I originally read The Hobbit some 30 years ago. I recently read The Hobbit to my boys a few years ago over a few weeks as bedtime reading. They liked the story, and we as a family have been excited to see the movies together. Especially after the great success of The Lord of the Rings movies. We saw the first movie, An Unexpected Journey, last year for my oldest son’s 12th birthday party.
We saw this second part of the movie trilogy this week. I’m not the fanboy I used to be about Tolkien. I really enjoyed the stories, both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in my youth, but they’re not in my top ten favorite books now. The LotR movies, though, rekindled my interest. Those movies were very good, and relatively very true to the books. But The Hobbit movies have strayed far from the book’s storyline. I know movies can’t always follow the books exactly, if for no other reason than they are just such different mediums. But after seeing LotR, I came to expect Peter Jackson to make a relatively faithful production of The Hobbit. He didn’t.
The first Hobbit movie, I’d say was 80% true to the book. I thought the product, in general, was good. But this second movie is like 50% true to the book. Arguably less. There are several bits of the book missing in this second movie, and there are whole swathes of this movie that are completely made up, not in the book. That fact alone is not bad, in and of itself. But it’s what was added, and how, that makes me not like this movie as much as the previous and the LotR trilogy.
First off, The Hobbit (the book) is a children’s story. A story for children. This fact makes the violence in the film adaptations shocking. The movies have lots — lots! — of violence, fighting, killing, and at least three beheadings on screen. Fortunately there’s not much visible blood from all the sword and axe strokes. Watching this second Hobbit movie made me regret taking my 9 year old son to see it without reviewing it first.
Second, most of the fighting action is what Peter Jackson fabricated whole-cloth for the movies. The last 20 minutes or so of The Desolation of Smaug is a long scene of the dwarves fighting the dragon — a scene that not only doesn’t happen in the book, but feels really stupid in the movie. In the book, Bilbo Baggins survived his encounter with Smaug by using his wits (and the magic ring of invisibility). In the movie it’s an action sequence that shows Bilbo surviving mostly by being incredibly lucky. In the book, the dwarves survive the dragon by hiding from it. In the movie, the dwarves manage a running battle with the beast and even forge a freakin’ giant gold statue for apparently some kind of morale victory.
I was stunned when the movie ended before Smaug attacked Laketown. The Keystone Cops-like battle with the dwarves even made Smaug’s boast about being “Death” while flying toward the human settlement feel pathetic. He couldn’t kill even one of the 9 dwarves (and 1 hobbit) inside his own lair. Instead of a terrible force of evil nature, Smaug comes across as a buffoon.
All in all, I didn’t like this second movie. I don’t hate it. I don’t even dislike it, although I do dislike the on-screen violence added to a children’s story.