Tolkien expert POLARIS reviews The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

7 Jan

The Hobbit

The Unexpected Movie

The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienThat’s right, folks: The movie many hoped Peter Jackson would make as we watched the end credits roll on The Return of the King has indeed been made….into three movies.  I initially was overjoyed at the prospect of three more movies.  Then, the dread set in and I wondered what the fuck Jackson was thinking taking a story as short as The Hobbit and breaking it into three.  Even with material from the appendices that seemed a bit of a stretch.  Much to my pleasant surprise, it appears he may well have pulled it off.  At least the first little bit of it.

Any way you look at it, The Hobbit had a lot of high expectations put on it, setting it up to fail gloriously as most things do when such is the case.  However, this first installment manages to hold up very well.  It’s doesn’t evoke the same jaw-dropping awesomeness Fellowship did when it came out, but then I don’t think anything ever will, and that’s OK.  One of the big challenges with making this movie was what had already come before.  The Lord of the Rings was epic on a massive scale whereas The Hobbit, while still having a huge nasty fucking dragon to kill, is about a small group trying to take back their homeland and riches for themselves.  Which brings in the challenge of taking a quaint, adventuring, kids’ bedtime story and giving it the epic treatment while still staying true to the book.

Hobbit going on an adventure

I’m going on an adventure, so tell your kids to shut up so everyone can enjoy it!

On a whole, I very much enjoyed the movie and would put it in my top ten of 2012.  The level of detail put into even the smallest of items perhaps glanced at for mere moments on the screen shows how much love was put into making this film.  The soundtrack sets the mood perfectly for every scene as we move through new unexplored areas of Middle Earth.  The visuals are top notch and the locations are so damn amazing that it makes you wonder how the hell all these different zones exist in one small-ish island nation.  Though there have been changes made for the sake of making a more compelling story, the vast majority of it works giving you a fun movie that is new but at the same time feels just a little familiar.

Hobbit dwarves

Click to embiggen. There will be a test.

I’ve seen some complaints about the pacing of the movie and how too much time was spent in Hobbiton for the set up and I couldn’t disagree more.  We’re already familiar with Gandalf and Bilbo but there are still thirteen new characters to introduce and the time spent with them at that beginning dinner party helps give the audience an idea of who each of these new people are.  That way we see and remember these new characters as opposed to just going “which dwarf is that again”.  There is more growth as the film moves on, but that first impression is very important to making each member of the company and individual and memorable.  That said, even with spending additional time throughout the movie with these characters there are a few that stick out in my mind as “which dwarf is that again”.  These are Oin, Bifur, Dori, and Nori.  If I didn’t know any better I would think that they were aware of this going into filming because these are the coincidently the ones with craziest hair/beard styles as well.  Not to mention that Gloin is only memorable because he’s been made to look like his son Gimli who we’re all familiar with from the trilogy.

And that is perhaps the biggest fault of this movie….the original trilogy.  I understand throwing in a couple nod and a wink moments for fans of those films, but some of it is just fucking ridiculous.  Showing them making Ori the official scribe of the journey is a nice touch since we see his skeleton holding the ginormous book in Moria detailing their final moments before they succumb to the goblin horde.  Having Gandalf use a butterfly to call the eagles for help, again nice touch, though a bit repetitive.  Thorin standing up with fire behind him striking a heroic pose before going to answer the albino goblins challenge….I couldn’t help laughing my ass off at this one because Aragorn was far better at pulling it off.  But the most egregious example of this is the chase scene leading them to Rivendell.  Stay with me now.  In Fellowship Arwen finds the group at the troll camp where they’ve stopped temporarily to try and give some first aid to Frodo.  This is the same encampment where Radagast (who was great fun and a wonderful addition to the film) finds Gandalf after said trolls have been turned to stone and the company has pilfered their cave for anything worth having.  From the exact same spot in both movies the chase begins, Arwen with Frodo on her steed being chased by the Nazgul, and Radagast on his rabbit sled being chased by goblins/wargs to draw them away from the company.  We see both racing across plains as more and more of the bad guys begin to collect behind them.  And each ends, in its own way, when they reach Rivendell.  Not only does this chase mirror something we’ve already seen, and done better in my opinion, but for anyone familiar with the book it could lead to a bit of confusion.  One of the friends I went to see this with actually asked me if they left out them going to Rivendell during this scene because in the book it’s not until they leave the last homely house that they begin having trouble with goblins.


