AT LAST… The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

So, I’m finally getting around to writing my review of The Hobbit.
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I’ve taken my jolly-good time of over two months to process this, and after seeing it in 2D, 3D, and 3D HFR, I have a number of thoughts on the film.

My first viewing unfortunately was marred by the fact that we got lost on the way to the theatre and arrived several minutes into the film – I sat down as the Dragon was attacking the City of Dale.  I was assured I had only missed a couple minutes of screen, if any at all, but in a later viewing, I discovered that I had missed what felt more like 10 or 15 minutes of the opening (though undoubtedly, it was more like 5 or 10 at the most).  Perhaps it says something about the movie that I was able to jump in, however, at that point, frustrated as I was.  The next time I saw it, I was taken in by all the scenes of the Lonely Mountain, the mines and gold, the city of Dale and it’s Renaissance-esque markets; though the 20-minute Star Trek 2 trailer seemed to mar that start, making us want to “get on with it;” I still reveled in the parts I had not scene prior.

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The beginning of the film also has a back-and-forth sequence which is one of the only parts of the actual filming I feel a bit critical about.  Going from Older Bilbo, writing his novel, to history of Dale and Erebor, back to Older Bilbo, on the day of the 111th Birthday Party,  with some extended scenes with Frodo questioning Bilbo, and then finally to the younger, 50-year-old Bilbo, was problematic.  While I loved having Older Bilbo as a narrative frame for the story, Peter and team spent just a little too long, for a cinematic release at least, with Frodo and Bilbo.  It does set up a bit, with Bilbo’s war-chest of treasures from the Troll-horde and from Erebor, but it also tries to set up the start of Fellowship of Ring.  Unfortunately, since we’re only seeing Part 1 of the Hobbit right now, setting up Fellowship is awkward, since we can’t watch straight through from An Unexpected Journey, Desolation of Smaug, and There and Back Again to Fellowship of the Ring.  As with many other scenes they ultimately cut to save for the Extended Edition, I wonder if this sequence with Frodo could have been cut more efficiently.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy that sequence – I actually really loved seeing Frodo and Bilbo on screen, ESPECIALLY in the High Frame Rate version.  I felt like I was right there, in Bag End, with two old friends I’ve known for over ten years now.  Now that is something special.  In addition, I am very enthusiastically awaiting the Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey; I believe watching the movie in cinema and in EE are actually two very different experiences, because of the ability to pause, break for dinner, or even break it up over two nights, on the DVD version.  I know of several scenes that have been cut: Bilbo in the Bywater Marketplace, buying his fish-dinner (which was eaten by Dwalin, ultimately); Gandalf meeting Bilbo as an infant and/or a young boy, and deciding on coming back to visit him later in life based off of that meeting; Bofur singing “There Is an Inn, a Merry Old Inn” – that was Frodo’s song from the books, “Chapter 9: At The Sign of the Prancing Pony,” if you remember, but since they decided not to use it, I found it interesting they they’re giving it to Bofur here for The Hobbit.  There’s also apparently, according to Sir Peter, many more scenes focusing on Bombur.
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That gets me to my next talking point, and that’s the Dwarf Characters.  Most of the Dwarves felt like they were “just along for the ride” and didn’t really distinguish themselves enough in this film.  One thing we forget, through our nostalgia lenses, is that Gimli, Legolas, and ESPECIALLY Merry, failed in that same way, when we were only looking at Fellowship of the Ring, CINEMATIC CUT, in isolation.  Much of our love for these characters came from their focused-lens over the entirety of the trilogy, and with the extensive scenes they got added back in in the Extended Editions.  Faramir is another character of similar quality; coming out of “The Two Towers,” I LOATHED what they did to Faramir, because he seemed reduced from such a wonderful, and admirable character, to a plot device to keep the dramatic tension on Frodo and the Ring.  Now, 10 years and an Extended Edition version later, I adore what they’ve done with Faramir, because they highlighted him as a character that changed, and pulled his story into the forefront.  The flashback scene, with the two brothers and their father at Osgiliath, is perhaps my absolute favourite scene in the ENTIRETY of the Trilogy.  What does this mean about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?  What we saw was a cinematic version, prepared for audiences in the theatres primarily.  Some people might be willing to view the Extended Editions in theatres (as I did in the Summer of 2011), but most are not.  I am excited to see the Dwarves fleshed out not only through two more films, but also through scenes added back in when I get the EEs in my hand.

