I don’t often go to the cinema; live theatre floats my boat far more effectively, and to my mind requires a lot more ingenuity and imagination, and only marginally less technical skill.
But the pantomime season is still with us, and there’s only so much Behind You! and Oh no it isn’t! a girl can take. So the movies it was last week.
The Hobbit is part of my childhood, much like Winnie the Pooh, Heidi and What Katy Did. I’m not alone in that; running the junior library at high school, I must have logged it out as many times as every other book put together; it never stayed on the shelf longer than a few minutes.
Lord of the Rings followed after a few years, and was all the richer for having sampled Tolkien’s mighty imagination earlier. And though in adult life films of much-loved books have often proved a disappointment, I have to say that Peter Jackson made a jolly good fist of bringing Middle-Earth to life on the big screen. Three chunky volumes, several interleaved storylines, villains of various shapes and types: he had plenty to work with, and he made it work.
When I saw he was filming The Hobbit, I thought, OK, he can make this work too. The reservations didn’t kick in till I saw he was turning it into two films. When the announcement came that it would be three, I felt much the same as when the rumour began that Tom Cruise was going to play Jack Reacher – and don’t get me started on that!
But unlike the Reacher movie, which, much as I love the books, I have neither desire nor intention to go near, curiosity sent me to the multiplex last week, to see exactly how Peter Jackson was going to turn one not-especially-long volume into three films.
It started promisingly enough. The Hobbit is a simple adventure story, but there’s plenty of additional Middle-Earth history in Tolkien’s other writings, and it looked as if they were putting it to good use. Bilbo Baggins is the part Martin Freeman was born to play. The scene in which the dwarves arrive for tea and eat Bilbo out of house and home was clever and witty. And I enjoyed the warp-speed rabbits.
In fact it was doing pretty well right up to Rivendell. Which I think was about halfway.
I deliberately didn’t re-read the book before seeing the film, but if memory serves, all the bad guys except the dragon are incidental. Trolls, goblins, wargs, even Gollum (arguably the best thing on the screen) are just obstacles along the way: not symptoms of an overarching evil as they are in Lord of the Rings. That doesn’t work in a movie, and especially not in a trilogy of movies. The Hobbit part one hinted at a really bad guy; in fact he made a brief appearance. He does get a few passing mentions in the book, and I suspect he’s going to take up a lot of the second movie. Which is why I’ll probably go to see part two: I’m curious to see what Jackson has woven out of those passing mentions and whatever he’s found in Tolkien’s archive.
I’m not in the least curious to see any more hordes of orcs fall off precarious bridges and precipices, nor to have my ears blasted by an hour of relentless big-action-scene background music. In Lord of the Rings, Jackson told the story and told it well. The problem with The Hobbit is that there isn’t enough story to make three movies, so what there is is spread very thin and diluted with lots and lots and lots of high-octane action. If I want to see an action movie, I’ll choose James Bond; CGI may be involved there too, but it’s not so obvious and in-your-face.
Or maybe I’ll just re-read the book.