One of the greatest assets of fandom is the passion it generates. Yet this very love and devotion can also be a major obstacle. It potentially blind fans and robs them of a sense of proportion and objectivity. Some step over the line from fandom in to zealotry. To a lesser degree I think many of us can recollect a time when we we’re waxing lyrical about something we hold dear, only to be met with looks of incredulity from our non-fan friends and colleagues. In recent years I certainly have tempered such tendencies. Age and a modicum of wisdom has taught me, that if someone doesn’t like what I like or doesn’t understand its appeal, then that’s okay. I do not have to vociferously defend the object of my desire with the vehemence of the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expects).
Three weeks on from its release, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is doing great business at the box office, although that hardly comes as a surprise. Critically speaking the film has met with mixed reviews. The pacing of the movie and the first hour set in Bag End have born the brunt of criticism.The HFR 3D format has also not found as much favour as some had hoped. As a result of these factors, a rather curious debate emerged a few days ago, which stemmed from an article that appeared on the Huffington Post. Seth Abramson, a poet, attorney and freelance writer penned an article stating “Dislike Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit? Then You Don’t Know Tolkien”. It effectively asserted that the critics objections to the movie were misplaced and born of a failure to be fully conversant with Tolkien’s work. It provoked an interesting debate and hundreds of comments.
The thrust of Mr. Abramson’s argument is that the movie uses the story of The Hobbit as a window in to the wider history of Middle-earth and that not being aux fait with the back-story found in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings is a handicap. He also makes the bold claim that Peter Jackson is held in high regard by the majority of fans due to his love and attention to detail with regard to the source material. It would appear that he refutes current claims that the decision to expand The Hobbit in to three movies was an act of financial cynicism. It seems important to Seth Abramson that the movie is not only validated by its box office returns but also by the critical establishment.
Now Tolkien fans and purists may have wished for a trilogy of movies that offered the expansive vision that Mr. Abramson alludes to. However, that does not mean that the wider public does. Once again we see fans being blinkered by their own knowledge and enthusiasm. A substantial percentage of the movies audience are not Tolkien fans and have not read the books. Subsequently they have a completely different set of expectations. To Peter Jackson’s credit he demonstrated an ability with The Lord of the Rings trilogy for adapting dialogue driven, lore heavy material and rendering it more accessible to the layman. This is because he understands that the films have to be able to stand on their own and are a very different medium to books. Any film maker who sets out to adapt a literary work but makes familiarity with the source text a mandatory requirement to understanding and enjoying it, is in error.
Furthermore, the common criticisms made of THAUJ are not born of a failure to comprehend Tolkien’s work but are based upon the mechanics of film making. Many people found the first hour of the movie slow not because they were ignorant of Thorin’s back story or Bilbo’s relationship with Gandalf but because it was somewhat ponderous and could have been condensed further. In fact while we are talking of criticism and the movie reviews, I question Mr. Abramson’s claim that “movie-reviewing, like movie-making, is an artform rife with necessary subjectivities”. Poetry is subject to many schools of thought and literary rules, so may well require an formalised reviewing structure that approaches an artform. Reviewing a movie does not require such etiquette and as an extremely accessible medium should be free from such an elitist mindset.
Seth Abramson couches his argument in very eloquent terms. The man is after all a poet. Yet there are still flaws in his analysis and the biggest is perhaps his describing Tolkien’s work as being allegorical. It is a literary device that the author did not like and often claimed that he did not use. However, the basic mistake that Mr Abramson makes is one that so many fans, great and small make. Namely failing to understand why people do not feel the same way about something that they personally love and then wasting immense time and effort in trying to construct an argument as to why people should. I see it all the time. Try making a statement online or within a wide group of friends as to why you don’t like The Beatles, football or The Godfather and you’ll see what I mean. Defend your views and you’ll receive one of those lengthy replies that dissects your every point and is countered by individual paragraphs of “informed” opinion. Somewhere someone is desperate to be right and oblivious as to how foolish they look.
I like many things and a lot of them will often provoke a wry remark or a ridicule from some quarters. Ten years ago I may well have does as Seth Abramson has. Nowadays I am indifferent to those who do no share my likes and dislikes. It is not important to me that I change their mind and their dislikes do not impact upon my pleasure. As far as I can see, the majority of reviews that expressed negative comments and criticism of THAUJ, did so based purely on the films construction, script and presentation. It was not based on ignorance of the source text and frankly that should not be a factor to begin with. On a more personal note, I am a Tolkien fan and I would like to see more of his work adapted for cinema or TV. However as a fan of cinema I have to temper my enthusiasm for his written work with a practical understanding of how film making works, what is commercially viable and the inherent difference between the two mediums. Perhaps critical opinion of THAUJ will change in the future. That may be due to revised thinking or possibly to a further decline in mainstream film making. However what won’t change irrespective of the passage of time, will be the partisan attitude of certain fans, who will forever never be able to see the woods for the trees.