[Warning: This will contain spoilers. If you haven't read The Hobbit, you just might be a troll, and since trolls are not part of my target audience, I will assume that the reader has read The Hobbit.]
If you want an entertaining action movie that is epically long, has some good special effects, and slightly resembles a book that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about a hobbit, you will like this movie, and the two that will follow it.
If you want a book that is faithful to Tolkien, you will enjoy parts of this movie, but you will grind your teeth during some of the scenes, and the longer you think about it, the worse the movie will seem.
So how does Peter Jackson get Tolkien wrong? Allow me to rant a bit.
1. The Hobbit is not The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings is a 3 part (technically 6 part) epic story that runs about 1100 pages. It covers a full year and the characters travel through most of Middle Earth, including all of the major civilizations. There are 3 major battles involving thousands on each side, and multiple other fights. Additionally, the action in the story is part of a very long history. This story is suitable for the 3 part epic treatment that Peter Jackson gave it.
In contrast, The Hobbit is a much simpler adventure story. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, is called to join a small company of dwarves and a wizard on a mission to kill a dragon. The action proceeds in pretty much a straight line, with a simple plot. The history of Middle Earth is not well developed, and it is not as important to the story as it develops. It is hard to figure out how this story merits 3 separate movies.
2. The Backstory Sometimes Dominates the Real Story
To make this small book into 3 separate movies, Peter Jackson fills in the space in ways that are both good and bad. On the good side, he gives the backstory of Thorin the dwarf, showing the rise of Smaug the dragon, and the battle that gave him the name “Oakenshield”. He also shows the White Council and some of their deliberations concerning Dol Goldur. It was also good to show a little bit of Radagast, because he did help Gandalf from a distance, though this is way overdone.
However, he lets the history of Middle Earth overshadow the story he is trying to tell. Azog, the Orc wounded by Thorin at the gates of Moria, comes back into the story where he doesn’t belong. And the Ring is simply a ring of invisibility in The Hobbit. It is not until later, in The Lord of the Rings, that its powers increase.
3. Dwarves and Hobbits are not Ninjas
One major way that Peter Jackson get the story wrong is that fighting dominates the story. In the book, the trolls overpower the dwarves quickly (as do the goblins later on), and they are rescued by Gandalf. In the movie, there is a long struggle. Also, goblins do not appear in the book until the company reaches the Misty Mountains.
When Peter Jackson’s dwarves do fight, they are like ninjas, taking out hundreds of goblins and showing amazing acrobatic skills. Even Bilbo uses Sting quite a lot. The actual dwarves of Tolkien’s world did a lot less fighting, and while they were stout warriors, they were not superheroes. If the unnecessary fighting was removed, the movie could have been reduced to two parts, and the dialogue could have been improved.
4 Goblins are not Orcs, and their cave was all wrong
This movie treats the goblins as if they were the Uruk-Hai of Saruman. But goblins in The Hobbit were not like that. They were evil bullies, but they shunned the light and would never attack by day, so their range was limited.
Their cave was all wrong too. Tolkien’s goblins made tunnels in their caves, not flimsy footbridges that would never be able to support the weight of the goblin-king. Oh, and the goblin-king reminded me of Fat Albert with a mean streak.
5. The geography of Middle Earth is exaggerated
In this part of the story, the company is taking the East Road. In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, this road had been used for trade in better times. In Jackson’s Middle Earth, this road is often a very precarious foot path. Overall, there are way too many crags, cliffs, and steep ledges. This is particularly wrong when the company is treed by the goblins. The danger to the company is from the fire, the Goblins, and the wolves, not from the cliff.
6. Finally, Radagast is almost as annoying as Jar Jar Binks
Putting Radagast in the story is fine. He has an off-stage role that is important to the main action. But in the book, the Company never meets Radagast. He lives many miles away, at the edge of Mirkwood, and Tolkien makes it clear that Radagast did not like to travel. Secondly, Radagast did NOT have a bunny-driven chariot, or bird-poop on his head. Thirdly, there is no evidence that he was affected by mushrooms and made into a total flake. If he appears more in the sequels, he has the potential to become even more annoying.
None of the above criticisms will keep me from seeing the next two movies. The movie is entertaining, full of action, and visually appealing. It just isn’t very faithful to Tolkien.