Tuesday, December 18, 2012

WGTB Reviews The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

There's always something risky when you see a beloved book turned into a film. I first read The Hobbit when I was eleven years old and it very quickly led me to reading Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and the rest of J.R.R. Tolkien's works. I still count him as my favourite author and when Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films came out over a decade ago, I'll admit I was a little skeptical about how it was going to be done. I've since come to appreciate the LOTR trilogy of films and walked into The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with the guarded optimism that I've acquired over the past decade. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett & Christoper Lee. RATED: PG-13,  TIME: 169 Minutes 

(Warning: Some Spoilers Below)
Like Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, this film draws upon the larger Legendarium of Tolkien and is not just an interpretation of The Hobbit. There are some subtle but noticeable changes made to the story in order to drive the the plot forward, but for the most part it sticks to the earlier part of the 1937 novel, albeit with some Dwarven back story from the The Unfinished Tales and Lord of the Rings appendices. The story begins with grandiose introduction to the story of the Lonely Mountain dwarves, then proceeds to the Shire, where we are introduced to an aged Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) talking to fellow LOTR alumni Elijah Wood (as Frodo Baggins). From there Bilbo tells the story of his adventure sixty years earlier where he set off (here played by a much younger Martin Freeman) with Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen) and a company of dwarves. Along the way the group encounters trolls, orcs, (somewhat) friendly elves and Gollum. As their are two more films coming, I won’t say where exactly it ends, but you can probably get the idea from this description.

Sir Ian McKellen is back as Gandalf the wizard. In this scene he inspects his new sword Glamdring.
For the most part I enjoyed the film. There were a few additions to drive the plot forward that the purist in me felt unnecessary, but this was not too distracting. Much was said about the higher filming speed used by Jackson for this trilogy, but I can honestly say that this didn’t give me the dizzies it seems to have some other reviewers. The flight in the Goblin cave did seem a little longer than necessary -- at times taking on a Star Wars II factory scene feel -- but there was no headache or obviously fake prosthetic to speak of. One of the more active scenes featuring Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) moved chunkily in places but the effects on the whole were good. And New Zealand, as always, was stunningly beautiful.    

My biggest problem with this Hobbit film ties to one of my favourite moments in the LOTR trilogy. You may remember the scene with Gandalf and Frodo in Moria during The Fellowship of the Ring when they discover Gollum has been following them. Frodo remarks how it was a pity that Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance. The wizard responded.

In The Hobbit the encounter between Gollum and Bilbo is protrayed well, but there was a problem. After Bilbo won (stole) the Ring, he was soon in a position to kill Gollum. This was well done, with Howard Shore’s music working perfectly with the internal debate registered in Martin Freeman’s eyes and the pitiable nature of Smeagol. I’ll admit my own eyes welled up watching. This is one of the most important moments in the entire history of Middle-earth and is what makes Hobbits truly great. Unfortunately, prior to this scene Jackson added a few lines of dialogue that detracted from Bilbo’s true nature and that really bothered me.  

See, earlier in the film there was an exchange between Gandalf and Bilbo where Gandalf speaks about mercy, violence and wisdom. Unfortunately, I found this really took away from Bilbo’s greatness and lessened him as a character in the film. Hobbits are the paragone of humble greatness in Tolkien's works, because they've always been able to make these type of realizations on their own: often while awash in a maelstrom of chaos or evil. That is Frodo, Samwise, Pippin and Merry in LOTR and Bilbo in The Hobbit. This virtue was lost in this film and it really came across that Bilbo's decision to spare Gollum was wisdom from Gandalf.  

That said, despite some flaws in characterization it was an entertaining afternoon of cinematic entertainment and I did think it was a good film. Howard Shore's soundtrack was simply outstanding, and despite some technological overkill in places, it was enjoyable and I'm maintaining my guarded optimism about the upcoming two we'll see in 2013. 3.5/5 STARS

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