Guyinthe3rdrow: Oh Hell, I recognize this room…
Elessar: Wha-where am I? What state am I in? Oh god, did I go crazy in Atlantic City again?
Guyinthe3rdrow: If you did, I can’t speak to it. Or rather I won’t since I can’t afford to take time off for work to appear in another court case again.
Anyway, welcome to another exciting edition of Objection! here at Moar Powah! Where two people’s opinions clash and, ideally, bloodshed is kept to a minimum.
Elessar: I’m Elessar and I cannot promise the bloodshed part. For today we have the one topic that makes me nerd out even more than Warhammer…
Guyinthe3rdrow: This is true…on top of which, we’re going into an area that seems to have sparked off quite a few conflicts to this point, albeit not as many as I was braced for when I pitched it.
This past December saw the final installment of Peter Jackson’s take on The Hobbit hit the screens. We’re not here to discuss that, that’s an Objection! for another day. At the same time, however, and amid a lot of the mixed reception this particular version has received, I ask if perhaps it’s time we take a look back at the old 1977 made for TV animated adaptation, a pretty heavily maligned take, and ask if it’s really as bad as people have made it out to be.
Elessar: Oh, I thought we were doing an Objection about Jackson’s upcoming 43 part adaptation of the Silmarillion…or did I dream that? Is that real?
Guyinthe3rdrow: I think, so long as Christopher Tolkien has any say, that one will remain a matter of dream only.
Elessar: Okay so animated Hobbit…wait the one with Smaug as the cat dragon? Cause I’ve got a ton of stuff to say on that.
Guyinthe3rdrow: That’s what some have compared the look to, yeah.
Elessar: Alrighty then, let’s do this. It’s your idea, so how about you kick us off
I’m going to preface this by saying two things.
1) This is only discussing The Hobbit. Yes, there is the kneecapped rotoscope insanity that is Ralph Bakshi’s take on the first 1.5 books of the series, and Rankin-Bass’s later and much messier attempt to patch up the story when Warner Bros showed Bakshi the door before he could make his sequel. Those are off the table. This is just regarding the Hobbit adaptation.
2. I am going to acknowledge now: no. This adaptation isn’t perfect. It definitely has some problems going for it. Most notably with regards to the fact it only runs for roughly 90 minutes on a made-for-TV budget.
What I will argue is that, with those confines factored in, it actually doesn’t do that bad a job, and certainly nowhere near as bad as many would argue.
Elessar: I’ll agree we should keep the animated Return of the King off the table, at least if you don’t want to see me frothing at the mouth with rage.
And I’ll also admit I have softened about the Hobbit adaptation, at least since Jackson’s…thing wrapped up. But I’m still pretty firmly anti-animated Hobbit. It’s not terrible, but it’s not very good and as a movie I feel it’s…well it’s kind of dull. But let’s hear your points.
Guyinthe3rdrow: Okay, that rage may have to come on another day, cause that could be interesting.
And I’ll admit, I tried not to just use the Jackson movies as a gauge here. But oh Lord, he does NOT make it easy. Especially considering how often this seems to hit the target more accurately than that trilogy did.
Anyway, first I want to address what’s probably one of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard of this, and honestly the silliest of the lot: the number of people who’ve decried this movie as excessively kiddy and complained about the songs. Now, there’s a lot I’ll concede you can go after in this as an adaptation…but really, you’re going to go after it for one of the one things it actually does try to be faithful with?
Elessar: I don’t entirely mind the kiddy tone, at least not in theory. After all The Hobbit is a kid’s book so the movie should be similarly kiddy. I just feel like…well let me be honest, there are some things that translate well to screen and some that don’t.
There’s a reason why in Lord of the Rings, Boromir’s funeral doesn’t include Aragorn busting out into song (which he totally does in the book) and I feel like the way The Hobbit didn’t handle the songs very well. Making the song the Goblins sing from what I think is something closer to a war chant into a full blown musical number has a tendency to kill the tension.
I also take umbridge with the kiddy tone when it means they downgrade certain aspects from ‘simple’ to ‘stupid.’ A perfect example is right at the battle of five armies when the Goblins are coming and Thranduil literally switches over to “My dearest friend and ally” to his enemy in the space of half a second. That’s dumb.
Guyinthe3rdrow: As far as the use of the songs, that did always strike me as a bit of an irony. I mean, I’ll actually argue some of the others get used fairly well (the dwarves’ song, the song in Rivendell, even the use of the darkness riddle in Gollum’s cave).
The orcs, meanwhile, are supposed to sound generally horrible and grim…and they get arguably the catchiest tunes out of the whole deal (this is why you don’t pick Thurl Ravenscroft to voice your evil hordes).
