“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”…so goes the the opening sentence of Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities. What does The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey have to do with A Tale of Two Cities? Thematically, nothing; but just as the plot of Dickens’ novel deals with the struggle between light/dark, wisdom/folly, and hope/despair so also goes the internal struggle created while viewing The Hobbit.
Indeed, there are two ways to review The Hobbit. One is to look at it with the eye of a casual moviegoer who liked Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. The other is to look at it with the skeptical squint of a lifelong fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book. I’m going to attempt to squint skeptically with one eye, while gazing in wide eyed wonder with the other. Let’s see how it goes.
I really am at odds with myself over this movie, like a two headed giant fighting with itself over yesterday’s roast mutton. I walked out of the IMAX showing both entertained and a bit angry.
Bilbo Baggins lives a simple life with his fellow hobbits in the Shire, until the wizard Gandalf arrives and convinces him to join a group of dwarves on a quest to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor. The journey takes Bilbo on a path through treacherous lands swarming with orcs, goblins and other dangers, not the least of which is an encounter with Gollum and a simple gold ring that is tied to the fate of Middle Earth in ways Bilbo cannot even fathom.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, et al.
Media: Film, 169 minutes
Year: December 14, 2012
On one hand I understand why Peter Jackson is turning a fairly short fairy tale populated with hobbits, dwarfs with funny hats, mysterious elves, a wise old wizard, and a gold hording dragon in to an eight hour long trilogy. Money. Period. Don’t let Jackson or the studio try to convince you otherwise because they are just playing lip service to the fans in the name of “creativity.” As an opening movie to what I am calling The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Part I it works brilliantly…because that’s what it is. If you have no preconceived bias or opinion concerning The Hobbit it’s a safe bet that you loved the movie because it began to fill in the corners left empty by the “original” trilogy. How did Bilbo meet Gollum? How did Sauron regain a footing in Middle-earth? How did Bilbo become so wealthy…he doesn’t seem to work!? How exactly did Bilbo find that funny ring? Where did Gandalf befriend those eagles? Lots and lot of corners are filled in, not unlike a chubby hobbit sitting down for second breakfast. But when The Hobbit was written none of these corners yet existed to the fans.
On the other hand the spirit of The Hobbit (well, at least the first 90 pages of it) is completely buried in a bloated, concocted crock of nonsense.
The problem with Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit is that most of the large, drawn out segments he added are either incorrect or blatantly break Tolkien’s lore. The biggest lore breaker is the addition of Azog. In Tolkien’s lore Dáin cut Azog’s head from his shoulders. He’s long dead before the events of the film take place. Yet during the flashback scenes in the film showing Azog’s army fighting the dwarven army Thorin cuts off Azog’s arm creating what would later become the equivalent of a steampunk orc. Lore was obsolutely tossed out the window for the sake of creating another antagonist to pursue the party across Middle-earth. Peter Jackson pulled a similar stunt in The Lord of the Rings when he invented (hatched) the orc Lurtz.
None of the long, drawn out scenes involving the guano stained Radagast (and the bunny sled), Galadriel, Saruman, battles with Azog, the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, or the endless pursuit through Goblin Town are in The Hobbit. All of these segments were either utterly fabricated by Peter Jackson or extrapolated from the appendices in The Lord of the Rings. But again, I can see all the reasons for do so, even if I don’t agree with them. This is where purists and fans of the book begin to squirm in their seats and squint at the screen in skepticism, wondering what happened to that wonderful tale they read years ago. You can see that tale if you read between the scenes of Peter Jackson’s (di)version. It’s all there…book ended by Hollywood CEO’s rubbing their hands together and smiling with creepy avarice.
Technically the movie is well above par. Some portions of the CGI look brilliant (Gollum & the Great Goblin) while others are just distracting and bad (Radagast’s bunny sled flying around the plains, swarms of CGI orcs, and the use of fake pipe smoke. Why?). As a whole the movie is gorgeous and Jackson’s team did a excellent job re-capturing the magical vistas and creatures of Middle-earth. The acting is fabulous and Sir Ian McKellen picks up the role of Gandalf without missing a beat.
It seems the tone of this review is leaning to the negative; but don’t get me wrong, I’m a reasonable Tolkien fan. I can see both sides of this movie. To that end I really enjoyed the movie as the beginning of an opening sequence to The Lord of the Rings films. I hated it as a film version of The Hobbit.
Thankfully we still have the written words of Tolkien to enjoy . . . and that dulls the pain a bit.
– As an intro to The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
– As a translation of the first part of The Hobbit book.
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