Wednesday, December 18, 2013


YA Guy wouldn't be YA Guy if not for J.R.R. Tolkien.

I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was twelve and thirteen, respectively. (It was right around the time Star Wars came out, which created a perfect storm of science fiction and fantasy.) What I loved most about The Hobbit was its essential YA-ness: it's the story of a small, seemingly insignificant person who grows up, finds his courage, and discovers his place in the larger world.

Which is why I so thoroughly despise what Peter Jackson has done to Tolkien's story in his three-part Hobbit extravaganza.

Now, look, I'm not dumb. I know movies are inherently different from the books on which they're based. I've taught both literature and film classes, published a book about film. I loved The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, different though it was from its source material. I thought Jackson and his crew made excellent decisions in those films.

I think they've made horrible decisions in The Hobbit.

I hated the first movie. (If you want to know why, see this post.) I didn't think I could hate the second one any more. But I did.

The reasons are many, but here's a start.

CGI madness. Jackson used to be a director who liked to work with actual actors and physical effects. For all the lavish CGI of The Lord of the Rings, he never forgot the humanity of his story--which started with relying to a great extent on actual people and actual places. But ever since King Kong, he's decided he doesn't want to direct movies anymore; he wants to direct video games. So we get computer-generated orcs, computer-generated actors, computer-generated settings, computer-generated action, computer-generated everything, all of it looking weightless and implausible and unreal (as when the dwarfs' barrels careen upright down raging rapids without tipping over once), all of it making a hash of Tolkien's lovingly crafted fantasy world.

Tone deaf. Jackson used to know his way around a scene. Watch the arming of Theoden in The Two Towers, or Pippin's song in The Return of the King. Both of them contain brilliant combinations of poetry, arresting visuals, cross-cutting, lighting effects, and (yes, indeed) human emotion. But lately, Jackson doesn't seem to know how to film a scene with lyricism, restraint, humanity: all he knows is loud, louder, and louder still. It's less like watching a movie than listening to your next-door neighbor scream at his wife for three straight hours.

Everything but the kitchen sink. I could hardly keep track of all the stuff going on in this unholy mess of a movie. We've got orcs attacking Lake Town! Gandalf storming Dol Guldur! A romance between an elf and a dwarf! Political intrigue between Bard and the Master! A dwarf dying of a poisoned arrow wound! Thorin and company relighting their forges to fight Smaug with a giant golden statue! (Huh?) Orlando Bloom looking old and fat and tired and ticked-off that ten years after his career was supposed to blossom, he's back fighting cartoon ape-orcs while his CGI figure leaps from head to head of barrel-riding dwarfs (who, I hasten to remind, magically remain upright while their barrels fly over waterfalls)! The only thing we didn't see much of--in fact barely saw anything of--was Bilbo's development as unlikely hero. I guess that wasn't exciting enough for Jackson.

In short, everything in The Desecration of Smaug (did I say that?) cuts against what I love about Tolkien's story: its intimate scale, its humanity, its quirkiness, its heart. Jackson decided to tell yet another big, loud, scream-at-the-audience-for-attention amusement park ride of a movie, and in so doing he killed everything that makes his source material great.

God only knows what the final installment will be like. All I know is it won't be anything like The Hobbit.


  1. Ugh, I am SO disappointed! I loved the book so much (maybe even more than LotR). I feel for you, Josh.

    1. Thanks, Jimena. Makes me wish some unknown director (or maybe someone like Peter Weir or Bil Forsythe) had taken a crack at it instead of Jackson.