The Hobbit might be the most important book in my life. It’s the book that introduced me to adult (more or less) fantasy fiction. It opened the door to The Lord of the Rings. It made me start my first novel (a horrible fanfic-y tangle of a book, started with my best friend in eighth grade, and the less said about that, the better.)
I recently re-read The Hobbit, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it held up. I laughed at bits of humor (the dwarves’ staged approach to Beorn’s house, for example), and I enjoyed Bilbo’s clever solutions (shutting the dwarves up in the barrels that were destined for Laketown). The book was a picaresque (well, except for the last few chapters), and those types of episodic adventure stories can be pure candy.
Alas, I wasn’t a fan of the first Hobbit movie. I thought it was over-long and under-storied, even though it brought in vast swaths of story that had nothing to do with The Hobbit. At the time that I watched it, I hadn’t read the book in over 20 years, so I assumed that I’d forgotten some of the diversions (but I was wrong — they just weren’t there in Tolkien’s book.)
When The Desolation of Smaug came out, I decided to save my pennies and rent the movie when it was available. When it became available through Netflix, I wanted to watch other things first, so I waited a few months before getting to Smaug.
And that brings us to last night.
Last night was a perfect night for Hobbit-watching. We had an open swath of time, with no other commitments. We had popcorn popped. We were looking forward to the film.
And that enthusiasm lasted for about 10 minutes. Where was the funny staged approach of the dwarves to Beorn’s house? Where were the magical animals who waited on the weary travelers? Where was the eccentric host who taught vegetarian dining to his guests well before vegetarian was a trend?
Okay, so the movie decided to elide Beorn. There was a lot of story to be told. Including a half-hour (I think — maybe it only felt that long) river escape from orcs. And a dwarf-elf maybe-love story, featuring Kate from Lost (who’d clearly wandered in from another movie, because she sure as hell wasn’t in the book.) And, and, and…
We turned off the movie when we got to the Master. I didn’t care about dwarves getting hit with fish. I really didn’t care about Laketown politics, involving characters I’d never really met. (It was like George Lucas’s interminable Senate scenes, all over again.)
We actually fast-forwarded to two scenes with Smaug. Great CGI. Great voicing, by Mr. Cumberbatch. Of course, those furnaces and that molten gold and all, those belonged to a different movie.
So, yeah. With regret, we won’t be watching the last of the Hobbit movies. I once joked that I wanted to see the Director’s Cut of this one — all nine hours cut down to a two-hour film based on the book. But I don’t know if I’d even watch that.
Sigh. I know that movies are different from books. I understand that changes need to be made, to make things film-able, to capture a traditional screenplay structure, to feed the movie-making beast. But those challenges are different from writing an entirely different film, from creating a fanfic movie that happens to take place somewhere that resembles Tolkien’s Middle Earth. And that’s the sad, sad truth.