Remember these guys in Fellowship? Look closer…

And on the topic of the goblins, the wargs finally looked like what I had always imagined them to be, giant feral wolves as opposed to the retarded lumbering hyenas we got in The Two Towers.  Kudos to Guillermo del Toro for that one.  Then there’s the would be pirate albino goblin Azog who has a metal claw attached where Thorin cut off his hand decades earlier.  We see this occur in a flashback that of course leaves off with the “he’s dead, I know it….even though I never saw the dead body” end of the tale which guarantees we’ll see him again….and we do, despite his really dying in the book.  He pops up throughout the film as a menacing presence and I suspect he will continue to do so throughout the series.  Which while not what happened in the book, it does help by giving us a familiar antagonist throughout the trilogy that we can always be expecting, as opposed to giving us a really fucking cool bad ass villain for the first movie then killing him off leaving the other two films feeling really disjointed from one another (Star War prequels I’m looking at you).  I’m predicting that Azog will probably be the one leading the goblin army in the Battle of Five Armies instead of Bolg.  And that’s probably for the best.  This way we can see he and Thorin kill each other once and for all.  Anyways, back to the dwarves!


Look at those eyes. How can you NOT give him an Oscar?!

They make it to Rivendell, shit goes down (more on that later), and on they go to Goblin Town, after seeing some stone giants beating each other to dust up close and personal, which was pretty cool and an impressive bit of CG.  I always imagined Goblin Town as a bunch of tight confining underground tunnels, but here we have a large open air complex within the mountain.  And it works, a hell of a lot better than it would have if they had stuck to the book on this one.  The scope is large and impressive, and much more suited to the fight they must go through to get out.  Here also we come to the famous “Riddles in the Dark” part of the story when Bilbo comes upon the ring.  It is wonderfully brought to life by both Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (it would be nice to see him get a nomination or two for what I think is his best work yet, but I’m not holding my breath). They completely inhabit their characters and the result is the best sequence in the movie.  I might also add that this is also when we get yet another call back to the trilogy in the form of Bilbo falling down and the ring flying up in the air only to find its way magically onto his finger….but I digress.  As everyone is escaping we see that moment where Bilbo chooses not to kill Gollum out of pity.  As he held Sting near Gollum’s throat I couldn’t help wondering why he couldn’t smell him…..but again, I digress.  They all make it into the clearing where Thorin is talking about the waste of space that Bilbo is before he springs out from behind the tree, Surprise!!!  Everyone but Thorin is happy to see him and there was much rejoicing, yay….until the albino goblin and his peeps show up.  Then up in the trees they go, a cliff comes out of nowhere to give the fight more tension as many of them hang precariously over the cliff in a downed tree.  Thorin does his Aragorn impression and Bilbo runs forward to help/save him as Thorin finds out he’s not quite the bad ass he thought.  I’d like to point out here that Bilbo seems to have learned to use a sword as some point without anybody knowing it.  We see this back in Goblin Town as well, but since he seems to magically become battle ready in the book once he gets Sting, I’m going to let this one slide.  The eagles show up, save the day, and drop them off at the edge of the Misty Mountains where Bilbo and Thorin share a Hallmark moment.  We’re left with a distance shot of the Lonely Mountain, leading into an interior shot with Smaug’s eye opening under a mound of gold….the very definition of cool.  And that’s it, see ya next year for Round 2.

Hobbit poster Bilbo

I’ve just picked up this sword, and now I’m an expert fighter! Wheee!

Once again, overall I very much enjoyed the movie and barely noticed it’s nearly 3 hour run time (including previews).  I saw it once in a regular theater with an annoying kid sitting behind me giving a running commentary during the whole fucking movie rather than being in school like he should have been. Here’s a tip parents, if you’re going to let them ditch school to see the first non-midnight showing of a movie they’ve been dying to see, make sure they can sit still and shut the fuck up long enough to watch said movie!  This of course led to me seeing it a second time in a nice 21+ theater with the higher frame rate of 48 frames per second and having seen them both I’ll say this….it’s weird.  The first half hour it felt like I was watching a badly shot home movie, but once my eyes adjusted to it I really enjoyed the higher frame rate.  It was to me smoother and made the 3D worth watching for a change.  I also forgot I was wearing the damn glasses which is no small feat.  But it did take some getting used to.  I think there’s definite potential for the technology, however, it does need to be refined and I expect we’ll be watching it going through it’s growing pains over the next two films.

