J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel The Hobbit stands out as a story for older children. Peter Jackson’s just-released film does not.
In my ‘tween years, the tale told in the voice of a hobbit, a humane though not human creature, offered a humor-laced journey through Middle Earth, an imagined world at once arcane and familiar. (photo credit) A standalone delight, it also drew me in to more Tolkien works – the well-known Ring trilogy, of course, as well as the little-regarded Silmarillion. Years after, these latter tomes defied read-aloud attempts, even as The Hobbit served as a beloved bedtime book for my child.
Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a different story altogether. Early on in the film, the hobbit’s voice is replaced by an all-seeing 3D eye that is prone to abrupt shifts in scene. Lost is the hobbit’s wondering focus. Lost too is much humor, save for food fights and the sort of snot jokes that serve as Hollywood staples these days.
Unutterably lost is the humaneness that the hobbit brought to The Hobbit.
The film’s characters speak often of “adventure,” yet they seem only to have one kind: Combat, repeated, and repeated, and repeated, over the 166 minutes of the movie. This is no child’s combat, either. There is much wielding of swords, much crunching of bones, much slicing of flesh. The wizard Gandalf shows viewers a nonchalance – almost a wink – as he beheads a goblin. A film orc unknown to the novel exhorts his troops to destroy every last dwarf.
These celebrations of violence, this call to genocide, appear stripped of moral content. No character wrestles with his choice to kill, none feels remorse after wreaking harm. Though the lethal power of avarice and the blinding lure of othering are much on display, nothing invites the viewer to consider, to judge these characters, let alone to reflect on the presence of these evils on the real Earth.