tolkien_hobbit

There’s not much to say about this film that hasn’t already been said (http://shotguncritic.com/2012/12/20/review-the-hobbit/?_r=true) and perhaps with better insight. My own take is admittedly literary; I love Tolkien’s books and place them among Moby Dick, Don Quixote and The Divine Comedy, as among the best I’ve ever read. I also admire Peter Jackson’s careful attention to detail. Hobbiton is a masterpiece; a present day Oz as wondrous and fully realized as anything on screen.

That said I must take issue with certain liberties; again with literature in mind. Let’s start with this. After whom is the archetypical hero named? Some candidates for your consideration: Hercules? Achilles? Neither, nor more than a dozen others. It is Ulysses; the Greek Odysseus, hero of the Trojan War and protagonist of Homer’s second greatest epic. But why? Was he stronger? Braver?  Did he kill more people? No; none of the above, although in today’s degenerate age you can be forgiven such Ramboesques thoughts.

No; he was more clever. It was Odysseus who came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse. It was Odysseus who defied the gods and found his way home again. It was Odysseus who remained faithful to Penelope and the ideals of hearth and home that not only the Greeks but generations of Westerners have found so appealing, and so pivotal to their understanding of masculinity. In literature brutal, revenge-seeking male clods are mocked, as Shakespeare dismantled the bloody Macbeth and elevated Malcolm and Macduff.

Tolkien, the Oxford don, understood and employed the Odyssean archetype in Bilbo Baggins, an unlikely hero who succeeds not on the strength of arms, but by wit and common (Christian) decency. It is this characterization which has propelled The Hobbit, and its darker sequel, The Lord of the Rings, to the status of ‘greatest novel of the twentieth century.’ Why then does Jackson slander this hugely appealing character by making him into a common half-wit hero? In the novel, Bert and the other trolls are not defeated in battle; they are outwitted by the timid and careful Bilbo who gets them arguing among themselves (in Tolkien’s respectful nod to a contest with Homer’s hero). In the novel, Bilbo would never come running down the tree to stand over the fallen body of Thorin and stab at wargs as he does in the film. But neither would he meekly accept a sword from Gandalf unnamed as he does in the film; the literary Bilbo has more stuff in him than that. It is Bilbo who seizes and names the sword that will help define him. In fact the only contest which is faithfully rendered is that with Gollum, where wit and nerve are equally matched with life or freedom on the line. Jackson wisely does not mess with this eternal scene.

However, to give Jackson his due, the film in 48 frames per second and 3D was sparkling in clarity and breathtaking in scope of imagination. I loved the cinematic experience of it. It was especially poignant having seen the real Hobbiton just a few days earlier. New Zealand makes the perfect backdrop for Middle Earth, and travelling through some of the terrain pictured in the film has a double resonance for me. I will remain a fan and look forward to seeing the concluding two episodes. If Jackson wanted to slow down and film each chapter, I would still watch. But I do wish he would let my beloved Bilbo be the hero that Tolkien created.

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