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For this cinematic version, however, I need to highlight the performances that truly shined.  Martin Freeman nailed it as Bilbo Baggins; they could not have cast a better person for the role.  He brought the right amount of humour, awkwardness, eagerness, excitement, terror, fun, and stodgy-homebodiness to the role.  I really felt with him when Gandalf basically jerked him around, forcing him out of his comfort-zone, and yet I grew with him as well, to the point that I really felt that WE had found a place on the road with Dwarves.  I have no doubt that he’ll grow in his companionship and heroism to become the Bilbo we know from The Fellowship of the Ring.  And that is perhaps the MOST important thing when going about filming The Hobbit.  Peter Jackson and team need to earn “Bilbo Baggins; my old friend” and that hug between the elder Ian Holm’s Bilbo and Ian McKellan’s Gandalf.  The bond of friendship between the two, Hobbit and Wizard, absolutely must be established and developed to that point where it’s like coming home.  This did not happen in the Star Wars prequels, by the way.  They failed to set up Darth Vader as fluidly going from that little kid Anakin in Phantom Menace to becoming the symbol of terror and darkness that he is in A New Hope, and that is the fundamental reason why the new trilogy fails.  With Martin Freeman’s superb acting, and the relationship he develops with Gandalf and Thorin in this film along with his own development and character arc, I have no doubts that they’ll earn that scene from Fellowship come 2014.

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Speaking of Gandalf, Sir Ian McKellan once again brought the humour, wisdom, guidance, friendship, and also the all-important grumpiness, to the role of Gandalf the Grey, someone I’ve been missing since he fell through Fire and Water in his struggles with the Balrog of Moria.
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Andy Serkis once again brought to life Sméagol and Gollum, bringing back that fan-favourite character, and his animation team, now able to capture Andy Serkis’ facial expressions rather than having to recreate them themselves, have taken a huge leap in finesse.  I would hazard to say that the Gollum sequences were nigh-perfect (though a few more of the Riddles would have been nice – maybe the EEs?), with a high-light on where Bilbo was about to kill Gollum, but seeing that utter look of despair on Gollum’s face brought both Bilbo AND US to the pity that Gandalf speaks of to Frodo in that famous scene on the stairs of Moria (though in the books that pity is spoken of in the comfort of Bag-End, during “Chapter 2: Shadows of the Past,” but whatever; it was an amazing scene).

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From the Dwarf-cast, Richard Armitage provides us with a fabulous performance as Thorin Oakenshield, absolving me of any doubts towards them making the character younger.  He still is quite old, but his leadership is no longer emphasised as much by his age as by his leadership, his fighting prowess and his desire to serve his people and bring them back home.  Ken Stott’s Balin is the key lens through which we see Thorin, through his anecdotes of the past, his doubts about the journey, and his ancient friendship with Thorin and his family, as delineated through the Erebor scenes, the Battle of Azanulbizar, and finally the journey itself.  James Nesbitt’s Bofur is another star shining amidst the ensemble; his scene where he speaks of Bilbo’s home-sickness, and does not judge the Hobbit’s planned departure, brought tears to my eyes.  That is the sort of scene that define characters, even amidst such a large ensemble as this one.