The battle DOES take a hit pretty hard as a result of the time compression, I’m not gonna deny that one, at least the start of it. I’d still make the case that it does a decent job of the aftermath, even if this version (ironically for a kiddified take) goes a bit overkill on the dwarf body count. It’s weird, because you can almost see someone off to the side giving them the ‘speed up’ motion as soon as Bard shows up for the treasure. But then they speed through the battle fast enough that they actually do a decent job with selling the aftermath and the epilogue.
The Battle of the Five Armies has always been one of the more overtly ‘war is actually kind of horrifying’ moments Tolkien wrote in the Hobbit/LotR cycle, and once the fighting actually stops, they don’t do too bad a job of showing that with the corpse-strewn battlefield here. I mean, it’s not exactly blood-soaked, but it’s still a pretty bleak sight.
On top of that, and I’m probably gonna make some enemies here, I’d honestly argue this version actually seemed to do better justice to Thorin’s goodbye to Bilbo than Jackson did. Yeah, we don’t have a lot of big tears from the latter, but thanks to the VO work from Hans Conried, the former genuinely sounds like someone who’s working on a lot of regret – both for mistakes made and things he won’t get to set right as a result.
Elessar: I’m not going to deny that Bilbo’s goodbye is probably better in the animated version (at least partially because it doesn’t follow one of the DUMBEST heroic deaths in modern cinema) but I think it actually highlights a problem with the movie.
When I first saw the movie, I hadn’t read the book, so Thorin et al’s death didn’t affect me in the slightest. Thorin doesn’t really get much of a character in the animated version. Hell, none of the Dwarves do. It’s kind of ironic that one version of this book shunts the Dwarves off to the side, while the other shunts the Hobbit off to the side.
That said, while the battle is rendered…well by not being rendered in the animated version, I’ll admit it does a reasonably good job showing the aftermath. I think that cleaves a little closer to Tolkien’s idea of the battle than the 3 f**king hours of endless fighting we got from the more recent live action.
Guyinthe3rdrow: The dwarves are kind of a weird case here since, to be fair, even Tolkien kind of shunts most of them. I mean, looking back, even he only really seems to give characters to Thorin, Balin, Dori, and Bombur, and of those, three can be summed up in one sentence. With cast of roughly fifteen characters, it’s not that shocking that a lot of them are gonna just get turned into window dressing.
In that regard, I do kind of have to concede Jackson did better by them (mostly; I’d argue the animated version did slightly better for Bombur’s ‘fat and whiny’ compared to Jackson’s ‘fat dwarf is fat’ …but then, both versions can only do so much with the poor guy.) I do get what you mean about some of the cast feeling estranged from a newcomer’s perspective, though. It’s kind of weird to realize that, besides Bilbo and Gandalf, the one other person who gets the best deal is Gollum.
Elessar: I do think Tolkien couldn’t help most of the Dwarves fading into the background, but in the animated version even Thorin kind of fades into the background. They all look pretty similar and none of them gets a ton of characterization.
I don’t think expanding the book out into 3 movies was a good choice, but I do think 90 minutes just isn’t enough time. We spend a ton of time on small scenes of Bilbo interacting with Gollum and Smaug, and then rush through other scenes at a breakneck pace.
Laketown gets shredded by Smaug in under a minute and the meeting with Thranduil goes by even faster. And that’s when they’re not just straight up cutting characters (coughBeornMyFavoriteCharactercough).
Guyinthe3rdrow: The time does have a weird start-stop going for it in that regard. It’s one of the reasons I started this off acknowledging it’s a flawed production. When it actually tries, it does handle some of the littler stuff well.
Then it takes a look at the clock and goes “Oh crap!” and starts running again.
(And as far as Beorn, I’m just kind of convinced the only way we’re going to get a faithful version of him now is if an old hermit curses Brian Blessed to become a werebear.)
It’s also part of why I was trying not to just bank on the Jackson version for comparison, admittedly. As adaptations, they have kind of a ‘two sides of the same coin’ thing going – their shortcomings mirror each other kind of eerily.
Elessar: I have noticed that last point. I honestly think Jackson heard the criticisms of the animated one and just started trying to think of ways he could avoid the same criticisms.
Where the animated spends too much time with the Hobbit, live action spends too much time with the Dwaves. Where the animated spends too little time on Thranduil and makes him nothing at all like an Elf (seriously, my rant about animated-Thranduil could go on for a while) the live action spends an HOUR with the Elves, and makes Thranduil into a ridiculous cliche of what an Elf is supposed to act like.
Although, I don’t know how we got from ‘No Beorn’ to ‘Beorn that acts nothing like Beorn.’
Guyinthe3rdrow: (I was wondering when you’d touch on animated Thranduil’s appearance.
