The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Hobbit movie poster JapanStarring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High, but guarded because of so many people’s negative or mediocre responses to it so far.

fourstar


When The Hobbit was first announced as a two-film series, I balked. I said to myself, “There’s not enough there for two movies; they’re just milking it because Lord of the Rings was popular. What a shame.” Then when they announced it was going to be three movies, I thought something similar, but Jackson’s video diary about it led me to believe that despite my fears, he had something up his sleeve. And boy, did he ever! The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is everything I could have ever hoped for and much, much more. My memories that there wasn’t enough story in the novel for two movies were insane, as Jackson gives us a thrilling journey to remember based on only the first third of the book. Things that are just a few pages in the book become incredibly unforgettable sequences, perfectly adapted from the page to the cinematic medium. Where others might call this lengthening a misstep, it allows Peter Jackson the room necessary to deliver a rich, fulfilling journey that explores the material in depth, and fantasy is all about the journey. The Hobbit is definitely not for fair-weather fantasy fans, it is made by and for people looking to get lost in another world.

You probably read the book at some point during your high school career, but for those without a history, The Hobbit is the tale of Bilbo Baggins and his great adventure with a company of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf. It takes place 60 years before the events of Lord of the Rings, and the book has a much lighter tone than that later work. The film also features this difference in tone — perfectly captured, I might add — but where the novel is fairly light throughout, the film does its best to weave in lines that connect with the Lord of the Rings films, pumping up the grand action whenever it can. And by “does its best,” I mean “it’s fucking awesome.”

THE_HOBBIT_POSTERI’m hesitant to get into any specifics regarding this film, because much of my enjoyment came out of the freshness of the material. I’ve read The Hobbit three times, but that was all the way back in my teenage years, and I only saw the trailer for the film a couple of times (and I made it a point not to be too observant). The sheer amount of amazing stuff that I hadn’t seen was astounding, and as each new scene unfolded I thought for sure that it would be the last remaining thing that would wow me. But time and time again, Peter Jackson and his absolutely incredible team, took me on a journey for the ages. Not only do I think that The Hobbit is a great film, I have no problems calling it one of the best fantasy films of all time. When Jackson blew the lid off of the fantasy genre in 2001, it led to a slew of films trying to capitalize on that fairly untapped market. With The Hobbit, it’s like he’s casually brushing all the imitators aside and showing them how it’s done.

In terms of being a part of the Lord of the Rings franchise, it feels as if they simply unearthed the reels of The Hobbit in some forgotten Hobbit hole in New Zealand, as the film looks exactly like its older counterparts. The series aesthetics are absolutely seamless, and the film stands as a testament to the power of cohesive design through a film series. If only Star Wars was so smart to respect what had come before. From the returning actors, to the returning sets, to the look of literally everything, Middle Earth is exactly as you left it, and it’s gorgeous. Oh, and all the new locations? Just as incredible as you’d expect.

I also loved the inclusion of songs in the film. The LOTR films largely did away with the songs and chants of the book, and I agreed with Jackson’s choice for those films. If the Fellowship went around singing, it just wouldn’t have that same “impending doom” feel to it all. But here, where the tone is inherently lighter, the songs are perfect. The trailer wisely included the best of these, the dwarves’ solemn sing-a-long at Bag End, and throughout the film this musical theme continues to crop up as the heroic musical cue for the dwarves. It’s a gorgeous melody, and one I’ll most likely be humming all the way till next year’s release of The Hobbit 2: The Hobbiting.

hobbit-dwarves-posterThe question on most people’s minds about this film (and the two following it), is whether or not Peter Jackson and Co. are milking the shit out of a short, briskly paced book to make heaps of money and then guard their hordes like Smaug the Dragon. Simply put: Nope. Many will tell you otherwise, citing such inflammatory words as “bloated,” “overlong,” or using Bilbo’s line in LOTR “like… butter scraped over too much bread.” That one really raises my feathers. Anyway, they’re wrong. Well, at least in terms of my experience with the film. The Hobbit is exactly what it needs to be, and the success of LOTR has allowed Peter Jackson the freedom to realize the book in great detail. If you’re on-board for an adventure that plays out like a novel, this is such a rich, rewarding experience; I simply can’t imagine the film in any other form. To cut this in half to accommodate a two-film series would rob us of many great scenes that aren’t specifically necessary to the narrative, but serve to broaden the adventure and the world. I can easily understand why the choice was made for a trilogy, and I almost wish there was a version of LOTR that took the same care, resulting in a 10-film LOTR series. I’m ultimately happy with what we got, but my mind boggles at the possibilities.

