The Hobbit part 2 review

Four word review: Two elves too many.

Longer version:

The Hobbit is the adventure of 13 dwarfs, a hobbit, and a wizard.  A lot happens in the book. Enough to make three action movies, apparently. So why did Peter Jackson think: “What this book needs is more characters.”?  I get the idea of tying the story more tightly to the LotR.  I get that they might want to add a token female character to a book which is almost exclusively filled with males.  But why insert the two elves who basically just add crazy action sequences.  Action sequences that continue the absurdity of Legolas’ big scenes in the LotR films to new hieghts of absurdity. (In the Fellowship, Legolas keeps shooting people point-blank with his bow and generally out-fighting everyone; in The Two Towers, he surfs down a staircase on a shield (!); in The Return of the King, he takes out an Oliphaunt, by himself in a scene reminiscent of (but more absurd than) both Luke’s busting an AT-AT on Hoth, and Matthew McConaghey’s axe-wielding leap onto a dragon in Reign of Fire.  The hijinks in the Desolation of Smaug are just silly).
I can sort of forgive even this — it is a movie after all — if all the silly added action did not come at the cost of throwing away great stuff that was in the book.  For example Beorn was totally wasted.  In the book, there is a charming, funny introduction scene, and Beorn’s shapeshifting is all “off screen” and all the more menacing for it.  It’s as if Peter Jackson has decided he simply knows better than Tolkien and is making changes for the sake of changing things.  Similarly, the movie attempts to make Bard and the Master of Laketown more interesting characters, and mostly succeeds, but in the process the “black arrow” is transformed into a silly ballista bolt, and Smaug’s weak spot is a well-known fact, rather than a critical piece of information discovered by Bilbo.  Apart from giving the film a reason to let Bard (rather than Legolas) fire the black arrow in the next film, there is no way this is an improvement.  (Honestly, he could have just eliminated Beorn and Bard entirely and let Legolas fill both of those roles in the plot.)  I’ve seen a lot of complaining about the female elf and the romance angle with Kili; I don’t mind that addition.  It will certainly make Kili’s death more poignant (assuming Jackson has the stomach to kill off everyone who dies in the book…I have my doubts).  I don’t mind the extended “Necromancer” scenes and Dol Goldur.  I am less enthusiastic about the changes to the characters of Azog & Bolg, and the choice to make orcs in this movie look like self-mutilating Cenobites (or the lead zombie in Return of the Living Dead III) is odd.  I think my underlying issue is Jackson adds so many elements and characters unnecessarily — I say they are unnecessary because at the same time he cuts out some really good material.

So, as someone who really loved the book The Hobbit (perhaps more than LotR, even), I am of course very disappointed by aspects of the films so far.  Having said that, in the genre of “fantasy films,” of course it is a lot better than most, and it has scenes that rank among the greats.  I have no doubt that the Battle of Five Armies could be pretty awesome in Jackson’s hands … if only he can resist having Legolas become a central player in that too.

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm  Comments (3)  
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Of Dwarves and Jews

“Daddy Grognard” recently posted a nice dwarf figure and added an intriguing excerpt from a letter by Tolkien mentioning that he thought of dwarves as being more like Jews than tiny Vikings or Scots.

I’ve seen some mention else where that the dwarvish language in Tolkien is very Semitic, despite their Scandinavian personal names (and the dwarves apparently don’t use their true names among outsiders anyway…), and also that dwarvish architecture, being huge and monolithic and with massive columns seems Assyrian or Semitic too.

Could the “model” for the dwarves be Jewish or Semitic? (as the model for the Rohirrim, say, was the Anglo-Saxons?) This puts quite a different, and offensive, spin on dwarvish tropes of beards, large noses, famous craftsmanship, secretiveness about their women, ancestral grudges, and love of battle and gold, doesn’t it?

Might the dwarf-elf enmity be a sign of elvish antisemitism?

Well, there is this quote from an interview, and this academic paper on Dwarves in The Hobbit and LOTR. The paper is actually very good, although the author does stretch things a little. The thesis is that the dwarves of The Hobbit are very different from the the dwarves of LOTR, and that to some extent JRRT was “correcting” his unconsciously antisemitic depiction of dwarves. Very interesting reading.

Published in: Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 at 10:20 am  Comments (14)  
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Tolkien and D&D

Just how influential on D&D was JRR Tolkien?  Believe it or not, this is a bit of a divisive question!  James at Grognardia has argued at length that Tolkien was not as important as the “pulp” fantasy writers and other sources listed in Gygax’s famous Appendix N to the DMG.  Indeed Gygax repeatedly distanced his creation from Tolkien, and did so before and after the Tolkien estate sued TSR.  (Interestingly, the R.E. Howard experts at The Cimmerian argue rather convincingly that Howard is not terribly influential on D&D either, Gygax’s claims notwithstanding!)

Delta’s D&D Hotspot (a very good blog, BTW) has recently argued strenuously in the other direction, claiming that the Chainmail wargame rules fantasy supplement, which D&D grew out of (in part)  show Tolkien to be a prime influence.  Delta doesn’t try to give an exhaustive argument, and one could add many more details (for example Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor and the Judges Guild’s City State of the Invincible Overlord both had a lot of connections to Middle Earth). (more…)

Published in: on January 29, 2010 at 2:37 am  Comments (15)  
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