A little film called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey debuted this weekend. You may have heard of it.
There have been a number of reviews that are set up from the start to dislike the film, like where Slate sent two “Hobbit virgins” to see the film and review it. That’s what everyone wants in a review. People that have no interest and no desire to be interested in the material they are reviewing makes for perfectly unbiased reviews, right? Of course, Slate is claiming this is not supposed to be taken seriously, because they did this with Harry Potter and Twilight, too. Like that makes it better that really what they are doing is making fun of geeks for loving something so passionately.
And this wasn’t the only review I’ve read where the reviewer seemed to have no actual knowledge of what they were reviewing, outside of its connection to the Lord of the Rings films. Many have seemed shocked at the more light-hearted tone of the film compared to the LotR films. Some have gone out of their way to point out that The Hobbit was written as a children’s novel, seeming surprised by this, despite the fact that The Hobbit is number 25 on BBC’s Top 100 Books (The Lord of the Rings is number 1).
The only reviews I’ve actually trusted have been ones by those that hold the source material near and dear to their hearts, for only they, in my mind, can be truly unbiased. Even the reviews I’ve not agreed with that were written by folks that love the book come at their review from a position of honesty and sincerity. The best review I’ve read was the one over at Forbes.
But you guys aren’t just hear to read my rant about the haters, you want to know what my thoughts are on the film, so I’ll get started. Some spoilers may be included. You have been warned. Don’t bitch at me if you’ve not seen it yet.
(Note: I saw the 2D version, in 24 FPS. Our theater isn’t set up for 48 FPS, and I’m generally not a fan of 3D.)
The two word review is thus: LOVE IT!
The slightly longer review adds: I can’t wait until the next one is here. I want it now. I also want the extended edition of this one now, too.
I’ve read several refer to “bloat” for this film. I just can’t agree with that all. At two hours, forty-nine minutes, I didn’t think it was long enough. I’m hoping the extended edition (that Jackson has already promised) will be 4 hours in length. Seriously, I do.
The film opens with older Bilbo (Ian Holmes) narrating as he begins the book Tolkien readers know as the Red Book of Westmarch. Frodo (Elijah Woods) appears briefly in what we learn is a scene that actually appears just before the very beginning of Fellowship of the Ring. It’s so great seeing Holmes and Woods reprise their roles, albeit briefly, to kick this one off for us. It provides a nice, smooth connection to the first trilogy of films.
Soon we jump back sixty years to Gandalf’s (Sir Ian McKellen) arrival and a young Bilbo (played perfectly by the amazing Martin Freeman). Their dialogue is almost word-for-word from the novel, and it’s wonderful. The dwarves arrive, first one or two at time, then a large group of them, and we get one of the best scenes in the film – the raiding of Bilbo’s pantry. Their cooking, eating, and jolliness greatly distresses poor Bilbo, who does not like visitors and does not like his plates and pots and pans mistreated. And we are treated to dwarven songs as well, as Jackson kept some of the songs written by Tolkien for The Hobbit, and popularized in the animated The Hobbit from 1977. They sing That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates as they clean up after the party, and then after Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) eventual arrival they sing Misty Mountains – which sent chills down my spine. In addition to the two dwarf songs, we are later treated to a snippet of a goblin song in Goblin Town, plus there is Howard Shore’s brilliant score, which uses the familiar themes from the LotR score in places, but is primarily fresh material that transports us right back to Middle-earth.
Once Bilbo agrees to go along, hastily running after the departing dwarves, we get to really start understanding the story – and the backstory. Jackson does a marvelous job of working in material from the appendices and other Tolkien sources to both explain what happened (the views of Erebor in its heyday, before Smaug, are spectacular and exactly how I’ve always pictured a dwarven city) before the story and during the story, yet was not actually in The Hobbit itself. We see the Battle of Azanulbizar, the final battle of the War of the Dwarves and the Orcs, and learn how Thorin earned his name of Oakenshield. It’s a fantastic scene, and I know I did not catch it all. I can’t wait to go again, so I can examine this battle in more detail.