I’m strangely amused to realize he’s like a gangly Yoda three years before Yoda. Also, the inconsistencies with Elrond’s design, but that’s another matter)
And your guess is as good as mine regarding Beorn. They didn’t mind injecting humor on other characters, so why couldn’t Beorn be the jolly ass-kicker?
Elessar: Beorn is one of my favorite characters in Tolkien because his motivation is basically “F**k Orcs, am I right?” and his character matches. I’ve always loved bears and I kind of felt his personality matched what a bear would be if it were human.
Beorn’s tragic backstory and personality in the live action version just depressed me and they don’t fit the character at all. His lack of presence in the rest of the movie just served to irritate me (Did you know that it was actually Beorn who killed Bolg in the book readers? Yeah, Beorn is a badass).
Guyinthe3rdrow: (Man, remember back when Bolg wasn’t just a glorified minion?)
…there’s good odds we may need to do an Objection!/Roundtable for the live action version after this for therapy’s sake aren’t we?
Elessar: We might need to. But back on topic about the animated, one of the biggest issues I take with it is the character design. I mentioned cat dragon before and I’ll mention it again: F**kin’ cat dragon. And Gollum, for all that he kind of matches his book description, is completely unintimidating
Guyinthe3rdrow: See, here I was thinking you were going to mention the goblins, but I digress.
Anyway, to address each – I dunno, everyone says cat, I also saw Smaug’s face as a bit more doglike, but to each their own. I can see how it’d be a disappointment for some.
Gollum, on the other hand, I will go to bat for. Yeah, it’s not the most intimidating, but I think that’s more a consequence of direction than his actual character design. Gollum has always been more just strung out and odd by design. The intimidation was always more from the fact he’s this strange voice and presence in the dark whose intentions you can’t fully gauge.
In that regard, this version does its job fairly well. Especially with the sort of lapses between seemingly calm and collected and the borderline cocaine-fueled freakouts.
Elessar: The voice acting works, but the visual design just kills it. He’s a frog. Frogs aren’t intimidating. I see a tree frog that I know is poisonous, and I don’t get afraid. I think “Aww, a frog.”
I’m actually okay with the Orcs. A little kiddy, but they get the job done. No, my big problem, outside of Gollum and Smaug, is Thranduil. He’s an ageless immortal elf, and he looks like he’s a 90 year old meth addict. F**k, I’m more scared of Thranduil than of Gollum.
I also take issue with the Dwarves design, albeit less so. I think they went less short bearded warriors and more guys who have aged so hard they shrunk down to 3 feet. They look like wizened old men, not warriors. And they all look the same, but whatever.
Guyinthe3rdrow: Again, I’m still unclear what happened with Thranduil. Especially since the look for Elrond isn’t too bad, barring the fact he has a beard. One would think consistency would dictate Thranduil follow suit.
As far as the dwarves, I’m kind of split. I can see the case for a lot of them, but honestly, I still feel like the look works in a couple of their cases (Balin and Bombur definitely, and Thorin to a lesser extent).
Elessar: I honestly think with Thranduil that, like you said, they ran out of time and went with a half finished character design. And/or they didn’t think he was that important (which he’s not, in the grand scheme of the story, but STILL).
I can see the Dwarves design working on one, maybe two, of them, but on all of them it makes them hard to take seriously as warriors. And comes across a bit…lazy?
Guyinthe3rdrow: Fair point.
I wonder if they might have figured the dwarves looking like warriors might undermine the fact Bilbo has to keep helping them escape trouble.
Elessar: I honestly think it’s the same reason the Dwarves don’t get much characterization. They didn’t have the time/budget to do everything and they sort of put their design into effect without a lot of thought put into it
Guyinthe3rdrow: It is certainly possible. To be honest, this is one I’d be curious to hear some of the production history on to get a sense of what sort of time table they were operating under
Elessar: It would be interesting. Hell, a story about that production would probably hold my interest more than the movie that actually came out of it.
That’s sort of my wrapping up thought. The movie itself isn’t completely terrible, or necessarily a terrible adaptation, it’s just kind of…dull. There’s not a lot of passion to it, it just goes. There are good points, and bad points, but it all adds out to ‘Meh.’ I don’t feel terribly passionate about it either way.
Guyinthe3rdrow: Honestly, the fact you at least gave it a fair consideration is good enough for me.
Seriously, for years the contempt I’d see heaped on this was insane.
Elessar: I can’t get behind contempt. I can get behind contempt for their RotK, because it’s just a mess (seriously, the title character gets one f**king line of dialogue) but this one is just a mediocre title. Not bad, not great.
Now, lemme see if I can go find what out what state I’m in…
Guyinthe3rdrow: My advice – wash that blood off first.
Well I guess that’s about it. I’m Elessar, pleading the fifth.
Guyinthe3rdrow: and I’m Guyinthe3rdrow, pretending he wasn’t here when the police come knocking.