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I want to give two more shout-outs, to Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown and Barry Humphries as the Great Goblin; both brought amazing humour and delight to this film, and were a testament to the theory that you can have a film that is both within the mood of the book and a lead-in to the dark things to come.  Barry Humphries has some of the best one-liners I have heard in any movie in the last few years, and his dancing and singing is fabulous  He almost reminded me of another Goblin King…
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McCoy’s character, with birds living under his hat, jittery worries, stick-insects in his mouth, and the amazing and fabulous Bunny Sled, really brought home to me just home much this is, in part, a kids-movie.
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The film really is complete with the sort of fabulous and fantastical story-telling techniques that Bilbo would have highlighted in his Diary (as opposed to the drudging soldier’s journal/war history that Lord of the Rings becomes by “Chapter 11: A Knife in the Dark;” Frodo and Bilbo truly have different writing styles, or at the very least, their stories are influenced by their starkly different experiences on the road).
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And that brings me to my next point I want to talk about:  the arc of this film.  In many ways, I felt the Unexpected Journey is an homage to the 1001 Arabian Nights and similar story-within-frame-story tales, such as Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.  We start with Bilbo telling us the story, and he pulls us into Erebor, and then out of it into the frame with Frodo, and then dives back in with Gandalf’s arrival on the doorstep.  Then Bilbo’s journey becomes the new frame, with Gandalf diving into the story of Bullroarer Took inventing Golf, and Balin diving into the story of the Battle of Azanulbizar; even Radgast’s arrival tells the second half of his story, with his search on Dol Guldur and discovering of the Necromancer’s activity.  Also, yes, it took a long while to set up and get us off the road.  I enjoyed that, actually.  We spent far too little time in the Shire in The Lord of the Rings.  In this way, I felt the Shire also served as a framing-device for the journey, so I was okay with that.  Once we were off on the road, I was excited to be on a journey, but I really did enjoy that evening in Bag-Eng, and the Dwarves singing by the fire.
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This framing device is really a remarkable technique to use for The Hobbit, since it really grounds us in the idea that this is really all Bilbo’s thoughts and memories on the morning of the 111th Party (meaning we should all go and watch The Lord of the Rings immediately after our summer 2014 viewing of There and Back Again).  This is in stark contrast to the format of the films of The Lord of the Rings, which follows one plot line until the characters split off, and then bounces around, back and forth, using cues like, “All our hopes lie in two Hobbits, wandering in the wilderness” to jump from one thread to another.   While we do have a few cut-away sequences in An Unexpected Journey – notably, Radagast’s first sequence, and then within the Misty Mountains, when we need to jump between Bilbo and the Dwarves – the lead into Radagast almost feels like Gandalf is telling the story of Radagast (even though that’s clearly not the case, since Radagast tells Gandalf that very story later), and I can understand why they would want to break up a few of these sequences, at least as a reminder to the audience that things are tense with the other group and that’s happening right at that same time.  Ultimately, the intercutting storylines were very minimal, and that served The Hobbit well, especially with its storybook like timbre.  At times, I felt like I might have been in some fusion of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, and in my first viewing, I thought quite a bit of Hagrid when we cut away to Radagast.  Some might say that’s a very bad thing, but I think there are many things to learn from Harry Potter and its success; while The Lord of the Rings is supposed to be a mature, fantasy war drama, The Hobbit is NOT; it is a fantastical children’s story, that LIKE Harry Potter, matures over the course of the tale (though Tolkien had only one book to do that, Rowling had 7), to the point that at the end, the confused little Hobbit is caught up in a war that’s much bigger than his understanding.  I am looking forward to seeing that darkness and maturity grow through this trilogy of films.

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An Unexpected Journey did not get the Academy acclaim that Return of the King got; that is to be expected.  It is NOT the same kind of movie.  However, I will be somewhat shocked if There and Back Again does not win multiple Oscars; it is very hard to see where it’ll be by the end of the trilogy, but I expect it to be amazing when we get there.

About The Hobbit being adapted from one book into three movies, rather than two, I hope the viewing of An Unexpected Journey has put to rest why three is good; it should NEVER have been two films, and why it definitely should not be one film.  There are three major critiques on the film, and I will now turn my head to addressing each of them: the first is problems with the HFR version of the film; the second is that the movie is too long and over stuffed with extraneous elements not in the book; and the third is that the characters are not compelling enough to care why they’re doing what they’re doing.

