I’m a pretty big Lord of the Rings fan. I’ve read the trilogy maybe four times and The Hobbit and Silmarillion twice. I’ve spent something like 70 hours of my life watching Jackson’s adaptations of The Epic Trilogy. I’ve only spent five hours and 56 minutes watching his Hobbit movies, and I’m going to call that enough.
My issue with the Hobbit movies is not that Jackson added a female elf soldier and decided to include concurrent-but-not-mentioned-in-the-book events like the White Council meeting. I assume they felt pressure to add a “strong female character” and I’ll almost always say yes to more scenes with Elrond’s Raised Eyebrow of Impending Doom. Of course I was frustrated with the obvious-money-grab-of-a-decision to split what should have been one movie into three, but not enough to refuse to see them. Rather, I decided I was done during The Desolation of Smaug when the not-real Tauriel and the too-human-looking Kili started making eyes at each other. The second the dwarves showed up in the first movie I wondered why there was a clear hot one. That should have been a clue, in hindsight. Jackson needed to make sure Kili was attractive enough to make the forbidden dwarf/elf romance branch of the love triangle palatable on screen. No one would want to watch Gimli get all hot and bothered over Evangeline Lilly.
As a pretty big Tolkien nerd, I have a hard time imagining a dwarf and an elf falling for each other. My understanding is that dwarves and elves don’t get together because dwarves enjoy being underground, hoarding wealth, and making chain mail shirts; and elves like to spend hours on end singing dreamily at trees and stars instead of sleeping. Also, elves are invulnerable to disease and are immortal. Tauriel and Kili wouldn’t have a romance for the same reason Tauriel and an ent wouldn’t. For the same reason Leia and Chewbacca wouldn’t, except in NC-17 fan-fiction. Race is complicated in Middle Earth. There are strikingly different races even within the groupings of men, elves, dwarves, and hobbits. To me it seems the way Tolkien described those main four groups implied they would be more accurately described as different species or sub-species, despite the use of the word “race” in the book. I don’t think the thing that keeps dwarves and elves apart romantically is some unspoken Middle Earth Jim Crow.
I doubt Jackson, Tolkien nerd that he is, thinks that either—but the decision was made to add a forbidden interspecies/inter-elf-caste love triangle anyway. There was also a decision to make Laketown a city under the thumb of an autocratic Stephen Fry cracking down after getting wind of people using the word “elections” (again, no mention of this in the book). Also, a decision to exaggerate the elves’ unwillingness to get involved in the problems of the other lands and races. This all led me to wonder, as I watched movie two, if the third movie of the Hobbit trilogy was going to complete a Big Statement About Our Society, vaguely about freedom and racism. Judging by the quality of the movies so far, it looks like it would do it with all the subtlety and poignancy of an after-school special.
This is dumb for a couple reasons. One, it’s putting additional strain on the source material, a standalone adventure story that doesn’t really have an obvious moral when taken on its own, let alone one about race. It’s also dumb because the greater narrative that The Hobbit is a part of is arguably somewhat racist, a fact that should be examined and critiqued—not painted over—as these stories continue to be read and viewed.
Jackson made a number of changes to Lord of the Rings as well to make it work as a film trilogy, including softening some of the potentially offensive elements. Any alteration is going to be too much for purists, but I’ve always personally felt the film trilogy held on to enough of the messages I loved in the books: the dawn triumphing over night, the power and wholesomeness of being closely bound with nature, the importance of hostile groups putting aside their bitter histories to work towards a common good.
The first two Hobbit movies have been much more poorly done. It seems like Jackson and/or some Hollywood executive insisted the Hobbit trilogy be half-assedly injected with a 21st-century moral, but of course not one that’s actually controversial to mainstream Americans—so hello, elf-elf-dwarf love triangle, illogically repressive town, and douchebag elf king. The extra-irritating thing is that tacking on a poorly conceived moral undermines both that modern-day message and Tolkien’s story. No one is going to have a moral awakening about tolerance or freedom because of these films, and for God’s sake, Sauron is evil and malice incarnate, not some pissant anti-miscegenation congressman.
I don’t know what exactly Jackson has done with the third film. Maybe the shoddily-made critiques of racism and repression it seemed like he was setting up for in movie two have been forgotten. But even assuming that’s the case, it means the best case scenario is that The Battle of the Five Armies is the same incoherent parade of battle scenes we got in the first two movies. Either way, Jackson already has plenty of my money, and I’m not going to pay $12 more to find out.