This brings me to the other major questionable aspect of the production: 48fps. I saw the film in 3D at 48fps and I’m glad I did. I don’t know that I’d recommend it to everyone, but I’m glad I saw it this way. The 3D was immersive and even though it wasn’t too special, it was like a cherry on top of a beardy, dwarven sundae. But the 48fps took some getting used to. At times it looked as if the camera or the characters were moving too quickly, like someone accidentally set the camera to 24fps on that shot and no one caught it, only to have it projected at 48fps (and thus causing the speed up). But during the action sequences it really cleared up the motion blur that has long been something we’ve all learned to expect and accept in films (perhaps subconsciously). It was a very interesting film-going experience, and one I wouldn’t trade, but it does rob the film of a lot of its cinematic look, making it instead look like an incredibly mounted TV miniseries. That goes away once you get used to it, but it is definitely jarring to say the least. As one of the staunchest supporters of the medium of film, I should be railing against this blight on the history of cinema, but instead I’m singing the film’s praises. The Hobbit is good enough to make me overlook many of its digital presentation oddities, mostly because I know that they won’t be there when I watch the film in 24fps later, and because the story and visuals held me fully enraptured from start to finish.

I’ve always thought that J.R.R. Tolkien was a great, imaginative storyteller, but not a very good writer, and Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit proves this to me once again. Even having read The Hobbit multiple times, I was surprised by many of the things that happened in the film. I thought perhaps they were Jackson’s additions or something added from the LOTR appendices (which I have never been able to get through). Upon returning home I started scouring the book, and lo and behold many of those wonderful things were there, buried in the text as minor, insignificant moments without any weight to them. But here Jackson lets them breathe and gives every thrilling, fantastic moment the dignity it deserves. The ties to LOTR are woven skillfully into the narrative as well, and while this is definitely not as good as the first of that trilogy, this is still pretty damn amazing. I loved The Hobbit.

13 comments to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

  • If you’re not a LOTR fan, you might not like this movie though. I can’t wait for the next two movies, but God forbid they end up like the Star Wars prequels. Nice review Will.

    • Yeah, it’s true if you’re not a LOTR fan you probably won’t like this, but if you’re not a LOTR fan why would you bother with this? It’s the perfect companion and Jackson does wonders with the material, in my eyes. This is so far from the Star Wars prequels, and I have faith that the following films will be just as awesome.

  • I haven’t seen this yet (it comes out here in Australia on Boxing Day) but will be going along on Friday evening – I’m so glad you approve of this one, Will, and considering how much you like films I’d NEVER see, your approval for one I’m definitely going to enjoy merely adds to the expectation.

    Nice work!!

    • Ah man, enjoy! I absolutely loved it and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s important to go in expecting The Hobbit and not Lord of the Rings. Although they are related and similar things, this is far lighter and doesn’t carry the same tone. It never bothered me at all, as I’m familiar with the novel, but I’ve seen a lot of people talking about being disappointed and it seems most of it stems from going in with the wrong expectations. Looking forward to your take!

  • Stephen

    Ahh, man, I don’t know why it took me so long to get off my butt and watch this, but I’m damn glad I saw it in the theater. You’re absolutely right on this one. It’s a fantastic film from start to finish. If I wanted to find an issue with it, I could say that it gets a bit silly at times, but then the book was that way too, so it really is the perfect adaptation. The dwarves cleaning up the kitchen was one of those scenes, and I was curious to see how it was done. It turned out to be a perfect adaption of what I remember of the scene in the novel.

