The Hobbit: Desolation of my Childhood

by | January 23, 2014
filed under Books, Pop Culture, Racism

Poster for The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug"by Jessica Critcher

The Lord of the Rings movies came out when I was in middle school. I was already a big enough nerd at that point that I saw each one on opening day. My friend Chantal and I would ditch school and geek out about them. Once I even wore elf ears. And I still watch the films regularly. My most recent LoTR marathon was New Year’s. One does not simply walk into Mordor—It’s a 12 hour affair on extended Bluray.

The Hobbit stands out in my mind as a book that turned me from a kid who reads a lot into an official nerd. Parents, beware: allowing your children to read may result in strange behaviors and the decision to major in English.

Because I’m such a fan, it took me a while to place why I was so reluctant to see The Desolation of Smaug. Part of it was Martin Freeman’s rape “joke” in an interview about the film. But it was something else, too. (Rumor grew of a shadow in the East, whispers of a nameless fear.) It wasn’t until I was already in the theater (and people started walking out) that it hit me. Star Wars. This is Star Wars all over again.

Like Star Wars, LoTR was a highly successful trilogy. They’re both still widely popular well after their release, referenced often in pop culture. They were both given a big budget trilogy prequel that nobody asked for. And like the new Star Wars movies, The Hobbit films have no soul.

Let’s unpack that a little. It’s been several years since I read The Hobbit. I can’t say for sure exactly what Peter Jackson added to the films or left out. But as Hypable puts it:

The Hobbit movies lack the necessary bare bones plot outline, which should really be quite simple: Bilbo goes on an adventure to help reclaim The Lonely Mountain, during which he discovers his true mettle.

That’s it. Done. We have points A and B. End of story. The book was called The Hobbit for a reason. Yet Peter Jackson wanted this to be so much more than The Hobbit. He wanted this series to be a prologue to The Lord of the Rings, which is never a healthy way to go about writing movies (cough *Star Wars episodes 1, 2, and 3.* Cough), and it created splintered plot lines which instead of stopping at B, mosey along to plot lines C, D, E, etc.

Because of this, much of what was added to the movie failed.

But it’s so much more than that. I’m not disappointed that Peter Jackson decided to add things. If anything, I’m disappointed that Jackson did not imagine big and bold enough.

In the last third or so of the film, during a crowd scene, I was shocked and thrilled to see black people in the film. Given the fact that the Lord of the Rings films fail to include any people of color besides ethnically ambiguous villains, (and even then, barely,) this is kind of a big deal. The only people upset by this are racists. (Trust me, the racists are upset. I’m not going to dignify them with web traffic to prove it, but they are. And racists deserve to be upset. So, hooray on that front.) But that’s it, though. A few people in a crowd scene. Monique Jones says it best:

One of the biggest reasons I resisted anything to do with Middle Earth back in the Lord of the Rings days was that there wasn’t anything I could connect to. Meaning: there were no minority faces represented. Before anyone presents the lame reason of “But it’s all fantasy!” let me just say that there were things changed in The Lord of the Rings films in order to make it a better film that everyone could in enjoy. If they felt Tom Bombadill [could] be written out, then some minority extras could have been written in with no problem.

And another thing. The Bechdel Test. (Two women with names who talk to each other about something besides men.) The original Lord of the Rings trilogy fails abysmally. In fact, in the whole trilogy, The Two Towers barely squeaks by with a technicality. You have to wait about six hours to check off the “two women talking” box on my Lord of the Rings bingo sheet. And if you get up to get a snack, you could miss the only female interaction in the entirety of Middle Earth. And if you don’t understand how messed up that is, you aren’t invited to eat homemade lembas bread at my next marathon party.

So I was delighted that a female character was added to The Hobbit. But delight faded into frustration. Tauriel, badass that she may be, exists only as an object of desire for Legolas and Kili (And Legolas is a creepy friendzoned weirdo. What the hell is up with that? I don’t want to see that.).

Bard’s daughters serve as flat homemaker types, constantly calling out for their “Da” and hiding under the table when things get scary. Bard’s son on the other hand is given an important task that will, I can only assume, lead to restoring their family’s status and glory in the next film.

Middle Earth is full of father/son conflicts and story lines. It doesn’t need any more. Would it have been so hard to cast a daughter in this role while Peter Jackson was making things up and adding to this film? Harder than making the movie 3D? Harder than animating a CG molten gold statue that wasn’t even in the book? Are you kidding me with this crap, Peter Jackson?

This is what I mean when I say that a film with a flipping magic ring and a talking dragon does not imagine big and bold enough. If it’s just mainstream patriarchal values plus whimsical elves, it doesn’t feel much like a fantasy to me.

Yes, I know that technically this is “just a movie.” But the stories we tell ourselves as a culture, “the ones that really matter,” shape who we are and what we value. I’ll probably see the last film out of curiosity. And I’ll be damned if I can turn down the Hobbit themed food at Denny’s. But the next time I have a marathon, I’m excluding these films from the canon, because I liked less than half of them half as well as they deserve.

, , , ,