Movie Review: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012)



I gotta say before anything that, regardless of how much I liked or didn’t like this first part in the new “The Hobbit” trilogy, I still haven’t gotten over my rage caused by the fact that they chose to split this charming and simple tale into three goddamn epics. It’s a sad, sad testament of Hollywood greed.
           
That being said, I can talk about the movie itself. I am a big fan of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy—I still find it endlessly rewatchable, beautifully produced and epic as epic gets. Yet, I wasn’t entirely sure I was looking forward “The Hobbit”, a story I knew as ‘Lord of the Rings Lite’ before reading the book, and then again after reading it. While I thought it would be exciting to have another big dip into the crazy awesome universe of Middle Earth, everything in pre-production had me raising an eyebrow—especially when my main man Guillermo del Toro was slated to direct and then wasn’t, by his own choice.

Now, having seen the movie, which covers little over 100 pages of the book, I can say that even though I still hate the whole trilogy thing, my concerns might be a bit misplaced: the movie is pretty awesome, even if a different kind of awesome to “The Lord of the Rings”.

Much like the book, “The Hobbit” takes on a different stance in the way it approaches fantasy, choosing to have it be an adventurous, genuinely fun and curious story instead of a huge, dark epic. This isn’t to say that “An Unexpected Journey” is comparable to the Narnia movies, because it’s not; though it’s lighthearted and hilarious, it’s still often violent, creepy as hell (dat Azog; I know what my Halloween costume will be next year), and at one point really sad—mainly that one scene involving Gollum that almost made me forget that gangly thing is an asshole.

The story works in different terms than its predecessors/sequels; there isn’t nearly as much at stake, and the lead character’s primary objective is simply “to go on an adventure”. Which he does. Though Bilbo doesn’t take the front seat in the narrative as he did in the book, his eyes are a great way to funnel every nerd’s fantasy adventure fixation. Martin Freeman played the awkward, wide-eyed character beautifully and was charming and fun to watch the whole way through.

But like I said, unlike the book, this isn’t only Bilbo’s story. The 12 dwarves take center stage, as their story
 is the one that has depth beyond “Fantasy Adventure Bright Colorful Fun!” This is how the movie pads itself. Like I said, we’re talking about a 160+ minute movie that covers 100 pages of a children’s book. While a lot of the time, the added narrative is greatly appreciated (like the dwarves being held captive by the goblins, which the book never really depicts), other times it does feel excessive and pointless.

In particular, the whole scene involving Radegast early into the movie felt like the product of a last second re-shoot, as it feels extremely out of place with the main narrative, and doesn’t seem necessary at all. This is a big deal too, because we’re talking about a movie that really does feel too long, with a plot spread way to thin. Also it takes a good while to get started; I did really like that first act before the Company leaves the Shire, as it is a charming and funny introduction, but holy hell it lasted way, way too long. At least, when they finally left, the film was a continuous onslaught of action and adventure.

Overall, there is more new than adapted material, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Sometimes, this works in favor of the narrative, and other times it really doesn’t. Because of this, it’s hard to call the movie a faithful adaptation of the book. Yes, it’s definitely great to see scenes outside of Bilbo’s eyeshot—and I really liked that meeting in Rivendell with so many awesome characters coming back for a quick cameo. However, trying to give it a bigger scope does strip the story of a lot of its boyish charm that made the book so much fun.

By the way, I haven’t read “The Silmarillion”, so I can’t really vouch for how much of the new material is made up and how much is ‘canon’ lore.
 
Something that worked very well for me was that Jackson did a pretty good job at helping us identify each of the 12 dwarves. In the book, they barely have individual identities—which is why I assume Tolkien ‘pairs’ them up with similar sounding names—but thanks to their specific designs, it’s so much easier to tell which one’s which. No, you won’t get much in terms of backstory or individual objectives, but it’s much clearer than it was in the book.

The only dwarf that really gets a dimensional personality is, of course, the leader—Thorin. There aren’t words to describe how much of a fucking badass this guy is, so I won’t try to; I just want to say that despite all the clichés in his character, he was by far the coolest player in the band of the good guys. Screw Gandalf.

As you’d expect, the production is huge to the point that it’s almost over-produced (what the eff was up with that introductory narration?), the sceneries are eye-wateringly, pant-peeingly, pleasure-inducingly gorgeous, the music is as beautiful as it was in the original trilogy, with a lot of recurring themes to give you goosebumps, and the effects are absolutely fucking crazy. My god. If you thought Gollum looked good in the original trilogy wait until you see this—the detail in the skin, face and movements is unbelievable.

Yes, I really love this amazing CGI when it comes to creatures which are impossible to produce otherwise—for instance, the rock giants, Gollum and even the awesome, awesome trolls—but I hate it when they choose to replace actors with it, which this film does a lot. The Goblin King was the worst sin; yeah, CGI gives you more liberties with the visual design of the creatures, but that would’ve looked so much better as an actor in a prosthetic costume instead of a very-obviously-fake blob. Did we really need Azog as he is? Couldn’t we get a guy in a badass costume like Lurtz (A.K.A. badass of badasses)?

Again—overproduced.

When the movie ended I was torn because though it did a good job at trying to give us a semblance of a climax and closure, there really wasn’t any whatsoever except for one heart-warming character twist. I know this was true for Fellowship or Towers, but at least there they were setting up the next story with narrative logic. In here it feels a bit arbitrary, and the fact that we have to wait a year—and then another one—to see the story ending is kind of a bitch.

So yes, I did enjoy “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” much more than I thought I would. It’s a lite version of “The Lord of the Rings”—the same universe, but stripped of its huge scope in exchange for lighthearted and boyish humor, a more intimate and personal story for the dwarves and a cute, charming adventure for Bilbo. I’ve used the word “charming” a lot in this review, and for good reason—it’s the best word I can use to describe it, and I’m not doing it with condescension. It’s a genuinely fun adventure, if one that does suffer from the greedy decisions behind its production.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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3 comments:

  1. Actually it was Peter Jackson and his writing partners who decided to make it a trilogy, when they realized, part way through filming, that they had more story (from the LotR appendices) that they wanted to tell. It was not a decision made by the studio, and it was not a cynical, “greedy decision.” It was a creative one, made by people who are fans of the material, and who want to take this chance, this last visit to Middle-earth, to tell as much of Tolkien's story as they can-- for the fans.

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    1. Maybe I was being overly cynical -- and I still am, because I find it hard to believe that greed didn't play a part -- but thanks for the clarification. Still, the main problem with the movie is that it feels very padded; this wouldn't be a problem if they had stuck with a two-parter.

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    2. Well, Warner's wouldn't have given the go ahead on the idea if they didn't think they could make a lot of money-- it is a business. But just because an idea gets financed, and can potentially make a lot of money, doesn't make the idea “greedy.” Think what you will though; i just think it's lazy writing and lazy thinking.

      Now if the movie is slow, and drags in parts or feels long, that's another issue-- a filmmaking issue. And it may be true. I'll find out next week when i see it for myself.

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