“I understand how. I do not understand why.” That’s what Winston Smith says in 1984, and that’s pretty much how I feel about this film. Why expend so much effort and technical expertise to turn a little kids’ book into a mega-epic that bores as much as it is impresses?
There are some good things about it – the scenery, the sets, and sometimes the music. The actors try to do their best with it – the occasional glance that suggest they know this is codswallop but they and we are in it together. The scenes with Gollum in it are well done – the combination of pathos and malice in the character really is remarkable.
But the dialogue is mainly awful. The narrative is padded so as to allow nine hours of epic out of a quite small book, and things have been crowbarred in so as to suggest that Bilbo’s journey is, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, part of some titanic struggle against evil – lots of portentous dialogue between Gandalf and various elves, and some scenes with a very Osama-like Saruman obviously being deceitful.
The action scenes, which make up so much of the film, are terrible and stupid. Repeatedly the band of dwarves get stuck in an unwinnable battle, in which they fight bravely but from which they are rescued by an outside agency – Gandalf turns up, or elves on horseback, or rescue eagles. Despite being involved in lots of fighting against overwhelming odds no dwarf is every killed or even injured; and the set-pieces in which they fall thousands of feet down caverns on collapsing wooden structures, and then pick themselves up and rush into another fight, are not even laughable.
Perhaps there is scope for a “film-goers’ cut”, with all the scenery, sets and arch glances, but none of the dialogue or plot. It could be about 20 minutes long. I’d be up for that.
One more thought, on the representation of race and class. In Lord of the Rings the orcs spoke with cockney accents; here they speak orcish, with sub-titles. I know Tolkien actually made up languages for everyone, but are the orcs speaking his orcish? It does sound rather Slavic. Here it’s only the trolls who speak with working-class British accents, with extra comedy provided by the fact that they are talking about the finer points of cooking – it’s obviously funny when working-class people do that, as is proved by ‘Come Dine with Me’.
But are the Dwarves Jews? Of course they are – don’t take my word for it, Tolkien said so.
Leaving aside the reputation for being fearsome fighters for a moment, they live underground, they are good with making things, they love and hoard gold, and – as Bilbo explains – they are a people without a home, living in permanent exile since they were driven out of their ancestral land. In fact, it is his recognition of this, and his wish to help the dwarves recover their homeland, which persuades Bilbo to go on with his quest, making him a sort of Middle Earth Christian Zionist. It’s a good thing that the dwarves’ Zion is only occupied by a dragon rather than say Goblins, isn’t it? Otherwise just think how many bloody sequels there would have to be.
So the answer to the 'why' question might be that this film was made to serve Zionist interests. Or to expose them. Whatever, really.