“All the good stories deserve embellishment,” says Gandalf. In Jackson’s case, embellishment means lots of CGI and plot tangents not in the core source material, but a great story is still told. If you go see The Hobbit: A Fun Expected Journey, I cannot promise that you will come back fully happy. But if you do, you will not be the same.
As always, I’ll tell you when the spoilers come.
I came into seeing it with…a quite expected worry, but I still loved the adventure. It’s not the emotional, cosmic, cathedralesque work that is Lord of the Rings. It’s an enchanting romp. The novel itself was written for younger audiences, and so the film retains much more playfulness and less darkness, although you see that looming shadow of darkness creeping in. It has it’s flaws, but they were not….unexpected, and they were certainly tolerable for the most part. No, I didn’t walk away like I did at the end of any of the LOTR films, but that’s because The Hobbit isn’t meant to strike the same emotional journey as LOTR. It’s almost like comparing The Dark Knight Trilogy to Tim Burton’s Batman films, or The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to the Magician’s Nephew. If LORT was Grapes of Wrath, Hobbit is O Brother Where Art Thou. Don’t expect to be as moved, but do expect great, sometimes ridiculous fun.
The movie was rich and immersive as LOTR, which I do love about it (I honestly could sit through a seven-movie version of Silmarillion one day). If you’re not a fan, you were in for a confusing but fun romp (like when you see the elk, and you’ll know what I’m talking about). If you’ve read The Hobbit you’re in for a frustrating romp. But if you’ve not only read the book but just plain love Tolkien, you’ll look past the flaws and just be glad to go back to Middle Earth.
On the one hand is singing about plates like we’re in a Disney movie and on the other hand is an impending hunt by orcs. For the most part it works, striking a balance between cheeriness and looming dark, but in some moments it’s like Return of the Jedi switching between the Ewoks and the Death Star, although nowhere near as bad as Phantom Menace with it’s JarJar. Gollum could have been the JarJar had we not seen him before LOTR and known he would be excellent. Rather, Gollum is one thing this movie did absolutely perfect (That and Rhadagast, who fascinated me).
I can’t praise the movie’s much-anticipated centerpiece, the “Riddles in the Dark” scene, as well as A.O. Scott of the NY Times:
“The meeting between Bilbo and Gollum, which takes place in a vast, watery subterranean cavern, is the one fully enchanted piece of “An Unexpected Journey.” It’s a funny, haunting and curiously touching moment that summons the audience to a state of quiet, eager attentiveness. Even if you aren’t aware of the apocalyptic importance of Gollum’s precious ring, you feel that a lot is at stake here: Bilbo’s life and integrity; Gollum’s corroded soul; the fate of Middle-earth itself.”
There are other enchanted moments too: A glimpse of Jackon’s interpretation of a thriving Dwarven hall, the company of dwarves and their high spirits in Bilbo’s home, the good-hearted, plucky antics of Rhadagast, revisiting Rivendell, a speech Bilbo gives near the end, and the many rescues of Gandalf.
The biggest problem with the Hobbit is the addiction to 3D. Peter Jackson decided that having a bunch of people fall down a crevice and all survive because a bunch of stuff fell down with them and precariously softened their fall somehow worked in King Kong, so he should do it again. Like we haven’t already seen it in Pirates of the Caribbean and dozens of other movies. You really feel like George Lucas stepped in during the goblin town fight scene and said “I’ll handle this one”.
The action scenes run on for far too long, and Azog the orc seems unnecessary to the story. It’s called The Hobbit, not The Dwarf King. But I get it, since the Dragon hardly shows in this movie and Gollum only takes up one scene, you have to have a persistent antagonist. But we have one all along in the necromancer. There is no Eye of Saruman lingering, and our heroes don’t know yet who this elusive shadow is behind everything, but the real evil that haunts the world like the “Nothing” from Neverending Story.
Much like Gandalf knocking on Bilbo’s door, and the subsequent arrival of the company of dwarves, the film reminds me of how our callings sometimes relentlessly pursue us, how God sometimes invites himself in but never makes us go along if we don’t want to. “I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” And the adventure is not in the book, but in the world the book was written of.