We also meet Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), one of the five great Wizards (besides Gandalf and Saruman), whom Tolkien only mentioned a few times, but who apparently was important to the backstory. Radagast is nature-loving wizard and when we meet him we see his concern for the animals and plants of his beloved woodlands as they fall ill and die. He lovingly treats a dying hedgehog, nursing it back to health with his magic after he figures out that dark magic is the only thing that could be responsible for what is happening. Radagast learns the source, and then sets out to find his friend and fellow wizard Gandalf and warn him. We are treated to one of the best images of the film as Radagast rides his sled pulled by a team of giant rabbits! In a scene that parallels Arwen’s ride to Rivendell with Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring, Radagast leads warg-riding orcs on a merry chase to give Gandalf, the dwarves and Bilbo a chance to escape. (“These are Rhosgobel Rabbits. I’d like to see them try.”)
The company arrives in Rivendell, much to Thorin’s chagrin (he doesn’t have much love for elves, since Thranduil, king of the wood elves, did not come to the aid of his people when Smaug arrived), but which allows them to learn important information about their quest, and allows Gandalf to meet with the White Council – Saruman (Christopher Lee), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). This is another scene not in the novel, but which Tolkien wrote about in other sources. They discuss Radagast’s findings as well as the nature of Thorin’s quest, and we learn that Saruman opposes all actions. One of my favorite lines in the film comes when Galadriel asks Gandalf why he chose Bilbo. “It’s the small things that keep evil at bay. The everyday deeds of ordinary people. Simple acts of kindness.” That sent chills down my spine and brought a tear to my eye.
The dwarves leave Rivendell while the council is meeting, hoping to slip away unnoticed – just as Gandalf planned. They take to the mountains on foot and after a harrowing escape from a stone giant fight, find shelter in a cave. I loved Jackson’s interpretation of the stone giants as basically being stone version of the treants, very elemental-like in their nature. While in the cave, the dwarves are captured by goblins and taken to Goblin Town and the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries). Much has been made of the goblins – the Great Goblin in particular – looking “bad”. I’m not sure what film those people were watching. The CGI is at least as good as, if not better than, that in the Lord of the Rings films. I was amazed by the Great Goblin, and Humphries’ performance, frankly.
While the dwarves deal with the goblins, Bilbo encounters a mysterious figure deep in the caves – Gollum (Andy Serkis). What follows is, in my opinion, the best scene in the film. Riddles in the Dark is amazingly good and Serkis still has it as Gollum. The exchange between the two is nothing short of brilliant. (Bilbo – “I didn’t say anything.” Gollum – “Wasn’t talking to you!”) Bilbo wins the riddle contest, but when Gollum discerns what the hobbit has in his pocket, we get the beginning of Gollum’s hate for Bilbo and later Frodo and Sam.
The dwarves effect their escape in a harrowing and exciting run for their lives, aided by timely arrival of an ally, and leave the tunnels behind – now on the other side of the mountains. They fret over Bilbo disappearing, but when Thorin suggests Bilbo took the opportunity to return to Hobbiton, Bilbo slips off the magic ring and steps out, announcing himself. Thorin is surprised, but Bilbo tells him, “I know you doubt me. I know you always have. I often think of Bag End. That’s where I belong. That’s home. You don’t have one. It was taken from you, but I will help you get it back if I can.” Again, cold chills and a tear.
In the finale of the film, the company is chased by Azog, the white orc that Thorin thought long dead, and they climb trees to escape. Gandalf calls for help in the form of the great eagles and all are carried to safety, and when Thorin confronts Bilbo – who risked his life to save Thorin’s life – he finally accepts the halfling. They see the Lonely Mountain far in the distance and we quickly move to the interior of ruined Erebor and the great pile of gold and treasure for a tease of what’s to come.
Brilliant. Perfect. I could not possibly be more pleased, except for when the extended edition is finally released. The cinematography was stunning, and we are once again treated to a brilliantly unintended tourism ad for New Zealand. The mountains, the forests, the rivers, are all simply stunning. The set pieces, even those involving large amounts of CGI (like Rivendell and Goblin Town) are also stunning.
I can’t wait to see it again (probably after Christmas, unless someone wants to buy me a ticket!). And again. And again. And…
What did you think? Were you as enthralled as I? Or did you dislike it as much as some of the critics?