Ken Layne: Mere days ago, Carrie, we were toiling side by side on the second floor of Mordor, very near to Macy’s. But now I am back in the desert and you are back at the Shire, and we have each gone to see The Hobbit in our respective villages. Was it worth all the trouble, this nearly-three-hour movie about regular-sized humans pretending to be Halflings and Dwarfs?
Carrie Frye: Maybe do you just want to write the review on your own, a la Choire? I am sorry to abandon you—I was excited to go, but now am back and a little crazy with getting things battened down for the week and for the holidays.
Ken Layne: Oh? Okay, that’s fine. I would’ve skipped it myself, but Friday was such a gloomy goddamned day in this country, I figured taking my kids to see a fairy tale was the appropriate response. Good luck on the Cyber Monday shopping! I don’t want to do this alone, but we must address this blockbuster hobbit adaptation. As a very recent first-time reader of this J.R.R. Tolkien story from 75 years ago—
Gollum: Carrie betrayed us. Wicked, tricksey, nasty Carrie. We ought to wring—
Ken Layne: Uhh, Gollum? I hope nobody promised to pay you for doing this. Anyway, congratulations, I guess. The Hobbit had either a record or a disappointing opening, according to the IMDb page I just opened so I could copy and paste all the names of the characters and actors. I wonder if people enjoyed it very much. There are some long boring chunks to sit through before you get to anything compelling.
Gollum: Eggs! Eggs is the answer!
Ken Layne: You had a very sad life, back when you were some kind of racial variation of a hobbit and you strangled your best friend, because he caught a fish and then found the evil ring and then you spent a billion years in a cave, is that right? And that’s basically the curse you’ve put on this Peter Jackson version of The Hobbit. The heaviness of Gollum’s insane sorrow and the eventual power of the ring and the brooding apocalyptic weight of the Lord of the Rings movies kills most of the fun in this new one.
Gollum: Master should be resting, Master needs to keep up his strength.
Ken Layne: I rested for three hours in the movie theater. This should’ve been a hundred-minute firecracker, full of jokes and weirdness and keeping to the galloping pace of the book. Instead, there was a lot of dull garbage with long shots of serious elves being worried about the future, and too many lookalike battles with unconvincing CGI creatures. Have we reached peak CGI? I don’t want to see any more goblins and Voldemorts. Let’s reboot the Tolkien films with functional robot monsters covered with real animal hair and LED eyes. It would cost a fortune, it would be a “game changer,” and maybe we could believe in these creatures again.
Gollum: Cruel men hurts us. Master tricksed us.
Ken Layne: You were fine. It’s the best part, really, you and Bilbo in that grotto, having a war of riddles. Comic wordplay as a weapon, etc. The Hobbit could’ve used so much more of that. Instead, we get one scene after another with dwarfs bouncing around the trees and rocks while Gandalf yells “Run!” Remember when Gandalf had interesting lines? He’s full of wit and amusing menace in the novel. In the movie, he’s a nag.
Gollum: He is drawing all evil to him, Master.
Ken Layne: Sort of! Why is Gandalf leading the dwarfs to Bilbo and Bilbo to the One Ring if all of this is foretold? Let the dwarfs hire their own burglar. And that’s the road of ridiculousness you have to take if you consider the finding of the ring to be the point of this story. And you can only do that if you’re worried about how it fits with the LoTR movies. So that’s what we have, a prequel. Absolutely nobody needed to be told that this movie is related to the earlier Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s about hobbits, for god’s sake. It’s the same wizard and the same wood flute, we know, come on.
Gollum: We hates it! Hates it! FOREVER!
Ken Layne: Maybe not! But I will definitely watch the 90-minute edit on YouTube, whenever that shows up. There’s a decent movie in here, just take out the pretentious elves and that stupid dirty wizard with the rabbit sled and the bird shit in his hair. My seven-year-old was whispering in outrage, “That’s not in the book … that better not be Beorn,” who is the mysterious were-bear in the book. Also it is never funny to do marijuana and psilocybin mushroom jokes in a Tolkien adaptation. Don’t be so self-aware, it’s a fairy tale.
Gollum: The rock and pool, is nice and cool, so juicy sweet. Our only wish, to catch a fish….
Ken Layne: Exactly. Who do you think of when you think of “dwarfs” and “creepy sing-song poems”? David Lynch. He could have handled the mix of comedy and dread. Maybe Peter Jackson shouldn’t have come back to this. Too late now, but it probably would’ve been better as a Guillermo del Toro movie. Maybe Terry Gilliam should’ve done it, three decades ago. Is Time Bandits the best adaptation of The Hobbit?
Gollum: They do not see what lies ahead, when Sun has faded and Moon is dead.
Ken Layne: Let’s talk about the acting. Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo Baggins. Haughty, clever, of furrowed brow and quizzical frown, it’s all about whether we believe his kinky decision to join a wild adventure and leave behind a comfortable life as part of the hobbit 1%. And we believe it. He is an eccentric and a bit of a loner, even before this journey. He’s one of those people fortunate enough in the early part of midlife to be sitting in his armchair in his nice house, reading a good book and enjoying a drink and completely ready for some oddball wizard to show up and say, “Why not abandon all this comfort and join an amateur gang of radical partisans on an impossible mission to defeat an invincible monster just to get at some gold doubloons?”
This is the part of Bilbo’s story that appeals to us, that appeals so much to me, that appeals to my kids. The greatest tales have a believably normal character ready to toss the entirety of his or her mundane life for an adventure. The best parts of our lives are when we take these mad leaps, whether or not the leaps are successful. It’s like Emily Haines writes in that song “Clone,” from the last Metric album: “Nothing I’ve ever done right, Happened on the safe side.”
Gollum: No time to lose, silly!
Ken Layne: Right, because the round door will close at some point in the not so distant future, and then you can’t go on some mad romp with the freaks. If you survive, then you can come back and live in the nice house with the lush gardens and the built-in bookshelves and the walk-in pantry. If not, who cares? The biggest fear in life is wondering what will happen to you in old age. If you manage to get the retirement accounts and primary residence and life insurance, the biggest fear is what to do with the other half of your life. This was Tolkien, in the sense that he had these wild and terrifying adventures in World War I and was then a comfortable professor at Oxford. Do you live in your bookshelves or listen to the wizard?
Gollum: Wake up, sleepies! We must go, yesss, we must go at once.
Ken Layne: If the dwarfs had been more than, as Anthony Lane put it, “a jumble of Brueghel faces,” the journey would’ve been more fun. John Rhys-Davies really made that Gimli dwarf come to life in the Lord of the Rings movies, but here the only dwarf with a distinct personality is the gloomy and dull Thorin. Bilbo and Gandalf have to be the personality of the film… at least until you appear, Gollum.
Gollum: If Baggins loses we eats it whole!
Ken Layne: There is a surprise delight in the form of the goblin king, late in the movie. He’s another CGI monstrosity, but with a wonderfully weird personality. It turns out this great goblin king is (pre CGI) acted and voiced by the Australian comedian Barry Humphries. It’s the best new character in the film, getting real gasps and laughs from the audience, and it makes the last act really work. The first orc/goblin leader is just another bland villain with a face like the Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies. Nobody in the theater seemed to care at all about this earlier antagonist, with the cut-off left forearm and the blue gills on his chest.
Gollum: Spoilin’ nice fish. Give it to us raw and w-r-r-riggling.
Ken Layne: Stop with the fish porn.
You know you want to argue about the hobbits and the elves, so go ahead and do it.