By John Stringer
For many of us, reading our first copy of The Hobbit, (published 1937) was seminal. It is still one of the most favourite children’s books of all time. CS Lewis comforted his recently bereaved adopted son with a copy inShadowlands (1993) while discussing The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (Tolkien led Lewis to the Christian faith. Both classics were written within the fraternity ofThe Inklings pub group). And for many of us, the magic never really left. (50-year-old men like me still mention this). I went last night to a closed premier with a group of male and female friends in their fifties. It was a great ride and a fitting climax to the trilogy prefacing the LoTR trilogy. It was nice to see Bilbo back in the story, center stage where he belongs as the hobbit in The Hobbit. He was a bit awol in Hobbit 2.
Thorin Oakenshield’s ‘dragon madness’ is also center stage, like “Achilles’ wrath, the direful spring of woes unnumbered” from the Iliad. Sir Peter Jackson has captured the personality and forces of this mania in Homer-esque fashion in-keeping with that epic meter. Thorin’s driven lust for gold, home, and his ultimate redemption through killing Azog the Destroyer are central weaves to this tapestry.
Our premier was prefaced by a short intro from the actors and crew, opening with aTVOne News piece of the first production announcement. (Those nineties hairstyles and Richard Long’s moustache!). They all thank New Zealand for hosting this long three-film production, reflect on their connections here, how much they all loved New Zealand (except Cate Blanchett who has a cheeky Aussie riposte. Stephen Fry says, “Just like Australia, but without the boasting”). Not too cheesy and cringe-worthy.
For me, Peter Jackson’s greatest achievement is forever marrying LotR and Hobbit to New Zealand. And this is his film, not the Tolkien Trust’s. I was saddened to learn chief trustee Christopher Tolkien, who finished some of his father’s work, such as The Silmarillion, has declined to ever meet Sir Peter.
Jackson Divergences and Women Added.
So, we have some Jackson divergences in this movie:
1) the creation of Turiel and a female elf love triangle between Legolas Greenleaf and cross-cultural dwarf interest Fili. I think this works. Tolkien was an Oxford don and his appreciation of women was somewhat distant and worshipful. Jackson (well, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens I guess) provide an updated version with Turiel written in to the script. I like her; she works, and modernises the gender appreciations we have now that were not present between 1937-49 when LoTR and Hobbit were written (no dwarf women-folk; and few heroic female characters). Without the update, a Jackson-Tolkien literal would already be outdated. It had to be modernised and I agree with Jackson on this (also deleting Tom Bombadil altogether).
2) Jackson also gives us Dune-esque “were worms,” who chew through the mountain and allow Azog’s army to ambush the squabbling Elvish, Dwarfish, and Man armies. This was brilliant and I liked them immediately, huge Dune worms with triple-lipped mouths like the diamond head of a tunneling mine drill.
3) He also gives us more of Radagast the Brown and his Disney bunny sleigh. Didn’t like that in Hobbit 2, but he works here, and I really liked his link to bringing the eagles to the Battle of Five Armies (the fifth army: elves, dwarves, men, orcs, eagles).”The Eagles are coming!” They always save the day, so heroic and clean amid all that orcish/troll scum filth. Radagast’s link here is an addition that fits with the spirit of Tolkien.
4) Dain Ironfoot II and his Iron Hills dwarf army of the north (near the Lonely Mountain, arrives on a kune kune pig and there are some mountain goats with large horns. But I accepted this; it makes sense, and when Thorin and his hand-picked team of four hurtle toward the orcs, the horned rams make excellent mobile…well…batteringRAMS. They then pronk up the mountain side towards Azog’s command post. As a Jackson interpretation of Tolkien, I think that works very well. Dwarves delve in and love rock, mountain goats also, so that’s a symmetry that makes sense in Middle-Earth despite being absent in Tolkien. Movies are about interpretation and new layering.
5) In Jackson Legolas kills Bolg, but it was Beorn in the book.
But there the departures end. The rest is very faithful, even down to the book’s “Bolgers” at the Bag End auction, a nice hat tip to our former prime minister Jim Bolger. Jackson again cements this epic to New Zealand.
This is not The Hunger Games, but there are lots of empowered women in this film (like Jackson/Walsh did with Rohan’s Lady Eowyn in LoTR). There’s Galadriel, Turiel, and a peasant woman in Laketown played by Sarah Peirse who was the murdered Honora Parker-Rieper in the famous true Christchurch murder Parker/Hume crime (see here: Parker & Hulme Pt 5 (Review: Peter Graham’s 2011 Book). That story was immortalised in Heavenly Creatures (1994) Jackson’s first ‘proper’ movie (the film that ‘found’ Kate Winslet) and really launched Jackson as a serious film maker.
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