I watched most of the first episode of Lindsay Ellis's Hugo-nominated film critique "Hobbit Duology"
(which is actually in three parts), but stopped there, because although my sympathy for a harsh criticism of Peter Jackson's Hobbit
movies is vastly extensive, my tolerance for listening to one is severely limited.
I don't disagree with much that she says about the Hobbit
films, except in the brief section where she finds aspects to praise. She likes the change of making Bilbo being visible to Smaug, but that only increases the intensity of the question of why or how Smaug fails to incinerate the entire company, about which Ellis complains vociferously later. She likes the joke about the dwarves disliking eating Elvish greenery. Jokes about Elvish cuisine originated with Bored of the Rings.
Turning Tolkien's story into slapstick is merely one of Jackson's lesser persistent flaws. I think she's dead wrong that The Hobbit
should have been two 2-hour movies; one 3-hour would have been more than enough.
Much of what Ellis says about Tolkien is inaccurate, but rarely significantly so. For instance, most of the changes in the text of The Hobbit
, aside from the rewriting of "Riddles in the Dark," date from 1965-66, not 1951 as she says, and again aside from that they are very minor; but that doesn't matter. Contrary to her claim, Bard does appear in the story before he shows up to kill the dragon, but that doesn't matter because she's right that he could use more development, at least in a version of the story that's not about Bilbo. She seems extraordinarily irritated by the insertion of the White Council's attack on the Necromancer, considering that she acknowledges that the movies have to tie themselves to The Lord of the Rings
as the book did not. It's true that the Necromancer's only function in Tolkien's story is to get Gandalf offstage, but it isn't true as she says that he wasn't then identified with Sauron. Even when writing The Hobbit
, Tolkien was certain that the Necromancer was the same as the character from the Silmarillion then usually called Thû. But again, that's not very important. References to the Silmarillion in The Hobbit
were private hints to himself, as his children hadn't then read the Silmarillion.
What I do disagree with Ellis with is her comparisons with The Fellowship of the Ring
movie, which she holds up as a standard of virtue by contrast with The Hobbit
series. And yes, the Lord of the Rings
movies are not quite as extensively awful as the Hobbit
ones, but they are bad in the same way. I've been struck by the number of people who, since the Hobbit
movies were released, have approached me about my criticisms of the Lord of the Rings
ones that I made at the time, and said, "Now
I understand what you were complaining about."
In particular, Ellis claims that, while the Hobbit
movies added much extraneous material that wasn't in the book, Fellowship
added very little. What is she talking about? True, there's more of the actual book in it; but by the standards of the list she provides for The Hobbit
, the list of superfluous additions in Fellowship
is just as long. She calls it "tight and streamlined," which is ludicrous for a movie which adds a bad fan-fiction story of Pippin and Merry at the Party; which undercuts Tolkien's steadily increasing spookiness of the Black Riders by having them chasing the heroes at top speed from the start; by making the Watcher in the Water wave Frodo around in the air a while; by inserting a completely pointless fall of another
bridge just before the encounter with the Balrog; and much more that I've probably mercifully forgotten.
Even Ellis's specific praises of Fellowship
reveal its flaws. She likes that the movie folded Glorfindel in to Arwen, and I agree that makes sense for a present-day movie's purposes. But she says that each character "rescues Frodo," and that phrasing reveals that she hasn't noticed how Jackson changed Tolkien. Arwen in the movie does rescue Frodo: she rides the horse, she confronts the Riders in the stream. Frodo is just an inert lump in her saddlebag. But Glorfindel in the book does not. He puts Frodo on his horse, but Frodo rides the horse, Frodo speaks the lines of defiance against the Riders. Tolkien's Frodo is the hero of his own story; Jackson's has his agency stripped from him, and becomes luggage for other characters to haul around. This is not the only case of that, and it's parallel to the way Bilbo is shunted off to the side of the Hobbit
movies, which is one of Ellis's main complaints.
Ellis thinks Jackson's Boromir is actually an improvement on Tolkien's. Well, sure he is. Boromir's error is that he thinks he's the hero of a different kind of story than the one Tolkien wrote. Tolkien has trouble because he isn't at home with that other kind of story, the sword-and-sorcery thud-and-blunder adventure. Jackson succeeds with Boromir, better than with any other character, because Boromir is the only character in the story that Jackson understands.
Ellis admits that her love for the Lord of the Rings
movies may be due to her having been young and impressionable at the time they came out, and I'm sure that's so; but she uses them in her critique as if they're objectively good, and that's not so. They're just not quite as bad.