Original 2012 Reaction to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I saw The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey last night.  I bought my ticket about 1:00pm, then did other stuff, including dinner with Mom & Dad at a new restaurant near the movie theater, Kitchen 67 by Brann’s, in short, dinner was OK.  The showing was at 8:30pm last night in the largest individual theater in my local multiplex – and it was a sold out show.

In short, the film is awesome – Peter Jackson really does have another hit on his hands, and I’m already eagerly awaiting the next two films, since Jackson has somehow turned “The Hobbit” into a trilogy.

The three most developed characters were: Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield son of Thrain (Richard Armitage) and Gandalf (Ian McKellan).  All the actors are excellent in their parts.  Martin Freeman, whom I know from Sherlock (where he played Dr. John Watson), spends much of his time looking confused and bemused — something Martin Freeman is particularly good at.  However, though the Dwarves underestimate him, Bilbo has strange courage when pushed and he’s loyal despite being ignored, treated as baggage, and even scolded.

Thorin is played by Richard Armitage (whom I know from the BBC’s recent Robin Hood TV series – the one with Jonas Armstrong as Robin) and he’s fantastic!  For one thing, even under all the hair, make-up, and costuming — Armitage is gorgeous, and as he’s very much the hero in the film, he gets several “heroic poses” shots, which I must admit got my attention in the theater last night.  But Armitage brings a real strength and gravitas to the part.  He doesn’t “ham it up” — and with him in the role Thorin becomes more likable.  No longer is this simply a group of Dwarves out for gold — it’s a group of thirteen wanderers in search of a home.  The parellel with the Lost Tribes of Israel popped into my head in the theater and just wouldn’t go away.

Ian McKellan’s Gandalf returns, whom most viewers of the film will remember from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  Also returning for a scene in Rivendell are:  Cate Blanchet as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, and Christopher Lee as Saruman.  Somehow they managed to make Hugo Weaving look a little younger — and I love his “hunting uniform” as we first encounter him when he and a group of Elves hunt and kill Orcs and wargs, thus saving Thorin, Bilbo, and their troop.  Though at the time neither really realises what’s happened, and who’s saved who.  Christopher Lee seems threatening and dark here (as Saruman), though at this point in the overall story everyone trusts him, including Gandalf.  I actually liked Cate Blanchet better this time around, and her psychic conversations with Gandalf were actually effective storytelling. And they were cool!

New to the story (besides Thorin and his Dwarves) is the wonderful Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, one of the five Wizards entrusted with the care of Middle-Earth.  I loved it that when Bilbo asked about other Wizards, Gandalf said:  ”The head of our order is Saruman the White, then there’s two Blue Wizards but I can’t remember their names, and there’s Radagast the Brown, he’s ‘odd’ – prefers the company of animals over people.” (I’m probably paraphrasing a bit)  But I love that Gandalf says there’s these other two Wizards but he doesn’t know their names.  Tolkien actually never named the other two Wizards, though the fact that their were five of them originally is mentioned more than once in the canon of the books (both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings).  Sylvester is barely recognizable under his costume, and I now understand his comments at Chicago TARDIS about it — it is off-putting and even a bit gross (with the bird poo in his hair and the bird nest that he’s wearing almost as a hat).  But that aside, he still has that sense of strangeness and alien-ness that worked so well in Doctor Who.  The scene where he’s using magic to save a hedge-hog is wonderful.  In the books, Radagast is barely mentioned, here he doesn’t have a large part, but he’s important… breaking messages to Gandalf.

The novel, The Hobbit:  There and Back Again, was a pre-quel to Lord of the Rings, and it came out first. The two stories are connected by the Ring, Bilbo, and some other re-occurring characters, as well as being in the same universe of Middle-Earth.  I’ve read Lord of the Rings countless times.  I first read in in seventh grade, when I found the books in my junior high school library, and I read it about every three years since.  When Jackson’s LotR Trilogy came out that switched to every year, as I wanted to see where the films diverged from the books.  The Hobbit I’ve only read two or three times, as I’ve always preferred LotR.  The Hobbit has always seemed to be more of a children’s book, as well as a straight-forward adventure tale (literally “There and Back Again” — Bilbo gets involved in a quest for treasure, he has a series of adventures, he comes home safe).  There are some memoriable scenes in the book, but really… LotR, which came out later, is much better, deeper, more complex, and transcends it’s “fantasy” label and genre.

I knew Ian Holm was going to be in the Hobbit film, but that Martin Freeman would play “young Bilbo”, so I was expecting some sort of “flashback” opening.  The film starts with Bilbo narrating a rather long narration of the history of Thrain (Thorin’s father), Thorin and the Dwarves.  I rather liked it because it gives the audience more background on Thorin and makes him more sympathetic and more of a hero.  Eventually, we see Bilbo addressing Frodo (Elijah Wood) as he starts writing in his journal.  Frodo arrives with the mail (post) and mentions they are replies to the party invitations.  Bilbo hands Frodo a sign to hang on his door, and as Frodo nails it up, we see it says “No Admittance Except on Party Business”, this neatly places this scene just before the opening in the Shire in Fellowship of the Ring (after that film’s prologue), the film then transitions 60 Years Ago to Bilbo’s adventure (and the sub-title comes up).  I loved the way the transition was done, technically, visually, and as an opening of the plot, so I won’t spoil it.

There is a lot of humor in The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, a bit more than I was expecting.  The acting was really, really good, too.  Visually, the film is stunning (Honestly, New Zealand is just stunning!). I also liked the switch in emphasis from the Dwarves looking for gold to the Dwarves wanting to return to their lost homeland.  ”The Song of the Lonely Mountain”, which was used in the previews, under-scores the film and it’s gorgeous!  The scene in Bag End, where the Dwarves sing their song, each standing one at a time and joining in, was almost like watching people singing their own National Anthem (and brings to mind a similar scene in Casablanca where everyone sings La Marseilles).  It also reminded me of something I had actually seen happen in a pub in Ireland, where someone started singing the Irish National Anthem (tho’ I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time) — the pub got deadly quiet, everyone stood, and everyone joined in. Anyway, it’s a wonderful scene in the film, and I think it’s part of what convinces Bilbo to join in on the adventure, though he initially says “no”.

The Hobbit the novel is the prequel book to The Lord of the Rings, and it was written and published first. However, Peter Jackson’s film was filmed and produced AFTER the very popular Oscar-winning (among other awards) Lord of the Rings Trilogy of films.  Movie-making logic suggests that sequels need to be bigger, more exciting, and more awesome than the original.  Yet, Tolkien’s book, having come first is smaller in scope.  I’ve already mentioned how it seems more like a children’s book and it has a straight-forward, there-and-back plot.  Initially, when news broke of a Peter Jackson film of the Hobbit, and the news broke as “two films” my first thought was “How?”  And, as we now know, Jackson is planning a trilogy.  Again, How?  The original story is much shorter, and doesn’t seem to have enough material for two films, let alone three.  My cynical thought was “Jackson overshot the movie”.  However, this is Peter Jackson, who, though he loves his action sequences (and The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey has plenty), also has a way of writing his characters, expanding their parts, and making the outline of the story better.  I do think it’s odd, The Hobbit, could have been one film, but Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, could have each been two films, if The Hobbit had been filmed first, as one would have expected.  That the stories are switched is going to have a interesting effect on the complete storyline.  I almost wonder if Jackson’s long-range plan is to re-do LotR as six films after The Hobbit Trilogy is complete in theaters.  (If you haven’t read LotR it is six books, split into three parts — each a separate book, plus an appendix).

Anyway, the film was awesome, I highly encourage everyone to see it!

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