Movie Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey (4 of 5)
Quick Update: I just saw The Hobbit for the second time and enjoyed it immensely. I stand by my original criticism of the movie, but did not find it nearly as bothersome during the second viewing (I still don’t expect/want an extended edition of this movie).
For once I am glad that I only have a few dozen visitors per day. I can be honest without being tracked down and boiled alive for posting this review. I plan to address generalities and avoid specific spoilers.
I adore The Lord of the Rings. I am not a fanboy that complains about the changes that Jackson made to bring LOTR to the screen. Tom Bombadil is still there in the books whenever I want to visit with him and Liv Tyler did a fine job with the expanded role that Arwen played. I was a bit miffed with Giimli being made the butt of many jokes, but not so much when Jackson did the same with Merry and Pip. After all, the changes also allowed Pip to redeem himself by persuading Treebeard to go to war when that wasn’t in the book.
But this review is for The Hobbit (part 1 of 3). As many others, I was happy to hear that Jackson was going to split the book into 2 movies, but grew concerned when he announced it to be a trilogy. There is a wealth of material in Tolkien’s other writings to embellish the story, but sequels to successful movies tend to attempt bigger and more impressive than the originals, usually resulting in outrageous silliness.
The Hobbit suffers from sequelitis. Almost everything was turned up to 11.
Not to say the movie is bad or unwatchable. I took the family to last night’s midnight premiere and we enjoyed it (except my wife who slept through part of it – she is not a night owl). The cinematography was lush and beautiful, the acting was splendid (Martin Freeman is perfectly natural in everything I’ve seen him in), and the special effects are dazzling. When the LOTR was released, each movie left us wanting more, and a multitude of fans spent a sizable chunk of change purchasing the extended versions. I don’t expect that to be the case with The Hobbit (at least, not part 1).
The movie starts with the elderly Bilbo (Ian Holm) that we all know, just as he begins to write the book detailing his adventures. Elijah Wood is back briefly, and the pair ease us into the story. It’s nicely done and gently brings us back home to Middle Earth. LOTR began with a prologue introducing us to Sauron and the Ring. In the Hobbit, Bilbo tells us about the Dwarf kingdom and the dragon, Smaug.
And then, the story begins with Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Ian McKellen as Gandalf and a host of dwarfs. The movie follows the book fairly well, but not religiously. We get a flashback of Thorin Oakenshield for character development and it introduces my first complaint, but the problem isn’t that the scene wasn’t in the book.
In LOTR, the treachery of Saruman included the creation of the Uruk-Kai, an orc hybrid that is stronger and able to withstand direct sunlight. They are presented as something new and uniquely dangerous. But in Thorin’s flashback we see a giant albino orc that’s the size of a troll. Not to mention the CGI wasn’t as convincing as Gollum in the original trilogy. Later in the film is another giant orc, though that CGI was better.
Orcs cannot abide direct sunlight, except for when they can. At one point, Gandalf actually states that they need to move into sunlight to escape from the orcs even though they had previously been attacked in broad daylight. Another thing; I’ve only seen it once, but it seemed like the movie went from day to night and back again as the plot dictated.
Geography was also confusing. At one point, the company is on a plain of rolling hills with a few mounds of rocks. They descend into a cave below one of the mounds – about 20 feet below the surface. In the back of the cave is a tunnel that they follow and the camera pulls back to watch them pass single file through a chasm that is at least 50 feet deep and then exit into a mountain pass.
Do you remember the WTF moment in The Two Towers where Legolas uses a shield to surf down a set of stone steps? It was a very over-the-top moment that broke the spell and pulled you out of the movie. There are about a dozen similar scenes in The Hobbit.
Rotten Tomatoes is currently giving The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a 66% critic / 81% audience rating. As you can see, I feel about the same.
Recommended, but keep your expectations modest.
I told my family where I thought Jackson would end the first movie and I was exactly right.