The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (part 1)
I’ve decided to split my review into two parts The first will focus on the story elements of the film while the second will look at the technical and visual aspects.
I have to admit that I went into this film skeptical, despite being a big Tolkien fan (or perhaps because of that). To be honest, I had strong doubts that it would even be made, but here it is. So after 9 year of waiting, was it all worth it?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but damn it could have been a lot better. As an adaptation, The Hobbit is pretty faithful other than a lot of the additions. However, the additions are a large part of the problem, especially since most of them are just there to pander to the legions of fan geeks out there. The first one that jumps out is the opening with Ian Holm writing down his adventures in a scene which starts moments before the opening of Fellowship. It was really unnecessary, and purely there for fan service. However this scene also allows room for another opening prologue which details the history of the story. But while Fellowship’s prologue was pithy and concise, this one was far too meandering.
Another disgusting display of fan service were the Rivendell scenes. There we get a meeting of the White Council which sees many familiar face, who are practically announced as though they are walking down the red carpet. Not to mention that that scene was ridiculously drawn out and really put a halt on any story momentum the movie had built up to that point.
So those were some of the glaring problems. What about the shining successes? First off, I have to say that it was great to see McKellan back as Gandalf. I also thought that Martin Freeman hit just the right note for Bilbo, although he does have a tendency to get lost in the background a lot. Another addition I liked was Richard Armitage who brought a lot of intensity and grounding to the role of Dwarfking Thorin Oakenshield.
Pretty much everything that was in the first six chapters of the book shows up here. The highlight of those scenes has to be the Gollum “riddles in the dark” sequence. It was filmed with pitch perfect precision and was almost exactly as I pictured it. The troll scene actually went well also, though it could have done with a little less slapstick. Another great scene was the Warg attack in the trees, as Peter Jackson was really able to use his embellishing talents to good effect there.
There is one scene that I was surprised to see which I wish they hadn’t added, which was the stone giants. I remember them clearly from the book, but didn’t expect them to be in the film. When they were, I was pleasantly surprised, that was until there was an entire “action’ scene built out of them. Not only was the action very incoherent, but it also felt very out of place, as though it could have been completely removed from the film without a hiccup.
And then there was Radaghast… Oh dear. A completely unnecessary addition to the story who was ridiculously imagined. He has quickly become the Jar Jar Binks of the LOTR film franchise. I absolutely cringed during his scenes, especially that awkward hedgehog scene. Just…. why? Wh-why?
Okay, I know I’m rambling too much on what I didn’t like. But that’s because I’m a Tolkien geek and it bugged me. But to be honest, these problems that seem like nitpicking are actually pretty big problems. For one, all this film pandering really affects the pacing of this film. The movie needed to be cut down considerably, and could have been easily without PJ having to include so many unnecessary references to the other films.
Another big problem is the general silliness which permeates this production. Whether its the dwarf with the slingshot, the little goblin scribe on the zip-line, all the dwarves crashing down on that 3-layer bridge,or (I can’t believe I have to say this) the rabbit sled, I just felt like Jackson needed to take this production a little more seriously. Its very clear that the Lord of the Rings trilogy has much more emotion resonance and more gravitas. And thats fine, its supposed to. Its a much larger story after all. This is a more light-hearted adventure tale in comparison, but that doesn’t mean that it has to completely go over the deep end with goofiness. I seem to recall another movie in a big franchise which did that, and it was called The Phantom Menace.
Whew. Okay, with that off my chest, now I can gush a bit. I must say that it was nice to be back in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth when all is said and done. As a fan of the books, I really enjoyed seeing all the adventures from the book come to life. And when this show was in a high it worked very well. It does still feel consistent with the first trilogy, even if the tone is off kilter a bit. So even though Jackson and company made some missteps, I still find myself fairly happy with it overall.