Our family of five all went to see the Hobbit movie together. It was our first time together in five years. The youngest just got out of the army in May and the daughter finished college this summer and got her own apartment, which was where we got together for Christmas. It was also one of the few times our whole family has unanimously agreed on liking a movie.
Mike read the book over 35 years ago. After watching the movie he got an annotated ebook copy including many of JRR Tolkien’s notes. One of the first things that struck him was the changes from the version I read decades ago. Tolkien originally used the term Hobbit Weed to draw a comparison with those, like the Amish or Native Americans, who process natural tobacco rather than use commercial varieties. When Hobbit Weed was interpreted by some to mean Marijuana, Tolkien changed it to tobacco so there would be no misunderstanding.
There is also an explanation of why the Hobbit uses the terms goblin and hobgoblin in the Hobbit, but Orcs in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Tolkien says The Hobbit uses common terminology, but the LOTR trilogy is from the point of view of Frodo and that Orc is the Hobbit word for these creatures.
One reviewer says the movie follows the book about 75% of the time. This seems to be a correct assessment. Since most movies trash the book they are based on, we should be thankful it follows the book this closely. The movie has the major events and follows the order of the book.
One glaring exception is the addition of all the scenes with Radagast, who gets one sentence in the book but is apparently mentioned in other Tolkien works. He is filthy, uses drugs, prefers the company of animals to people, and uses magic indiscriminately.
Changes from the book to the movie are not for the better. The book uses Bilbo’s point of view and information could have been conveyed better in that way instead of telling all the dwarf back story separately. The movie makes the elves mysterious and inhospitable to the dwarves, feeding them strange plants. being suspicious of their mission and forcing them to escape. In the book the elves treated them with great hospitality and kindness and sent them on their way with supplies and good wishes.
Elrond and his council supported the dwarves because they saw the need to defeat Smaug. The dragon is portrayed as the cause of the evil spreading over Middle Earth in the north. Gandalf has to leave them to help fight the Necromancer, the cause of evil spreading over the southern part of Middle Earth.
The confrontation between Bilbo and Gollum is extended in the book. The movie cutting down on that exchange was probably a good idea. In the book Bilbo and Elrond both express concern about the dwarves’ love for gold. Bilbo goes with the idea that he is helping then regain their ancestral home and defeat Smaug.
One complaint often repeated in reviews from a Christian perspective is Peter Jackson’s tendency to make the story “dark”, but the Hobbit does have dark parts. Jackson makes it less dark than the book. Tolkien has Gandalf put out all the lights, kill the Goblin King, and fill the tunnels with goblin bodies as he frees the dwarves and they flee through the narrow passages.
Both the movie and the book are filled with virtues — loyalty, camaraderie, thrift (when they begin running out of supplies), reverence for tradition. Disdain for greed is less apparent in the movie. Every step of the journey in the book, people comment on the dwarves’ legacy of greed. They support the dwarves’ need to defeat Smaug and regain their home, but are concerned about their motives.
The songs appear throughout the book to communicate values and history. By cutting back on verses in the movie the pace improves but important information is lost.