As a brand-new Middle-earth fan, I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with my brother and a friend on opening day, December 14th. I was in a state of nerdy anticipation all day. Was it what I’d hoped it would be?
Here’s a summary of the story, adapted from the one I wrote for my review of the book:
“Bilbo Baggins of Bag End enjoys his quiet life in the Shire. He has vaguely thought about adventures, but doesn’t really expect to have any. One day the wizard Gandalf visits him along with thirteen dwarves: Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, and Thorin Oakenshield. Gandalf thinks that Bilbo would be a good addition to their expedition of defeating the terrible dragon Smaug and taking his treasure. Bilbo isn’t so sure but ends up traveling with them anyway. Along the way he encounters trolls, elves, goblins known as Orcs, huge eagles, wolves known as Wargs, and a slimy creature known as Gollum. He journeys through the Misty Mountains, attempts to be a pickpocket, stays at Rivendell the Last Homely House, and finds a ring.”
Obviously, more happens in the original book. The movie is only the first of three to be made out of a three-hundred-page book, so the stuff above is what happened in this film. But although The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey covers only a hundred pages of the novel, it’s not short. It’s ten minutes short of three hours long. Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff in such a long film. But it’s hard for me to decide what I think about the movie, because some of the length is taken up with good things and some with things that make me go, “What the Gollum?!”
Let’s start with the good.
The visuals were amazing. I have a great imagination, but loved seeing someone else’s take on the landscape of Middle-earth. I loved seeing old places, like Rivendell, as well as the new places like Erebor. God, Erebor was fantastic. It was much prettier and larger than I’d ever imagined it. The very, very little we saw of Smaug looked cool too.
Speaking of visuals, I thought that seeing the dwarves in the movie might help me to tell them apart. When I read the book, all the dwarves started to look pretty much the same in my mind. I mean, there are thirteen of them! To be honest, I knew all their names but could only match four of those names to faces… which is what happened during the movie. I knew who Thorin, Fili, Kili, and Bombur were. I could tell the others apart by sight, like the old one and the one with a weird furry hat, but I didn’t know their names. I will add, though, that I don’t think it really affects your understanding of the plot if you can’t tell them apart. This handy-dandy flowchart allows you to tell the dwarves apart by their beards! And to whomever designed that poster: it is perfect. Thank you.
As we’re on the subject of dwarves, I’m going to be shallow now and say that one was very hot. I’m not usually this way, although I did gush about Legolas and Aragorn when I reviewed The Fellowship of the Ring film. Funny how such an intelligent story can make me so shallow. Anyway, I liked Kili (and Fili) in the original book because as the youngest dwarves of the group, they were usually the ones getting in trouble or just doing stuff that was actually interesting. But in the movie, Kili is even better. He’s hot. So long, Aragorn and Legolas! On the Internet I’ve seen things like, “While everyone was fangirling about Legolas, the dwarves were thinking, ‘We’ve got this…'”, “The Hobbit: And Some Unexpectedly Hot Dwarves“, and “#dwarvenlegolas”. Look at him! Amazing eyes, amazing hair, amazing face in general, and he’s not five hundred billion pounds like Bombur! What more could you want? Well, he does have a brother, Fili… whom I think is OK, but not as great. It’ll be interesting to see people’s reactions after the final Hobbit movies because Fili and Kili die in the Battle of the Five Armies, along with the leader of their group, Thorin Oakenshield, who’s not too bad-looking either. People who haven’t read the books might be surprised that all the “hot ones” die.
Let’s move on to another amazing visual. In the book, Riddles In The Dark is where I fell in love with Gollum – with his character, that is. I don’t want to snog him; the very idea makes me queasy. But I love his character – his backstory, what the Ring has done to him, the fact that originally, he was a hobbit just like Frodo and Bilbo. I feel so sorry for him and the film did this scene perfectly. I was delighted that nearly every riddle from the book was included. I also liked how they depicted Gollum’s humanity (or hobbitity) by showing him crying after Bilbo steals the Ring, “the only thing he ever cared for, his precious.” Riddles In The Dark was perfect. I think I was also impressed because I haven’t seen Gollum in the films before; I’ve only watched The Fellowship of the Ring where all you see are Gollum’s eyes peering at Frodo and Gandalf.
