to do with the sound. How can a paid FILM CRITIC not know the basics of film production? It's just that every critic is attempting to slam the format. What happened to the days when criticism was about allowing the reader to understand a film better, giving them further insight into the format? Did it ever exist? Am I just being sentimental? There had to have been a time when all critics didn't just scream 'This is Different Therefore It's Bad'.

  • Matt | January 3, 2013 9:26 PMReply

    If the only criticism of the movie was that it was bereft of story/action, ergo it shouldn't have been divided into 3 films, I might agree. Knowing and enjoying the material, however, I'm well aware there should have been enough stuff to make 3 films when you consider the material outside the Hobbit. That said, I thought the movie was atrocious. Boring. Bad CGI in action scenes. Really weird pieces with the Jackson created Orc that wanted to kill Thorin and Radagast (why was he made into such a joke/children's character).

    The movie missed the mark because it didn't know what it wanted to be. There were moments incredibly childish, albeit done poorly, and moments undeniably like LOTR. In certain hands, like a Spielberg, maybe it could've worked. But Jackson has been in dud mode for a while and he didn't get this right. I loved LOTR and still admire it, but the first of the three Hobbit films left way more than lack of story to be desired. I still have hope for the other two though.

  • Jethro | January 5, 2013 5:24 AM

    In other words, you don't like complexity in films and would have prefered something simpler. Also, you are not well researched on Tolkien. You would otherwise know that Peter Jackson didn't create the Orc that wanted to kill Thorin, he merged two Orc characters together from the literature; Azog and Bolg, to create a stronger antagonist for the film series.

  • dsf | January 3, 2013 8:05 PMReply

    http://www.shoppingone.net Offer Wholesale Shoes.China Nike

    Shoes, Air Max Shoes, Shox Shoes, Discount Gucci, Prada, LV,
    Cheap NFL Jerseys, NBA Jerseys, MlB Jerseys, NHL Jerseys, on

    Sale, For Cheap, Wholesale Fom China!

    Online Store:

    Cheapest Vans Shoes $37

    Fashion Tiffany Bangles $20

    Wholesale Hollister Tshirt $18

    jordan shoes $38

    nike shox $37

    Christan Audigier bikini $18

    Ed Hardy Bikini $18

    Sinful short_t-shirt_woman $16

    http://www.shoppingone.net

  • Nicholas Kelly | January 3, 2013 7:16 PMReply

    While it is presumptuous to assume that critics should have expert knowledge of a film's source material before reviewing it, Abramson's article does do a good job of delegitimizing a claim that I've seen used in a lot of reviews, that Jackson has expanded a small children's book into three movies in order to make more money. First of all, speculation about the filmmakers' motives doesn't belong in film criticism. It's impossible to know this for sure, and it doesn't matter what the motives were as long as it results in a good film (which in this case, I think it did). To be fair, this article does engage in that kind of speculation, providing an argument that Jackson does not have "mercenary" motives, and it is a legitimate counterargument to say that it doesn't matter if Jackson had good motives if you just didn't enjoy the movie.

    But regarding the first part of the ubiquitous claim, I've been very frustrated by all of the critics who use the phrase "children's book" in their reviews, usually accompanied by an adjective like "short", "small" or "simple." The problem with this is that instead of just reviewing "The Hobbit" as a movie, these critics are claiming some kind of knowledge of the source material and using it against the adaptation. The point of this article is to show that critics who describe the source material as a children's book in order to claim that Jackson has taken the wrong approach don't actually know what they're talking about. And Abramson is right that a critic who claimed the same knowledge but exhibited the same ignorance about a more revered literary figure would have been subject to ridicule.

    The problem with Abramson's article is that it claims critics will regret their opinions of the movie, which is ridiculous. The argument should be that critics will regret the dismissive tone they took to the idea of expanding the story if the entire trilogy ends up being great. There are a lot of elements that Jackson introduces in this film with payoffs that are supposed to come in later films. While those elements may feel like padding in this film to some critics, they might have a change of heart if the payoffs are well done. The article also doesn't mention how the structure of "The Hobbit" as a book fits three films rather than two. It all depends on whether or not the rest of the trilogy works, but if it does, critics might look back on this first installment with greater admiration (particularly if they rewatch it in 24fps; sorry but HFR just looks bad).

  • DAVE | January 3, 2013 7:27 PM

    Hear hear.

  • fuu | January 3, 2013 6:43 PMReply

    http://www.famalegoods.net

    Cheapest Air Jordan Shoes,Tiffany Jewelry Company,Wholesale Hollister
    Clothing

    Online Store:

    Cheapest Vans Shoes $37

    Fashion Tiffany Bangles $20

    Wholesale Hollister Tshirt $18

    jordan shoes $38

    nike shox $37

    Christan Audigier bikini $18

    Ed Hardy Bikini $18

    Sinful short_t-shirt_woman $16

    http://www.famalegoods.net/

  • Dave | January 3, 2013 6:15 PMReply

    I'm almost a hundred percent sure that the critics didn't even read the book so they can't tell how well crafted and close to the source material it is. Also Americans have really bad ADD, so the "it's too long argument" isn't even valid. Violence, and over hyper media is so engrained in our culture that we are starting to create huge epidemic of mental illness. My whole family read the book and we thought it was amazing. In the long term when all three are released, and you want to watch it back to back you'll be amazed about how amazing these movies will be due to Peter Jackson's passion and detail true to the source material. Besides the fun stuff hasn't even started yet. We are pretty much in ACT 1 of the Hobbit Book.... Usually first Act in a movie is the introduction and set up of characters, locations, and adventure. Wait till the next movie.

  • olo | January 3, 2013 10:07 PM

    "Besides the fun stuff hasn't even started yet."

    That's the problem with the movie right there, isn't it? The absence of fun stuff. If the movie only has merit as the set up to the next two ones, then why watch it now at all? Just wait till the second one comes out and watch it before you go in.

  • Davey | January 3, 2013 5:31 PMReply

    Although I thought The Hobbit Part 1 was too long I do think that the next two films will make this project all seem worth it. There was enough in the first film for me to believe that. Obviously the critics can't always stop a film's success. Les Miserables would not have the box office it has if everyone relied on critics.

  • Rob | January 3, 2013 4:38 PMReply

    The critics who didn't give it A+ reviews never said to avoid it. They reviewed it for what it was, a movie that on its own has flaws, but of course the larger trilogy will be better. That doesn't allow Jackson to escape criticism and no one will feel foolish for their reviews of the individual film/

    That's like saying critics who panned Iron Man 2 will regret it when The Avengers comes out because it's building towards it. Nope, films that sell tickets need to stand on their own.

Email Updates