Sunday, December 7, 2014


There is no greater lover of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien than YA Guy. I first read 'em at age twelve, and I re-read 'em every few years (most recently, with my children). I've taught classes on Tolkien, collected innumerable items of LOTR merchandise (including a balrog action figure that's as big as a lion cub). I loved Peter Jackson's film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings; heck, I even thought the Ralph Bakshi version wasn't half bad. (Okay, I even liked the Rankin & Bass cartoons!) So it pains me to say what I'm about to say next:

I've decided not to see the final chapter of Jackson's three-part Hobbit series, subtitled "The Battle of the Five Armies."

Why? Well, to begin with, I thought the first two films absolutely sucked. I mean, beyond sucked. They were so bad, I was tempted for the first time in my life to charge the projectionist and stop the picture. If you want to know why I hated them so much, check out my reviews here and here. If you care only about the general idea, it's this: the films were loud, stupid, overblown video games with no apparent relation to Tolkien's story in either style or substance.

But even with all that, I might have taken a chance on the final film; heck, it's only ten bucks and three hours of my life. (By contrast, I devoted much of two months to reading A Game of Thrones, which was pretty darn bad too.) No, the final straw was the film's subtitle. That did it for me.

As you may recall, months prior to its release, this film was billed with the subtitle to Tolkien's book: "There and Back Again." That subtitle gave me some hope for the movie, because it calls attention to what the story of The Hobbit is really about: the adventures of one small individual who ventures out into the big world and, through luck and pluck, manages to return changed but intact. A children's story, in other words, comparable to other great children's stories past and present: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Stuart Little, Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe Night Gardener (the final title being that of fellow Pittsburgh author Jonathan Auxier's wonderful modern fairy tale). "There and Back Again" captures the essence of The Hobbit, and the use of this subtitle gave me reason to believe Jackson might have come to his senses and decided to return to his source material.

But no. It got changed to "The Battle of the Five Armies." The motivation, no doubt, was that the majority of the previous films' viewers--non-readers of Tolkien--wouldn't catch the literary reference and would be baffled by a title that doesn't promise lots of kick-butt special effects and gory battle sequences. They'd stay away in droves if they thought the film wouldn't contain sufficient computer-generated mayhem.

And sadly, that's probably true.

So in tribute to Tolkien's genius, in honor of the true spirit of children's literature, and in protest of Jackson and Company's perversion of all that's wise and good about The Hobbit, I'm staying home. (And I'm writing this blog post, for what that's worth.) It won't amount to much--the movie will make a zillion dollars, Jackson will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (this has already happened), and we as a culture will choose lucre over art yet again.

But at least, I won't have to be there to see it. And one underpaid and overworked projectionist in Pittsburgh will get a little bit of a break.


  1. I haven't seen any of the Hobbit movies. This is because the last two movies in The Lord of the Rings trilogy put me to sleep. I did like The Fellowship of the Ring, but I absolutely could not sit through the other two. Bored me to tears. So in spite of the constant begging of Daughter #1, I haven't watched The Hobbit. My husband and Daughter #2 feel the same way, so #1 watches it alone ...

    1. See, I loved the LOTR films (though it took me a while to get comfortable with all the changes in the second one). I thought they were appropriately epic--whereas The Hobbit films haven't been appropriately anything.