What I suspect is a very vocal minority has, on the internet, made very clear their dislike of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, I could explain in great detail why most (if not all) of the changes and additions to the story are either innocuous and trivial and/or necessary due to the differences between art forms, but the fact is that people just like to complain.
As it is, they complain about the addition of Tauriel, but I have no doubt that, had Tauriel not been added, these same complainers would grumble that there weren’t enough female characters in the film—I daresay they’d have remarked that Peter Jackson should’ve added one. The fact is, whether you like Tauriel or not, neither she nor any other of the films’ original characters has any prominent interactions with any of the chief characters. Tauriel interacts most with Kíli, who—aside from being one of Thorin’s nephews—is not especially central to the story; Kíli’s death is important for Thorin’s final character development, but otherwise he intrudes very little upon the main plot. Tauriel, therefore, cannot be of a detriment to the plot because she interacts only with side characters; the same can be said of the other new characters.
Azog, having been long-dead in the book by the time of Thorin’s quest, may seem more important, seeing as he does interact with Thorin to an extent. However, aside from slightly altering which orc causes which plot-point, Azog’s addition to the main plot changes very little. As far as I am concerned, it matters little which of Azog’s line kills which of Thorin’s—or who kills which orc, for that matter. Thorin still dies, having lost both his heirs, and the rest of the story is similarly unaltered. The biggest difference this makes is that, rather than Beorn as in the book, it is Legolas who kills Bolg in the film—when you think about it, it isn’t all that big a deal.
The aforementioned complaints are at least less trivial than many of those that I’ve heard; a great many anti-peter-jackson-ists are merely content to whine about the number of elves that fought in the battle, protest the number of Smaug’s limbs or the axe in Bifur’s head, or argue that it makes no sense for Bilbo to fight orcs by throwing rocks at them (although I think being hit in the head with a rock would probably knock you out or kill you). To me, all these grievances seem petty, but I honestly don’t care whether you like Peter Jackson’s adaptation; everyone has their own tastes, and I can’t expect everyone to like the same movies I do.
What really gets up my nostril, though, is when they suggest that the Rankin/Bass cartoon of the ’70s stayed truer to the book than the Peter Jackson one did. I feel as though this claim goes beyond matters of taste, mainly because I just cannot understand how anyone could think this. My best guess is that fans of the Rankin/Bass version see the story as numbers on a battlefield and care little for character development. I could go through every scene in that cartoon and analyze why Peter Jackson stays far truer to the source material, but I only need one example to get my point across: the Arkenstone. In the book and the Jackson adaptation, Thorin’s search for this heirloom of his house drives him mad, leading to the tragic deaths of Thorin and his heirs. At the revelation that Bilbo had stolen the stone, Thorin, in a rage, attempts to kill Bilbo by throwing him off the gatehouse. This gives Thorin something very important to apologize for.
In the cartoon, there is no Arkenstone, and Thorin’s actions following Smaug’s death are unexplained. To make the cartoon yet worse, he does nothing more to Bilbo than call him names, Bilbo not having betrayed him in the kid-friendly version; the omission of Bilbo’s attempt to avert the war by giving the Arkenstone to Bard robs the two most important characters of their most important character development. Worse, when Cartoon-Thorin lies dying, he says that he would take back his words—not deeds—at the gate, for there were no deeds, robbing the scene of its emotional weight. In the Jackson adaptation, both these scenes are done more-or-less exactly as they are in the book.
For those who still feel that Peter Jackson’s movies were unable to live up to the book I feel only pity, for few movies are ever as good as the book, and no movie could ever be quite as good as that particular book. Part of what makes The Hobbit such a great book is that it wasn’t written with the screen in mind; it is perfectly suited to its medium, and it uses that medium in ways that cannot be replicated in any other medium. Some books are written more similarly to the way one would write the script for a movie, and such stories therefore translate more smoothly into the visual medium, but thankfully this is not the case with Tolkien’s work. It can’t translate perfectly into the visual medium because the two media are so different. Speaking for myself, I love the way Peter Jackson managed to adapt it to the screen. Is the movie as good as the book? No! Of course not! Is it one of the best and most emotional films I’ve ever seen? Yes.