    I think it got a little out of hand towards the end when they were escaping from the goblins under the mountain. All the collapsing bridges were a bit much for me, but then I don’t remember that scene too well from the book, so maybe it was a faithful adaption as well.

    I wanted to see it in 48fps, but unfortunately the theaters around here only showed that in 3D, which my particular eyesight issues prevent me from seeing, so I was stuck with regular ol’ 24fps. I would like to check out the 48fps version some day, though.

    • Awesome, you finally saw it! I was hoping you’d see it in the theater, because those movies are definitely ones to see big! I like the silliness. It seems that’s one of the big “flaws” that people who don’t like point out, because it doesn’t have exactly the same “doomed world” tone of LOTR, but it’s the perfect tone for The Hobbit.

      I disagree that anything got out of hand, that cascade of goblin escape antics was so great. I have no idea if it’s like that in the book, and I don’t care! I would imagine it’s not like that, though.

      I think 48fps always is 3D (at least for this movie) so them’s the breaks. The 3D was easily the best working example of 3D I’ve seen in a theater, with no ghosting, no headache and no other issues at all. It actually worked so well that many times I forgot I was watching it in 3D because I was so pulled into the image. Great stuff, but it’s not necessary at all. I’m so looking forward to re-watching this sometime before part 2 drops.

      • Stephen

        Somehow I felt like that scene was supposed to be more serious than the others. The kitchen scene and the scene with the trolls felt like comedy, but running around dark caverns filled with goblins put me into heroic epic mode and the themes clashed.

        I was actually surprised by how much serious stuff is in the film. Mostly it was the flashback scenes that fill in the backstory, but it got me in the mood, and when the goblins showed up I felt like it was going to be another similar scene. I think it just took me off guard is all. I suppose on rewatch I might be better with it, knowing that the real finale comes after.

        Looking back it had a wonderful blend of good heroic action and lighthearted antics, and did both of them well. I’ll be looking forward to watching it again as well, and I’m really looking forward to part 2. I think I might even like this one better than LOTR, but it’s been too long since I saw those to give a real comparison.

        • OK, I can understand the tonal differences throwing you off, and I would imagine a re-watch would solve that. I guess it could also make it worse, but let’s hope for the best!

          Those serious, backstory scenes were what really, really sold me on the movie. The story of how Thorin got his Oakenshield name, the intro, as well as the stuff with the White Council was all superb. And starting the story with Frodo and Old Bilbo was another nice touch. It’s going to be awesome when these are all out, as I imagine they will fit together rather nicely and tell a wonderfully expansive narrative.

          It’s been a while since I saw LOTR myself, but I hope to change that in 2013. I did Bad Taste whenever I did that, December I guess, so I was gonna try to get his next movie Meet the Feebles in January, but that didn’t happen so I might squeeze that and Dead Alive into February if I can. I’m trying to review all his movies over the course of 2013, leading up to Hobbit 2: The Hobbiting. Because I’m unable to continually go back to the theater to see Hobbit as many times as I’d like, this is my way of managing my excitement.

          • Stephen

            Yeah, I loved those scenes of Thorin’s history. I don’t remember them from the novel at all, but that’s probably because they were explanations rather than events, and the movie brings them to life in all their glorious splendor.

            I hope the second film really is called the Hobbiting. That would be awesome. I look forward to all those reviews. I’m not too familiar with his work outside of LOTR, so it’ll be a good opportunity to expand my horizons. But what are you going to do between the second and third films? I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

            • I’m pretty sure most of that backstory is from the appendices to LOTR and not the actual Hobbit novel. I haven’t read either since the LOTR movies came out, so I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty positive of that. So we should all be thankful that he got the rights to the appendices, because otherwise The Hobbit would be a much thinner and less fantastic film. Those scenes fleshes out the story and the characters so well.

              Jackson’s other stuff is pretty much all worth watching, although there are some that dislike his more recent stuff like King Kong and Lovely Bones. I love them all. Between Hobbit 2 and 3, the gap will be much shorter as 3 will be a Summer movie! So only a few months to wait instead of a whole year!

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