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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit, or “Gone Forever”

Introducing xpostfactoid's first guest post! -- by son Jonah.
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The first book I grew to love was A.A. Milne’s The World of Pooh, as read to me by my father. In his eyes, it was a pinnacle of English literature, and he cursed the copyright laws that allowed Disney to turn it into popular pablum. You don’t really know the violence of the Free Market, he’d say, until it breaks something you love.*

    Eventually, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit came to replace Pooh as our long-car-ride staple. As for many boys it was one of the first “chapter books” I made it through on my own, and I felt notably older upon finishing. The book pretty much defined adventure for me; I can remember looking out middle school windows at our suburban NJ hills (which, though full of buildings, manage to look tree-covered from certain angles) and thinking: how sweet it would be to just start walking, with nothing but a stick and a small pack!

Time went by, but I never really stopped re-reading The Hobbit. Camping in the New Mexico desert a few years ago, my friends and I read each other passages by firelight, and later set the classic dwarf-songs to guitar and sang them in our best baritones. Far over the Misty Mountains cold...

All this is to say that I love The Hobbit, that it has served as a foundational myth for me my whole life. So it was with no small amount of fear that I stood in line last night for the midnight premier of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s three-part film adaptation. I had first looked forward to this night years ago, when it was announced that Guillermo Del Toro, best known for the surreal modern classic Pan’s Labyrinth, would be directing--he had at least a chance of getting the film right, and if he failed it would still have awesome monsters. Del Toro stepped down from the job, though, before the film ever went into shooting--apparently he was compelled to direct a movie about giant robots fighting giant alligators instead--which put the project back into the more literal-minded hands of Jackson. 

Although they have their flaws, Jackson’s faithful Lord of the Rings movies have become as much of a cultural touchstone as the books. But adapting those books to film was like making a World War II movie. It required historical accuracy, melodrama, and a sense of scale. The Hobbit is far subtler--being strictly a children’s book--and would take much more wit and delicacy to render well on the screen. Jackson is not known for either of those qualities.

And so I expected he would miss all the charm and whimsy that make the book wonderful (his best attempt is giving the dwarves magical freestyle Frisbee skills, and making them impervious to Falling); I expected he would jump at every possible chance to add a worn-out action movie cliche (the last shot of the movie actually channels Godzilla 2000); I expected he would turn the whole adventure into one extended video game battle scene (think Diablo 2, but easier); I expected there would be some awkwardly shoehorned-in revisionist LOTR plot exposition attempts (though I didn’t expect them to be so literally awkward); I even expected that the Wargs would still look and move more like walking snakes than wolves. 

What I didn’t expect is that it would all to hurt so much, that it would make me so sad. I thought I could sit there pre-disillusioned and watch with some objectivity, enjoy the shiny grandeur and the special effects at least; but my feelings for The Hobbit go deeper than I knew, and by the time the plastic eagles drop the dwarven company off on Pride Rock and leave them without exchanging a word, I was ready to cry. 

Everything ends some time, I guess. I’m about to graduate from college, and maybe this is the world’s way of telling me I need to grow up and move on. Really, I should count my blessings: odds are they won’t announce The Phantom Tollbooth 3-D for at least a few years.


* Paternal footnote: this alleged dictum is, shall we say, poetic license.

For Jonah's takes on the Brooklyn music scene, see the Huffington Post, here.

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