The HFR is something I feel is a fabulous new direction, but needs a lot of refining.  Just as Gollum looked terrible in his two scenes in the cinematic version of The Fellowship of the Ring (they were working on an older computer model of him at that time), compared to his “proper” introduction in The Two Towers, and then again, compared to the second leap in technology as he was updated in The Return of the King, and now again, in the vast leap for An Unexpected Journey, so too is there a necessity for WETA Digital to do some intense work between now and November 2013, specifically on the HFR portion of the film.  The problem with the HFR was that while it was fabulous for heightening the REAL-world characters, and REAL-world objects – I could see every blade of grass, every wrinkle on Older Bilbo’s face – it had problems when the digital characters or objects were worked into scenes.

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Strangely, Gollum did not face this problem, nor did any of the Goblins in Goblin-town; I also did not feel it at Weathertop.  The problem is that natural sunlight makes for digital characters to pop out and look unnaturally placed when the frame rate is so high that we can distinguish between them.  in darker scenes, where they weren’t working with natural light, such as the Caves or Mirkwood, characters like Azog, the Wargs, the Goblins, and the Bunny Sled looked just fine.  But on the Plains of Eriador, with the Wargs chasing after the Bunny Sled and the Dwarves, I just felt like I was watching some video game.  It pulled me out of the reality.  I did NOT feel the same way when I saw the film in 2D or even 3D 24 fps; even with the Bunny Sled flying by our eyes, jumping out of the screen, it felt a part of the experience.  The sunlight is what ruined this scene, as well as the Battle of Azanulbizar.  I have confidence, however, now that HFR has been jumped to, that WETA Digital will step up their act and figure out how to make digital objects look as fabulously real as non-digitally added or edited characters.  HFR is a baby right now, but I do believe it is the future of film-making.  It was a completely different way of seeing a film, and frankly, didn’t feel like I was watching a film so much as being in Renaissance fair or Medieval Reenactment.  Some people might reject that shift, but I believe moving towards a more “real” feeling, and away from the tropes of filmmaking (coconut horsehooves, classic horror lightning sounds, etc) can ONLY be a good thing.

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Speaking of Azog the Defiler, he’s the token example of the second criticism, that Peter Jackson didn’t know where to stop adding to and altering Tolkien’s book.  While I personally think the same plotline could have been easily achieved using Bolg, Azog’s son (with Bolg considering himself, laughingly, as Azog come back from the dead), I have heard they have a completely different purpose for the character of Bolg.
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More importantly, Bolg raises a fundamental issue that Peter Jackson has been skirting since Fellowship: the matter of Goblin/Orc reproduction.  In Fellowship it seemed as if they were born out of some primordial ooze in the bowels of Isengard; however, in The Hobbit, Tolkien describes Bolg as the son of Azog.  With such a nasty, disgusting race of monsters, murderers, and Defilers, we then would naturally have to think, “does that mean there are Orc women?  Is it rape?  Are the women as nasty as the men?  How come we never seen them?  Do they look the same as Orc men, much like Dwarf women (aside: who finally appeared, albeit briefly, in the flight from Erebor!!!!)? These are questions Peter Jackson and team clearly do not want to ask or raise, and this is also why Half-orcs were not initially presented in 4e Dungeons and Dragons – and when they appeared in PH2, they were suggested that they might be not so much Half-human, Half-orc, but alternatively created like Saruman created the Uruk-hai or perhaps a separate race, born of Gruumsh’s blood; anything but to talk of Orc sex.  The same is true of the Tolkien films.  The idea of Orc-sex is NOT something you want to distract your viewers with.  You can talk of it in the books because you’re not trying to hold your audience for a precious few hours, but to speak of it in the movie would be extremely problematic.  Furthermore, I understand Philippa Boyens’ insistence that when you have a great and powerful character like Azog, you don’t just kill him off in backstory, you USE him as a real antagonist, especially in a book devoid of real, consistent antagonists.
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I especially loved the rematch between Azog and Thorin, ending in Thorin’s defeat and last minute rescue by Bilbo and then by the Eagles, which has amazing set-up for a final rematch (and defeat for Thorin) at the Battle of Five Armies in There and Back Again, while also providing an emotional climax to the tense relationship between Bilbo and Thorin in An Unexpected Journey.  All these reasons, and probably more, contributed to the “resurrection” of Azog, and frankly, I’m okay with it.  It’s different.  So is Faramir’s character, so is Théoden’s death-scene, and so is the Elves joining the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  We’ve accepted those now, after 10 years.  I’m sure this is another element we can accept.

