Caught this at the local multiplex at opening midnight showing.
It was OK, so long as you came for the stunning visuals and a Middle Earth trip down memory lane. Way overblown action sequences were still OK after the manner of their kind. I didn’t leave or fall asleep.
So, where’s the problem? It’s not primarily in the Jack$on’s s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out of a kid’s book into a 9-hour extravaganza, although that’s not helping. No, it’s in his inexplicable deafness to Tolkien’s deft development of Bilbo’s character and motivation in the opening scenes – his meeting with Gandalf and, later, the dwarfs.
Bilbo exhibits all good features and charm of a solid English petty country land holder – gracious, polite, curious, conservative and a man of honor. He considers his duty to be welcoming to guests so sacred that he not only tolerates the dwarfs’ unexpected arrival, but in fact extends to them a welcome which, under such ridiculous conditions, is all but heroic.
But the key point, the key to understanding Bilbo’s actions throughout the rest of the story, is that he is proud. It’s that curious sort of pride that grows out of honor – part of being honorable is to honor being honorable itself. So Bilbo defends his personal honor in part as a defense of the worthiness of being honorable in general. Pride may still be a sin even in this case, but it is a sin very near to nobility.
That pride, coupled with his sense of duty, is what drives his actions. So, when opportunities come up for Bilbo to run away, he never does it. He holds his life and comfort less dearly than he holds his honor and duty.
Jackson, somehow, misses all this. That Bilbo joins the company is simply baffling, as Jackson tells it. That he doesn’t flee at the first opportunity seems as much the product of happenstance as anything else – duty doesn’t figure into it much, especially at first.
The same peculiar deafness – striking in such a good storyteller as Jackson – also applies to the dwarfs and even to Galdalf, whose motivation in the early scenes is strangely flat, as opposed to Tolkien’s telling, where it is mysterious.
This would be the kiss of death in a movie less beautiful to look at. As it is, I suspect Tolkien fans are unconsciously filling in the gaps in their minds so as to not break the spell, and non-readers are just swept up in the visuals and, eventually, the action.
Conclusion: will probably catch the next movie in the theaters, and then see how I feel about movie 3 after that.