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IN DEFENCE OF PETER JACKSON (opinion)

In Defence of Peter Jackson

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To start with, I want to say that I am a big LOTR (Lord of the Rings) fan. If you’re not, you will probably not like THE HOBBIT. It was one of my favourite books growing up, but I was not able to get into LOTR. My first impression of the announcement that THE HOBBIT was being made into three movies was to say that it was a giant cash grab. But, after watching the movie, I remembered that Peter Jackson is the biggest fanboy ever and he has done J.R.R. Tolkien’s work great justice in the past. He added some things from the Silmarillion (a giant LOTR appendix), as well as some things he made up himself to help it tie in with the other LOTR films better. Still, some are outraged that Jackson even considered changing a single thing about Tolkien’s work. To address the complaints about books that get lost in translation, I give you this quote from Sir Ian McKellen:

“The enthusiasts who have read the novels over and over may notice every change but in doing so they will miss the point. Peter Jackson’s movie does not challenge the novel’s supremacy any more than the distinguished book illustrations by Howe, Lee et al were meant to replace Tolkien’s descriptive words. Paintings, drawings, animations and at last the feature films all augment our appreciation of Lord of the Rings. And just watch the book sales rise as New Line’s publicity for the film gears up.”

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This quote can be applied to any books recreated as films. Hating one shouldn’t take away from loving the other (I’m talking to you, HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE fans).  But the net nerds definitely had their ammunition ready for THE HOBBIT.  My favourite gripe was how, in LOTR where Gandalf mentioned that Bilbo hadn’t aged a day from the last time they saw each other 60 years before. This means, to Gandalf, Martin Freeman and Ian Holm look the same age. And sure you could choose to harp on minor details like this, but I prefer to look at the positives. For example, Radagast the Brown, played by Sylvester McCoy (one of the many Doctor Who’s), was only briefly mentioned in the book but will be a recurring character in all three films. I found his performance, for a character without much background at all, to be quite engaging and it made me want to see more of him. This proves to me that Jackson knows what he’s doing. Here is a character about which little is known and Jackson was able to insert him into the story to add more substance. Radagast fits in seamlessly as he is known as a friend of Gandalf and Beorn (who will make his first appearance in the next Hobbit instalment.). No, this is not “The Hobbit” I grew up loving but it’s easily something that I will be able to enjoy with a similar feeling that hits the same major plot points.

The film starts off with older Bilbo (played again by Ian Holm) writing the book that he finishes at the beginning of the LOTR.  Frodo, who is never mentioned in THE HOBBIT, is there to help tie things together.  This makes everything feel like one series and adds continuity to movies that might not have had it if another director had stepped in (Sorry, Guillermo). In the end, you will be able to watch each film individually or watch them altogether and they should fit perfectly.

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Where my argument falters slightly is when you consider the merits of THE HOBBIT as a stand alone movie. Since Jackson seems to be treating this more like a prequel than its own story, there are some scenes that help connect this film to its predecessors that mean very little to the actual story of THE HOBBIT. For example, there is a scene where some of the major powers meet to discuss things for the future. All of these characters are familiar from the LOTR series, and it sets up some important foreshadowing by showing us how these soon to be enemies were once friends. This is interesting to me as someone who has seen the whole series, but slows the pace of the movie and ultimately serves no purpose to THE HOBBIT.

Ultimately, these arguments could be made about adapting any novel into a film. I would imagine Alan Moore (WATCHMEN, V FOR VENDETTA) would love it if he could take back signing the rights to his books away, as he’s hated every adaptation of all of his graphic novels. (He only sold the rights to begin with because he didn’t think they would be able to make movies out of them and now they’ve made five of them.) And I also see the appeal of getting angry at something you loved being handled so poorly. You have a love for something and then someone comes over and craps all over it; I get that. The same could be said for a bad sequel or remake but, in the end, I still love the first two TERMINATOR films despite the third one being a steaming, festering turd of a film. The world has gotten over their anger on that one and it’s nice that we collectively decided to ignore its existence. And that’s how you should handle an adaptation that you don’t like; just pretend like it never happened and enjoy the original work as you did before. Still, my conclusion is that Jackson handled his, and our,  “precious” very well and with great care.

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