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So are hot dwarves, and dwarves using weapons other than axes and hammers, and dwarves not necessarily all having thick red/brown/grey beards.  I hope the way the dwarf gang has been put together provides a death-knell towards terrible, terribly-bland and dead-horse tropes about Dwarves.  Gimli’s portrayal in The Lord of the Rings films was an excellent nod to all those tropes that have abounded in fantasy since the books were first written, and especially since 1974, Gary Gygax, and Dave Arneson brought us Dungeons and Dragons.  Tolkien, of course, had Dwarves focus on using Axes and Swords, not Axes and Warhammers, but it is wonderful, in my mind, to see Dwarf-Bows (quite differently designed from Elf-Bows, Rohirric-Bows or Orc-Bows), Spears, Pick-Axes, Knuckledusters, Iron Ladles, and even a Slingshot used aside the more traditional Swords, Axes, and Hammer(s – one warhammer in this company).  I loved the diversity of Dwarf designs as well; the standard stout and full, braided beard has a place, but not as the entirety of the race.

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The inclusion of the Necromancer, Radagast, and the White Council was the other main diversion from the “core plot” of the book, and while it seems a little disjointed right NOW, come Gandalf’s departure from the story after the sojourn in Beorn’s house, these sections of An Unexpected Journey will be incredibly important.  I expect Radagast, Gandalf, and Beorn will make up a key company of companions in the next film, making up the key players in the Battle of Dol Guldur, along with an army of forest wildlife, to fight against Sauron the Necromancer’s army of the Undead.  This is a special mirror of the Battle of Isengard in The Two Towers, where the Ents and the Forest of Fangorn itself (in the form of the moving Huorns) rise up against the industrial force of Isengard and the Uruks attacking Helm’s Deep.  While in that film it’s Plant-life vs Industry, in this film it would be Animal-life vs the Unnatural Dead-that-Walk, the plague that’s killing all that is good in Greenwood the Great, and turning it into Mirkwood.  So, while it does feel like a bit of a side-plot to this film, these are essential set-ups for one of the key themes of the entire Hobbit Trilogy: the importance of life while we have it, of making the best of our lives, and being invested in other people and the world around us, rather than hiding away, only focused on ourselves.  That is certainly Bilbo’s story-arc, but it is also the Dwarves’ arc, as their lives could be better, so Thorin wants to make it better for his people, and furthermore, the Dwarves are only really focused on themselves, since all other people’s rejected them, and thus they reject the rest of the world, while really, they need to pity and stand together with the Elves and Men against the real darkness in the world.  The Hobbit tells a tale of people divided, only caring about their own nation and people, when things bigger than us threaten to destroy us all unless we can unite.  That unity won’t happen until mid-way into the Battle of Five Armies, and not more properly until the War of the Ring begins and they united in a Fellowship at the Council of Elrond, when Gimli and Legolas can set aside their old animosities (born out of Glóin and Thranduil’s conflict in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) and work together to save Middle-Earth.  This is a story that harkens to one of the fundamental problems of today’s world, with a UN that is essentially dysfunctional, unable to bring about any real change, because we only care about ourselves and our own interests, rather than the interests of the wider world.  Tolkien certainly felt that, in the 30s, when he saw the governments that could not work together – the League of Nations had failed.  It was 1937.  World War II was on the cusp.  Hitler had not yet annexed Austria, but he would the next year.  Italy had invaded Ethiopia.  Spain was in civil war.  Three months before The Hobbit went to press, Japan had invaded and raped Manchuria.  Tolkien had seen this all happen, over twenty years before, and fought in the Great War himself.  There must never again be a War such as that one, they all had said.  And he saw it developing before his very eyes, in the midst of writing his There and Back Again.  It’s no wonder that it isn’t an easy kill the Dragon and come home with treasure; the political turmoil over the spoils of the Dragon, and the ensuing Battle of Five Armies, are born of Tolkien’s first-hand experience in the secondary problems that grow out of the primary ones.
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When Tolkien set to writing the Appendices, he wanted to give more context to Gandalf’s departure (and much later, return) to the text of The Hobbit, he wanted to give more context to the importance of the Necromancer and why he was a power far beyond the Dwarves’ capability to combat, he wanted to give more context to the old animosity between the Dwarves and Goblins with the Battle of Azanulbizar.  These contextual elements are then critical to the development of The Lord of the Rings from the complicated ending to The Hobbit.  When Rankin-Bass adapted The Hobbit in 1977, they essentially gutted the political elements and the reasoning behind the Battle of Five Armies; it was too complicated for a kid’s story.  And in a way, it was, even in The Hobbit as a book.  I certainly didn’t understand it when I first tried to read the book in the summer after my 5th grade year.  The next year, I tried it again, and read it and understood it better, but the critical point here, is that these are very complicated and difficult events, and even Tolkien didn’t know the best way to incorporate the necessary backdrop and histories into the children’s fairy-tale that The Hobbit is.  Yes, he altered Riddles in the Dark in order to make Gollum fit better with how he later revised him in The Lord of the Rings.  But fitting Dol Guldur and Azanulbizar and even Aragorn and Arwen’s love story (one of the most beautiful pieces of Tolkien’s writing), proved too complicated, and these tales got relegated to the Appendicies. Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens have done Tolkien right, even if they’ve altered some of his story-lines, in order to fully mesh Aragorn and Arwen’s tale into the narrative of The Lord of the Rings, and I believe they are doing right by meshing these other histories into The Hobbit.  They certainly did not change it from being a “kid’s movie,” which was the key detail.  This first Hobbit film MUST be more light-hearted.  It has to be.  It has to have that light, just like Fellowship has a lot more light than the next two LotR films, but even more so, because The Hobbit is a kid’s story.  And I believe Jackson and team achieved that, though to mass-comparisons with LotR, saying “it’s not as epic as LotR.”  It’s not supposed to be.  It’s a different story, in the same world.  And Jackson succeeded there.

