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There but not yet back again

By Dave Snowden  ·  December 22, 2013  ·  Opera & Theatre

A family trip to part of two of what can only be described as a reimagining of Tolkien's Hobbit.  To be clear up front I enjoyed it, but then I had set my expectations in a very different way from Lord of the Rings.  There Jackson had promised to tell the story in film and in general he did a good job.  No film can be a faithful reproduction of a book, but it needs to be faithul to the overall narrative.  The only point which still irritates me is the way he messed up the character of Faramir in Part II.  Instead of allowing Frodo to take custody of Gollum and proceed to Mordor he attempts to take him to Minas Tirith.   His mind is only changed by the encounter with the Nazgûl at the fords of Osgiliath.  The contrast with his brother Boromir is thus lost and we loose the important of his resumption of the role of Steward wedded to the Lady of Rohan.  Oh and yes, Jackson does like his battle scenes, often to excess but I can live with that.  Critically he keeps the key final assumption of the Ring by Frodo, who has to fail, and the final role of Gollum in ensuring its destruction; something foretold by Gandalf in the opening chapter.  Without that the whole narrative would have been destroyed.   The other frustration was loosing the whole Barrow mounds chapter, thus missing the origin of the sword that finally slays the King of the Nazgûl.

In the three films that make up the Hobbit his intent is very different.  Here Jackson is seeking to tell the wider story of which the Hobbit only hints.  That fills in the gaps with Lord of the Rings, using material from the appendices but not the Silmarillion as he does not have the rights to that work.  So its more like Variations on a theme ... that is common in music and it has to be judged as such.  Now my son and I disagree on both.  He thinks Jackson improved Lord of Rings but is not being faithful to The Hobbit.  Extended discussions have taken place on this on many a drive to and from rugby matches but it looks like one of the reasons is that both of us are loyal to the book we read first.

In Lord of the Rings he stayed pretty close to the book in the first film, but then experimented in the second.  We see the same here with an extended battle scene between the Dwarfs and Smaug, a love interest between Elf and Dwarf, a complete loss of the subtlety of the first encounter with Beorn in favour of a close encounter with the shape changer as a bear and an interesting sequence in which Sauron is revealed to Gandalf.  Actually there was a lot more but those were the highlights.  Key to enjoying this film is seeing it as a new story not the old one.  I'm happy to do that as such is the intent and it is entertaining if a little excessive on  the special effects at times.  There is a much better exploration of the psychology of the characters than in the book, and a much richer overall narrative arc.

So I am looking forward to the third movie next Christmas and I should say that Martin Freeman really develops the character of Bilbo beyond that portrayed in the book.  Bilbo becomes the central character and enabler, especially in the changed scene around the thrush and the last light of Durin's Day.  But I won't spoil it for those who have not seen it.