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the-hobbit-battle-of-the-five-armiesMuch of The Hobbit was about as enjoyable as watching someone else play a high-definition video game. In other words, not very.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a Tolkien fan, and I enjoyed the opportunity to make a memory by seeing the final Hobbit movie with my oldest son, especially since we read the book together last year. I’m also a fan of Peter Jackson’s work, although my appreciation for the Lord of the Rings trilogy has been tempered by what he has done with The Hobbit.

Still, I wonder about the extent of gaming’s influence on movie-making. It won’t be long before we can play Lego Hobbit on the iPhone, and you’ll be able to step into the boots of these characters and battle the bad guys as long as you want.

Is this a good thing?

For many years, popular movies have been made into games. From Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, movies have transitioned to games, and with the forthcoming Angry Birds film, it looks like things are going the other way too. But after watching The Hobbit, I got the feeling that Jackson already anticipated the tie-in to gaming, and that he was deliberately crafting the film toward that end.

That’s why many of of the battle scenes felt like a gamer trying to defeat a monster in order to get to the next level and “beat the game.” It felt overdone, as if every individual battle had to be invested with maximum significance, which then led to moments of sheer unbelievability. (Dain the Dwarf king takes out orcs dressed in full armor by headbutting them? Seriously?)

Instead of epic battle scenes, we were given one-on-one encounters between heroes and villains. Legolas’ battle with one particular villain went on so long that my son looked over at me and said, “How long is it going to take?” He wasn’t enthralled; he was bored, in the way you’re bored waiting your turn for the controller.

I don’t want to give the impression that The Hobbit was horrible. The moment when Bard used his son to create a crossbow and send the fatal spear into the dragon was the best part of the film. It merged the excitement of a David and Goliath battle with the trust and confidence of a son in his father. Dragon-slaying may be common in myths and fairy tales, but Jackson’s flourishes in this moment enhanced the inherent drama of Tolkien’s original story.

And who isn’t inspired by the lowly dwarves finally being led by their King Thorin into battle after his change of heart? Or the sight of the shire’s luscious green hills after the cold and snowy battles at the mountain? In these moments, we’re reminded why the battles mattered, and we’re given a picture of virtue, self-sacrifice, courage, and peace.

The problem is, gaming can’t deliver any of that. So when we watch lengthy individual battles go on and on for two hours, we are watching the video-gamization (that’s a word now!) of movie-making squeeze out the whimsy and joy from The Hobbit as a story. In the end, we have a spectacle that delivers on special effects but misses the reason the battles matter in the first place.

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7 thoughts on “The Hobbit and the Video-Gamization of Movies”

  1. Arthur Sido says:

    I am also a life-long fan of Tolkien and someone who deeply enjoyed the LoTR film adaptation. As such I should be the perfect audience for the Hobbit movies but ever since the decision was made to split a single book into three movies I have been less than enthusiastic. My concerns were realized in the first two movies, a pair of overwrought CGI extravaganzas. The third movie promises to be more of the same. The Hobbit was not a book about epic battles. It was a book about a simple hobbit thrust into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation who just wanted to go home. Jackson apparently believes, perhaps not inaccurately, that modern audiences are disinterested in such a story so he gave them an action adventure sprinkled with bits of the book. It is a real shame because the Hobbit is a wonderful book that has not been done justice here, I would rather watch the hokey animated version that at least attempted to follow the book.

  2. todd says:

    This is interesting. I LOVED ALL THREE OF THE MOVIES! However, there are significant differences. I don’t know if it is due to video games or the overall faster pace society moves in now. Either way. Good article

  3. Sam Byers says:

    So if a friend were going to see movie and was leaning towards the Hobbit, would you dissuade them from paying to see it in favor of something else out there?

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      No. I’d still say it is worth seeing. Some movies are just better on the big screen.

  4. Joshua says:

    So, the movie got a lot of key moments and scenes right and also got a lot of little things right, like Beorn participating in the final battle. But the fight scenes were extremely drawn out and I agree, it is kind of like he’s laying out the action sequences for a video game.

    On the other hand, Thorin probably had to have a personal fight scene to give his death the same weight it has in the book.

  5. JohnM says:

    Meh. Read books.

  6. Josh H says:

    I think that the trend for movies to include pointless action sequences in had its origins in the children’s cartoons of the 80s and 90s. Ever since then, audiences have been conditioned from a young age to think that non-stop action sequences, slapstick, and pratfalls are necessary for entertainment. Nowadays, CGI makes the cartoons more lifelike (and expensive), but the core idea seems the same. I don’t think contemporary Hollywood has confidence that moviegoers will be happy with a blockbuster that is based around setting, dialogue, and characterisation, as Tolkien’s work is, without also turning up the action meter to 11. It is part of the dumbing down of our culture.

    On the topic of the latest Hobbit movie, I loved and hated it in about equal measure. Like the OP, I thought many of the parts that were based on the book were very well done, many even better than in the book. However, I though the parts that strayed the most from Tolkien’s work came off as incongruous and downright lame. In terms of setting and world building, Peter Jackson and his team have done a superlative job of bringing Tolkien’s rich world to life. I also thought the characterisations were very well done. The advantage of extending the story over three films is that time has been given to developing rich characterisations. The best example is the portrayal of Thorin’s pride-driven descent into madness, his redemption through repentance, and his ultimate glory through return to honour, courage, and self-sacrifice. The important parts of the script that reproduced Tolkien’s dialogue accurately came across really well and made me wish for more of the same. However, the dialogue added by Jackson and his scriptwriters was often pretty bad. The love story sub-plot was particularly risible, containing the worst dialogue in the film and demeaning all the characters involved. The problem with the addition of all the pointless (and downright stupid) action sequences is that they diluted and distracted from the positive parts of the film.

    I am looking forward to someone producing an edit of the Hobbit movies that retains the original Tolkien story without all the bloat. It would be about 1.5 movies long and would be as compelling as the LOTR films.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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