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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review - Mike

I am an enthusiastic fan of the books of JRR Tolkien and the movies Peter Jackson made of the "Lord of the Rings" and I've been in a state of excited anticipation since I first heard rumors that Mr Jackson was planning to make a film interpretation of "The Hobbit".

As it turned out I finally ended up walking into the theater carrying concern about the fact that this fairly short, simpler story was going to turn into three epic films.  I put my trust in Mr Jackson and took my seat.  I didn't leave or squirm in my seat the full nearly 3 hours of the movie.

Well I did squirm a bit, but not for sitting to long, it was right at the start.  The movie opens with a sort of prologue which takes place just a bit earlier in the day of Bilbo's birthday celebration.  He is just then starting to write his book on his adventure to the Lonely Mountain.  Here we encounter the first of several items that don't match how Tolkien wrote down his story.  These things generally don't bother me, certainly there were several of these types of departures in the LoTR films and still those films told an excellent story of comparable quality in the form of film as Tolkien's story in the form of the written word.  What bothered me about the prologue was, it wasn't necessary, it felt like pandering to an audience that didn't need pandering, even people unfamiliar with the books didn't need this preparation if they'd seen the LoTR films.  And even people who hadn't seen the LoTR films didn't need it, the story for them could've started off just as the book did.  At least this is what I think and it seemed like Mr Jackson just wanted to show Frodo and Bilbo from the LoTR movies, token cameos.  That's how I felt watching it and that could be uncharitable based on other elements of the film that seemed to be taken from the appendices found at the end of the LoTR books to provide more depth and complexity perhaps this prologue was a way of introducing the idea that Bilbo at first lied about how he came to have the ring and the fact that the Hobbit as most read it was a children's version of a tale much more series.

I felt the old excitement return or rather I should say my heart filled with part of what my excitement for the film hungered for when the dwarves broke into song and started juggling Bilbo's dishes, and again a short time later when they sang the lament for their lost homeland.

We see the discussion around the map, the key and the plans such as they are, the introduction of the idea that Bilbo would be the burglar and his own hesitation and the doubts of the dwarves but unlike in the book Bilbo seems to not feel the need to defend himself as a stout and capable fellow.  And yet the next morning he runs out of his hole, contract signed after the company of dwarves.

I felt impatient at the lack of attention given to Bilbo's motivation.  I'll get back to this in a bit.

When the company encounters the trolls I felt pretty satisfied that the scene was meeting my expectations, except perhaps that I had always pictured the Trolls as a bit more humanoid.

And there were additions, things not in the book that worked well and I enjoyed.  Like Radagast (a bit of a quibble here though in that why do we get Radagast in the Hobbit where he doesn't appear but not in Fellowship of the Rings!?), that was fun and added to the story.

I enjoyed the Rivendell scenes but as the film moved to a scene showing a meeting of the White Council, Saruman, Elrond, Gandalf and Galadriel we are shown Galadriel standing alone in an archway with soaring music and we are left here for what is probably less than one minute but feels much longer.  It struck me again like a pandering cameo.  But then the scene develops into a good and valuable addition to the film version of the story I thought.  But again a moment at least of impatience.

And at this point I'd like to step back a bit to the Troll scene.  The Tolkien's version is a wonderful example of the quality of his story telling.  It uses the first adventure as an opportunity to show Bilbo practice for the first time being a burglar and also showed well the kind of Wizard Gandalf is, not one who waves a wand or casts a spell at every need but uses small tricks and cunning.  He keeps the Trolls arguing, using their own disagreeable nature against them until sunrise overtakes them.  In the film he get just a bit of that in the form of Bilbo trying to pull this same trick.  That seemed to me a fair enough change to put the focus of the story more on Bilbo but it felt to short for me and then Gandalf uses his staff like he does at the Bridge of Khazad-dum to crack a rock to let the sun shine through.  Too quick, too overdone for Gandalf; these Trolls hardly deserve the kind of effort Gandalf puts into fighting the Balrog.  And so my reason to return to this scene for comment is that it seemed to me more time could've been spent on this to bring it closer to the story as told in the book and not overuse Gandalf's magical powers if other unnecessary aspects I spoke about earlier; the prologue, Galadriel's entrance; were cut shorter.

I don't know what the world would've done without Ian McKellen, in my mind there is no life of Gandalf outside Tolkien's pages without Mr McKellen, no other person could be him as fully as Mr McKellen.  And I felt the actors all did well and fit well their characters, although Thorin I have to reserve a little on, I didn't feel the level of connection to his character I did for most.

I always considered myself more of a Lord of the Rings man, I might still identify with Frodo and Sam more than the other characters, but I also on occasion thought of myself of Boromir and even Strider (if not Aragon if you know what I mean).  After all the Books making up the Lord of the Rings story are much more adult, complex and subtle.  Even with the refashioning of the Hobbit after the Lord of the Rings stories implied a connection the book "The Hobbit" is still the book as it was and it is a simple story, calling it a children's story doesn't seem fair but it is a story a child could read and enjoy.  And it seems this story, as told in the book, is much more a part of my own story of myself than I was aware and I think because of this Mr Jackson's first installment of his film version of the story will have to withstand my sensitivities when he retells part of my story.

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