/Self-indulgence: The Peter Jackson story

Self-indulgence: The Peter Jackson story

Graphic by Connor Bucy.

A living room alive with a roaring fire, snow falling outside the window and the monolith of my father’s plushy recliner: these are my very first memories of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” It was a cold winter day and my father was home on a rare weekday off from his salesman job. He was reading in his recliner. I, a small, fresh faced child of preschool curiosity, waddled up to Papa and asked what he was reading. My father smiled down at me, scooped me into his chair and began reading. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”

And so began my literary journey into Tolkien’s epic world of Middle Earth. I learned to read by listening to my father’s deep, gravelly voice tell me the stories of Bilbo, Thorin and the merry band of dwarves. From “The Hobbit,” I graduated to “Lord of the Rings” and before I made it to middle school I was neck deep in all things Tolkien. Imagine my grand delight when I discovered Peter Jackson, a name unknown to my young self, was adapting my beloved childhood novels into three epic films.

While Jackson’s representation of “Lord of the Rings” wasn’t perfect, I was incredibly lenient. This man had the monumental task of converting over a thousand pages of dense prose into three movies. Though certain events and attitudes were changed, such as Faramir’s unrecognizably cruel treatment of Gollum and the unexpected brutality of Aragorn, the tone and the overall feeling of epic adventure was preserved.

When Jackson announced his involvement with “The Hobbit,” you better believe my excitement skyrocketed. If only this man could so carefully craft the world I know and love so dearly with as much finesse as he employed in creating the first trilogy, I would be the happiest Tolkien enthusiast around.

If only.

As more and more details of the project leaked, my excitement quickly soured. There was the recasting of several “Lord of the Rings” veterans, such as Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood. Okay, not the best news since Frodo is never mentioned in “The Hobbit,” but I could make room for Bloom’s Legolas making a brief appearance in the halls of Thranduil. Fine. But then came one of the most divisive castings of the trilogy: Evangeline Lilly, cast in the role of Tauriel, an elf of  Mirkwood. Lilly’s character was the first of many original characters that Jackson inserted into his depiction of Tolkien’s novel.

And herein lies my largest complaint with Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy: the director spends far too much time focusing on his often two dimensional creations instead of highlighting the incredibly complex and deeply interesting characters that Tolkien provided. In his three “Hobbit” films, viewers experience the tale of Alfrid, the Laketown lieutenant; Tauriel, the unnecessary elven love interest for Kili; and Azog, the orc commander who, in Tolkien’s canon, died some 150 years prior to the events of “The Hobbit.”

Also in the course of the films, viewers obtain an intimately close look into the life of Thorin Oakenshield, Thranduil of Mirkwood and Radagast the Brown. The movies explore the full tale of Gandalf’s disappearances from the band of dwarves and Galadriel’s concerns over the growing evil presence in the fortress of Dol Guldur.

Isn’t it odd how, in all of this plot summary, there hasn’t been the first mention of a hobbit? You know, that race of people mentioned in the title of the entire trilogy? The individual who the entire novel focuses on and who represents the childlike audience that “The Hobbit” was originally written for? Jackson’s insistence on fluffing up a 250 page novel into a three movie, nine hour film epic forces the director to divert focus from the titular character. “The Hobbit” films should honestly be renamed “Thorin, Tauriel and Gandalf All Have Adventures…. And Sometimes a Hobbit Shows Up to Help. Maybe.”

The end result of Jackson’s meddling with the canon is a story that tonally and thematically feels unfamiliar. Nothing about the three movies, save from a certain barrel scene and a music heavy introduction to the dwarves, feels like an adaptation of Tolkien’s work. Instead, viewers are left with an increasingly gritty and unnecessarily adult version of a fond childhood memory. Instead of feeling like we’ve journeyed with Bilbo “There and Back Again,” viewers are left with an uncomfortable collage of events that are often at odds with each other.

Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth doesn’t align itself with Tolkien’s vision. The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin states it best when he says “It leaves you feeling much the same way you did 11 years ago when Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy came to an end: that you’d really like to see a film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.”

All infuriating elf/dwarf romances, distracting side stories and inappropriate toilet humor aside, Jackson’s insistence on forcing his own characters to the forefront of the story disconnects his narrative from its source material. His attempt to grasp at artificially epic tones of adventure and redemption left audiences grasping for a more genuine and enjoyable viewing experience.

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