Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey... My Review

I have been asked to write a review on the new Tolkien based movie, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey". This will be an easy task, as the movie was spectacular. Be forewarned, there will be spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the movie.

This movie was excellent. They even got the 3D right, which is rare for a live action movie. As you might expect with a bunch of dwarves, there is plenty of comedy relief in this film.

Regarding the splitting the story into three parts, I am glad Jackson chose to do this. The Hobbit is a book that contains a lot of scenes, and to condense them into one movie would have forced a shotgun (BOOM BOOM BOOM) transitional effect to the film. As it is, Jackson has slow and smooth transitions, laced with beautiful imagery, a remarkable score, comic relief, and wonderful character development.

One walks away with the distinct impression that Peter Jackson wasn't attempting to translate a novel to the cinema as much as he was wanting to transport people to Middle-Earth to experience the adventure first hand.

The movie begins slightly before Gandalf's arrival for Bilbo's birthday in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring". As you can imagine, the whole of the story is more of a recollection on Bilbo's part of his adventure. This is as it should be, as Bilbo's book, "There and Back Again" is more of a memoir than anything.

Elijah Wood makes a short cameo, reprising his role as Frodo for these brief scenes. Jackson does a decent job at preserving the continuity between "The Lord of the Rings" and these scenes.

If you are reading this review, you have probably read the book. It is interesting to note that The Hobbit was more of a hobby for J. R. R. Tolkien that his magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was written for his son, Christopher Tolkien. Although the story's whole cloth was gaining cohesion in his mind, he had no real intention to write or publish it. Only after the whole story was written, much to the credit and delight of C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, did it occur to Tolkien that The Hobbit was an essential aspect to the whole story, as it tells the story about how Bilbo came into possession of the Ring of Power. It also tells how Bilbo and Gandalf meet, how Gandalf came by his sword, Glamdring, how Bilbo became rich, and how Bilbo was able to live such a long life. It is said that had it not been for Lewis' constant nudging for Tolkien to complete The Lord of the Rings, bringing the story to its epic conclusion, Tolkien might have never published the books.

Tolkien is a writer of an older tradition. As such, he scatters lyrics throughout his books, in a Celtic tradition. In the theatrical releases of "The Lord of the Rings", the lyrics are barely present at all. This element of the previous movies turned off many die-hard Tolkien fans, in spite of the lyrical aspect being better preserved in the extended editions of the movies.

If you are among these disenchanted Tolkien fans, rejoice. The merry, jolly dwarves in "The Hobbit" are a singing folk who sing every chance they get. And yes, you get to hear a very well performed version of "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates", complete with entertaining choreography. Of course, my favorite was "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold", which was featured in the trailer. And I am sure there is more to come in the subsequent movies, as well as the extended editions.

The dwarves appearance was spot-on. Just the right amount of eccentricity and diversity. My favorite was Bombur, whose braids connected at the peak of his giant belly. They are first rate warriors in melee combat. I was thoroughly impressed with their design.

While the movie as a whole held remarkable continuity with the book, a few cinematic liberties were taken. The biggest addition is the presence of a "pale orc". Please understand that while this pale orc, also known as Azog, was part of the whole legendarium, his presence wasn't in this particular book.  I suppose Jackson's reasons for Azog's inclusion is similar to his inclusion of "Lurtz" in "Fellowship". Smaug, The Hobbit's primary antagonist, has not yet made a full-bodied appearance in the first movie, and people need an antagonist to project their hatred upon. Enter this "pale orc". Although a minor character in Tolkien's legendarium, this "pale orc" is all manner of bad. Having his arm severed in a previous encounter with Thorin, he has jammed a metal spike in his arm to use as a prosthesis. Since his presence didn't really take away from the central story, his inclusion did not bother me.

I will not say anything about the Goblin King scene, except that it was awesome. To tell more is to give away its details which must be seen to be appreciated.

The "Riddles in the Dark" scene, in my opinion, felt forced and lacking in certain ways I cannot articulate. It just felt very inorganic. I wish it had been rendered differently, with Gollum being more shadowy and malevolent. This is all my opinion, of course.

The troll scene was exceptional, howbeit I would refrain from eating popcorn or candy until after the scene.

One thing that I found interesting about the movie that might escape those who have not read The Silmarillion, is how they play out the idea that the Necromancer is Sauron, and has possibly returned in ethereal form. In The Hobbit, it is never clearly defined who the Necromancer is. For readers only, you must read The Silmarillion to discover the Necromancer is actually Sauron. Unlike the book, the movie drops hints that the Necromancer is actually Sauron. Interesting that Jackson would do this. I suppose he is catering to those who haven't read further into the books that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

One final thing. My favorite line in the whole book, where Thorin says, "...this most excellent and audacious hobbit - may the hair on his toes never fall out! - all praise to his wine and ale!" was omitted. At least, I didn't catch it if it was spoken. But there is always the extended edition. I hope it is included in it.

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