That brings me to the final discussion point I want to talk about, and that is the third criticism the movie received: the characters weren’t fleshed out well enough.  The irony here is that the movie is also criticised of being far too long, and including more character development would have come either at the cost of other, quite important plot-line scenes, or at the cost of the viewers’ already tight bladders.  I’ve addressed this criticism a bit at the beginning of this blog-entry; I believe that more character development will come with the Extended Editions and with the other two entries into the Hobbit Trilogy.  Ultimately, though, this is proof why we NEED three films.  6 hours won’t cut it for a cast this big.  We need the extra 9-12 hours to fully flesh out a cast that has 20+ principle characters.  The Lord of the Rings dealt with about 17 or 18 principle cast members, and had 9-12 hours to do it.  The Hobbit is a film adaptation of a book 1/3 the length of The Lord of the Rings, but the key difference is its remarkably larger cast, including a main party that sticks together pretty much the entire way, which is 1.5x larger than the Fellowship.  When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, most of the Dwarves had only one or two lines, and were minor, supporting characters to provide some sense of a war-company, like the other soldiers in the troop that he fought alongside and tread across the continent with in the Great War.  However, when adapting this to a movie, the fundamental danger is that there are too many characters, and you can’t keep track of the names or who anyone is and why they matter.  This is a major criticism of the film, and one that I believe will be addressed only through watching more of it, in the Extended Editions and the other two films.  You can’t draw out every single character’s plotline in just 3 hours, when you have a 15-member cast, 13 of which all are hairy-dwarf-men (and a 14th who also has a big beard, and a 15th with big, hairy feet).  You can do so over over the course of the entirety of the Trilogy, and you can do so with expanded scenes, such as what Jackson has said they’ve given Bombur in the still-to-come EE of An Unexpected Journey.  Fili and Kili, while in a similar role to Bilbo as being the “little young’uns” of the group in this film, will undoubtedly take centre stage in the next two films, climaxing with their tragic deaths in There and Back Again during the Battle of Five Armies, but also with the much-needed romance plot in The Desolation of Smaug, concerning Kili and the Elf-soldier Tauriel.  I will not go into Tauriel’s addition at this time as she is not in An Unexpected Journey.  Expect her in next year’s blog.  😉