In the original book, there aren’t any women with speaking roles, so the elf Galadriel from Lord of the Rings was added. I didn’t really mind because she’s my favorite character after Gollum. I like how she was shown along with Elrond, Gandalf, and Saruman, discussing the dwarves’ plan. Yes, Saruman is in the film. I didn’t expect that. Anyway, Galadriel is one of the most powerful people in Middle-earth so it makes sense that she was there, and yet I’m not sure that there was much point. She said a few inspiring lines and then walked around the perimeter of the room looking serene. However, it looked a bit ridiculous because she said so little that she might as well have not been there. Therefore, I spent the rest of the scene paying attention to Elrond, wondering if he ever changes his hairdo and why his clothes all look like pajamas. Seriously, dude. You’re the Lord of Rivendell and you can’t be bothered to put on nice clothes when you have visitors?
The music was awesome. Howard Shore, the composer, is amazing. His main theme for the Hobbit movies is majestic and reminiscent of the stuff from the trilogies, but more dwarven instead of elvin/hobbity, obviously. It incorporates some of the existing Lord of the Rings music, too. Furthermore, it has the same tune as the dwarves’ song Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold! I know that’s a nerdy thing to be excited about, but that really is a cool achievement because it ties back to the book with its songs galore. Speaking of songs, there were only two from the book: the aforementioned one and Blunt the Knives which was funny and surprising because I hadn’t thought it would be included.
But my favorite piece was Song of the Lonely Mountain by Neil Finn. It’s a slight adaptation of Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold and plays at the very end, during the credits. I’d found it towards the end of NaNoWriMo and listened to it so much that I have every word memorized. I didn’t want to leave the theater until it had finished playing, but my brother was all like, “Come on, let’s go.” so sadly I didn’t get to hear all of it. I don’t deny that it might very well be a nerd thing that only Tolkien geeks can fully appreciate. You might listen to it and think, “Yeah? So?” but if you’ve read the book and care about the characters, it means a lot. It’s about revenge and the dwarves urging their kin to take action, already: “We lay under the Misty Mountains cold / In slumbers deep, and dreams of gold / We must awake, our lives to make…” The dwarves need to stop wishing they lived when days were better (looking at Gimli, this seems to be a huge problem even years later in the trilogy) and do something about Smaug. I love this idea because it makes the events of The Hobbit feel just as urgent as destroying the Ring in Lord of the Rings. I think a lot of people think of The Hobbit as a silly children’s book, but its events are important too, because they lay the groundwork for the trilogy.
The acting was good, too. Martin Freeman – not Morgan Freeman, as I first thought – as Bilbo was perfect. He was just so hobbity. He did a stupendous job showing how Bilbo gradually becomes more sure of himself. He was alternately brave, scared, and funny. And he looks just right for the part, too. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) was great too, much better than either Richard Harris or Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. He was both stern and funny. Other than that, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) was good as the leaders of the dwarves; he was a good mix of forbidding and determined yet worried. Andy Serkis as the voice of Gollum was also wonderful.
Was the story/plot true to the books? I thought it was, very much so. The movie begins where The Fellowship of the Ring film began, just before Bilbo’s birthday party. He starts to reminiscence about his adventures, leading into the story proper. I think the movie did a good job of explaining things like the dwarves’ quest for Erebor. Lauren, my friend who was with me, didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding what was going on, and she said she’d read the book a long time ago so she didn’t remember anything. Huge chunks of the dialogue appear exactly as they are in the book, which was cool. The film ended as the Eagles saved the company from the Orcs and deposit them on a huge bear-shaped rock. This makes me happy because it means Beorn the part-bear guy is next and he’s awesome!
That does, however, mean that Legolas isn’t in this movie because he’s from Mirkwood and the company gets to Mirkwood after they meet Beorn. I didn’t think it was likely they’d get to Mirkwood in the first film but I hoped they would anyway because Legolas is hot. Ha. So if CharleyR is reading this, he’s not in the background dancing to Gangnam Style but maybe he will in the next one! If you’re not CharleyR, – we’re quite insane, but don’t worry.
