In the last two weeks I’ve seen both Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. Out of the two, I enjoyed Les Mis more, mainly because the music carries the movie and the cast did such a good job of imbuing it with fresh emotion.

The Hobbit PosterI have mixed feelings about The Hobbit – on one hand, the fact that it is nothing like the book is to be expected (and, to be fair, Jackson did stay pretty true to the spirit of the story, even as he changed how events played out); on the other hand, I’m a bit of a Tolkien purist, so many of the changes were grating the first time around. The movie did improve on subsequent viewings.

It’s like hearing a jazz rendition of your favorite orchestral piece – even if it’s good jazz, it’s still not what you’re expecting or wanting.

I’m somewhat hostilely neutral towards Jackson’s portrayal of Thorin. Jackson has chosen to focus on his thirst for revenge, while in the book, while revenge is part of his motive, it never overshadows his nobility. That makes the ending (spoiler alert), when the gold-lust overtakes him and he falls out with Bilbo, all the more unexpected and tragic because he had been so stalwart and honorable for the rest of the book. By upping the tension between him and Bilbo from the start, when the falling out invariably happens, the impact will be less.

I also really hated when Bilbo goes into a berserker rage and vigorously stabs the orc (still do, actually, that part has not improved with more viewings)- totally out of his established character both in book and movie.

But, what they got right in The Hobbit, they got pitch-perfect. The dwarves’ song about the Misty Mountains was everything I ever imagined that song to be and the Riddles in the Dark scene was brilliant. I especially love that they remembered to make Gollum’s eyes glow.

Les Mis Poster

I enjoyed Les Mis far more unreservedly. The music is as beautiful and powerful as ever. Anne Hathaway does an amazing job as Fantine, and for all that I’ve heard Russell Crowe’s singing criticized, I think he did a fine job, though I can see where fans of the stage productions might complain.

I think Les Mis might have to go on my list of works where I prefer the movie/stage adaptation to the book, simply because of the music. The music is why I turn to this story. If I want to read a depressing slog where lots of people die in a music-less fashion, I’ll read Dickens.

So, both of these movies are worth seeing. Purists will have complaints on both counts (The Hobbit more than Les Mis, in my opinion) but both movies are strong and fun to watch.