Now you may remember that I said “more on that later” once we got to Rivendell and that was for a good reason which I’ll go into now.


Rivendell, while I always love checking out the elven cities, presented a few more challenges for my brain.  Firstly, the dwarves were always planning to go there to rest, resupply, and get some advice on the map.  Now it’s true the dwarves and elves generally don’t get along for many different reasons and events that I’m not about to go into, but Rivendell was always seen as neutral territory so to speak.  Elrond was wise and helpful and always rose above the feud between the two races.  So seeing Thorin repeatedly bitch and complain about not wanting to go to Rivendell was bizarre.  I understand why it was done.  King Thranduil is a greedy dick.  We saw him briefly at the beginning of the film and anyone familiar with the book knows that he later imprisons the company for many days/weeks.  Again, greedy dick, and it’s totally understandable why the dwarves would hate him and his people.  I suspect they decided to expand this to all elves to give the story more tension when they are eventually captured, but it also rang false when after so much whining, bitching, and moaning Thorin hands over the map for help despite Balin looking on in horror.

Galadriel poster

“Remember that part in the book with me? Huh? No? Well, suck on THIS.”

Then there’s the White Council….or part of it anyways.  When hearing that things that were alluded to in the books were going to be put in the movie I did the dance of joy, mainly for the White Council.  This is because, for whatever reason, I think Lord Cirdan of the Grey Havens is the shit and he gets only two distance shots in the trilogy.  I get why, but this is the oldest elf in Middle Earth and was the original ring bearer for Narya, the elven ring of fire.  But alas, once again Lord Cirdan gets the shaft.  And I digress.  The White Council was made up of the wizards, Galadriel, Elrond, Cirdan, and others of the chief Eldar (most likely including Celeborn the Wise, Galadriel’s husband).  That’s a lot of people….that became four.  Just as with the elf-dwarf hatred thing, I understand why this was done.  We’ve already got a ton of new characters and introducing more at the council would probably just be overkill.  But then when there was the Council of Elrond in Fellowship there were a bunch of people who attended but did little more than jump to their feet to argue when the One Ring told them to.  I suppose I was expecting something similar to that.  But while I can accept its stunted numbers, I have a huge problem with the proceedings.  The council was formed by Galadriel for the sole purpose of dealing with Sauron.  The only reason the Istari (wizards) were in Middle Earth to begin with was to counter Sauron.  So I found it rather jarring that there was such a dismissive attitude about the possibility of Sauron returning, like it was something that could never happen.  Saruman by this point was already searching for the ring himself and had gone to the dark side so I’ll give him some leeway, but the scene still set up the council as general guardians of Middle Earth rather than what they really were, a think tank watching for any sign of Sauron’s return.

Hobbit group shot

Why, of course we’re all standing here together. Photoshop? What’s that?

And speaking of Sauron and the One Ring, it really drew my attention that the bearers of the three elven rings of power (Galadriel, Gandalf, and Elrond) weren’t wearing their rings.  I probably wouldn’t have noticed if there hadn’t been that long lingering shot of Galadriel holding Gandalf’s hands.  It was suggested to me that maybe this was done intentionally so as to not draw attention away from the One Ring being found, but then Thorin is rocking a couple of big rings so that doesn’t seem so likely.  It’s a minor thing that I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but since I did it really sticks out to me.  Kinda like why was a new elf character introduced to welcome Gandalf and Co. to Rivendell when it could just as easily have been Glorfindel, a powerful elf lord who ended up taking over leadership of Rivendell when Elrond left.  I think that would have been a nice little touch as opposed to having a new named elf show up to say “hi there”.  Course this is really just nit-picking at this point.

End of geek tirade…

In conclusion, it’s a great film and see it on the big screen before it’s gone because the cinematography demands it.  With a strong cast and all that Weta has to offer behind it, I think this was a wonderful beginning to what will hopefully be a trilogy worthy of that which came before.

Hobbit barrels

See you next year in The Hobbit: There Will Be Barrels!

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