In the book, the conflict was dwarves versus Smaug the dragon. In the movie that’s still true, but because there will be three films and the defeat of Smaug takes place at the end, a conflict with Orcs was also added. In the book the dwarves have problems with Orcs, but not nearly as often. It got a bit old after a while. I kept thinking, “We know they don’t like the Orcs! Now, can we spend more time on the traveling scenes and/or looking at Kili’s face?!” One reason I thought the book was so cool was that I couldn’t see how they were going to defeat the huge Smaug. As it turned out, they did that easily and the tricky part was getting there in the first place but anyway, I don’t like the whole Orcs subplot.
Similarly, I’m not entirely sure what other stuff Peter Jackson stuck in there because he pulled material from the Appendices and I’ve only skimmed those. Maybe there really are stone giants living in the mountains of Middle-earth who fight with each other like they did in the film. But who can tell? If they were made up for the movie, then I’m not too happy about that. However, I don’t feel like I can really criticize everything that was added unless it’s obvious (like Galadriel) because it might actually be part of Tolkien’s world.
My biggest issue with the film is Radagast the Brown, a wizard just like Gandalf. He’s hardly mentioned in the book but he has a minor role in the film, alerting Gandalf about the Necromancer. I imagined Radagast as Gandalf but in brown robes since he’s “the Brown”, after all. I thought he was serious, intelligent, and brave, yet with a quiet sense of humor. Instead, he’s comic relief. He’s a rather foolish guy with bird poop on his head. Lauren, my friend who saw the movie with me, commented that “Wow, Lord of the Rings is even nerdier than Harry Potter.” Yes, it is, and Peter Jackson is the one of the nerdiest of the nerdy, so his films are incredibly accurate to the books. (Apparently. I’ve only seen the first one, but I thought it was pretty close.) Radagast’s portrayal just didn’t seem like something Tolkien would have intended so it felt like this film wasn’t as nerdy as the others.
I saw the movie in 2-D, but it also came out in a special kind of 3-D. It was shot in high film rate, at 48 frames per second instead of 24 as 3-D is usually shot in. Apparently that makes the images less blurry and more “real”. It seems that people can’t agree on this – some reviewers loved it and some said it was cheesy. I wouldn’t know (although I would love to see the movie in high film rate, just to form my own opinion) but I’m just explaining that it’s a big part of the hype and I can’t judge it. I will say, though, that some scenes, especially in Erebor towards the beginning, were quite blurry and I wondered if 3-D would have made it better.
I’m not certain if this was cleared up in the books or not, but the Necromancer of the book/movie is supposed to be Sauron; the point of the meeting with Galadriel and everyone else was to discuss whether or not he was Sauron. Appararently people (who hadn’t read The Hobbit) weren’t sure about this. To me, it seemed obvious while I was reading it even though I hadn’t read the trilogy. Just saying.
I had a little niggling thought that wouldn’t go away throughout the movie: I’m very biased about this, aren’t I? How is it that I’m biased? Well, I’d finished reading The Return of the King that very day and it is an awesome story. The Hobbit is awesome, but not quite in the same way. Still, I kept comparing the two. Also, I’m a little prejudiced because I feel like I need to see all the Hobbit movies before I decide if they do a good job telling the entire story. Of course, that’s not possible since the last one doesn’t even come out until July 2014!
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has generally been getting OK reviews. I think it was a pretty good movie – but I’m not just saying that to be loyal. Trust me, I love the Harry Potter books, but I will be the first person to tell you that with the exception of Deathly Hallows Part I, they’re awful. I’m picky about film-to-book adaptations. But I think this film was pretty good. I would have done a few things differently, but it’s not as horrid as critics would lead you to believe.
What would I say to the critics? I would say that their complaint about The Hobbit movie being different from the Lord of the Rings movies is absolutely right. But of course it’s going to be. I wrote earlier that The Hobbit is just as important in terms of the story of the Ring as the trilogy is, but it’s still going to feel different. Lord of the Rings has humor; The Hobbit has a bit more and is more whimsical. It is a children’s book, after all. It’s not a stupid children’s book, but really, people. Lord of the Rings is dark, filled with battles, betrayal, and the ending of the elves’ way of life. They’re going to feel different. Different isn’t bad; it’s just different. Whether or not you like Middle-earth, you should try The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.