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(check out this gif for more Galadriel… it doesn’t seem to gif up on this page though)

That also reminds me, Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel was a much-needed insert of feminine energy into the film, after an hour and half of a band of men travelling together.  Arwen served this purpose after the first hour of Fellowship, and Galadriel after the second hour; Éowyn served this purpose in the second and third movies WHENEVER she was on-screen (as did Arwen’s intercut romance plot and Galadriel’s minor cameos in those films).  The fact is, there are precious few female characters in Tolkien’s 3rd Age writings, because he’s writing about a time that greatly mirrors his own experience in War; a time when women aren’t really accepted or allowed to fight.  Éowyn breaks the norm, by playing Joan of Arc.  It’s not really a sexism on Tolkien’s part – he has wonderfully written female and important characters in The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin, Sigurd and Gúdrun, The Book of Lost Tales – it’s that he’s writing about events in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that women really have a hard time breaking into, or did at that time.  But Galadriel WAS at the White Council, it just was in the Appendices.  So including it and her, AT THAT POINT IN THE MOVIE, is so important, because she breaks up all the testosterone roaring for the last hour and a half (though I guess she might also inspire SOME people’s testosterone-drives… >_>).

In any case, I would like to make a few final comments.  First, the music.  Howard Shore’s soundtrack was one of the reasons The Lord of the Rings was sold to me; he managed to compose just the right melodies that captured and enthralled me.  These are tunes I can hum forever and never get bored.  Unfortunately, I did not feel the same way about The Hobbit.  Most of the themes are rehashes of The Lord of the Rings, and while some usage of LotR themes is good and important, I wanted to hear more unique themes.  That said, the soundtrack did grow on me after purchasing of the special edition soundtrack, and there are a few stellar themes in there – Gandalf’s Theme, Thorin’s Theme, Bilbo’s Theme, and of course, Misty Mountains, the cornerstone of the score (which was NOT by Shore, but rather by Plan 9 and David Long, and yet is integrated seemlessly by Shore into the score).  I think the Score was great, but not as PERFECT as the LotR scores were.  I also have to remind myself that we’re working with a film-1, and these these themes will be integrated into the next two films, as they also introduce new themes, such as a theme for Thranduil and the Elves (please let it be different than the Elf theme we hear in Lothlórien and Rivendell) and a theme for the Men of Lake-town and perhaps a more elaborate, hummable expansion of Smaug’s theme.  I have high-hopes for the development of music through the trilogy, but also think some of the musical choices were almost too-easy (like the blasting of the Rivendell theme upon entering the valley or the use of the Mordor chanting during Durin and Azog’s battle on the eastern slopes of the Hithaeglir).  I’ll be interested to see how the music is remixed for the EE as well.
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I would like to take a moment just to acknowledge the Stone Giants, and how in the books, they really are Stone Giants, and I’m really glad they included them, though I found the sequence one of the worst in the entire movie, simply because I felt, in terms of design, it was a combination of the Caradhras Snowy Mountain Pass scene and the iconic To the Bridge of Kazad-Dûm Moria Stairwell scene from Fellowship of the Ring.  They jumped against the wall, much like to avoid the avalanche in Fellowship, and then had to jump from moving/falling stone structures like at the stairwell.  This reminded me of how George Lucas tried to pre-imitate elements from Star Wars IV-VI in Star Wars I-III, and THAT series of prequels left a very foul taste in my mouth.  Still, I don’t know how else you’d use the Giants, other than just creating a general disgruntledness and a need to get into shelter.  :/