The Hobbit revisits some of the old themes of LOTR—Great power versus “good in the small things”, home and journeying, innocence and unknown evil, trust and companionship, bravery and fear, greed and political intrigue—yet gives them all a fresh touch. The evil in this world is not yet known, and the fellowship is not tested by power but by weakness.
I believe we see this in Bilbo and his sword, Sting, which I think is a metaphor for his conscience. Like a good conscience, it warns us when evil is near, it “stings” us, and with it we are led to decisions and their repercussions, which take much bravery. As Gandalf tells Bilbo, true courage is knowing when to spare a life.
Don’t go into the movie expecting The Hobbit. Go into it expecting The Hobbit and an Then Some. But if you just face it head-on like Biblo, I promise you’ll have a fun adventure, even if, like his dwarves, at times you’ll wonder if the movie doesn’t quite fit and should return home.
*And now we will get into SPOILERS and discussions.
The prologue reminded me of why the Hobbit is a mirror to LOTR. The trilogy begins with “Fellowship of the Ring”, but the whole story could be called The Stewardship of the Bling. One quest is to a mountain to destroy a bling of too much power, the other is to reclaim a bling to reclaim power. One story asks, “do we have the courage to let go of our power?” This one comes to ask “do we have the courage to handle power responsibly?” Bilbo is given his first sword, and his first chance to kill or spare a pitiful life. Likewise, Gandalf must handle his wise hunches against a skeptical counsel, and Thorin must handle his hopes against his fears. Is he worthy to be a dwarf King? And is Gandalf paranoid? After all, he gets his tips from a guy on too much shrooms who claims he can speak to hedgehogs and hallucinates huge spiders. It seems the dragon is summoned by the great gold, as if Tolkien was telling us that the greatest dragon is not really a scaly monster, but greed itself. As we know from the story, the fire-breathing dragon is not the biggest obstacle the heroes must face.
The singing about the plates was excessive, but it was in the book after all, and it redeems the dwarves after we’re introduced to them as rude gluttons. They invite themselves in, but they clean up after themselves. No worries, friend, we are well worth the trouble.
The touching theme of innocence threatened is best seen in Rhadagast’s struggle. He may seem too Disney for us, but if we read LOTR we know that Tom Bombadil, who was left out of the films, was such a character that seems hokie and kitsch. This wizard is that cute old man who talks to squirrels and is very afraid that Bambi will be shot. He makes sense for the Hobbit; he just doesn’t fit in LOTR. Rhad might as well be called Rhad the Green, for he is the environmental conscious hippie of Middle Earth. You can just see him pulling a stryofoam peanut out of the badger’s mouth and crying. I have to wonder, though, why does a guy who cries over a dying badger tie rabbits together and make them tow him everywhere? PETA doesn’t know what to think of him. I know he wasn’t in the book at all, and that’s why I wasn’t too fond of the sled chase in the field, but he’s important to the story, so I much enjoyed his presence otherwise. Is he a man with a good heart who turned to worship the creation rather than steward it, forsaking his mission as a wizard and instead tending too close to animals and plants? Or is it his concern for flora and fauna that help save the earth when few others cared to look for how it was poisoned? Perhaps he is a bit of both, and represents our struggle to steward nature without losing communion with one another and “going to the shrooms”.
The “troll trash” scene lasted a little too long, and though it was nearly faithful to the classic scene in the book, they made one mistake: Gandalf is supposed to cast his voice as a troll to confuse them until the sun comes up. This is supposed to be one of the ways we see Gandalf’s power at work and his wisdom. My guess is that Jackson needed more heroic buildup for Biblo, so he gets more credit for outsmarting the trolls.
Ok, another thing that was ridiculous was the stone giants. No point in them being there. In the book they only see them. In the film, we get a random ten minutes of them jumping off the giants’ knees. Why? Why?
Oh, and how about that little thing that sat in a basket next to the goblin king? We’re talkin’ Jabba the Hut and that little rat dude.
Go see Hobbit.
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