Monday, March 18, 2013

Old Hobbit, New Hobbit

This post was inspired, somewhat tangentially, by my post Old Pope, New Pope on the blog for Eolyn

I wasn't really sure why my musings over the election of Pope Francis have led me to discuss the film interpretation of Tolkien's classic story The Hobbit.  There doesn't seem to be much of a connection there, except maybe that Tolkien was Catholic. He even once described his epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings as a "fundamentally religious and Catholic work" (Faith and Fantasy: Tolkien the Catholic).

But beyond that, why the appearance Pope Francis would have reminded me of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a mystery to me, until a review of a couple of salient images helped solve the puzzle.

To show you what I mean, I give you this image from the balcony of St. Peter's on March 13, 2013:

And this image from the publicity campaign for the first installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy:

Does anyone see what these two images have in common?  What, pray tell, is missing from both? 

Anyone? Anyone? Beuhler?

I think you get the point.  And if you don't, that's okay.  Just keep reading. 

I want to apologize up front to all of you who are avid fans of the movie The Hobbit.  It's not my intention to detract from your enjoyment of the movie; certainly it is not my intention to call into question your taste in fantasy adventure. 

But as someone who found her Hobbit experience less than fulfilling, I have for a while (a couple months now, actually) been craving a space in which to share my impressions.  Since almost anything goes on Heroines of Fantasy, I've decided to follow Thorin Oakenshield's brave example, and go out on a virtual limb. 

Let me start by saying that I love Tolkien's work; anyone who has followed me on blogs and Facebook for even a brief while will know that by now.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Hobbit when I read it years and years ago, and the story continues to inspire me to this day.  Peter Jackson's interpretation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, while a disappointment for some Tolkien purists, is at the top of my personal list of all time favorite films. 

I did not, of course, expect a Lord of the Rings experience when I went to see The Hobbit.  For one thing, I knew The Hobbit was not an epic tale in the same sense of LotR.  It's a wonderful, charming fantasy adventure complete with a wizard, a band of feisty dwarves, and a dragon.  It does not need to be more than that; and it would not have been fair to expect anything from The Hobbit -- except maybe the scenery -- to be quite on par with what Jackson so artfully gave us in LotR. 

But I did expect to be entertained, and I did not expect to be bored. I was disappointed on both counts.

It wasn't really about the lack of women characters perse. Indeed, one could argue that the artificial insertion of female characters would have violated Tolkien's original vision in unacceptable ways.  (I have heard we are in for a female character in the second film, and already some Tolkien fans are up in arms. . .)

But all those stocky adventure-seeking fellas in The Hobbit fell flat somehow -- with the dependable exception of Gandalf and Gollum.  More than halfway through the movie, I had yet to become invested in the fate of anyone, even Bilbo, with whom I should have identified as a character of noble qualities -- strengths, and weakness that anyone, man or woman, could relate to. 

The disappointing experience of The Hobbit left me reflecting on the magic achieved with the LotR films:

How Sam instantly became someone who could have been my friend, too;

How Merry and Pippin were just the kind of guys I'd like to stop by the tavern and share a pint with;

How Boromir's failure in his struggle against the Ring reflected my own shortcomings and weaknesses;

How Eowyn's noble spirit and courage was something I could aspire to. 

The list goes on and on. There was not a character in the film interpretation of LotR with whom I did not identify on some level -- not a character whose ultimate fate I did not have an investment in -- no matter what their role or gender. 

So now it's your chance to tell me:  What was missing from The Hobbit?  Am I onto something here, or am I just being over critical?

I will say there was one scene in the movie that almost made it worth sitting through the whole thing:  The riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum was absolutely brilliant.

Then again, Gollum carried that scene.  Between you and me (and the rest of the internet), I was secretly hoping he would win, so he'd get to keep his Precious and eat his hobbitses.   

Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich


Terri-Lynne said...

Ha! First glance at that pic of the Pope and his dudes reminded me of Davinci's, Last Supper.

Whether we women like it or not, Tolkein's world is a man's world. Though we got Eowyn and Giladriel (and Peter Jackson tried to give us more Arwen) the male characters dominate. And, you know--it's ok, really. I'm not saying that there is equal representation of female protags, especially heroic ones, in older literature, there are those books in which women figure prominently, and men are as few in number as in Tolkein's books. This was the story he told, the way he wanted to tell it.

But what Tolkien DID give us in female characters was the best and most noble. Giladriel is powerful and noble and wise. Eowyn is brave and strong and determined. Even Arwen, though she gets so little "face time" in the books, is steadfast and loyal, the proof that love can and does conquer all, even death. So though the stories do lack the feminine, what we do get, at least, isn't background characters content to be foibles for the men.

I agree with you, Karin--I had a hard time investing in the characters in The Hobbit movie. Considering they're making three movies out of the whole thing, you'd think they'd have taken more time with the characterization. Aside from Thorin and Bilbo, I cannot remember a single standout bit from any of the other dwarves.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

I agree with everything you say, Terri.

Again, my complaint is not with Tolkien's original novel. It's just that, unfortunately, the movie fell flat. (For me, anyway.)

Thanks, as always, for your wonderful insights & comments. It's nice to be back on rotation at HoF. :)

Terri-Lynne said...

Movie fell flat for me too, though I will still go see the next installment. Gotta keep the hope alive!

I know what you mean; I already miss writing for HoF! Two months to go. :)