Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Movie Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I read The Hobbit many years ago in Junior High School. I remember enjoying the story and having a lot of fun with the adventure though I honestly have few distinct memories from the book (which means it's time for a re-read, I suppose). What I do remember is that The Hobbit is profoundly shorter than The Lord of the Rings book(s). I remember this because although I read The Hobbit, I never did completely read The Lord of the Rings. It just seemed too daunting for me. So when it was revealed that this new live-action movie would span 3 movies, I was frankly a little confused and nervous. I was worried that the pacing and storytelling might feel like it was dragging its feet or filling the scenes with extraneous fluff that didn't really propel the plot. Now that I've seen the first film, I can say that I'm a little less nervous.

Like Peter Jackson's Lord of the Ring movies, The Hobbit does a gorgeous job of rendering the world of Tolkein's Middle Earth in a way that feels natural and real while being vivid and unique. The scenery. The countryside. The costumes. The characters. The entire world is filled with so many subtle and wonderful details that really paint a gorgeous picture (though I was taken a little aback by the portrayal of Hobbit feet…I don't recall them being quite as large in the other movies).

Along with the visuals, the movie has a great soundtrack. The music is entrancing and really helps to draw you into the scene. There's a scene early on (as shown in some of the trailers) of the dwarves singing about their home. The sad harmony is haunting and beautiful. My son just read the book and he's sad to hear that there isn't as much singing in the movie as in the book. I don't recall the songs from the book, so I can't comment either way. Though if they were done as well as the song in Bilbo's home, I would've enjoyed some more.

Since I haven't read the book in a long while, I can't really speak to elements that came from the core story versus things that Jackson pulled in from Tolkein's notes and appendices or wherever else. But what I can say is that the pacing did not feel strained or excessively slowed down. In fact, once we left the Shire, the story seemed to move along at a fairly quick pace. There were a couple of slower scenes where the characters deliberate or narrate various details, but overall we're treated to lots of fairly in-depth action sequences that keep things moving along and keep our heroes in ongoing states of suspense and high alert.

My biggest real complaint (other than having to wait another couple of years to complete the entire saga) has to do with the characters. It was fun to see a "younger" Gandalf the Grey leading and adventure. Seeing the timeless elves and Saurauman the White was also fun and I really enjoyed see how their personalities evolved between this initial story and the characters they become in the Lord of the Rings. It was a little weird to see Frodo portrayed at the beginning of the story by the same actor from the other trilogy. I'm not up on my fantasy races, but it seems to me that he shouldn't have looked the same as he did or been the same approximate age when Bilbo initially left as he was when he and Sam left.

But my main character complaint has to do with the dwarves. And I have vague memories of having this same complaint when reading the book. Apart from Thorin, the dwarves all just tended to blend together into a clump. I loved that they each had unique costumes, body types and mannerisms. I have no idea what their names were or necessarily what they each bring to the party. I can identify "the one with the ear trumpet", "the fat one", and "the archer" (but only if he has his bow).

Frankly, this deluge of similar characters is one of the things that sometimes turns me off about epic scale fantasy. What's the point of bothering to name or call out the dozen characters if they're all nearly identical? Wouldn't it have been just as effective to have them be nameless pages, squires, knights or something? I know it's a quibble, but I really wanted a little more. And I suspect the source material is more to blame than the movie. The character direction in the movie has given us a dozen dwarves who are physically varied and have potential for unique scenes or quips that would make them memorable. Instead, I'm left with a pile of dwarves that I have a hard time caring about except in a group.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. Part of me wanted to wait until the other two were released so I wouldn't have to wait so long. But in the end I'm glad that I saw it in the theater. This really is a great spectacle that deserves to be seen on the big screen. I'm looking forward to Parts 2 and 3.

4 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

i hear you in how the dwarves blend together and having no individuality...i was afraid since they were breaking this apart that it was going to drag....not bad though....