My passion for Tolkien is pretty well known to my parishioners - I'm bound to get a chuckle whenever I mention his works. So it's pretty natural for them to ask me my opinion on the first of Three films to adapt The Hobbit.
I'm gonna keep it short and sweet, ignoring the new film technology (which is interesting) and the score (which was awesome) and concentrate on the adaptation of the story.
First of all, the choice to take such a short book and spread it over three movies is interesting. What this indicates is that the studios are so convinced Jackson is going to make buku bucks that they are giving him creative reign to do whatever he wants to tell the story. This is good news. Jackson and his team are excellent story tellers, so it should be a good ride over the three movies.
Second, The text of The Hobbit was one in flux during Tolkien's lifetime. It was his first book written as a children's story, and he revised it after the publication of The Lord of the Rings to bring it into better sync with the rest of his legendarium. In addition, there are additional writings, most notably an appendix in LOTR, that show that Tolkien was constantly re-thinking the material.
While being somewhat lighter in tone than Jackson's LOTR trilogy, it is notably darker than the book, and deserves its PG-13 rating. Instead of being a stand-alone adaptation of the book, it impresses the esthetic of the film trilogy on the text, making it more of a prequel. Jackson and his writing team freely adapt Tolkien's additional materials and come up with text of their own, weaving a meta-story around the original text. In effect, they manage to create one vision of what Tolkien might have done had he continued to revise the text to bring it into line with his mythology. It's simultaneously very different from the text, but seems very true to Tolkien's intentions (with some notable exceptions.)
I find this similar to the Jewish tradition of midrash, a method of scriptural interpretation that uses story to explore difficult passages of scripture. Jesus' parables are a prime example of this. If one is looking for an exact adaptation of The Hobbit, you won't find it here. But if you are looking for one that is true to Tolkien's themes and maintains consistency with LOTR, you've found your movie.
Overall, I was extremely happy with this first movie. I'll give my biggest gripe and my biggest cheer (Can't decide which category Radagast would be in, so I'll leave him out).
Biggest gripe: OK people, Pipeweed is TOBACCO! It's stated explicitly in both The Hobbit and LOTR. The continued portrayal of Pipeweed as marijuana is a holdover from the "Frodo Lives" movement from the 60s. Hey people, Tolkien was not a hippy - he was an uber-conservative Roman Catholic with an ecological bent. More of a Teddy Roosevelt than a Timothy Leary.
Biggest cheer: How in the name of Aulë did they manage to make Thorin hot? Dwarves in the book are sometimes comical, sometimes dangerous, but never attractive. But here we have a capable and worthy leader of a nation that makes feminine hearts go a patter. I think Richard Armitage's portrayal is amazing, and his character should give hope to shorter men around the world.
All in all, I really liked this movie. I'll be taking Brendan to see it, and I can't wait to see how much rich depth Jackson and his team pull out in the remaining two movies.
“On September 21, 1937 The Hobbit was first published in Great Britain to great success. In fact, it was so successful it took J.R.R. Tolkien a bit by surprise. In a letter to his publishers the following month he commented: “At the moment I am suffering like Mr. Baggins from a touch of ’staggerment.’ Staggerment, indeed! Little did The Professor know the millions of lives he would touch with his little story about a simple Hobbit who rushed out of his door one day without any money or a handkerchief. Happy 72nd anniversary to The Hobbit! ”
Evidently, according to an article in the Telegraph, J.R.R. Tolkien did some initial training as a Code Breaker at the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School. He ultimately declined a job at Bletchley. Interesting to think of the alternate history of Tolkien working on the Enigma codes with Turing. Excerpt following:
JRR Tolkien trained as British spy
The novelist JRR Tolkien secretly trained as a Government spy in the run up to the Second World War, new documents have disclosed.
Tolkien, one of his generation's most respected linguists, was ''earmarked'' to crack Nazi codes in the event that Germany declared war.
Intelligence chiefs singled him and a 'cadre' of other intellectuals to work at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire.
Its staff - which included Alan Turing, the gay codebreaker - would later decipher the 'impenetrable' Enigma machines.
This saved Britain from German conquest by allowing the Navy to intercept and destroy Hitler's U-Boats.
According to previously unseen records, Tolkien trained with the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS).
So Turing broke “Gay Codes?” I’m not going to even speculate on those....
Thanks to Tolkien Studies.