The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro. Based on the novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage
When Peter Jackson announced he was making a trilogy of movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the fantasy world collectively held its breath, expecting disappointment. Most viewers, however, were pleasantly surprised when the first movie came out. And their increased expectations were met with the second and third films.
So when Jackson announced he was going to film Tolkien’s The Hobbit, many were pleased with the decision. When he later announced he was going to film it as two movies, we started to wonder. And when he further decided to break the book up into three films, we were truly perplexed.
Well, the first movie in the new trilogy is now out. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is expected to smash box office records with its tale of the discovery of the one ring. But we’re still wondering how he’s going to stretch that book out into three movies.
This film is gorgeous: the scenery, the movie-making methods, everything we’ve come to expect from Jackson Tolkien adaptations is there on the screen. It’s very easy to believe in a world filled with both halflings and elves, goblins and orcs. Hobbiton is once again fully realized, Bag End is a home anyone would want, the kingdom under the mountain is magnificent, and Rivendell is truly ethereal. But, how is the movie? The story?
First off, the viewer gets a treat, as Ian Holm and Elijah Wood give brief reprisals of their LotR roles to give this movie a kick-start. Jackson’s conceit, holding old Bilbo and Frodo’s discussion literally minutes before the LotR movie trilogy started, is a good introduction for viewers less well-versed in Tolkien’s work. Then we flash back sixty years, to a time when Martin Freeman was a much younger, more respectable Bilbo Baggins. A time when Gandalf the wizard came knocking on his door to urge him out to an adventure. A time when Bilbo said “No.” Gandalf, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer, and the next thing we know, a company of dwarves arrive in Bilbo’s comfortable home under the hill, making a shambles of the neatness, eating all the food, and assuming Bilbo will be accompanying them as a burglar, as Gandalf told them.
Eventually, for some reason, Bilbo is convinced, and goes off with a dozen dwarves on an adventure to retake the lonely mountain and Thorin’s grandfather’s kingdom. During their adventures, they’ll meet goblins and orcs and elves, they’ll be endangered and welcomed and threatened, but… not much will happen.
Watching the movie, I laughed along with the rest of the audience at the slapstick nature of most of the dwarves, I felt some of the tension as our heroes were threatened, and I marveled at the world I was seeing on screen. But… the story didn’t really hold me. In this successor to Jackson’s hugely successful movie trilogy, the viewer isn’t really looking for or expecting slapstick: there’s too much of the bumbling dwarves (and too many of them to differentiate any of them as characters), way too much of the laughable wizard Radagast (played well by Sylvester McCoy). The viewer expects the threats to be more threatening, and possibly even lethal (the chase through the goblin realm is a masterwork of film-making, but far too long for far too little payoff). And we’ve already seen the world.
The Hobbit, the book, is much lighter than its successor trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. It’s a story of questing and adventure and discovery. TLotR is a story of the battle for Middle Earth, the epic quest to destroy the One Ring, the tale of life and honor and death and futility. And I think that’s the problem with this new movie. Unlike the book, it has to live in the shadow of that high fantasy trilogy, because it is released later. The book had no such problem, being the first to appear.
I’m trying to give a definitive comment on the movie, but it’s just not to be. It’s a pretty movie, it’s gripping while you’re watching it. And it will make dragon-piles of money. But after watching it, sitting and reflecting on what I saw, all I can say is that it’s a good movie. Not great, but good. I’d give it three out of five rings: you’ll enjoy it if you see it (and visually, the big screen is much better than it will be on the small), but it’s not the “must-see” movie I wanted it to be.