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The Hobbit (Part 1) More Than Enjoyable Despite Glaring Errors in Judgment

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro from the book by J.R.R. Tolkien
Warner Bros., 2012

It took forever for Peter Jackson to get The Hobbit to the screen.  With MGM holding the rights from a long time ago, Jackson’s battles with the Tolkien estate and New Line Cinema from the Lord of the Rings movies, and subsequent goings-under by MGM and New Line, this never seemed like it would get off the ground.  Guillermo del Toro once was going to direct this, but the problems put this movie into a seemingly perpetual tailspin.  Then, finally, all was resolved.  And also, the age of splitting movies into more than one part became a huge thing.

I read The Hobbit back in 2001, along with The Fellowship of the Ring in anticipation of the first movie.  The Hobbit is not the kind of story that can really easily be broken into three full, long movies.  It’s a really simple story in which there are only two big characters (Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf) and a whole bunch of dwarves, not really distinct from each other all that much.  It has a small passage where Bilbo meets Gollum and the stage is set for the next three books concerning the ring.  But it’s mostly a straightforward “Let’s kill the dragon” type of fantasy story.

Obviously, since this simple story has been dissected into three parts, mainly because the studios involved can just about triple their money on their investment (and likely cover all those legal fees and rights management from all the pre-production hell), some things not in the original book are going to be there, and a whole bunch of “prequelly” type things to set up The Lord of the Rings trilogy are in order.  And a whole lot of bloat and silliness.  In the end, though, most fans of Tolkien are going to come out enjoying this.

The story is of Bilbo Baggins (the great Martin Freeman) being turned into an adventurer by Gandalf (the returning Ian McKellen), teaming him up with 13 dwarves in their quest to kill the nasty dragon Smaug, who took their home, The Lonely Mountain, and the mountains of treasure within many years ago.  In “An Unexpected Journey” we see the first leg of this adventure, which involves the famous troll scene, the converging at the Elf realm Rivendell (enter Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett, reprising their roles as Elrond and Galadriel: she’s not in the book, but why not, right?) and one of the centerpieces of The Hobbit: Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum.  Also lots of nasty goblins.  More groundwork is laid for The Lord of the Rings when a wizard known as Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) experiences a dark power not seen in ages: Radagast was barely mentioned in The Hobbit: Peter Jackson has taken other Tolkien works like Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion to flesh out Radagast’s appearance in this film.

Let’s get the main criticism out of the way first: The Hobbit doesn’t need to be three movies.  Especially three long movies.  What’s amazing about the “cash-grab” nature of the way this story was split into three was that they didn’t decide to make these movies all ninety minutes.  There would have been twice the showings and more money.  But here we are, with a nearly 3 hour movie, a third of a story, based on a book that could be done in one movie in less time.

Tolkien didn’t do much with the dwarves in The Hobbit, so the characters here don’t quite stand out here, either.  There are dwarves with visual characterizations but not much in the way of distinct personalities.  The main dwarf Thorin, played by Richard Armitage, has the same bland quality as most of the “men” did in Lord of the Rings: talks in a deep voice, always angry about something.

I didn’t like how Jackson changed the troll scene in The Hobbit.  And I’m not sure why he does.  Taken on its own, the scene is entertaining enough: if I didn’t know what happened in the book I guess it would be OK.  But Jackson takes a cerebral puzzle and turns it into an anticlimactic action scene for really no reason that I can discern other than that he could.

Overall though, there are lots of things to like: the Bilbo/Gollum scene is great, along with the battle with the goblins.  Martin Freeman is hilarious and perfect as Bilbo.  Jackson knows how to move a camera and is always an engaging storyteller and action scene whiz, and the cinematography from Andrew Lesnie is top-notch (I did not see it in the 48fps that Jackson claims is “the future” and I think could be “the death of cinema,” but I reserve by judgment until I see it).  There is a lot of silliness: that Radagast…he seems primed for his own sitcom where he keeps getting into wacky adventures.  A scene involving a sleigh being pulled by bunnies reminded me of the prairie dogs in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I found this overall enjoyable, despite many flaws.  It’s understandable if you didn’t like Lord of the Rings to stay away from this one, and I wouldn’t blame people who decide to wait until the third chapter, in 2014, arrives.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: December 13, 2012, 6:16 pm

As you are well aware, I was not the biggest fan of the LOTR Trilogy. I thought it was fine, but I can definitely wait until Redbox for this one. Glad you liked it for the most part though; I know you are quite the fan of the triogy and Jackson in general.

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