Rick Dixon writes from Cambridge: Peter Jackson’s long-awaited return to Middle Earth, The Hobbit, has had a fairly good run at the UK Box Office. Released on December 13th 2012, it only just relinquished its grip on the number one spot last weekend.
This adaptation of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins – the titular Hobbit - while financially successful, was given a generally lukewarm reception by critics. To be fair, a lot of the negative points were more about the look of the ‘High Frame Rate’ version (new-fangled film technology which makes everything appear as though it were filmed on home video), but the remainder of the criticism tended towards ‘too long’, and ‘boring’. The majority of the reviewers pointing this out weren’t teenagers with the attention spans of goldfish swimming in Red Bull, but the same reviewers who gave The Lord of The Rings trilogy glowing reviews. So why the sudden U-turn on elves, goblins, wizards and small people with feet like hairy flippers? Strap on your magic sword and your Ring of Ultimate Virginity and follow me – I’ll show you…
Unlike the Hobbits in the books and films, we don’t have too far to go on our quest to find the source of the dark evil that Peter Jackson was up against in adapting the written works of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien into film. It turns out it was Professor J.R.R. Tolkien himself. Simply put, Tolkien wasn’t that good a writer. I’ll let you catch your breath and wipe off whatever beverage you probably just spat onto your screen, and then I shall explain carefully.
Overall, when boiled down to a basic synopsis, the stories of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are fairly entertaining – as long as you remember that one was a children’s book and the other was mainly written as a framework for Tolkien to hang his invented languages and races on – the problem is in the manner in which they are written.
Tolkien’s writing is as dull as ditchwater. All he seems to care about is shoehorning as many one-dimensional characters with unpronounceable names and endless songs into the narrative as he can – many of which serve no real purpose at all to the story. We have a man who seems to come alive when writing paragraphs stuffed full of adjectives about trees and forests but takes less than a few sentences to write a ‘fight scene’, and makes it sound as though he was reading the football scores while struggling to stay awake. Just in case the reader becomes too overcome with all this heady excitement, the death of a major character is not even described directly – we rejoin the narrative to find several exciting events have happened and a main character full of arrows, using his last breaths to deliver a brief recap of events and an emotional death speech.
I’m all for encouraging the reader’s imagination to do some of the work but at least give us something to work with, Professor!
As a direct ‘sequel’ to The Hobbit, Tolkien admits he wasn’t sure how The Lord of the Rings was going to turn out when he started it. The book changed over the many years – including a lengthy break – it took to produce. This explains why his writing style for the first quarter or so of the book seems conventional and even light-hearted, but if you skip ahead to the last quarter of the book he appears to have handed over writing duties to a bored Medieval undertaker. I swear he actually uses phrases like ‘And Lo!’, and ‘girt his sword’ as narrative description, not the flat unnatural-sounding dialogue he shoehorns into the mouths of his characters.
All this taken into account, Peter Jackson had to hack and slash his way through this literary jungle in order to squeeze this epic, rambling story into 9 hours of film – nearly 12 hours if you count the ‘Extended Super Cut Director’s Fan Indulgence Limited Edition’ versions! Which brings us back to The Hobbit film and why we’re seeing the beginnings of a backlash that can only get worse.
The Hobbit, when compared to The Lord of the Rings is a fairly jovial and relatively short children’s book containing talking purses, talking animals (including spiders – however that works) and horses that double up as housekeepers for one character. It moves along at a brisk pace with little narrative fat. In a direct reversal of his predicament with The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson has decided to attempt to make a ‘Hobbit Trilogy’ – in other words, too much film from not enough book.
In order to achieve a Hobbit film trilogy Jackson must ‘pad out’ the source material. But how? To make up too much of his own material would be sacrilege, so he is mining the worst depths of The Lord of the Rings book – the Appendices. The Appendices of the book consist of facts and extra story and more endings so pointless and uninteresting that even Tolkien himself didn’t include them in the main story – and this is a man who made up functional languages for kicks!
If reviewers are beginning to tire of Middle Earth after one Hobbit film, they’ll truly be Bored of the Rings by the time they reach the end of this quest.