Sunday, September 14, 2014

Blast from the Past Movie Review: "The Hobbit" (1977)

Last night I went over to my friend Nick's house to watch the The Hobbit (1977) for his podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. Here's the actual podcast. I hadn't seen this movie before so it's hard to call it a "blast from the past" film, but whatever.

The Plot

In the land of the Shire, homebody Bilbo Baggins is approached by the wizard Gandalf and a bunch of Dwarves to help the latter reclaim their kingdom from the dragon Smaug, who drove their people out and claimed their vast riches for himself. Despite himself, he ends up going off on an adventure that, unbeknownst to him, has some very far-ranging consequences.

The Good

*The story moves along at a pretty fast clip. What takes a substantial amount of time in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey-- the arrival of Gandalf to the capture of the Dwarfs by the trolls -- is accomplished in the low double digits of minutes. Peter Jackson is often criticized for his movies running too long and this one certainly doesn't have that problem. The movie is poorly done in many ways (see below), but it's never dull.

The Bad

*The animation quality is simply not very good. Given how the film was made in 1977 by Rankin and Bass rather than Disney it's hard to hold this against them given the limitations of budget if nothing else, but the character designs are just bad. The dwarfs look like elderly versions of the titular dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the goblins are frog-like creatures with heads and mouths larger than their bodies, Gollum looks like a overweight version of Kermit the Frog (who for some reason is much, much larger than Bilbo), and Smaug has fur and a cat-like face for some reason. The Wood Elves look like pale-skinned troll dollson methamphetamine and Elrond looks like an elderly Doctor Strange with a permanent halo. The Wood Elves' bit is the most annoying lore-wise, as they seem to be an entirely different species from Elrond.

*Speaking of Gollum and Smaug, they are the most lethargic film villains I've seen in quite some time. Gollum comes off as very lazy and depressed, while Smaug is all like, "Whatever" when he thinks Bilbo is a thief come to steal from his hoard. The latter could be a trick to get Bilbo to reveal himself so he could kill him, but Peter Jackson's interpretation of Bilbo and Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is so much better. In that film, Bilbo flatters Smaug to keep Smaug from killing him in a much longer, more suspenseful scene.

*When Gandalf kills the king of the goblins and Bilbo kills some of the spiders in Mirkwood, it gets really psychedelic when the death-blow falls. The goblin king spins off into the sky like he's being flushed down a toilet, while the deaths of the spiders get really acid-trippy. Meanwhile, Bard's killing of Smaug is handled realistically. If the creators intended to downplay the heroes' killing, they seemed to have forgotten about Bard completely. Meanwhile, Smaug kills men and dwarfs alike with fire, onscreen.

*There is a lot of telling rather than showing. For example, Bard the Bowman tells Bilbo and the Dwarfs that for killing Smaug the men of Laketown have proclaimed him king. Given the elaboration on the character of the Master of Laketown and his antagonistic relationship with Bard in The Desolation of Smaug, I imagine Peter Jackson will show this in the upcoming final film and it's going to be a lot better. Even though this keeps the film from getting too long, its 77 minute run-time could be doubled without problems and we could have a much better story.

*The Dwarfs are a bunch of useless cowards for most of the film. Until the incident with the trolls it doesn't seem like they're even armed, they bail on Bilbo when he's captured by the trolls and calls for help (and get captured anyway, unlike in the first Peter Jackson film when they're willing to fight until the trolls threaten to kill Bilbo), and in the most aggravating scene, they come off as downright terrified of the goblins whom per the lore they've fought and defeated before. In the first Peter Jackson film they do resist capture at Goblin-Town, but they get mobbed and dragged before the king rather than cowering until they're chained by what seem to be a relatively small number of goblins.

*It's also hard to differentiate between the dwarfs other than Thorin and perhaps Bombur.

*At the end of the film, Gandalf makes some completely random reference to Bilbo's actions fulfilling prophecies. There is no reference to any kind of prophecy earlier in the film--even the poem about the king of the mountain returning to his own in Laketown (which Bard in Desolation interprets as a prophecy of the destruction of the town by Smaug and tries to stop) is a musical number rather than a plot point. Although it seems to be a Sequel Hook given just what the ring turns out to be, it's done very poorly.

*The second Peter Jackson film does a much better job foreshadowing that Gollum's "magic ring" is much more than some toy that can turn someone invisible. The Lord of the Rings has already been written by now, so the creators don't have the excuse Tolkien himself had that he hadn't created the mythology yet.

*Per the Wikipedia article, it was a television special on NBC. This would explain the obvious commercial breaks. Those could've been fixed with a better editing job.

The Verdict

Read the book or go see the Peter Jackson films, especially since the third one will be out in three months. Don't bother with this. Four out of 10.


  1. I remember watching this numerous times when I was a kid. Watching The Hobbit along with Rankin and Bass' other Tolkien work, The Return of the King, made we want to read the books.

    Without question the books were better, however without watching those films I might not have read Tolkien or other fantasy authors.

  2. From what I've seen of THE RETURN OF THE KING, it's a big improvement. I listen to "Where There's a Whip There's A Way" and "Towers of the Teeth" on YouTube when I'm working.

    If it got you (and others) interested in the original material, that's great.

  3. Wow. Watch Jackson's version over this? While this has its many flaws, I'd watch it a hundred times before I'd rewatch Jackson's poor excuses for movies.
    Mind you, I'm not hating on Jackson...his Lord of the Rings movies were great, and the casting, design, and filming of his Hobbit were on par with LOTR, but stretching a story that could maybe fill one 2-3 hour movie into three of them and stuffing it with lots of extra padding was just horrible.

    Also, the dwarves in the cartoon are much closer to the the original book than the live version. They didn't have a lot in the way of weapons or armor until the final battle (bows, knives, and maybe a couple swords) and were certainly more inclined to run away from goblins than fight them. They were generally useless and always being saved by Bilbo and Gandalf. I did like Jackson's differentiating of their looks and personality a little more, but they should have all had hoods like in the book.