Before watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I knew that one can't expect Hollywood to follow any book very closely. Film versions of books will always include unexpected and inexplicable omissions, gratuitous additions, and odd changes. I knew that any movie based on a book that I truly enjoyed will always disappoint. All the producers, directors, screenwriters, and actors just can't help themselves. Overflowing with self-importance, they're certain they can improve any story, particularly one written by an old Oxford academic. And so they refashion the story to suit their own whims and to cater to their concept of what the prevailing marketplace wants. Today's mover-makers are also very taken by all the remarkable and very cool technology that allows them to create worlds and beings that most of us can't even imagine. They create these things simply because they can, resulting in a dumbed-down finished product, a sort of fantasy of a fantasy.
Despite all this I enjoyed the LOTR movies and even purchased a DVD set which I've since watched a few times. I enjoyed them because I sat down knowing I'd be disappointed unless I tried mightily to suppress any expectations based on Tolkien's three volumes. I decided to view the movies as stand-alone stories, divorced from Tolkien's books, and was at least partially successful. I'm sure Diane will agree that I didn't gripe too much about the differences. I tried doing the same with the first Hobbit film, but failed horribly. Overwhelmed by special effects and action scenes that lasted far too long, the story and the characters suffered. I left the theater disappointed.
On Sunday I entered the theater hoping that part two would be an improvement and that I would be less critical. I can honestly sat that I came away far less disappointed than before. I realize that's hardly a rousing endorsement, but it's very difficult to set aside Tolkien's wonderful tale, especially when I've read it many times over the years.
What did I like? The dragon. Smaug was wonderfully depicted, the perfect CGI creature and I truly enjoyed him and his interplay with Bilbo. The film is also visually striking, almost overwhelming in its depiction of the places encountered by Bilbo and the dwarves. Some folks have objected to the CGI versions of the orcs, but I found them perfectly nasty if a bit incompetent in carrying out their evil work. But the good guys are always supposed to be more capable than the bad guys.
My disappointment centers on the needless changes to the story itself, especially the diminished roles played by Bilbo and Gandalf. Neither seemed to know what they were doing. It was as if they were along for the ride and were simply thrust from one dark crisis to another by a sadistic screenwriter. And the dwarves just didn't look like dwarves. Indeed one was so good looking he attracted the attention of a female elf who was apparently added to the story for a bit of inter-species romance and to demonstrate that females are equal opportunity warriors. In truth the dwarves acted more like the seven dwarves of Snow White fame as they stumbled and bumbled their way through the script. Legolas, his she-warrior sidekick, the elfin king, indeed all the elves we encounter, are not at all very elf-like. They lack any of the ethereal, almost angelic qualities Tolkien attributes to them. They become instead merely super-warriors, and are diminished as a result.
But I can't help it, for I am far too easily amused. I enjoyed all the cool CGI and the 3-D effects, so if you too like that sort of thing, go see the movie. Just don't expect to find very much of J.R.R. Tolkien there.