The Hobbit & Viewing Films as Art


As a Tolkien nerd, I could go through and nit-pick every instance where the latest Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug, veers from the book.

In fact, my 11-year-old and 8-year-old were noting many of those moments themselves on our drive back from the theater.

But while they knew the movie deviated from the book, there was another key aspect to their experience so many miss when watching a movie when they are a fan of the source material – they enjoyed it.

It seems impossible for some to appreciate a movie that does not duplicate scene-by-scene the book that inspired it.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug does not directly mimic that section of Tolkien’s introduction to Middle Earth.

The chapters with Beorn and particularly the party’s journey through Mirkwood were shortened drastically to make room for additional material with Gandalf, the wood-elves and a climatic conflict between the dwarves and Smaug.

Would I have enjoyed seeing many of those additional pieces that were left on the screen-adaptation cutting room floor? Absolutely.

But at the same time I have to recognize that I am not watching the book. I am viewing one persons interpretation and vision of the book as a movie. That is something different and must be understood in and of itself.

Hobbit movie posterI can appreciate Peter Jackson’s quickening of the pace to move the film along and his decision to develop the characters of the dwarves in ways that go beyond Tolkien’s written record.

Clearly, he wants to establish a strong connection between the Hobbit trilogy and the earlier (though later within Middle Earth chronology) Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are numerous call-backs (or forward as the case may be) to his previous Tolkien adaptation.

While I could never and would never, completely forget my reading of The Hobbit as I sit in the theater. I can and should view the film as a piece of art that stands alone.

The artist should feel the freedom to create art, even art that draws from an established and beloved source.

After all, as creators created in the image of the Creator, that is all that we can do.

You and I cannot create anything ex nihilo. We do not have the ability to bring art out of nothing. Rather we craft from materials and sources that are already present.

Merely because a film springs from a book, it does not cease to be art itself, anymore than a marble sculpture remains marble, but becomes something different, something more.

Asking the ever-present question, “Is the film better than the book?” is an exercise in futility and usually results in and originates from treating one or the other (usually the film) as lesser than the other.

We must appreciate and evaluate art based not on how strictly it adheres to a thing from which it originates, but rather on how it is as a piece of art itself.

Film is art and it is the medium that reaches and speaks for our modern culture more than most others.

Until Christians learn to simply be artists and value film beyond the rigidity to which it remains tied to its inspiration, we will fail to impact culture as we should.

Go see and enjoy The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, not because it does or does not perfectly match Tolkien’s presentation, but because it gives us Peter Jackson’s vision. And we can learn from and appreciate that alone.

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About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.