FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*
Prior to viewing THE HOBBIT I was very skeptical about Peter Jackson's overarching game plan, to adapt the orginal Tolkien work into three movies-- all of which, one presumes, will come close to three hours in length, as the first one was.
I enjoyed Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS, but that was after all a very different animal: a true literary epic that required such treatment. I was less than enchanted with Jackson's 2005 take on KING KONG, which was crass and self-indulgent in its reinterpretation of an original film whose charm lay partly in its economy and simplicity. The Jackson KONG was a good hour longer than it needed to be, full of unnecessarily padded scenes that (I presume) padded some filmmakers' bank accounts as well.
However, despite my initial feelings, and some negative reviews taking issue with Jackson's deviations from the Canon of Tolkien, I largely enjoyed the first installment of THE HOBBIT-- though with the caveat that I didn't re-read the Tolkien book ahead of time, which may have helped me judge the movie on its own terms.
On one level, HOBBIT is one of the few adventure-films of this current decade that went the extra mile in terms of knocking out the audience's eyes with wild stunts and lively comic relief. I'm current on most of the big splashy adventure-films, but I haven't such a superfluity of stunts since 1980's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Even the same-year AVENGERS, which keeps the action fast and furious, lost some steam whenever it was obliged to do the characterization scenes.
On a second level, Jackson and his collaborators have continued to profit from the lessons learned in adapting the RINGS films. Rare today is the film (in any genre) that has a composed, painterly look to it, where the visuals are meant to convey a dominant mood as well as basic storytelling info. Of course it goes without saying that Jackson might not have pursued this course if he didn't have to deal with decades of Tolkien-fans who demand a special visual "look" to the author's world. Certainly he wasn't terribly "painterly" when he directed KING KONG. Nevertheless, both natural scenery and CGI enhancements evoke a world where, in keeping with Tolkien, the mundane and the fantastic reinforce and comment upon one another.
I mentioned that I found the comic relief lively, and I did. If the film had any large flaw, it might be that on occasion Jackson allowed the humor to take over at inappropriate moments.
That's not to say that the film lacks philosophical depth, though. The core relationship of the film-- that of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Frodo (Martin Freeman)-- must be strong as the oaken shield of Thorinn in order to convince the audience that Gandalf has good reason to drag the reluctant hobbit into danger. Of course both in book and movie, Bilbo must go because the author needs him to do so, but in contrast to many Tolkien imitators, the reluctant hero's acquiescence proceeds out of his own secret love of adventure, rather than in compliance to a villain's depredations or the like.
I may still re-read the book to ferret out which scenes were completely invented by Jackson, probably for the purpose of padding his new "trilogy." But on the whole I feel Jackson gave audiences a fantasy-world strong enough to stand on its own, no matter how much it deviates from its source in Tolkien.