Many fans of the original film trilogy and of the books have a litany of credible complaints about the three-film trilogy, The Hobbit. And… they are reasonable. I just do not share them. Why? Because I welcome any excuse to spend another multiple-hour-session in Middle Earth, with my beloved Gandalf.
Originally written for Tolkien’s children, the book has a far more youthful flavor than the darker, more serious Lord of the Rings. “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…” named Bilbo Baggins, and it is the absurd, delightful, and whimsical story of a Hobbit who faces unexpected guests, followed by an unexpected journey and uncertain perils along the way, before he finds a magical Ring that makes him invisible (a very useful thing for a small creature to have). Some of it is downright eerie—such as the “riddles in the dark” scene with Gollum. And perhaps because it is a children’s story, the decision to darken it and make it more sinister (and much longer) to match the tone of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, is not a wise one.
Except Tolkien was a notorious “fiddler” with his own work. In his literary and writing group The Inklings, which also included C.S. Lewis, he would take any criticism to heart. Rather than reworking it from that point forward, he would start all over again. A slow and methodical writer, far more interested in mythology and creating languages than page counts, Tolkien pored so meticulously over his work that though he “meant” to update The Hobbit (presumably, to make it match the darker, more adult tone of his sequel trilogy), he “never got around to it.”
In defense of the films, I could argue the studio gave Peter Jackson far less time to develop “his vision” than he had for the original trilogy. I could tell you he was doing revision and crafting the story right up into their shooting schedule. I could say that the studio, seeing the financial boon of the first installment, decided they wanted three films instead of two, which meant ‘padding’ out the story more. But I won’t. PJ loves his battle scenes and doesn’t know when to stop. Though a fan, I can admit this. The Hobbit is too long. It does not need Tauriel and Kili’s romance as star-crossed lovers, even though I welcome any excuse to stare at Lee Pace’s utterly magnificent Elf Lord, Thranduil, all day long. But I know, as a writer, why he made some of these decisions. With twelve dwarves, you need to make them memorable. You need the deaths of three of them to make an impact. Kili had to have an emotional anchor in the story, and for whatever reason, they decided on an Elf. So be it.
It’s true that they “lost Bilbo” in the process of expanding other characters and their subplots—a book that was all about him became a movie about many characters. But honestly? I don’t care. It’s magnificent for me to see the scene that gave me such a thrill in the book come to life, when the vicious wolves chase them into the treetops. It made me so happy to see Elrond and Legolas again, I felt my heart soar. I loved watching crabby and sharp-tongued Bilbo Baggins attempt to throw dwarves out of his house… and then go on an “adventure.” And it was a pleasure for me to see Gandalf, before he was so… well, God-like. Gandalf the Grey. The cheeky, pipe-smoking mischief-maker, who rather rudely sent a dozen dwarves to Bilbo’s house to take over his pantry and drag him away from his lace doilies.
Sometimes, you accept movies for what they are, and for their imperfections. What matters to me is, I have fun watching The Hobbit. It makes me laugh; it makes me cry; it makes me pull my feet up onto the couch and bite a pillow with all the spiders. I won’t pretend it’s as good as the original trilogy, since that is an impossible standard, but it is a fun romp for me… and sometimes, when you feel a desire to return to Middle Earth, that’s all that matters.