Well, apparently this movie is setting all kinds of Christmas season movie records. I expected it to do well, but I honestly did not expect it to do as well as it is doing so far. It will be interesting to see what sort of legs it has.

I am still bemused by the decision to take this short little enchanting fairy tale and turn it into three movies. When I first heard it was going to be TWO movies I sort of shook my head and chalked it up to pure, unadulterated greed.

I still think it’s primarily greed that is driving the decision to split this into three movies. However, I will do my best to address the movie on its own merits instead of from the perspective of how it will make untold additional billions for the filmmakers and New Zealand tourism.

So, how was the movie?

It was fun. There are too many dwarves to keep track of, but I felt that way when reading the book, so that’s not really a knock on the movie. Had they reduced the number of dwarves to make the characters easier to follow, there would have been howls of protest from all quarters (including this one) so I just sort of had to accept that the dwarves had to be viewed more or less as some sort of ensemble cast playing one role. Other than Thorin that is. So in my mind the movie really became the story of Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and a bunch of nameless, faceless minions of Thorin. Which was fine. I do wish they had done a bit more connection between Bilbo and either Fili or Dwalin, since I believe that was true in the book. They sorta tried in a few scenes but since the dwarves all blended into one faceless mass, when Bilbo had any one-on-one time with an individual non-Thorin dwarf, it was just too hard to try to remember which one it was, so there wasn’t any real connection there.

In terms of content the movie had three major elements. Those were:

1. Stuff from the actual book.
2. Stuff from supplemental material associated with LotR, the Silmarillion, appendices and random notes in Chris Tolkien’s head.
3. Stuff the movie makers just made up for fun.

In some respects these three elements worked well together. I liked the exploration of the activities in Dol Goldur. When reading the book I felt Tolkien had left that too mysterious and unresolved, and LotR never really explained what had happened either. So I actually thought weaving the Dol Goldur and White Council story elements into the overall Hobbit plot worked both from a narrative and a thematic perspective. I was, in fact, somewhat disappointed that they didn’t have a short sequence with Aragorn and Arwen at Rivendell. If I recall the timeline from the several books properly, during Bilbo’s adventure is just about when Aragorn and Arwen were spooning in the dark corners of Rivendell under the disapproving glare of Elrond. I think that would have been pretty cool to put into the story. Plus any chance to see Liv Tyler in a see-through elvish gown is always appreciated…

But in other respects this weaving together of the different elements was jarring and interrupted the story too much. Radagast the Brown was perhaps the worst of this. I have no idea why they deliberately made Radagast such a disgusting and nearly incompetent figure. In the books he is only mentioned briefly and in passing, but when he is mentioned Gandalf speaks highly of him and he is described as a sort of middle earth druid who protects the wild from evil forces. Saruman does indeed sneer at Radagast, but Saruman’s sneering is one of the key foreshadowings of Saruman’s eventual fall into evil. In the movie Saruman’s sneering is entirely justified. Radagast is played for comedic effect and is so cartoonish that he comes off as a cross between Shaggy from Scooby-doo and Tommy Chong. Instead of foreshadowing Saruman’s fall, Gandalf comes across as someone whose judgment might well be awry.

The most jarring aspect of the movie though is how the movie would stick almost literally word-for-word to the book for long (sometimes boring) sections, presumably to satisfy the fanbois who demand such things, but then would immediately go off on a completely made up action sequence that had no connection whatsoever to the original tale. It felt like Peter Jackson quite deliberately told the writers “throw the fanbois a few bones and we can do whatever we want”.

For the most part those segments not only worked from a movie perspective, but they added some narrative elements that do tie the story into the larger LotR perspective. Which, again, I am mostly fine with. The vast majority of movie watchers will not read the book, so what the book says is largely irrelevant to them. What matters is whether the story is true to Tolkien’s intentions and provides a story that people find entertaining.

And it does.

The main thing I have to say is that there was nothing in the movie that bothered me as much as the treatment of Frodo, Sam and Farimir bothered me in the LotR movies. I don’t mind making stuff up if it doesn’t violate the character concepts or hijack the plot. The stuff in “The Hobbit” (Radagast aside) was the sort of embellishment I was not only OK with, but in some cases I enjoyed.

So in the end I thought it was definitely worth seeing. It might not satisfy some purists, but I had a rollicking good time, and Bilbo came off very much the way I imagined Bilbo from the story.

I give it 4 out of 5 Rings of Power. CC says check it out.