The Hobbit’s Unexpected Violence

Dec 19 2012 @ 3:02pm

Noah Berlatsky pans the new film's violence, something he thinks the book seemed to deliberately avoid:

I had wondered how Peter Jackson was going to spread the book over three movies. Now I know: He's simply added extra bonus carnage at every opportunity.

Berlatsky points out an important contradiction:

[In both the film and book, when Bilbo is faced with the option of killing Gollum, he instead leaps over his head], leaving the creature despairing but unharmed. Later, in The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf suggests that Bilbo's pity for Gollum "may rule the fate of many." At the end of Rings, it is ultimately Gollum who, inadvertently, destroys the ring and saves Middle Earth. Mercy is ultimately salvation, and Bilbo's decision not to use violence is at the heart of the quasi-Christian moral order of Tolkien's world.

If Jackson meant for Gandalf's comment to highlight Tolkien's nonviolent ethic, though, the rest of his film undercuts it—and, indeed, almost parodies it. The scene where Bilbo spares Gollum in the movie comes immediately after an extended, jovially bloody battle between dwarves and goblins, larded with visual jokes involving decapitation, disembowelment, and baddies crushed by rolling rocks. The sequence is more like a body-count video game than like anything in the sedate novel, where battles are confused and brief and frightening, rather than exuberant eye-candy ballet.