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Another of my own criticisms I’d like to levy is the lack of new landscapes used.  I felt like the race to Rivendell in this film was happening in Rohan, because the same rock-plain was used to film this area of Eriador as well as the Wold.  Just a little bit of frustration there.  I did ADORE the Hidden Valley entrance to Rivendell.  I wonder if Frodo was taken through that cave to get to Rivendell, just off-screen during that white-out with choir-boys singing.
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A few other characters to highlight – Bret McKenzie’s “Figwit” (“Frodo is Good… Who is That!?”) returns with a name this time; he’s Lindir, the Elf who has a bet with Bilbo and Aragorn on the song Eärendil was a Mariner from “Book II, Chapter 1: Many Meetings” of Fellowship.

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Hugo Weaving’s Elrond returned fabulously as well, and Sir Christopher Lee’s Saruman was chilling in how he was able to shut-out arguments to work and drag his heels.  I shuddered when he said, “I did.”  I also loved how he made fun of Radagast being a druggie.  Poor Aiwendil.  No love from Cúrunir.  >_>

Thranduil_Sword

I should not miss out on mentioning Lee Pace’s Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm, Legolas’ father, who has exploded into memetic sassiness on the internet, despite (or perhaps because of) only appearing in a short segment at the beginning of the film.  You can learn more about the fan’s love for him here.

tumblr_mgokgrKAiX1s1dddso1_400 (another of those .gif links, hilighting Sassy Thranduil).

Another element I want to highlight before I finish is how awesome the Troll scene was.  I thought that scene was spot on, and perfectly set up Bilbo’s story-telling of it in Fellowship.  Mark Hadlow, William Kircher, and Peter Hambleton, who also played Dori, Bifur, and Glóin respectively, brought the Trolls to life in a way that felt both in-Universe aligned with the Cave Troll and the Olog-Hai from The Lord of the Rings films, and yet also aligned with the spirit of the book.

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There was one line earlier as well, with the Orcs described as pillagers and murderers, as if they were less a race of monsters, and more a tribe of bandits and wild men, that I really want to look at for a moment, because I think it helped establish a sense of reality for me in the text of the film.  This was brought home by the amazing structure to the Goblin-civilisation in the Misty Mountains, and they Barry Humphries’ Goblin King entreats with Thorin.  These were less an Always-Chaotic-Evil race of fodder-troops for the Evil-Empire-of-Evilness, and more a civilisation completely at-odds with the Dwarf, Human, and Elf civilisations that we love and respect.  I felt more policies and politics coming into play, even amidst the Goblin Kingdom (where they decide to keep Thorin alive, to send him to Azog, who has a death-warrant out for him, amidst the Goblin nations), and this drove home to me far more reality amidst the hilarity of the Goblin King and his messenger-scribe than the Uruks in Lord of the Rings ever did.  I wonder if, and in fact hope that, when all 6 movies can be watched from your home screen, new introducées to the world of Tolkien will see the Hobbit first and understand the Goblin-fodder in LotR as the same as these Goblins, but just expanded in threat and taken under the influence of powerful leaders in Sauron, the Witch-King, and Saruman, alike how sovereign nations in World War I, which had policies and goals completely at odds with the other nations. but were still people got caught up in a terrible war, and yet were transformed to terrible extents under darkly charismatic leaders with police/military-states like those of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Hirohito.

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So, now to wrap up, I won’t give The Hobbit a score, since this is only Part 1 of 3; but I will say that I loved the film, in all three versions I saw it in, though there were definitely things each version had over the other versions.  It may have been snubbed Oscars, save for one early-bird, non-ceremony Oscar – Best Science and Technology in a Film, given for the technology brought bringing Gollum to life in a whole new way, but the film has done extraordinarily well, and I have high hopes for the rest of this movie series.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be available for Digital Download on March 12th and on DVD, Blu-Ray, and 3D TV on March 19th.

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