When I first heard that Jackson was adapting the Hobbit into three movies, I have to admit I was filled with dread. How was he going to take a 300 page book and turn it into six to nine hours of film? When I watched the first movie, I was pleasantly surprised. The Tolkien purist in me was disturbed, but I had to admit it was nice seeing almost nothing cut from the original story. The pacing was slow, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Yesterday I watched the second Hobbit movie. I generally enjoyed it, although I very much noticed how much this movie is Peter Jackson rather than J. R. R. Tolkien. Many story components from the novel were minimized, and aspects from the story either taken from the Lord of the Rings appendixes or simply made up by the movie producers were favored.
In some cases, I think the changes were positive. The epic battle between the dwarves and the dragon was much better than the non-encounter of the novel; in many ways it did a better job of meeting the implied promise at the start of the story. The politics of Lake-town were much more developed than in the book. I like the addition and expanded role of Radagast. And the Legolas, Tauriel sub-plot, which I was prepared to hate, was actually rather enjoyable, largely I think because of Evangeline Lilly’s performance.
But I was bugged by the minimization of the trip through Mirkwood. In some ways, I can understand why the producers minimized it, since much of the plot in the book ends up being a bit flighty. But that silliness applies to much of the Hobbit story overall, and is something that anyone making an adaptation of it needs to be prepared to embrace. I thought the first movie found the right balance of inclusion and minimization of these elements, but that this installment minimized it too aggressively.
And while I was happy to see the Necromancer sequence getting fleshed out, since it was something only obliquely referred to in the novel, serving more as a mechanism to get Gandalf out of the story for a while than than as any kind of meaningful significant plot point, I’m not sure how I feel about Jackson explicitly showing an encounter with Sauron.
Tolkien made a decision not to have us as readers ever directly encounter Sauron. Doing so kept him as a manifestation of the deepest fears of our imagination. I think Tolkien understood that any actual in person description of Sauron would have cheapened him, made him more approachable. By keeping him unseen as a manifestation of evil, as a nightmare that we’re never able to confront, Tolkien kept him more mysterious and dreadful.
Jackson does his best to keep that dread and mystery, but ultimately any encounter with Sauron will cheapen him, make him more approachable. In the movie, he came across as a type of dark ghost to me more than as any kind of formidable dark lord.
All that said, I did enjoy the movie. The visuals remain striking, and Jackson’s version of the story compelling. I’m looking forward to the final installment.